Tag Archives: genres

Book Review: “Gormenghast,” by Mervyn Peake

Genre: classic; fantasy; literary fiction


Plot Summary: Gormenghast picks up in the detailing of the life of Titus Groan, seventy-seventh Earl of the Castle and inheritor of the endless monotony of rituals and symbols.  As the boy grows, he wearies of his stagnant life and begins to eye the world outside of the castle with much interest.  In particular, a mysterious girl—called “The Thing”– who holds the freedom Titus longs for.  Not only is the life of the young Earl told, but also that of his sister Fuchsia, the banished servant Flay, and the manipulative mastermind Steerpike…

My Book Review: I loved the Gormenghast Series almost as soon as I started the first book, Titus Groan (see my book review here).  Peake is marvelous!  What vocabulary and descriptions!  The colors this man uses!  It is often said of Tolkien that he made up beautiful languages and names and then made up plots to fit around them.  It’s my opinion that Peake (who was first and foremost an illustrator) made up picturesque settings and then made up plots to fit around them.  Some may find that tedious and sometimes it does become so, but have patience and a colorful picture will emerge in your mind’s eye.  I had to stop my reading every once in a while to give a gloriously contented sigh before I picked back up again.

“… Titus first thought consciously about the idea of colour: of things having colours: of everything having its own particular colour, and of the way in which every particular colour kept changing according to where it was, what the light was like, and what it was next to.”

These books aren’t action-driven; they’re not even exactly character-driven.  Sometimes it is hard even to like the protagonists.  But they are landscape-driven, and even color-driven.  First and foremost is the Castle itself, a massive, crumbling monstrosity that is the entire universe for all our characters.  There are even shadowy areas that the head servant Flay himself is not familiar with and needs to chart a new map so as not to get lost.  Tunnels, wings, hallways, dungeons, dormitories, attics, towers…  who could ask for anything more?

Titus apparently, as he realizes that Gormenghast cannot be Gormenghast unless it is in relation to somewhere else.  He inwardly kicks at the infinite number of rules and regulations that keep the castle alive.  They are so old that their symbolism has been forgotten but no one can deviate from them nonetheless.  I had to stop and think about the idea of legalism—adherence to the letter, but containing no heart.  The Master of Rituals, Barquentine fits this bill:

“The fanaticism of his loyalty to the House of Groan had far outstripped his interest or concern for the living—the members of the line itself….  It was the chain that mattered, not the links.  It was not the living metal, but the immeasurable iron with its patina of sacred dust.  It was the Idea that obsessed him and not the embodiment.”

Contrast this with the servant Flay.  Although he adheres in a religious way to the laws of Gormenghast, he decides to take an alternative action for the sake of the people he cares about.  The law of love is better.  I could not help seeing a parallel between the Pharisees and Jesus in the Gospels.

One of the most interesting characters is the antagonist Steerpike.  Intent on knocking off the pillars of Gormenghast one by one until he has unlimited power, this fellow is a chilly one indeed.  It is often believed that villains aren’t “real” if they have no layer the reader can identify or sympathize with; bad guys are merely “misunderstood” or not given an ear in the first place.  But there is such a thing as a sociopath [and for the record, DON’T ask Holmes], and I believe this describes our Steerpike.  Lacking any moral conscience, he picks off his victims in various ways evil.  His soul is hideous and his means are graphic.

But he doesn’t overtake the castle all at once—no, that would be too easily identifiable.  His corruption of the place happens over a long period of time.  This is often the case with real-life institutions as well.  I am writing this at a time when I am reading daily of corruption that has infiltrated the church and other religious organizations.  The previously wise and strong members become old or pass away, and others become mentally flabby or sleepy.  After a while, reports begin to trickle in of abuse, scandal and misconduct.

“The sense of unreality which had spread through the castle like some strange malaise… so that although there was no lack of incident, and no question as to its importance, a sharpness, an awareness was missing and nobody really believed in what was happening.  It was as though the caste was recovering from an illness, or was about to have one.  It was either lost in a blur of unfocused memory or in the unreality of a disquieting premonition.  The immediacy of the castle’s life was missing.  There were no sharp edges.  No crisp sounds.  A veil was over all things, a veil that no-one could tear away.

“How long it lasted was impossible to say, for although there was this general oppression that weighed on every action, all but annihilating its reality of significance, making… a ceremony of dream… yet the sense of unreality in each individual was different; different in intensity, in quality, and in duration, according to the temperaments of all who were submerged.

“There were some who hardly realized that there was a difference.  Thick bullet-headed men with mouths like horses, were scarcely aware.  They felt that nothing mattered quite as much as it used to do, but that was all.

“Others were drowned in it, and walked like ghosts.  Their own voices, when they spoke, appeared to be coming to them from far away.”

Will we wake up and take a good look at our surroundings and evaluate with them discernment?  If we don’t, who will?

SPOILER ALERT:  So disappointed that my favorite character, Fuchsia, was killed off in such a nonchalant way.  Even though she wasn’t always likeable, I could identify with her in some ways and admired her fierce and passionate soul.  But it felt like Peake was getting to where he didn’t know what to do with her, and so she was easily disposed of.  It didn’t make sense to me and I wish that he had buried her with more ceremony.  I’m so sorry for the loss of this heroine.  She will be greatly missed.  END OF SPOILER.

This book suffers a little from tedious minutiae and repetition, but the stretch it gives one’s brain muscles is well worth the exercise.  Such great quotes out of this one!  I even learned of a new-to-me genre that this series is classified under: Mannerpunk (hmm! Now I will have to go exploring that one!).  Mervyn Peake is among one of my top all-time favorite authors; I seriously hope you will not skip him.

I also recommend…

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Posted by on April 7, 2020 in Book Reviews


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Top Ten Tuesday: Books from My Favorite Genre

This is a “Top Ten Tuesday” exercise…

I’ve almost always labeled my favorite genre as anything that includes “Adventure!”  But lately I’ve been shifting toward anything that gives me pleasurable thrills, namely “Atmospheric” stories that make me feel like I’m there.  Who doesn’t want that in a good book?  Nearly all of my favorites are memorable to me years after I’ve read them, because of landscapes or action scenes or humorous scenarios.  I’ve picked some of the sharpest-image ones to list below:

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Posted by on June 9, 2019 in Top Ten Tuesday


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2019 Audie Awards Finalists

The finalists for the 2019 Audie Awards have been announced and for the first time, I’ve gone through all 24 categories and made my choices IMHO.  It’s rather like the Oscars; in fact the Audies are like the Academy Awards for audiobooks.  Let it be known that I haven’t listened to any of these books in their entirety, only just the 3-4 min. excerpts available on AudioFile Magazine’s website.  Let it also be known that just because I approve of a narrator’s capability in delivering the material doesn’t necessarily mean I approve of the material itself.  Who do you think deserves to win?

Audio Drama: The Martian Invasion of Earth (hear trailer here)

Audiobook of the Year: Calypso

Autobiography/Memoir: Letter to Louis

Best Female Narrator: Girls & Boys

Best Male Narrator: Harry Clarke

Business/Personal Development: The Courage to Be Disliked

Faith-Based: not enough info.

Fantasy: Spinning Silver

Fiction: An Absolutely Remarkable Thing

History/Biography: Robin

Humor: Noir

Literary Fiction & Classics: Bleak House

Middle Grade: Louisiana’s Way Home

Multi-Voiced Performance: not enough info.

Mystery: The Mystery of Three-Quarters

Narrated by Author: My Pride

Non-Fiction: Eager

Original Work: Magus Elgar

Science Fiction: Artemis

Short Stories: You Think It, I’ll Say It

Suspense: The Outsider

Romance: skipped.

Young Adult: The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy

Young Listeners: Her Right Foot



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Posted by on February 19, 2019 in Audio/Radio Dramas


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2018 Year in Review + Favorites Awards!

I hope everyone reading this had a very good Christmas season over the past several weeks!  There’s still more to celebrate: the end of this year and a new one to come!  Do you have any book reading goals to celebrate?  Perhaps you made a goal to read a certain # or to stretch yourself to try new authors or genres.  Or maybe some organization was in order and you had to pare down your collection.  This post will be where I recap my own reading journey from 2018.  I still have two more books to finish up, but I think I will easily manage that.  I will still count them in my total here.

In January, I wanted to read at least 2 books a month.  I fell just shy (-1) of that goal but since I worked hard reading two very long fiction books and completed them, I feel that makes up for it.  🙂  I’m proud of myself.  Typically I read one fiction and one non-fiction a month.  As always, I wish it could be more but that is where I am in my life.  My TBR list continues to grow and I know I will never be able to finish what I currently have on it, let alone all the new ones I add almost daily.  But my poor, obsessive brain can’t help craving the promise of new plot summaries, almost more than reading the books themselves.  Is anyone else like this?

2018 was the year I sort of came out of my reading slump, so HOORAY!  I read two very long fiction novels: “Doctor Thorne,” by Anthony Trollope (500+ pages), and “The Cloister and the Hearth,” by Charles Reade (102 chapters; 700+ pages).  I read an equal amount of fiction and nonfiction, with fiction consisting of some old classics and adventure.  I also went to so many book sales that I lost count, and ended up having to resort to putting some of my books in storage and also doing some weeding:

So it’s time to play my end of the year game where I answer ordinary questions using the titles of books I’ve read in 2018!  You’re welcome to play along in the comment section below!  Here we go…

Describe yourself:  “Curious Faith,” by Logan Wolfram

Describe where you currently live:  “The Cloister and the Hearth,” by Charles Reade

If you could go anywhere, where would you go:  “King Solomon’s Mines,” by H. Rider Haggard

Your favourite form of transportation: —-

What’s the weather like: —-

You and your friends are:  “What You Do Best in the Body of Christ,” by Bruce Bugbee

You fear:  “1984,” by George Orwell

What is the best advice you have to give:  “It’s a Matter of Trust,” by James Callner

Thought for the day:  “The Aisles Have Eyes,” by Joseph Turow

My soul’s present condition:  “Beginnings,” by Steve Stephens

How I would like to die:  “The Valiant Papers,” by Calvin Miller

It’s interesting to me that some things never seem to change from one year to the next, but other things I thought would never change are starting to!  That’s exciting!

Are you ready for my favorite reads from 2018, arranged by category?  (Be sure to share your favorites, too!)  Click on each award to see the slideshow:

And now I will reveal to you my All-Time Favorite Read of 2018.  (As a side note, I do not include non-fiction in this award.)  It is…

Stay tuned during the upcoming year for my review on why I loved this book!


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Posted by on December 30, 2018 in Uncategorized


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2017 Year in Review

I just spent a happy day yesterday planning out my new reading list for the next year.  This is always an event which I look forward to!  But before I delve into my plans in an upcoming post, I like to take a look back at what the last 12 months has looked like for me in terms of reading.

Finishing up the year, I feel pretty pleased with myself.  This is because I was able to read more than in recent years and have a longer list of total books read than I’ve had in a long while.  Especially the last couple months– by rearranging my evening plans [i.e., mainly quitting work and shutting off my computer!], I’ve had more time to read, which means more books accomplished.  Well, as soon as one title gets added to my ‘done’ list, it lights a fire in my belly to consume more… and on it snowballs!  So lately I’ve had an increased interest in reading fiction.

My total for this year is 23 titles (14 fiction; 9 non-fiction), and I don’t think I’ll be adding anymore to the list in the next couple of days.  As always, I’ve actually sat down with a lot more non-fiction that what appears on my official list, but those were mostly skim read and I don’t count them as actual books read.  You can view my complete 2017 reading list here.  I’m a little behind in where I want to be on this blog […okay– a lot], but book reviews are coming on most of them.

Here is a little exercise that has now become traditional on this blog, where I do a fun Q&A answering with titles of books read during the past year.  I’m usually limited as to what I can answer with, but this year I have a little more to work with!  Here we go…

Describe yourself:  Just Jane, by Nancy Moser

Describe where you currently live: Escape from Colditz, by P. R. Reid

If you could go anywhere, where would you go: The Blue Castle, by L. M. Montgomery

Your favourite form of transportation: The Long Walk, by Slavomir Rawicz

What’s the weather like: Secrets on the Wind, by Stephanie Grace Whitson

You and your friends are: Wish You Were Here, by Beth Vogt

You fear: John Jago’s Ghost, by Wilkie Collins

What is the best advice you have to give: The Ragamuffin Gospel, by Brennan Manning

Thought for the day: Simply Tuesday, by Emily P. Freeman

My soul’s present condition: Fight Back with Joy, by Margaret Feinberg

How I would like to die: The Loved One, by Catherine Palmer and Peggs Stoks

What about you?  Can you answer these questions with book titles you’ve read?  I’d love to read them in the comments below!  Some can be pretty humorous!

Okay, now time for my Year in Review Awards!  These are so much fun, as I “award” different books I’ve read in different categories.  There’s been a mish mash of Christian contemporary, shorter-sized books, mysteries and romances.  In some of these categories, I’ve had to split hairs and make some close calls because there were several that could easily have won ‘best of’.  Click on the pictures to read more info…

So out of these, which was my all-time, highest ranking favorite of 2017?…



2017 Favorite Book of the Year!

L. M. Montgomery– one of my favorite authors since I was a teenager– has done it again!  An altogether very different novel than her Anne books, The Blue Castle completely surprised me, made me laugh, sigh, and cozy up with in the evenings to read.  I highly recommend it, if you think you’ve tried everything out there.

Well, that’s it for this year.  What a great one it’s been for reading, for growing, and for learning!  And that’s one of the main things life’s all about.

What has your year in reading looked like?





Posted by on December 28, 2017 in Uncategorized


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~Quote for September 2, 2017~

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Posted by on September 2, 2017 in Quotes


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How Biblical is the Fantasy Genre?

Someone recently approached my mom and asked her if she liked fantasy.  Sure, she said; some of it.

What constitutes fantasy that is good as opposed to fantasy that is bad?  Is there a difference?  Is there something about it that should make one hesitant from a Christian perspective, or are they all just good fiction stories?  As Christians, we may sometimes be reserved when approaching the fantasy genre because different reasons.  Too much unreality may not be beneficial, or maybe the magical elements are of a corrupting influence.  Then, I have known other Christians who seem to practice no discernment, and devour anything because none of it is true so what’s the problem?

I first discovered author Gene Edward Veith while helping out in the church library.  I still have yet to read his books, but a growing number of his titles are on my TBR list.  I stumbled upon this article written by him, entitled Good Fantasy & Bad Fantasy.  I thought it was an excellent piece that approached the subject in an well-rounded way.  Though perhaps written a few years ago, it’s content is still classic for today’s audience as well.

What are your thoughts on the fantasy genre?

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Posted by on August 24, 2017 in Uncategorized


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2016 Year in Review

03e0a3b69636ab4a344b3bf6a50d257dAnd now it’s time for one of my favorite annual blog posts—Year in Review! This is where I stand back and evaluate all of my reads of the past year and decide what were my favorites and why.

But before we get to the Awards, I want to make a confession: for the second year in a row I did not complete as many books as I would have liked. I have realized that some things in my life have changed and I have other interests so that I just don’t have the same amount of time as I used to.  This hasn’t meant I’ve quit reading or quit accumulating a never-ending TBR list!  Just means I’ll probably be finishing that list on the other side of heaven (you know- I mean, after I die).  I am trying to not be so hard on myself, and to just accept what I do get accomplished.

This year I read a total of 17 books (11 fiction + 6 nonfiction), down from last year. L I still hope to finish 3 other books yet by the end of the year, which are: “Tangled Ashes,” by Michele Phoenix; “101 Secrets for Your Twenties,” by Paul Angone; “The Lost Shipwreck of Paul,” by Robert Cornuke.  But I won’t hold my breath!

As always, I skim read a lot more non fiction books than is listed in my Complete List of Books Read page. But since I don’t count skimming as actually reading it in honesty, the numbers belie how much read-consuming I do.  Among the many non fiction subjects I read about were: sales & marketing, modern-day entertainment, biography, rust belts of America, art and philosophy.  I’m also quite proud of myself for completing one of the longest novels I’ve read in years.

Here is a fun little exercise I make it my yearly review tradition to complete, using the titles of books I’ve read during the past 12 months:

Describe yourself: Eyes of the Heart, by Christine Valters Paintner

How do you feel: The Prisoner of Zenda, by Anthony Hope

Describe where you currently live: ?

If you could go anywhere, where would you go: From Bondage to Bonding, by Nancy Groom

Your favourite form of transportation: Sensible Shoes, by Sharon Garlough Brown

What’s the weather like: A Season of Shadows, by Paul McCusker

You and your friends are: A Flickering Light, by Jane Kirkpatrick

You fear: In Sheep’s Clothing, by Susan May Warren

What is the best advice you have to give: How to Live Like a Lady, by Sarah Tomczak

Thought for the day: Lavender and Old Lace, by Myrtle Reed

My soul’s present condition: Finding Truth, by Nancy Pearcey

How I would like to die: The Art of Immersion, by Frank Rose

That was fun! How would you answer these questions with the book titles you’ve read the past year?

And now for booklearned’s 2016 Awards! Click on the pictures below for the winners in each category, along with my comments and links:

And my favorite fiction book of 2016 was…

2016 Best Humor; 2016 Most Beautifully Written; 2016 Best Atmosphere

“Titus Groan,” by Mervyn Peake


It was a hard deliberation between Titus Groan and Sensible Shoes.  Both made it into my Top 20 list of all-time favorites. On one hand, I learned so much while reading Sensible Shoes.  I read it with a book club where we got together periodically to discuss it together and that was a fun experience.  But when it comes right down to it, Titus Groan refuses to leave me alone with it’s potent atmosphere.  I don’t want to give it away, but count on a book review coming on it soon.  In fact, book reviews will be available on all of these reads within the next coming months.  As soon as I get caught up finishing my book reviews from last year’s reads!  Oh, dear- I’m so far behind.  But I am determined to catch up, I promise!

What were your favorite books from 2016? Share them with me!

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Posted by on December 30, 2016 in Uncategorized


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Writers to Read (Moody Program)

065572234cd7367aa85b2edf1cd24c0aHi, all!  I wish I hadn’t slept too long on listening to this program on Chris Fabry Live! on Moody Radio.  I just listened to it and heard enough interesting thoughts to write a three page document of notes!  Featuring the guest Douglas Wison, author of The Case for Classical Christian Education and Writers to Read (both of which I will be looking for at the library sometime), the discussion revolves around his latter book in which he suggests nine specific great authors to read and why.  Books are always a great discussion, but I actually had to laugh out loud a time or two while listening to this!  🙂  Please don’t wait too long to listen, as it expires Sept. 17.


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Christy Awards & Summer Reading

29a10b1668c8b0713fa0770a6b42a8b3Hey, there!  Are you looking for something really good to read this summer while on vacation?  Or maybe you’re looking for a book to take you on vacation if you can’t get away for real?  Chris Fabry recently aired a program on Chris Fabry Live where he interviewed various authors awarded the Christy Award for 2016.  He spent two hours talking about their books and the stories behind the stories.  I haven’t listened to it yet, but I can’t wait to scout out for more interesting reads to add to my To Read Notebook!  *Please be aware these programs are playable for a limited time only.


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