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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!


“The Tale of Mr. Tod”



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



“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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Book Review: The Children of Hurin, by J. R. R. Tolkien

Bestseller Books Online The Children of Hurin J.R.R. Tolkien $17.16  - fantasy, mythology, classic

Plot Summary: A son and a daughter are born to Hurin during a tumultuous time in the ancient history of Middle-Earth, when the evil Morgoth persecuted the land. The son, Turin, grows up to be a great warrior among Elves and Men. The daughter, Nienor, finds shelter in the forest of Brethil. But both are destined for lives of woe while their father remains a prisoner of the enemy in the north. “The Children of Hurin” elaborates in fuller detail what is only summarized in part of the history of “The Silmarillion.” Published after Tolkien’s death by his son, Christopher.

My Book Review: *This review is rife with spoilers, so be forewarned.*

I remember when The Children of Hurin came out a few years ago. It intrigued me partly because of the fact it was published so long after Tolkien’s death. And then I heard somewhere that if one were to read all the books about the history of Middle-Earth in chronological order, one would start with this. I’m not sure if that is correct, and here is a website that helps one to be able to truly read Tolkien in chronological order, but I am supposing that TCoH has got to be one of the first, as it takes place thousands of years before the Lord of the Rings. I vaguely remember reading about the story of Hurin in summaraized form in the Silmarillion, but TCoH was meant to elaborate on it, and we get to enjoy it in full here. This is rare when it comes to the writings of Tolkien, as unfortunately he was unable to do this for many of his wonderful story ideas (hence we have the books Unfinished Tales and the Book of Lost Tales).

Gondolin from the 1st age   I think I enjoyed this book more than The Silmarillion for the simple fact that it does elaborate. Tolkien originally wrote it to be a lay, but eventually gave that up since it began to be too long before he was halfway finished with it. It comes with a convenient pull-out map in the back of the book, a dictionary of names and places, notes on pronunciation, genealogy charts, commentary by Christopher Tolkien, and wonderful illustrations by Alan Lee. For all that, I still would often get lost in all the names and had to go back and study and restudy to keep them all straight. I decided not to read the Introduction by Christopher Tolkien until after I’d read the book because I feared it may give too much of the story away. It turns out I was partially right. But it would have helped explain about some of the history of Middle Earth that I had forgotten from The Sil, and would have helped set the stage for my understanding of the TCoH at the beginning.

As like other Middle-Earth stories by Tokien, this will not read like your typical novel. It is created to sound like a history, an epic legend. It reads sort of like the Bible. “And it came to pass in those days…” This makes for wonderful thrills down the spine, but a bit hard to read aloud for long periods of time and keep up the excitement.

This story is a dark, grim tragedy that gets bleaker and greyer the more you read along. At first I was reading this as pure entertainment, enjoying the mythology, the wonderful words and names, etc. But then I realized that there is a deeper story here. Duh.  It’s Tolkien!  Should that really have surprised me?

Ted Nasmith: Morgoth punishes HurinWe start at the beginning with the tale of Hurin’s capture by Morgoth and a legendary debate between the two. Because Hurin won’t comply in giving the enemy what he wants, Morgoth threatens to curse his children.

“Behold! The shadow of my thought shall lie upon them wherever they go, and my hate shall pursue them to the ends of the world.”

Most parents would give anything to protect their children. But still our hero won’t give in.  Hurin knows that even if he spills the secret of the whereabouts of the hidden city of Gondolin, he most definitely would lose all. Evil villains don’t keep their word. That’s why they’re evil.

There’s something else that Hurin knows that lifts his head a little higher, gives him a bearing of victory (really, you have to admire him). He knows that even while Morgoth is evil, men still have free will. He tells Morgoth:

“You speak in vain. For you cannot see them, nor govern them from afar…”

It is easy to forget this line when you proceed to read of what befalls Turin and Nienor. Over and over again, we are struck by the miserable events that plague these characters’ lives. It seems bad luck is destined to follow them all the days of their lives. Others stand back at arm’s length to distance themselves from this curse that seems to hang about them. For even though they are both good-hearted people and Turin is a hero in his own right, calamity seems to be their middle name.

Times were hard for all peoples living in such a land. What makes Turin and Nienor any different? Was it the curse of Morgoth? Or could it be that Turin just never listens to wise counsel? It is true he grew up without the influence of his father Hurin, but he had the mentorship of wise men such as Sador, King Thingol, and Beleg. Despite this, Turin shows a sort of arrogance in repeatedly refusing to listen to their advice. Thingol advises him as a teenager to wait until he is older to fight the Orcs, but Turin won’t listen. Perhaps if he had stayed longer he may have learned wisdom along with his sword skills. Mablung tells him to wait for Thingol’s judgment, but Turin runs instead. Beleg counsels Turin to return to a place he’ll be safe, but Turin is convinced his way is best; as a result a friend is killed. Gwindor explains his reasons for withdrawing from fighting, but Turin insists on his plans; as a result, a whole elvish city is decimated. And when a dragon attacks peaceful woodfolk, Turin usurps the authority of their leader to lead the charge. He never seems to learn from his mistakes.

But it isn’t just Turin who exhibits this trait. His sister Nienor shows that she is just as insensitive to others’ advice. She won’t stay in Doriath as her mother cautions; as a result, she ends up in a tragic accident. And she decides to rush into marriage when others around her are uneasy about it; therefore she marries someone she knows nothing about and is later horrified when she learns the truth.

Morwen did not gainsay him, for in Hurin's company the hopeful did ever seem the more likely. But there was knowledge of Elven lore in her kindred also, and to herself she said, Let’s look a little further… I believe Turin and Nienor learn their reckless behavior from the model of their mother, Morwen. Though a courageous woman, she doesn’t pay heed to wisdom, either. Hurin tells her she must not wait to move their family to safety if he doesn’t return. And what does she do? Stall around until it is almost too late to send Turin to Doriath, and for years refuses to come herself or send her daughter to safety as well. All because she is too proud to ask for help!   Eventually they do come to the safety of the elf kingdom, but not until Turin has already left. The advice of the elves is to stay where it is safe, but Morwen won’t listen and as a result puts herself and others in grave danger.

Of course there are terrible consequences to all of these characters’ decisions. Turin was able to accomplish many good deeds, but his reckless choices only result in many numerous innocents’ lives.

I don’t believe this is because of a curse. True, Turin and his family may have had harder choices than most (perhaps this is because of Morgoth’s ill-meaning interest in Hurin’s family). But their lives could have turned out much differently if they had heeded wise counsel to begin with. When the young boy Turin goes to the kingdom of Doriath, his mentor Beleg tells him,

“For though you are yet small you have the makings of a valiant man, worthy to be a son of Hurin the Steadfast, if that were possible.”

It could have been possible. He had many opportunities. Unfortunately, he chose to be arrogantly blind to them. As one character in the book so aptly puts it: “the doom lies in yourself, not in your name.”

There was one thing I didn’t realize until I came to the end and finished reading: Hurin, as part of his torment, was enabled by Morgoth to watch all of the things his family was going through while he was held captive. At any time he could have given in out of sheer grief and given Morgoth the information he wanted. But he held steadfast to the end. What an amazing hero!

A word must be said here about the character of Brandir. I’m not quite sure what to make of him. I pitied him for the most part, in that I’m not sure how I would have fared any better in governing my people if I was lame in the face of a dragon attack. But then I think that perhaps a true leader would have been able to find a way to inspire respect for authority in spite of it. FDR led a nation through one of the worst wars in history from a wheelchair. Even though there were some circumstances out of his control (his pure motives are often misunderstood), I think Brandir basically gave up out of self-pity. He was meant to be a doctor, not a king. I respected him for his treatment of Nienor. His counsel for her to wait to marry the man she loved was not so much out of his jealousy for her but his intuition that something was not right. He patiently looks after her when she runs to the place of battle and encounters great grief.  I think he showed his true love for her even when he couldn’t have the one he most desired.

I enjoyed this book because it got my cognitive wheels turning. Don’t read this if you are looking for a happy ending. I’m not giving anything away by saying that because the titles of the chapters will do that for you, and if you’ve read the Silmarillion, you probably knew this anyway.

*There is a wonderful audiobook version read by Christopher Lee if you’re interested in the hearing it instead of reading it.


Posted by on March 22, 2015 in Book Reviews


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Non-Fiction Books I’m Liking (Summer 2014)

Learn how to converse better this summer with these great non-fiction how-to’s!

15022The Art of Civilized Conversation, by Margaret Shepherd  Do you ever feel as though you’re woefully lacking in conversation skills?  This was my mood when I decided I’d benefit from reading this elegant looking little blue book.  And I’m glad I did.  It was full of pointers on how to handle any conversational situation, from visiting a sick person in the hospital, to managing a conversation with different difficult people-types.  Beginning with the basics of a polite conversation, each chapter shows you how to build a more interesting tete-a-tete so that you don’t have to worry about falling into taboo subjects or clichéd small talk.  The authors also include do’s to practice and don’ts to avoid, in order to avoid embarrassment.  I took lots of notes, but this little pocket-sized book would be a handy little volume to own.  If you feel you could use a tip or two, this book is for you.

402700Praying in Color, by Sybil MacBeth  One of my New Year’s resolutions is to improve my prayer life.  Unfortunately, I think I’m lacking in conversation skills with God, as well as with other people!  I’m one of those people who knows they should pray for things and other people, and intends to pray for them, and tries, but “Dear Lord, please help so-and-so” is about as original as my prayers get.  I’ve been meaning to read this book for a while, and was glad to finally check it out of the library.  The author gets us out of our prayer box to show us how we can use art (even if it’s just doodling with markers) as a form of praying.  The book is filled with the author’s own doodles.  At first, I was a little hesitant that I could pray in this way.  I’m still experimenting and trying to make this method my own, but so far I’m enjoying it.  I don’t feel like have to the rules of praying in complete sentences this way, and it’s a little freeing.  I couldn’t say I’d agree on doctrinal issues if the author and I were to sit down and have a talk about such matters, but then the book is really only on the subject of prayer and I feel I learned some ways in which I can communicate with my Lord better.  God made us all creative in some way… could it be you were made to pray in color, too?


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The Art of Reading Aloud: Read It Like You Hear It


“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”    — Albert Einstein  “Ein Märchen” (The Fairy Tale), Artist unknown, circa 1900When I attended public school, my teachers would often assign an hour for our class to take turns reading paragraphs of a short story aloud.  This was a wonderful idea!  For one, it developed reading proficiency and other unique skills that can only be experienced when people read out loud to one another.  Not to mention engaging in performance.  Don’t imagine that most of the class was thrilled or saw this as highly beneficial to development.  In fact, I didn’t look forward to it much either.  Reading time was boring because of an apparent lack of many children’s reading skills.  I am not sure what were the exact causes.  Since kids stumbled over simple vocabulary, I suspect reading disabilities like dyslexia were to blame.  I’m sure that in making us read aloud the teacher was able to see who was struggling and assign further aid for them.  Another reason could very well be the fact that many kids today do not have parents who take the time to read with them to help further develop a love of reading.  TV and social media is the more common source of entertainment, and as we all know texting improves one’s spelling [NOT!].  Then again, it could have been the short story selections we were to read from were so boring in and of themselves, that no one was very excited about reading them.  But that’s another rant for another day…

One time our teacher had us read an adapted script from the old radio play The War of the Worlds.   Somehow this failed to ignite most of the kids’ enthusiasm.  Lines dragged on and on…  I felt like saying, “Come on people!  This story is about an alien invasion!  People are freaking out and are calling for the military and fire department!  Put some whiz bangs into it!”

This problem doesn’t just affect younger readers.  Unfortunately, I think a lot of people don’t know how to read well.  I’m not talking about those who struggle with dyslexia (that’s an understandably different matter altogether), although there have been studies that show reading out loud, paired with other techniques, may aid those with reading disabilities.  Some people may know how to read and may not struggle with comprehension or pronunciation, but yet reading aloud produces inhibitions and other interfering barriers betwixt the brain and the mouth.  For some reason, we tend to become more demure when we read out loud.  Therefore, it isn’t quite as fulfilling as the experience should be.

If you feel you need a little improvement in this area, I hope the following tips will be helpful to you.

Love this Hilton Hassell illustration of Anne and Gilbert!I recommend starting where you feel safe that no one will overhear you.  It’s just you and your book.  Take each sentence at a time, but most especially the words between the quotation marks (spoken lines of the characters).  Let’s take a scene out of a famous book:

Gilbert reached across the aisle, picked up the end of Anne’s long red braid, held it out at arm’s length and said in a piercing whisper:

“Carrots! Carrots!”

Then Anne looked at him with a vengeance!

She did more than look. She sprang to her feet, her bright fancies fallen into cureless ruin. She flashed one indignant glance at Gilbert from eyes whose angry sparkle was swiftly quenched in equally angry tears.

“You mean, hateful boy!” she exclaimed passionately. “How dare you!”

And then—thwack! Anne had brought her slate down on Gilbert’s head and cracked it—slate not head—clear across.

[From Anne of Green Gables, by L. M. Montgomery]

You’ve imagined the scene; now read the first quoted line silently to yourself.

“Carrots! Carrots!”

How did you hear Gilbert speak that when you were imagining it in your head?  Probably in a nasty, teasing sort of way.  The text says he said it in a piercing whisper.  You can further imagine this by perhaps recalling a similar memory from your past where either you were teased or the one who did the teasing.

“Carrots! Carrots!”

Now speak the line out loud, trying to recreate the emotion aloud that you had heard in your head.  What’s your best piercing whisper?

A lot of this involves putting yourself in the character’s place.  I find that I become more empathetic of the characters this way.  I think it helps us get in touch with our emotions, and it certainly makes creative use of our imagination and hones our acting.

Anne of Green Gables - "Psst! Carrots! Carrots!"On to the next spoken line:

“You mean, hateful boy!” she exclaimed passionately. “How dare you!”

Here we get more of a clue about how to read this.  She exclaimed passionately.  How would you imagine this would sound?  Imagine first, then say it out loud.

“You mean, hateful boy!”  ….

“How dare you!”

Filling the sentences with emotion doesn’t have to stop with what’s between quotation marks.  Narration is filled with emotion as well.  For ex.,

Then Anne looked at him with a vengeance!

This sentence would not be read the same way we read Gilbert’s “Carrots!  Carrots!”  This time, we imagine ourselves as humiliated Anne, slowly turning in her seat with blazing eyes to face whom she considers as the ‘hateful boy.’  We imagine, empathize, and then let our voice communicate it out loud.

Audiobooks are great resources to not only experience a story read aloud to you, but also to take tips away to use for yourself when it’s just you and your book.

There are other ways we can make reading out loud fun.  We can imagine what the voices of the characters sound like.  We don’t all have the talent for producing cartoon voices and that isn’t necessary, anyway.  It doesn’t have to be over the top.  But some suggestions would be to soften the voice for females and deepen slightly for the men [careful now, I don’t want to be the cause of a rise in throat cancer].  Maybe higher voices for children, shaky for the elderly.  Attempting accents are always fun, too.

You can improve your reading if you feel you need to/want to at any age.  But it’s always nice to start young.  If you’re teaching young children to read the way they imagine the story in their heads, they may have a greater love of learning that will last them throughout life.

Allow yourself to feel silly.  No one’s watching.  We get better over time, and hopefully it will become more fun.  The goal is have a more fulfilling, colorful reading experience—one that comes alive with our imagination!











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