Favorite Epistolary Novels: Fictional stories told thru letters, e-mails, Tweets or texts

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I learned to love this format in college when I discovered Private Eye magazine and the diary of a fictitious Denis Thatcher, husband of the Iron Lady, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. “Not wanted on voyage” is my favorite bit of his lingo. There were more volumes to follow, but I haven’t read them. This is the original. It’s out-of-print, but widely available used. This one is also the product of two authors writing together.

Dear Bill: The Collected Letters of Denis Thatcher by Richard Ingrams and John Wells

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This book took the world by storm several years ago. Aside from a rather ponderous drama on PBS Masterpiece many years ago, it is the sum total of my knowledge of Nazi occupied channel islands. But, forget about that. This is a book for the ages. I loved it all. This is a unique novel in another way as well–it was co-written by two authors. I also loved and reviewed Annie Barrows novel, The Truth According To Us.

The Guernesey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

C.S. Lewis’ best fiction, in my humble opinion, is this collection of lesson-letters from the Screwtape (i.e., the Devil) to his devil-trainee nephew, Wormwood. As accurate today as the day it was published in War-ravaged 1942, this is a classic in the ways worldly life deceives and distracts people from the life God intends for them. I highly recommend

The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis

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Columbine-like killer Kevin is the subject of his mother’s letters to her husband. This book is chilling, but it does have flaws–like why wasn’t this kid in therapy? Read more here on my old blog.

We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

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Dating and texting in Saudi Arabia? Kind of like the Duggar girls doing a wet t-shirt contest at Spring Break in Cancun! This book is written as a series of exchanges posted to friends in an internet chat room (anyone still use those?). This is a fascinating and not too overly fictionalized account of young adult life for upper class Saudi girls. It was written in Arabic and banned in Saudi Arabia. I enjoyed every minute of it.

Girls of Riyadh by Rajaa Alsnea

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I read this young adult cult-classic for the first time at age 54. It is so accurate I cried in places. You can read more about my reading experience here: Reflections on the Perks….

Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

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This book is just laugh-out-loud funny–and fun. I giggled all through it. You can read my review here. (Scroll down to the review).

Texts from Jane Eyre and Other Conversations with Your Favorite Literary Characters by Mallory Ortberg

Do you have a favorite novel told in letters or emails or other correspondence? Tell me about it–or leave a link to your blog post or book review. I love to read what readers have to say.

Top 5 Wednesday: The only Sci-Fi I’ve Ever Read

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This month’s topics are all going to be difficult for me! Take this week–I’m so NOT a sci-fi fan. The Empire Strikes back was the worst date of my life. I pretty much loathe sci fi, though I did like an article in the 80’s in an academic journal on popular culture that compared the tv show Battlestar Galactica to Mormon Theology…..THAT was creative! Apologies to any LDS reading this (or to BG fans). Heck, I couldn’t stand Lost in Space as a kid!

For the record, I’m not hot on fantasy either, but have enjoyed a few of those. I consider Wrinkle in Time to be fantasy, not sci fi.

Please note: I make an exception for the original Star Trek. I’m not a trekkie by any means, but I can watch that. Especially the old Chicago one, the one with the love potion and the tribbles. And the cartoon of Spock’s childhood.

 

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This book may well have spawned my dislike of sci-fi. I remember reading part of it in 5th grade and thinking (though we didn’t say that back then) WT????

 

These books were only marginally better than my other nemesis of my Freshman year in college–Waiting for Godot. They killed and I do mean KILLED an entire weekend holed up in my grandmother’s den hibernating reading these so I could get a respectable grade in the first course in my major–Intro to International Relations. Yes, these perfectly illustration the Uni-Polar, Bi-Polar and Multi-Polar political models of the world. I understand from a sci fi-freak friend who read them gladly when I offered them to her, that these are GREAT. If you are a sci fi reader, have at it. If not, move on. The Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov.

 

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It took dogged determination to stay awake thru this one. Considering I listened to the audio on my daily commute that was essential. I love C.S. Lewis, but not this. Out of the Silent Planet.

 

Top 5 Friday is a group at Goodreads. Why not join the group and post your own list (or video) next week?

 

 

Review: Paris For One by JoJo Moyes

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When I learned that Jojo Moyes had  new book out I was excited. Then I saw the dreaded words “...and Other Stories.” I’m not much for short stories. So, I put it into the car cd-player thinking I’d give it five minutes  and ended up sitting in the driveway listening longer than my drive!

 

The Good

Paris for One was super! This is actually a novella. The characters were wonderful, the story believable. I loved it. I hope there will be a follow-up–a sequel a few years after the story.

Crocodile Shoes–I laughed hard and had to share it with my daughter, who did her first “real job” presentations this week. Read the story and you’ll understand.

Holdups–A sweet, funny, scary holdup? Of course!

Last Year’s Coat–Married love at it’s best. And I can’t stop thinking about a coat my Mom “endured” so we could have what we wanted.

Thirteen Days With John C--Like in the old days when someone would meanly tell a wrong number caller that “he just left with his wife…” and let the person agonize.

The Christmas List–I adored this. It, too, should have been a full novel or novella. And there’s a tiny connection in the story you may just wonder about that makes it all even more intriguing. Listen carefully–a throw away line by the cabbie about his …..[no spoilers].

The Bad

A Bird in the Hand–Should have stayed on the hard drive or in the drawer.

 

Rating

3.75 Stars

Sadly, she’ll always be judged by  Me Before You

I’ve loved every book of hers I’ve read so far.

Caught My Eye: Easter Tables

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Last week’s Caught My Eye post was all gingham. I love gingham for Spring. So, why not gingham for Easter? The sweet simple tablescape above would work with just about any color gingham. Love it.

 

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Image from Belle Ble Interiors–visit this blog, a favorite tablescape-ing blog

I love the antique-ish bunny here, and the beautiful eggs in the wheelbarrow. If you read the post here  you can see all the other fine touches on this table. Plus, her Spring Tablescape Blog Hop (scroll down on the post to see it) has tons more great Spring or Easter ideas.

 

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Photo Stone Gable: American Farmhouse Living

Stone Gable: American Farmhouse Living blog offers this  sweet vingette that could easily be a centerpiece or on a side table for Easter dinner. I love the sweet bunny and the tulips. Tulips simply are Spring to me.

 

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Photo: Caitlin Colcolough Veranda Magazine

Florals are a must at Easter and few tables have looked as fabulous with florals as this pretty pastel tablescape from Veranda. Click on the link to see all the fine details of this very grown-up Easter table.

 

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Another great floral tablescape–I love the addition of the Easter Eggs and the flower on the napkin. Such nice touches. See it, and more ideas,  here. Here, too, is another fantastic collection of ideas.

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Photo: Hymns and Verses .com

This is a mantle-scape but could be on a side table for Easter dinner. I LOVE, Love, love the old-time church hymn and attendance board. Classic. The Lamb of God who took away the sins of the world and, of course, flowers. Lovely. See the entire post here.

 

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The blog name says it all: Everything Fabulous! This is FABULOUS!

Your family would need to be very tall though–just kidding. It’s beautiful!

 

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Photo credit: Between The Naps On The Porch.net

Ok, eating Peeps grosses me out, but THIS is adorable! Perfect kids’ table! See it all here.

 

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Photo credit: Copyright © 2017 Jennifer Brouwer Design

How’s this for a great tablescape? Easter Egg Hunt and Easter Lunch combined! I love the pastels, the crafts, the vintage items. So sweet. This post has many more fun ideas, too!

 

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Photo: Interior Frugalista

How about these beautiful cloches? Interior Frugalista does a fabulous job! Go see her other idea.

 

 

How about you? Do you have special things you love on the table at Easter? Flowers? A classic bunny?  A cross? Leave me a comment or a link. I’d love to see them.

 

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Photo credit: LilyBeanPaperie

Sweet egg basket–I love anything with old sheet music. The lace is lovely, too.

Just a sweet little extra for you!

My Favorite Epistolary Books: Part I Fictional Diaries

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I started 5th grade in my fifth school. We moved in a few weeks before the fall semester started with the hope that we’d get to know a few kids in the neighborhood and not feel too “alone” on the first day of school. (This was in 1972–the words “Go play” were all there was to parenting, thank heaven). It worked. But a lot changed in 5th grade and most of those changes were ones I didn’t like. My brother–the best person on Earth–was in high school now and had little time for me. My body went thru changes that made continuing to be a Tomboy tough. And I was among the first in my new class to experience those changes.

To help me thru it all my Mom ordered this book from the Scholastic Book Club flyer I brought home one week. It helped. For the first time a book mentioned “real stuff.” I wasn’t yet big on reading, but this book was one of the “gateway” books as we’d say today. The short diary entries–talking about real stuff were just the right length. Sometimes I even read TWO. By the end of that school year I was devouring books. It worked on that reluctance to read as well.

Diary of a Frantic Kid Sister by Hilda Colman [Note: The cover was re-done in the ’80s. I’ve shown “my” cover instead.]

Over the years, diaries, both fictional and real, have stayed a big part of my reading life. Here are a few of my favorites.

I like these so well that I’ve written one! Here’s a sample from my spoof royal one: ‘Milla’s Diary.

 

Fictional Diaries

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I loved this. That’s all I need to say, well that and JUST READ IT!!! Got it? I now want to read everything any Bronte published–that’s the effect this wonderful book had on me. It may be that, since I’m pretty ignorant on all things Bronte, I may not see things wrong with it. It happens. So, blame my ignorance if you find something I missed. I enjoyed every word of this!! The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte by Syrie James [Review was published on my old blog in October 2013]

 

Bridget Jones–first as a sex-deprived, granny-pantie wearing Singleton, friend to Smug Marrieds, took my heart at about word one. I’ve read them all and loved them, though Mad About the Boy is my favorite. And, yes, I enjoy the movies, too.

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Marie Sharp is the older generation’s Bridget Jones. I laughed out loud so many times while listening to this one. She made me think of Diana Trent in Waiting For God–the British sitcom on PBS. Her take on life as a woman of a certain age is spot on. Then comes her grandson–improbably (to her) named Gene. The rest is even better! No! I Don’t Want to Join a Book Club by Virginia Ironside.

 

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I read this in the then brand-new world of Online Book Clubs years and years ago. It is marvelous–as is the movie. As I read it I kept picturing Scarlett in Four Weddings and a Funeral–bright orange-red hair and all as the author. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith.

 

 

Dear America, My Name is America and the Royal Diaries series from the 1990s/2000s are very enjoyable. They are historical fiction for children. I’ve enjoyed several of them. Yes, there is a formula and they are a series, but they are well done. Most are still in print and all are available widely in used book stores and libraries.

Next Thursday: Part II Favorite Novels Told in Letters

Still to come: Favorite Nonfiction Diaries and Letter Collections

 

Do you have any favorite fictional diaries? Leave me a comment or a link–I’d love to hear about it.

 

Top Five Wednesday: Future Classics of Social Justice

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Ok, I tweaked the topic a little. But it’s what’s coming to mind today, so I just added the subtitle. Everyone else will have Harry Potter. This list is different.

My Choices

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No question about it. This one is, will be and will remain, a classic. After students read Uncle Tom’s Cabin they will read the Underground Railroad. My review.

Underground Railroad: A Novel by Colson Whitehead

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Students of late Colonialism and African Independence will read this for generations. I hope students in seminaries and Bible Colleges aiming for Missionary work will, too, if only to remember how badly done it used to be.

Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver.

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The nonfiction book I reviewed yesterday, A Hope More Powerful Than the Sea, is another war book, like Zlata’s Diary , that hopefully will help the world learn about war and refugees and make us stop manufacturing both. There are many others in this genre that should be read along with The Diary of Young Girl by Anne Frank to emphasize humanity against in humanity.  You can read yesterday’s review here.

A Hope More Powerful Than the Sea by Melissa Fleming

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T.C. Boyle’s book shows the staggering wealth of America against the equally staggering despair of so many illegal immigrants to the USA. It’s the Grapes of Wrath for today. Like Grapes of Wrath, it will be read for generations.

The Tortilla Curtain: A Novel by T.C. Boyle.

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Let’s hope people in medical ethics, sociology and women’s studies, will all read this one attentively. I could have included several others here–Five Days at Memorial, for example. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

 

On Future Classics in General

In 2012, The Smithsonian published predictions of future classics from 1936. The list was about 50% right. Read it all here.

 

Top 5 Wednesday is a group on Goodreads! Come and join the group, then post your own list or video!

Top Ten Tuesday: The Authors I’d Most Like to Meet

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Current Day Authors

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Jamie Ford-

[Number 1 is because he’ll be in three cities near me so I MIGHT actually get to meet him!]

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Anne Tyler

Never a bad book.

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Barbara Kingsolver

I’ve loved all but Lucuna. Plus she went to DePauw in Indaiana.

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Zadie Smith

Powerful writer.

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Louise Penny

Vive Gamache!

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Lisa Scottoline

Honestly, every time I listen to a book by these two (mother/daughter) I feel like we’re on a road trip together!

Claire Cook

Her book, Never Too Late, got me working toward my own dreams of being published. I also love that she’s remaking her career as a self-published author–having left traditional publishing. She just plain inspires me!

I’d also love to have been able to know Sir Winston Churchill, all of the Brontes, Marquerite Henry, Gene Stratton Porter, Louisa May Alcott and many, many others–both dead and alive and kicking!

Join the fun of Top 10 Tuesday at The Broke and the Bookish.

Review: A Hope More Powerful Than The Sea: The Journey of Doaa Al Zamel

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Imagine

What if you were 16 years old and surrounded by violence–even sexual violence? What if your neighborhood was being destroyed by war? Can you imagine gathering your little 13 and 11 year-old sisters together and making them pledge with you not to dishonor your family in this way:

If any soldier tries to rape us….we must be ready to kill ourselves. We cannot live with that shame. Our honor is all we have left. (p. 59)

The Story

We’ve all seen, heard and read about the huge migration of refugees from Syria in recent years. The bombings and destruction of the country are on the news. Many of us, even loving, caring people among us, have been frightened by the possibility of terrorists hiding in that stream of refugees and bringing that war here. It’s an irrational fear given all the vetting that goes on, but none-the less-it’s an honest emotion. This story helps humanize this war and avoid that irrational fear.

Now imagine being those girls who swore to uphold their family’s honor in such a terrifying way. What if you were the mother or father and those were your children? Would you stay put and watch your family be sexually molested, starve or simply killed outright? Our would you take whatever steps were possible to flee and start life anew in a different place? What if it meant you a pharmacist or you an engineer could not use your profession in the new country without returning to school? That you had to support your family in a minimum wage fast food or factory job? Parents in Syria are beyond deciding these questions–the war has decided it for them

In a book that has frightening parallels to Anne Frank and others the 1930’s, Doaa Al Zamel and her fiance take the risk and go with the intent of reunifying their extended family in a new place. The journey is so dangerous, so bewildering and so deadly that I could not but think of the ill-fated St. Louis being turned back from Cuba to return its desperate cargo to death at the hands of the Nazis in 1939 in which the US and Canada, as well as intended host Cuba, turned their backs on those poor, fleeing souls.

Doaa’s journey is heroic. She left Egypt (where her family had sought safety) illegally and then counted on being allowed to ask for asylum in Italy. What happens along the way is an odyssey from Dantes’ Inferno--a new circle of hell. Her courage is worthy of the Congressional Medal of Honor, the Victoria Cross, and the French Croix de Guerre all at once. To say more would be to ruin it for future readers–and you really MUST read this.

My One Negative Note

I did have to wonder, given the state of things today, if this book would have come about had Doaa been a Christian–had she sought comfort from the Bible and not the Quran. I say this to in no way lessen her heroic story–it is truly as great as the medals I mentioned above would designate it as being. I wonder. I hope so, but I can’t say I’m positive it would have been published.

I know that some will leave rude comments for me asking that. So be it.

This is still a book I recommend to EVERY READER of this blog and beyond. It makes the point of what is going on over in Syria, and in Europe,  intelligible even to the many people who couldn’t hope to find Syria on a map. I hope that it will make relate-able the young women who cover their heads or even their entire bodies as a sign of their obedience to their faith. I hope it will make their faith and their culture less strange and less threatening. I hope when people hear the word “refugee” they think not of someone wanting a better job, but of someone truly fleeing for their life. I hope this book will help us return to being a nation who welcomes “… your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to” the United States regardless of who, if any, they worship, or what language they speak or who is in the White House.

 A Hope More Powerful Than The Sea: The Journey of Doaa Al Zamel by Melissa Fleming

Rating: 4.5 Stars. Just Read it.

Note to parents: This is an important book. I highly recommend you read it with children 6th grade and up, but pre-read it. Don’t sugar coat it, but be ready. There are traumatic scenes, but it is important. Talk with your children as you read it. Let them process it. Unlike today, I learned about the Holocaust in 6th grade watching original film that included footage of the liberation of one of the concentration camps.  My brave 6th grade teacher walked us through this horror. No one made filthy jokes. No one used slurs. I imagine no one in my class forgot. No one gave us grief counseling. We talked, we listened. It’s important that children be taught what is going on in the world. Life is not all basketball tournaments and American Eagle clothes. Every moment isn’t magical. Let them experience reality. Without encountering stories like this, who will take on the tasks of freedom?

What Caught My Eye: Spring and Gingham

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Note: All photos are properly credited at the bottom of this post.

Gingham is such a wonderful way to inject color into life! And Spring and gingham go together perfectly to me!

Fashion Icons Love Gingham

Gingham is on Trend for Spring and Summer 2017

Stylish Guys Love Gingham

Gingham is Great at Home

It’s Spring! Go forth and Gingham!

 

 

The Blogger's Pit Stop

 

 

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Photo Credits:

Gingham Shirts

Di standing Gingham

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Di Gingham Pants

Jackie in Gingham

Kate in Gingham Shirt

Kate Blazer & Gingham

Kate Red Gingham Dress

Grace & Stephanie in Gingham

Michele Obama In Gingham

Amal in Gingham

White Skirt/Black Gingham Top

Red/White Gingham Swim Suit

Black/White Gingham Dress

  1. Crew Gingham off-the-shoulder suit
  2. Crew Gingham Sneakers

Modcloth Gingham Sheath Dress

American Eagle Gingham Romper

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William in Gingham Shirt

Mick in Gingham

President Obama in Gingham

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Harry in Gingham  

 George in Gingham

Blue Gingham Napkins

Blue Willow and Blue Gingham Tablecloth

Pink Gingham Pitcher

Vintage Rose Gingham

Blue Gingham Pillow

Gingham Tags

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Monogrammed Napkins

Gingham Bowls

Gingham Wicker Cushions

Gingham Bedroom

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Gingham Table Runner

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Gingham Dining Room Chairs

Gingham Slipcovered Chair

Yellow Gingham Curtains

Gingham Flatware

Gingham Cake

Gingham Tote

Gingham With Floral

Vivid Blue Gingham Chairs

Black Gingham Curtains

Gingham Bunks

Blue Gingham Couch

Gingham Entry Stools

 

An Extraordinary Author Produces a Very Ordinary Book

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After reading the fabulous Snow Child, I fell in love with Eowyn Ivey and wanted to immediately read everything she’d written only to find out it was one of the most fabulous debut novels in ages. So, when I heard that her second novel was now out I rushed to read it. See if this sounds like me:

  • Older man, younger woman couple
  • Historical setting
  • Military  men are involved
  • Epistolary format with diary entries and letters
  • Natural history and nature study
  • Museum and archive work involved

It should have been a perfect fit with my reading tastes. Except….except….except…. It wasn’t. Well, for starters, aspirin is given and it wasn’t on the market yet. Yeah. But the aspirin thing is not a big part of the story–it’s just a sign of an editor not doing one of the jobs they were supposed to do–fact checking.

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The Story

The good stuff

Allen and Sophie Forrester are a happily and newly married Army couple. He is colonel given the task of scouting and exploring the Wolverine (i.e. the Copper) River in Alaska. The story of the expedition is mostly very compelling. This author is a very gifted storyteller.I really liked that part of the story. I also enjoyed, for the most part, the modern day story of the Great-Nephew donating Colonel Forresters diaries to a small museum in Alaska. I enjoy anything to do with first-hand account of histories and diaries are a huge part of that. Archives and museums a are favorite of mine.

I really enjoyed the ending of Allen and Sophie’s story. It reminded me very much of Hoosier author Gene Stratton Porter’s life and work.

 

See the maps from the book–and of the real journey that inspired the story.

 

So what bugged me?

In a word: Sophie. I’ve never met a character so vapid, yet able to hold some really modern views. I will say that Sophie say she got slightly more tolerable after she took up photography. Maybe she was boring because she was bored and stupid because her life was stupid and without purpose not that dear Allen was away.Maybe the raven took the stupid out of her and flew away with it? It was  a relief that she grew to more than she was in the beginning.

The whole story of the raven was just too much for me in both Sophie’s part of the story and in the story of the expedition. But it wasn’t badly told. It’s just not my thing. I’m not into animals becoming people or the spirit world–too much fantasy, but that is just a matter of reading preference, not a criticism of how it was written.

Then there was  pet peeve with so much fiction today–diversity for diversity’s sake. Diversity hammered into the story with one of those big mallets with which the coyote used to try to kill the roadrunner. Beep-Beep. Why in the world the museum guy’s sexuality needed to be introduced is beyond me. Naturally the great-nephew who donates the Colonels diaries is a elderly Trump-sort who has an epiphany and repents of his wish that everyone would just shut up about sex and sexuality. Hammering something like this into a story where it has no place bugs me no end!

Now, don’t misunderstand. Had Colonel Forrester been gay–that WOULD have added to the story. If Sophie had fallen in love with the hired girl over their shared passion for photography that would have been an interesting way to get the subject into the story. But this little exchange was just trite and silly. It sounded like a PC-mandate for publication. Both turned into pompous windbags for a while so I started to tune them out. Thankfully I payed attention again and caught the wonderful ending to their story.

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Another element was tiresome and beaten over the head like the proverbial dead horse. That was the now seemingly-mandatory-for-publication disparaging of the Christian faith or church attendance or praying. Sophie has no regard for church or for the Christian faith, though her mother was a part of the social justice-minded Quakers. Nor does her “hired girl,” though in her case it is more understandable. She’s an apparently lapsed Irish Catholic with a large number of siblings due to her mother being a faithful Catholic. (And, what woman of any faith at that time had much of a choice over how many kids they had to bear?) It’s not so likely, though,  for a proper young school teacher of the 1880s as Sophie was. After all, teachers had morals written into their contracts even in the early 20th Century. It really didn’t matter to me if this fit the characters or not–its just so utterly predictable in today’s fiction.

And, just as naturally, the one missionary who is a blip of a sound byte in the story was unfaithful to his wife and many children with a “native woman.” And the poor wife proclaims that their prayers must not have been good enough…right. The Colonel wasn’t much for religion either, but did have the dead guy laid out in  the Russian Orthodox Church. Now, had it been a Baptist Church you can bet he’d have skipped it.This just seemed ridiculous in places.

Finally, there was my biggest pet peeve  with so much of historical fiction today–characters holding too many modern views. At the time of the Colonel’s expedition, the country was currently fighting with various Native American Tribes. Hence the term, whether it is right or wrong,  “Indian Wars.” Wounded Knee had yet to occur. The Trail of Tears was simply a government edict.  There was remarkably little sympathy for the Native Americans or for Native Alaskans in the 19th Century. The “enlightened view” of the day was to “civilize” them by sending them off to government schools for indoctrination. As much as we would like to re-write history, we cannot. What was done to the Tribes and Alaskan Natives is a terrible injustice worthy of war crimes trials and we should and must hang our heads in shame. But it wasn’t seen that way back then.You just can’t change that, no matter how desirable it would be to do so.

 

The Verdict

3 stars. The story should have been fabulous, but it just wasn’t.  It is simply an average book hyped and spun to seem fabulous because the The Snow Child was an extraordinary achievement. I want to hope that the author was pushed hard to get a second book out as soon as possible. Happily most readers won’t notice the things I found objectionable–they are more about the state of historical fiction today.

In spite of the problems I had with this one, I still love the Snow Child and I’m still anxiously looking forward to more books from Eowyn Ivey.

 

 

To The Bright Edge of the World: A Novel by Eowyn Ivey

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