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Book Review: “Titus Groan,” by Mervyn Peake

6607257Genre: classic; literary

Plot Summary: Once upon a time there was an infant son and heir born to the Groan family of Gormenghast Castle.  His name was Titus and being so young he was yet unaware of the long line of history and tradition of which he stood in line to inherit.  But things were turned on their head (quite literally) on the day of his christening, and strange events began to unfold that are even stranger than the world into which he was born.

My Book Review: The Gormenghast series by Mervyn Peake has been on my reading list from very early on.  I believe it was a discovery made while perusing the Dover catalog.  I really had no idea what it was about, which sometimes leads to interesting discoveries.  In this case, it was a very interesting discovery indeed, and has become one of my top reads for this year so far.

This isn’t normally a book I would have picked out for myself, so it’s probably a good thing I didn’t know what it was about. I’m proud of myself for completing such a thick book.  I’m also usually more action-oriented, whereas this is more character driven.  There is not a lot of action and when there is there is always a slow buildup to it, making those scenes stand out more.  I tend to quickly forget details and character names of a lot of the books I read, but not this one.  The scenes in this book stand out clear and defined in my mind, in large part due to great detailed descriptions.  With names like ‘Prunesquallor’, ‘Nannie Slagg’, and ‘Countess Gertrude Groan’, they’re hard to forget.  And the author’s own illustrations of many of them are wild and memorable as well.

Even better than just the names and pictures are the full-bodied characters themselves. You really have to read the book for yourself to make them come alive, and once you do I can almost guarantee they will live forever in your mind.  The insane Lord Sepulchrave, the 76th Earl of Gormenghast, who thinks he’s an owl; his epileptic twin sisters Cora and Clarice who are stupid and vacant-minded; the vain, middle aged Irma Prunesquallor in love with a teenager; and the sociopathic Steerpike, the young puppet master behind the inhabitants of the castle.  These aren’t all the colorful people of the story; there are many more besides.  It’s ironic that the title character really doesn’t play a major role in this first of the series.  In fact it really only covers the first year or two of his life, but all the important things that occurred during it.

f021918e76aa942568f2cff1ff2172c9It’s hard to put a finger on why I liked this novel so much. At times it seemed rather dark, and longwinded, yet the wonderful descriptions and the weirdness of it all lured me on.  The author had a way of making even peeling paint sound interesting.  I think one of my favorite scenes was the description of Fuchsia’s attic hideaway.  Who wouldn’t want a great hidey-hole retreat like that all to oneself?

Is this book fantasy? I would not call it that, although it is set in a fantasy world.  If you go into it expecting fantasy, you might be bored.  It is not set in a particular time era, though the closest one might get is the 1880’s-1910 era with a fantastical twist.

Some say this book reads of despair and futility. It is dark and the people of Gormeghast do live futile lives of pointless ritual, but the unusual turn of things as Titus grows gives a glimpse that things may change with Titus as heir… ?

One caution: there is one chapter in which a character, Keda, has a one-night stand with a lover.

I’ve read that there is more than one audio drama of this series, and also a movie, but I don’t see how any of them can be as good as the novel.  If I ever come across them, I’ll surely review it and post if worth it.

Titus Groan won’t be for everyone.  But I’ve certainly learned that character-driven books can be just as interesting (or even more so) than the plotted ones.  I’m not sure what the other books in the series will be like, but I can’t wait to see what will happen in the next installment of Titus Groan’s life.  The entire series are as follows:

  1. Titus Groan
  2. Gormenghast
    1. Boy in Darkness
  3. Titus Alone
  4. Titus Awakes

I also recommend…

 
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Posted by on October 28, 2018 in Book Reviews

 

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Non-fiction Books I’m Liking (Fall 2018)

I’m seeing a Japanese theme here, aren’t you?  Enjoy these Asian-rooted books with me this autumn!

The Four Holy Gospels, illustrated by Makoto Fujimura ~ The first time I heard of Makoto Fujimura was on a late Moody radio program.  ‘A Christian abstract artist?  That just can’t be!’ I thought.  I’m not sure how, but somewhere along the way I picked up the thinking that modern art was completely anti-God, anti-Christian and anything that didn’t at least try to look realistic had its basis in evil worldviews.  Thank goodness God’s mellowed me out since then, and I guess the process is ongoing!  For those who may be struggling with this idea that abstract can be glorifying to God, I recommend Francis Schaeffer’s short work, “Art and the Bible.” In any case, I became curious enough to look up this deeply spiritual Asian-American online to see what his art looked like.  I was astounded.  I don’t pretend to understand high art.  I need those trained in it to help me understand it.  But I appreciated the beauty and emotion he infused with traditional Japanese painting techniques to create beautiful washes of color with veins of metallic running through them.  I heard that he was commissioned to illustrate the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible, rather like the medieval illumination of old.  I’ve always wanted to see it, and I finally got the chance.  I wish there was more explanation accompanying his paintings and why he chose what he did (as a lot of it goes over my head), but I loved looking at it nonetheless.  My favorite piece was the full-page illustration, Prodigal God.  I would like to own my own copy someday. 

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo ~ Spring cleaning… in the fall?  I know, that doesn’t seem to make much sense, does it?  But I’ve always felt more like the fall was a second New Year’s for me, a time to hit restart and a chance to attempt more order.  And as alluded to in a recent post, I’ve been feel overwhelmed and stressed out for a long time and my systems aren’t working.  So I need a change.  I found this book at a garage sale and knew that it was a popular, best-selling book.  I’d first heard of the KonMari method of organizing on a youtube video where a woman went through her wardrobe cleaning and sorting according to what she had read in the book.  And then I just started of hearing it everywhere.  Last year I redded [yes, that is a word even though spellcheck says it’s not] my book collection to purge what I didn’t have room for anymore.  I was pleased with the results, but I really needed to read through this cover to cover.  So, I am currently about halfway through and am enjoying this little book.  So much of what the author recommends seems backward to what I was thinking, but once she explains herself it begins to make sense and I am willing to try.  I have already gone through my own clothes closet and am now to attack books again (I acquire new all the time) and papers.  I want to begin to put her principles into my daily living, not just a once a year mad purge.  I know she comes to the table with a very Eastern spiritualistic worldview.  Some readers may feel weird about Kondo’s assigning personalities to things and talking to them, thanking them for their service.  But at the same time, I identify with that because of my struggles with OCD.  So even though I personally don’t believe my Mom’s 34-year old blender that she got as a wedding present and that is now out of commission has a spirit, it is easier to place it in the dumpster after I’ve given it a dignified “thank you for your service” speech.   

 

 
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Posted by on September 23, 2018 in Non-Fiction Books I'm Liking

 

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Book Review: “The Meanest Doll in the World,” by Ann M. Martin, Laura Godwin

40081Genre: adventure; children’s fiction

Plot Summary: In this sequel to The Doll People, Annabelle Doll and her BFF Tiffany go to Kate’s school!  An exploration with Auntie Sarah goes terribly wrong, and the two little living dolls are swept up in a backpack and get quite an education.  One adventure follows another, especially on their return trip back home… when they accidentally end up in the wrong house!  Are all living dolls everywhere threatened by the dangerous antics of Mean Mimi?

My Book Review:  I loved the first book in the Doll People Series by Ann M. Martin when I originally listened to it on audiobook some years ago (see review here).  I was delightfully surprised to learn that there were more in the series, so this is my continuation of Annabelle Doll’s adventures.

I would say that I enjoyed this one even more than the first!  It was fun to read such a creative story for children.  The book has many cute, detailed illustrations by Brian Selznik. This would also make for a fun read-aloud book for families.

The main reason I loved this book was that the plot themes provided much food for thought, just as it’s predecessor in the series did.  Much discussion can be derived from it, as many of the situations that Annabelle and Tiffany encounter are common ones found in real life.

SPOILERS: The main plot concerns a very nasty character—a doll—called Mean Mimi.  Annabelle and Tiffany encounter her in a strange house they accidentally end up in when they attempt to find their way back home.  Mean Mimi wreaks terror upon all the dolls that live under the same roof with her.  This is a scary thing when the living dolls face the fact that any one of them could enter Permanent Doll State should they be discovered by humans as being real.  Soon the dolls realize that not only a handful but all of dollkind are in danger of PDS, should Mean Mimi go too far.

serveimageAnnabelle and Tiffany decide to do a very brave thing in helping their new friends fight off their dictator before eventually leaving to go to their real home.  But they unknowingly bring the terror back to Kate’s house with them!  Now the Dolls and the Funcrafts must work together to solve this crisis.  They try talking to her, they try ignoring her, they try capturing her, all to no avail.  Mimi even successfully turns the two best friends against each other for a time.  If they don’t solve this problem soon, they may all be in PDS before they know it!

The Meanest Doll in the World was published in 2003, the year the US went to war with Iraq.  Are you seeing any sort of parallel going on here?  [*I will put in a disclaimer here and say that the authors in no way spell out what my interpretation is.  This is just my own personal takeaway here.]  In the real world, we are facing a scary threat to this nation and to all free people everywhere.  We’ve fought our battles, but returned before the job was done.  Now we are dealing with threats on our homefront, and no amount of talking or placating or ignoring will make the problem go away.  The Dolls have a little bit of a different situation going on in that they don’t have a lot of options in dealing with Mimi.  But we can be proactive in facing our enemies while there’s still time.

I was quite surprised to find that the author does not write Mean Mimi as a lot of children’s authors would these days.  I was expecting at any moment to find that Mimi wasn’t really that bad of a doll after all, that she was just unloved and misunderstood, and that after talking with her she would mend her ways and all would be fine.  Kum-ba-ya.  But instead, Mimi was nasty through and through.  She was a doll looking for absolute power, not love.  She could look innocent at times and cry crocodile tears, but in the end there was no holding hands with her.  To save them all, she had to be taken out of the picture.  She ends up doing that to herself without any help.  END OF SPOILERS.

There were so many elements of this book for me to love.  Some parents, however, might want to be aware that there is a theme of ‘positive thinking’ that may resemble New Age ideas.  It didn’t trouble me too much as it wasn’t a major aspect to the story, and was more of Annabelle’s way to put more effort into calming herself down than working herself into a panic.  Overall, I found the amount of good things about the book to far outnumber the smaller reservations I might have had.  I will also say that although I found the pictures entertaining, had I been a little girl I would have been totally creeped out by the drawings of Mimi.  I would have had nightmares for weeks.

This is definitely a fun read to curl up with your daughters (provided they aren’t too sensitive) and enjoy reading & talking about.  I’ve even read of some boys liking the series as well.  I can’t wait to read #3 The Runaway Dolls!

 
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Posted by on December 30, 2016 in Book Reviews

 

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BBC audio: Beatrix Potter Tales!

What a great time of year to listen to some cozy classic animal tales by Miss Potter!  For a limited time, you can listen to many of the well-beloved tales read by the wonderful voices of Sally Hawkins, Miranda Richardson, and others.  Click on the picture links below!

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“The Tale of Mr. Tod”

 

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“The Tale of Ginger & Pickles” & “The Tale of Mrs. Tittlemouse”

 

fe2dcc23a18f95ba70b5d0b4e3a5c588

“The Tale of Samuel Whiskers” & “The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies”

 

"The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck" & "The Tale of Tom Kitten"

“The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck” & “The Tale of Tom Kitten”

 

"The Tale of the Pie and the Patty-Pan" & "The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher"

“The Tale of the Pie and the Patty-Pan” & “The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher”

 

"The Tale of Benjamin Bunny" & "The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle"

“The Tale of Benjamin Bunny” & “The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle”

 

"The Tailor of Gloucester" & "The Tale of Two Bad Mice"

“The Tailor of Gloucester” & “The Tale of Two Bad Mice”

 

"The Tale of Peter Rabbit" & "The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin"

“The Tale of Peter Rabbit” & “The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on September 18, 2015 in Audio/Radio Dramas

 

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Book Review: Gone-Away Lake, Elizabeth Enright

7636138Genre: children’s literature; classic

Plot Summary: When Portia Blake and her cousin Julian discover an old, abandoned community of lake houses in the middle of the woods, they are mystified as to how it got there.  Then they meet elderly Mrs. Cheever and her brother Pindar Payton who live there, and summer vacation just got more wonderful!

My Book Review: This was one of those books I pulled off of Mr. S’s bookshelf in sixth grade because he made it mandatory we had to read two of his books each semester.  At first I thought it looked boring (I hate it when I’m made to read a book), but as the story got going I quickly became glued to it!  [Thanks, Mr. S! 🙂 ]  This was a reread for me, nearly sixteen years later, but I was surprised to find how much I remembered about it.  Unfortunately, I read it at an age where I didn’t take note of authors and titles, so it took me many years to find this gem again.

Elizabeth Enright certainly was a talented childrens’ book author.  The book was first published in 1957, which I deem the height of the golden age of children’s literature.  They often don’t make kids’ books like these anymore.  What I love about Gone-Away Lake is the realistic POV of the children characters.  They view summer as we all viewed summer at that age… full of sun and exploring and bugs and fun mysteries to solve.

“The kind where everything is peaceful and a little bit better than real.”

This book is written with such detail.  How much fun would it be to discover a mysterious abandoned village of houses in the middle of the woods?  And to meet a delightful old couple who never completely grew up?  I think we have just as much fun as Portia, Julian, and Foster do all summer long!

Enright’s love and understanding of nature is evident throughout the book.  She doesn’t go overboard with loading us with biology, but her descriptions of swamp and woods, storms, and late summer are what make us experience Gone-Away with all our senses.  I love her contrast between old and new.  The young children fall in love with wonderful Minnehaha Cheever and Pindar Payton, who ironically are eternally young despite their age.  Gone-Away has a way of drawing out the youth of the adults who eventually come to visit the old houses, as well.

11359f44718a332b8eef52b92972e2caOne of my favorite and most memorable parts is when the children first meet Mrs. Cheever in leg-of-mutton sleeves, who shows them her old Victorian drawing room.  She explains that she salvaged every good piece of furniture from the other houses and so her room is overstuffed with sofas and plant stands.  Each wall is decorated with a different patterned wallpaper.  A two page illustration cemented this scene in my mind forever afterwards.  The drawings by Beth and Joe Krush are the detailed line drawings you would love to color in with colored pencils.  If I ever find my own Gone-Away copy at a used book sale, that is exactly what I’m going to do!

There isn’t a thing I disliked about this book and I highly recommend it to one and all as a delightful summer read!  I often find that children’s books are even better enjoyed as an adult, so don’t make the mistake of believing you’re ‘too old’ and pass by this treasure!  But I loved it immensely at 11 and wish that I had known back then that there was a sequel, Return to Gone-Away (which I am definitely planning on reading, too).

 
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Posted by on August 22, 2015 in Book Reviews

 

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Book Review: The Doll People, by Ann Martin, Laura Godwin

268917Genre: children’s fiction (ages 8-12); adventure

Plot Summary: Annabelle Doll is 8 years old.  She’s been 8 for more than a hundred years and lives in a dollhouse with her family—all antique china dolls, of course.  Every day is a repeat of the same, until Annabelle discovers the journal of her missing aunt who has been gone for fifty years!  Then, the Dolls meet a new family of modern, plastic dolls.  Together Annabelle and her new friend Tiffany decide to look for Auntie Sarah.  Where could she be?  Can they manage to find her and bring her home safely, avoiding the Palmers’ cat and Permanent Doll State?

My Book Review:  Years ago, my family and I listened to “The Doll People” on audiobook while we worked in the garden together.  It will be a fun memory that will stick with me.  The narrator, Lynn Redgrave, was engaging and could make wonderful voices for all the characters.  We laughed at the Funcrafts and couldn’t wait to find out what would happen next in the story.  Recently, I decided to read the actual book for myself.  Again, it was a wonderful story, but I have to admit that listening to it for the first time was the best ever.  I would highly recommend the recording of this!  (You can listen to an excerpt here.)

The book itself is a delightfully creative story, complete with the cutest illustrations!  It reminded me of the ‘golden age of children’s literature’ that was written around the 1950’s-1960’s.  The reader (or listener) is introduced by imagination to the world of living dolls.  What would it be like to be a hundred year old doll?  Life around Annabelle changes and grows, yet she remains the same year after year.  She doesn’t even have any other real friends her own age.  One could imagine that this would get quite boring for any little girl!

21345f37257f105b0489a4dca543321dThe only big change in the last hundred years has been the disappearance of Auntie Sarah, which fuels the main plot of the book.  A side plot is the arrival of a modern dollhouse.  How would an antique family of dolls fair in meeting a family of modern plastic ones?  The results are hilarious!

There are some interesting observations I had while reading.  Surprisingly, Annabelle doesn’t really change by the end of the book, since she is the catalyst for change in her family’s unhealthy coping system.  What I don’t like is that the grownups in Annabelle’s family were so weak that when Annabelle announces she will take a stand to look for Auntie Sarah …they let her instead of doing the dangerous deed themselves.

But I think they learn in the end.  The Doll Family as a whole changed their personality a little.  In the beginning, the Dolls tended to be quite fearful and overly cautious.  They took unnecessary precautions and lived in isolation.  While the Funcrafts were naiive and careless, they did introduce more color and fun into the Dolls’ lives.  By the end of the book, we see the two families starting to balance each other out.  Papa Doll doesn’t wait quite as long to announce the coast is clear, and the Funcrafts have learned a thing or two about playing with cats.  They need each other to live more fully.  I guess this speaks to the benefit of community!

This is a great read aloud book for the family.  Or, find the audio version and enjoy listening on a car trip.  I even heard that this was turned into a musical, so maybe you’ll be able to find a local college doing a production of it.  I was thrilled to discover that there are three more books in “The Doll People Stories Series” (#2- “The Meanest Doll in the World”; #3- “The Runaway Dolls”; #4- “The Doll People Set Sail”).  I will definitely be reading those in the future!  Don’t pass these up!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on June 13, 2015 in Book Reviews

 

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Book Review: The Chasm, by Randy Alcorn

9519046Genre: Christian Inspirational fiction; allegory

Plot Summary: Nick is an ordinary man traveling along life’s grey roads when he suddenly catches a glimpse of a far off land.  At first he tries to ignore it’s calling to him, filling his life with empty stuff instead.  But there are other things he can’t avoid acknowledging, like the invisible warriors fighting over individuals like himself and countless others.  What does it all mean?  He meets a man at the edge of a chasm who gives him a choice that will determine the fate of the rest of his life…

My Book Review:  I was surprised when I picked this book up from the interlibrary loan system at my local library.  It was a lot thinner than I’d expected– a novella, really.  It turns out that it is actually a smaller adaptation of a larger fiction novel (Edge of Eternity) by Randy Alcorn.  I was not familiar with that book, but I feel that The Chasm: A Journey to the Edge of Life might have made a little more sense if I had read that first.  Still, it is possible for it to stand on it’s own, without reading Edge…

It didn’t take me long to read this little book.  It was a different sort of genre than what I normally read, so it was good to get out of the usual box of historical fiction for a change.  The story is told in first person, the events described are told in brief.  Truth be told, I had expected the story to be more like a Pilgrim’s Progress (allegory of the Christian life after conversion), as opposed to an allegory mainly about conversion.  But I loved the allegorical details created by Alcorn’s imagination.  My favorite part was near the end when Nick has a conversation with Jesus about traveling to the city of Charis after having crossed the Chasm.

Unfortunately, this was a book that I felt I couldn’t wait to finish so I could start something else.  This might have been because it would have felt richer to have first read Edge…, or it might have been a spiritual war going on in me, but I felt myself often daydreaming while reading and impatient to finish so I could add it to my Books Read List.  I wish this had not been the case and I feel the fault may lie with myself.  Am I so used to hearing about the gospel and bored with the reality of what Jesus did for me so that I could live?  The thought sort of frightens me that I could be so apathetic while reading Nick’s story.

Each chapter includes a black and white illustration that makes it feel more like a graphic novel.  They reminded me of the illustrations in the scary tracts passed out at the fair when I was little.  I would have much preferred pictures fashioned in the same style as the front cover, but others may like the informal ‘comic book’ drawings better.

This little book would make a nice gift book (perhaps for someone in the hospital) or a coffee table book for conversation starters.  It also makes for some good Easter season reading!!

 
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Posted by on April 12, 2015 in Book Reviews

 

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