Review: A Chelsea Concerto by Frances Faviell


My Interest

I had intended this memoir as my nonfiction work for Novellas in November, as well as for Nonfiction November. But, life got in the way and I missed the deadline. At 254 pages it was just a touch too long for #NovNov, but it still read like a Novella so that’s that. Plus, first hand account of the Blitz are always fascinating and this one was well worth the extra pages.

The Story

The Blitz was providing something besides bombs. It was making people talk to one another.” (p. 102)

Olivia Faviell Lucas, the real name of author Francis Faviell, traveled the world between the wars. At the time of this memoir, she was about to be married to Richard Parker, a Civil Servant. She lived in Chelsea right by the Royal Hospital, with her little dachshund, Vicki, and earned her living as a painter having trained at the Slade School. The story begin as the war is starting. Frances is a volunteer in the first aid and fire services. Her work takes her into the inferno of dropping incendiaries and other types of bombs in the beginning of the war and the time now known as the Blitz.

In spite of the war, hers is a nice life lived in pleasant surroundings–a home that we would today say was “curated,” that is filled with treasures from her travels including the green glass cat on the cover of the book. His story is told in the beginning of the book. We meet her friends, neighbors, housekeeper, and other residents of her lovely Chelsea neighborhood.

Her work with the wounded and the dead is often very grisly. It is the sort of things we often say “I couldn’t do that” because war has never forced us to try. Due to her language ability, she is called upon to help with a nearby community of Belgian refugees.

The war comes home to Frances while she is expecting her first child–she briefly loses her nerve, then steels herself and gets on with helping the wounded. Like the Queen Mother famously said after Buckingham Palace was bombed, she could look the East end “in the face” so too can Frances look that way at her Belgian refugees.

My Thoughts

“The Blitz was doing something else–it was cotninuing the slow difficult process already begun before the war of breaking down class barriers.” (p. 102)

Being political, my first thought was just WHO was the friend that The Rt Hon Leslie Hore Belisha always going to visit in Chelsea–enabling Frances to have a chat with her friend, a volunteer, who was his driver? lol.

More to the point, I wondered how people kept going. Today would we (Americans) ever agree to rationing? To everyone obeying a neighbor appointed as an air raid or fire warden? Please–we can’t even agree on getting a shot today. We’d fight over it till the end. And, people just kept going. Yes, some had what were then called “nervous breakdowns,” and smoking and drinking were rife, but people kept going. Send our children away? I cannot imagine doing that. I just cannot. Euthanize our pets (as many had to do)? Brutal–yet so many at that time did so for the good of all.

There are so many brave moments in this story it is hard to single out even one. The Belgian woman who is castigated for never going to visit her newborn baby is among the most vivid aside from some of the violence from the bombs (too horrific to discuss). Unmarried, not sure she’ll ever see the father again, in a strange country, very, very ill and yet she is harassed by neighbors and do-gooders to get out of her sickbed and go to the countryside to see her evacuated newborn who wouldn’t know her from Adam. That was truly harsh. So too was the clean, tidy, clergyman who told a woman who’d just lost her husband in violent circumstances to accept it as God’s will and move on. He wasn’t really wrong–she would have to accept it and move on at some point, but his timing was callus even for a world war. And, I was with Frances checking out those manicured hands that had never even dug to plant a vegetable, let alone dug up a human or their remains. Judgy? Yep–war is hell.

I’m off my reviewing game, so I’m not really making this sound anywhere near as interesting and as readable as it was. But it’s another of the rare books to which I’ve given a 4.5 rating. Several this year which is unusual. Read it. You won’t be sorry. Like everything coming from Dean Street Press, it is worth it.

My Verdict


Apparently this memoir is mentioned in this documentary.

Aus Reading Month Review: My Brilliant Career

My Interest

This book has been on my TBR for years. For some reason, I got it into my head that it was huge. It isn’t. The someone (I forgot again to note who) blogged about the author–a woman, writing under a man’s name. That, and the number of pages, got me to boot it to the top of my TBR list since it worked for both Aus Reading Month and for Novellas in November–a different kind of “win-win.”

The Story

Sybylla is a firey, headstrong, Tom boy of the old school who won’t be reformed into a dainty drawing room porcelain doll, just waiting for a marriage proposal. But in Victorian-era Australia, that is what she should want to be and do. When her parents luck changes for the worst, Sybylla is finally rescued by her grandmother who brings her to live at her house with extended family.  Sybylla is afforded opportunities that would otherwise have been denied her. (Once such gives rise to the title phrase.) One opportunity is the very wealthy young man with whom she falls in love. But, surely she’d rather be a writer? Oh, it was confusing for her.

But the real world her parents are inhabiting is not yet done with Sybylla. That is what makes this book so much more interesting than a typical Victorian romance. I cannot write more or it would be a spoiler. 

My Thoughts

The descriptive prose in this book is magnificent. I felt I was THERE where ever Sybylla was at the moment. It was all very real and the later parts of the book were too real. It is justly called a “classic” in every way.

20 Books for Christmas Review # 7 Christmas at Harmony Hill


My Interest

My Mom first told me about the Shakers–well, their furniture and crafts, years ago. I’ve wanted to visit Pleasant Hill in Kentucky for years. Over the years I have watched a few documentaries and read the novel linked at the bottom of this post, as well. So, when I saw this story on Kindle Unlimited’s offerings, I grabbed it.


The Story

In the last year of the Civil War, to accompany husband, Gideon, a Union soldier, Heather Worth works as one of his company of soldiers’ washerwomen. When she becomes pregnant, though, Gideon sends Heather home to her parents to await the baby’s birth. Unfortunately, being from Kentucky, a boarder state (and home of the then First Lady, Mary Todd Lincoln’s equally divided family) Heather’s father’s sympathies lie with the Confederates. Arriving home to a very different family life [No Spoilers!] Heather instead goes to stay with her mother’s Aunt Sophrena at Harmony Hill, a Shaker community not far from her family’s home. 

Heather is not interested in being a Shaker, who disavow marriage and children for the life of “brothers and sisters,” but she is welcomed by them as they minister to those in need. She discovers her Aunt is enduring a crisis of faith–faith in the Shaker’s beliefs. Meanwhile, on the battlefield, Gideon, is discovering faith thanks to his dearly missed wife and thanks to his comrade in arms, Jake.

My Thoughts

I rarely read Christian fiction for a variety of reasons–most related to the quality of the writing. I was happily surprised at how good this book was. The story was interesting and told a good deal about Shaker life–all of which matched what I knew of it. The crisis Sophrena is enduring was made more real to me because she was 50 and I could relate much more to it than to such a situation in a younger (or even newer) Shaker. 

This book does talk a lot about Christian faith, but it does not preach and it does not take Bible verses out of context–two pet peeves of mine. The faith is presented with a light touch and in keeping with the nature of the story.

Christmas at Harmony Hill by Ann H. Gabhart

My Verdict

For the other Shaker novels by Ann H.Gabhart see her author page.

For another fictional look at Kentucky Shaker life see:


The Believers by Janice Holt Giles. Sadly, this book is not available in Kindle format. Older editions have a different cover.

For a documentary on The Shakers see this:


The Shakers [Ken Burns]

Novellas in November Review # 2 and 20 Books For Christmas Review # 5: The Walnut Tree: A Holiday Tale by Charles Todd


My Interest

A World War I “holiday” tale featuring a titled English lady? Sure, why not!

The Story

Lady Elspeth Douglas is in Paris with a heavily pregnant friend as war is declared. She thinks she may be in love with her friend’s brother, too. After staying on to help the friend deliver her baby, Elspeth set off on one of the more unlikely journeys of the war. Through amazing coincidences she runs into most of her former dance partners and her male cousins–all serving in highland regiments. She speaks Gaelic with the piper and French  with port authorities. Along the way she ends up, briefly, at the front. She helps with the wounded. Eventually she lands back in ole Blighty to be a member of Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Services–but “forgets” to include her courtesy title on the application. She’s a fabulous nurse (Of course she! She has pluck! She’s the daughter of an Earl, of course she gets her way!).

Along the way she has doubts about the Frenchman she’s all but agreed to marry when she runs into a neighboring well-born chap who knows her cousins from their public school (American Prep School–like Bush and the Roosevelts and JFK attended). But then, yes, Then! Somehow–but HOW? Her guardian, whom she at least acknowledges is not evil, pulls the plug on her free-spirited life. And, somehow, yes SOMEHOW, she goes back to France and miraculously the Frenchman has survived injury, being taken as a Prisoner of War and being exchanged (well it COULD all happen, right?). But she is so conflicted! Which man is right for her?

My Thoughts

Ok, I’m having a little fun with this review. It’s the sort of book where you must accept that people CAN run into each other at the Battle of Ypres, ok? And that no one, NO ONE, realized an Aristocrat who’d never uttered a word in any but the poshest of posh accents, could suddenly “pass” as a mere middle class girl of good family-the people she encountered were so dim they couldn’t tell her origins form her accent at a time when accent was everything.

What I liked was: Elspeth had no modern ideas of hiding away “living in sin.” She knew she’d be ruined. She played as fast and loose with the “rules” of her world as far as she could. She knew her limits. She mostly respected the authority of her Guardian, even loved him (he was her uncle) and adored her cousins. Yes she had “pluck” and even “spunk,” a quality that I’m in complete agreement with Mr. Lou Grant on (remember that scene in the Mary Tyler Moore Show? See the bottom of this post).

Miss Georgina Worsley with Major James Bellamy (left), Princess Mary (center), and Lady Sibyl Crawley (right)

I loved Elspeth’s romance with Peter–it was sweet and honorable. He was a good chap. She was a good girl. They did not hop into be ala 2021 but acted like folks pushing the outside of the envelope in 1915. I found it odd though that her Guardian looked down on nursing when the King’s only daughter trained as a nurse at this time and the King’s own mother founded the nursing service. Princess Mary, later the Princess Royal, was kept in London and only nursed mothers and children, but….in the two great period dramas, Upstairs, Downstairs (the real one–from the ’70s) and Downton Abbey, posh aristo’s Miss Georgina Worsley, ward of the Hon Richard Bellamy, M.P. and step-granddaughter of the Dowager Countess of Southwald and Lady Sybil Crawley were nursing sisters. Dear Georgina even went to France where, she naturally, just happened to stumble upon wounded cousin “Jumbo” aka Major James Bellamy. Of course she did! See? It had to be acceptable to nurse! Georgina, like Lady Edith Crawly in Downton ended up a Marchioness!!! Of course poor Sybil….

My only true complain with this book wasn’t titles–they were fine. It was a stupid mystery worked in. It was really more like it had been started in the first draft and forgotten. No one remembered to edit it out. It was awful, but mercifully it only took up a few lines. When pulling the cover for this post I discovered this was another “between the numbers” sort of tale in the Bess Crawford mystery series. Lady Elspeth was a colleague of Bess’s in Queen Alix’s nursing service. I don’t have any interest in Bess, but I’d love a sequel on Lady Elspeth.

I’ve poked fun at this story, but the truth is I really enjoyed it! The stupid mystery cost it some in my rating. A final comment, there is Christmas in this story but I would not really call this a “Christmas” book. Don’t let that stop you from enjoying it though.

Note: This is a little longer than Novellas in November’s suggested Novella length–308 pages in all, but it is a very light read.

My Verdict

Novellas In November & 20 Books For Christmas Review #4: A Christmas Beginning by Anne Perry


My Interest

Aside from my participation in 20 Books For Christmas (albeit for a goal of 10) and Novellas in November, I have been a fan of Anne Perry’s William Monk series for a long time. I admit that one book (I won’t say which) was “too much” for me in terms of grisliness, but I love Monk and Hester and the others. I do not normally review series books due to spoilers. This is a Christmas book–another “between the numbers” and does not feature any of the major characters, so it is a safe one to review. It works well as a stand-alone, too.

Anglesey is right by the map’s legend.

The Story

“Runcorn was second fiddle, never first, but he had played the more beautiful tune.”

Americans who have actually heard of the island of Anglsey today, know it as where Prince William was a helicopter search/rescue pilot in the RAF early in his marriage to Catherine, before Prince George was born. Until listening to this story, I had no idea that William flew over part of his “destiny” i.e Carnarvon Castle where his father and his great-great uncle David were both invested as Prince of Wales.

But that’s not part of the story…..

Back in the time of the previous longest-reigning Queen (Victoria, David’s Gan-Gan, and Williams Gr-Gr-Gr-Grandmother, Victoria) Scotland Yard’s Superintendent Runcorn, well know to Monk fans, is having Christmas mas on the island. While out for a walk he finds the recently dead body of a young woman, the sister of the vicar. The local police can go no further than to call it the work of a “madman.” Runcorn, with his training, knows better. The victim was a young woman with a penchant for turning down suitors and for living her own life. So who did kill Olivia?

My Thoughts

Keeping in mind that I listened to part of this on my way in to clean out my office after my job, and those of 7% of my division, were cut, I thought this one “draggy” places in it–strange for a novella. Anne Perry’s books rarely drag. It picked up speed, or Perry found her pacing, (I’m not sure which) at about the middle of the story. From there I was hooked. And, OH THAT ENDING! [No spoilers].

My Verdict

Review: The Three Graces of Val-Kill by Emily Herring Wilson & Arthurdale by Nancy Hoffman for Nonfiction November


My Interest

While I’m not as liberal as Eleanor, I do admire her above almost all American women. I have read most everything on her and by her. The most interesting parts of her, to me, are her celebrated political partnership with the husband who both nearly destroyed her with his unfaithfulness and then set her free to live her own life. Her selflessness in nursing him through the early days of his polio is another example. She survived her #meetoo moments in her own home where her grandmother was forced to have multiple locks installed on Eleanor’s bedroom door to keep out the drunken out-of-control young uncles. She may have been groomed and used by her charismatic female headmistress–whom she adored all her life. That she carried her own suitcase, wrote the letters to G.I.’s mothers that she promised at their hospital bedsides, and that she grew as a person to leave behind the racism and antisemitism of her time and class make her worthy of my admiration. That she was a pretty awful mother (she bought one of those baby cages to hang outside a window for the baby to nap in) is evident in the 19 marriages between her four children. But, even in that she worked to improve and did improve. And, she became a truly beloved Grandmother. All while earning the title of great StatesWOMEN of our nation and the world.

The Story

This book purports to tell of one of the three great experiments in living Eleanor either helped to create or was a participant in (for the second see the second review; the third was her end-of-life living arrangement). In the late 1920s, while FDR was either on his houseboat in Florida or at Warm Springs, Eleanor and two friends (who were life partners or today would have married) set up housekeeping together in a cottage they had built, with FDR’s full approval, on his “Hyde Park” [really Springwood] Estate. They all slept in a dormitory-style bedroom, had their linens monogrammed with their joint initials, and fell happily into a sort of community home life that they enjoyed.

Nan Cook and Marion Dickerman became part of the Roosevelt family in many ways. Nan built the famous Vall-Kill furniture at a small woodshop near the cottage. Marion and Eleanor would buy and jointly run the Todhunter School for Girls in New York. The ladies accompanied Eleanor and her two youngest sons, Franklin, Jr. [the second son to bear that name–the first one having died in infancy] and John on camping trips, up to Campobello, and on a trip to Europe which FDR’s mother ruined by insisting that Eleanor and the boys have a chauffeur since Eleanor was First Lady of New York state.

But Eleanor kept evolving. She kept moving. She was still Franklin’s official wife, even if his secretary became his emotional wife. She was also still mother to five children who, for much of this time, were basically abandoned by FDR. She was a leading spokeswoman for Democratic Women in New York state. Nan and Marion were also involved in politics, but so too were Caroline O’Day and her partner and Elinor Morgantheau whose husband would serve FDR as Treasury Secretary.

In the White House, Eleanor had little time for the friends back in the little cottage. She famously took up with Lorena Hickok, “Hick,” whose career as one of the nation’s top female reporters was destroyed by Hick’s becoming too emotionally attached to Eleanor to keep the objectivity needed in those days to be a reporter.

The end had to come and it did. In a bad way. Eleanor could be like that. No spoilers.

My Thoughts

At times the writing of this book was very odd. Here are just a few examples.

Eleanor had never made a plan for what she wanted as a wife, mother, and daughter-in-law, and her life had been unexpectedly difficult” (p. 16). Did women do this at the turn of the 20th century?

…the unthinkable death of an infant” (p. 19)  An infant dying in 1909 was a regular occurrence, regardless of class!

She joined the newly formed Junior League for rich women but did volunteer work in settlement houses” (p. 20) what an awkward sentence. And, she was a rich woman!

The author also falls into two traps that I do not like in modern history writing. First, she “supposes” what Eleanor, Nan, and Marion “might” have done in the evening or in the course of their day. That is not helpful. It’s like the fictionalized scenes in t.v.’s The Crown–it is wrong to invent scenes in a real life. Second, she nearly lets FDR’s story take over in a few places–not nearly as often as in similar books, but it is there. In any biography of Eleanor, FDR will naturally play a large role. But this book was about a slice of her life. Finding insufficiently detailed information on her topic, I feel she padded the book to get it to a respectable page count. Had she instead have dealt more with Todhunter School or with Vall-Kil Industries and the furniture, the book would have been a more authentic account of this interesting relationship and experiment. Instead, while interesting, it fell short.  While Arthurdale (see second review below) did have a tie-in to the relationship, other chapters truly did not.

The Three Graces of Va-Kill: Eleanor Roosevelt, Marion Dickerman, and Nancy Cook and in the Place They Made Their Own by Emily Herring Wilson

Eleanor’s Other Experiment in Living


Eleanor also championed progressive causes like resettling coal miners into new, purpose-built communities like West Virginia’s Arthurdale–which became a pet cause of hers. In addition to brand new homes, settlers had subsistence farm plots for “homesteading” and were to have employment in factories or industries brought in to serve the area. The children were given Nursery School and progressive education through high school in a new, modern school building. They received hot, nutritious lunches and had an inspiring curriculum. Sadly, the necessary industry never developed, and settlers, while in much nicer homes, were saved mostly by World War II.

This book, written for upper-level elementary school students does an excellent job of presenting the purpose and reality of Arthurdale.  Another WPA Homestead Community (there were several), Dyes Colony in Arkansas, “gave birth” to a little boy named J.R. who grew up to be singer Johnny Cash.

Eleanor Roosevelt and the Arthurdale Experiment by Nancy Hoffman

Note: In the interest of fairness, I read this book in February but wanted to save the review to go with The Three Graces (above).

Both of these books were appropriate for both of these November reading challenges.

Novellas in November Review: The Provincial Lady Goes Further by E.M. Delafield

My Interest

Epistolary novels are a thing with me. I love reading real or fictional diaries, books of letter, tweets, emails–anything similar. Love it. I think it started when 84 Charing Cross Road came out while I was in high school. Since then I have loved such books. (My posts on them are linked at the bottom of this post, too.)

A while back I read The Diary of A Provincial Lady and just knew I’d read any others if it was a series. Today’s review is of the second book in the series.

The Story

Note: This is one book where it would be a little easier to enjoy the story if you’ve read the first book, but it can the “who’s who” of the story can also be figured out pretty quickly if you have not.

The Provincial lady is married  to Robert an agent or “man of business” of similar on a large landed estate in Shire. The children, son Robin, daughter Vicky, are both off to boarding school this year. Cat Hellen Willis is still with them. And, The Lady herself has enjoyed literary success, so for a very brief time the family excheuquer is in good shape. Good enough to by herself a dear little London flat. So, off she goes to London to write. Except she stiill can’t say “no” to requests and gets entangled with outrageous peoplegoes to their outrageous parties and dinners and gets nothing done. Robert is left home with the new cook and occasionally writes to suggest it is time to come home. The children thrive at school.

My Thoughts

This was the perfect, mindless, little escape back to a time when maids and cooks (not to mention boarding schools) could still be afforded by many quite normal, decently-educated people. It was just plain fun. I look forward, eventually, to getting through the entire series.

I discovered, while getting the link to this book on Amazon, that the copy I bought may have been pirated and could also be The Provincial Lady Goes to London [which could be an alternate title for US/UK]. How interesting!

The Provincial Lady Goes Further by E.M. Delafield.  [Note, I’m linking to a different version than the one I bought]

German Literature Month Review: The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben, Translated by Jane Billinghurst


My Interest

I enjoy a few nature books most years. This one caught my eye because my son works for a tree service and devoured our Audubon Field Guide to Trees of North America not long after he started work. I saw this book and decided to read it to see if it was worth giving his as an extra Christmas gift. It is among 2 or 3 contenders for that honor so there could be more tree book reviews later. My verdict is–I think he would read it. He isn’t a big reader but when it really interests him he will read. This is a nonfiction book and that would normally be ok with him only if it was about a rapper or maybe an artist.

My other interest was, by chance, seeing the word “fungi” in a quick look-through of the book. I am fascinated by mushrooms and forests teem with them. This part of the story, I thought, might be really interesting.

Thanks to blogger Lizzy’s Literary Life for bringing this gem to my attention. Why not be nice and click and read her review, too? Bloggers love visitors!

The Story

Forester Wohlleben loves trees. His life’s work is in a forest in Germany. He is a scientist so he pays very close attention to the details the trees in his forest. Happily, he is also a very good writer (and Billinghurst is a very good translator) so reading about such details is a joy and not a struggle. He makes the forest come as alive to the reader as it is to him. So, the fungi I was looking forward to were just icing on a very nice cake of a nature book.

What Wohleben describes is the lifespan of trees. Not as in 6th grade science class and ring-counting and all that, but about communities of trees, families of trees, the socio-economic strata of trees, the gentrification of forests, the urban decay of forests, the street kids, street gangs, and, cooperative development agencies of the forests–none of which are people. Wohleben’s study of trees has let him understand the language of trees–their interpersonal communication. He explains how the different players in the forest community fulfill their roles, putting it all into such expressive and readable prose that I read over 60 pages in one sitting.

Here are a few very short, illustrative glimpses into what Wohleben has discovered:

“Spruce store essential oils in their needles and, and bark, which act like antifreeze.”

“Then there are the weevils. They look a bit like tiny elephants that have lost their enormous ears.”

Here is a typical prose passage to give you a feel for the joy of reading this book:

“And what if an oak gets a deep wound or a wide crack in its trunk as a result of a lightening strike? That doesn’t matter to the oak, because its wood is permeated with substances that discourage fungi and severely slow down fungal decomposition…Even severely damaged trees with major branches broken off can grow replacement crows and live for a few hundred years longer” (p. 97, Kindle Edition).

Unexpectedly, I have a new possible favorite nonfiction book of the year. It was simply that good.

The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben, Translated by Jane Billinghurst.

Added bonus: This book also works for Nonfiction November and Novellas in November (they include nonfiction novellas).  Though it is maybe a tad long for a true novella, it reads as quickly as one.

Novellas in November: Nonfiction Novella: Review–The Runaway Amish: The Great Escape Girl by Emma Gingerich


My Interest

I have long been fascinated by oppressive or cultist religion. For many years, on an old blog, I wrote about TV’s Duggar family and the cultish group to which they belong–The Institute of Basic Life Principles/Advanced Training Institute (IBLP/ATI). After Josh Duggar’s molestation of his sisters was finally admitted, I quit. Mission accomplished. The Amish, who surround me here in Southern Ohio, are an odd group. They have a unique status in American–they speak German, they do not assimilate in any way into the community, they have unique health problems–many of which can be traced to inbreeding, and they are exempt from Selective Service (registering for the draft) and from mandatory schooling until age 18. I haven’t looked this one up, but I do think child labor laws apply, or if they do then they are conveniently overlooked. They do not vote. They do, when necessary, take Medicaid and other assistance for disabled children. If they have a business, they pay taxes so I see nothing wrong with that.

Many idolize Amish culture as “a simple life.” It is–and it isn’t. The contradictions are endless. Different communities of Amish have different rules. Around here some wear Crocks or running shoes. Others have push-bikes (like a bike with a scooter platform). Some can have propane-powered appliances, propane generators to run computers and charge the cell phones they need for business. They can hire a driver. It is not unusual to see a horse and buggy at the local Walmart or Dollar General, either.

We also have a large Mennonite Church near here. If you live here it is soon obvious who is Amish, who is Mennonite even without cell phones, shoes or cars.

The Story

Emma grew up in a large Amish family. She was born here in Ohio in a hospital. Yes, Amish do use hospitals when “prudent”–they may even use “English” doctors if necessary. There are clinics across the border in Mexico that do a land-office business in Amish hysterectomies for cash, too. Anyway, Emma had questions almost from the start. The dangerous kind of questions for a child–especially a girl–in an extreme patriarchy. Those questions being with “Why do we ….” Like the Catholic priests used to say the answer was basically, “it’s a matter of faith.” Like most Amish children, she could not understand most of what was said in the hours-long Church services because it was spoken in an old dialect of German–not the German they used in everyday conversation.

When Emma turned 16 and a half she was expected to go to “signings” after church–aka the Amish marriage market. Amish dates go like this: Guy tells another guy he wants a date with a certain girl. The “matchmaker” [boy’s buddy] tells the girl. She agrees. She can’t really refuse. He drives her home in his buggy, sees to the horse, then climbs into bed with her. Nothing but kissing is supposed to happen.

About the time dating like this started Emma developed headaches. She was taken only to a chiropractor and herbalist and then to two different quack doctors. She knew she was not made for Amish life. Imagine being 12 or 13 and expected to take over for the mother of a large family for one or two weeks–all on your own! That’s what Emma had to do. This taught her she was not made for that kind of life. Eventually, as the title suggests, she found a way out. By this time her family lived in Missouri and earned money weaving baskets. She was a good enough daughter that she worried the business would die without her hard work. She also protected her siblings from possible abuse by not sharing all of her plans.

My Thoughts

What Emma did takes a lot of courage. She left EVERYTHING to find the life that let her breathe free and be happy. She did not take the step lightly, nor did she do it to hurt anyone. She knew it was not the life for her. That she continued to care and connect with her family no matter what shows her true feelings for them. Like most who have been too sheltered, she went through true times of trial, but she stood up to those trials. I applaud her.

Other Amish books I’ve reviewed:

Why I Left the Amish by Saoma Miller Furlong

Reading Amish and More… a post on Amish books and other items.

Almost Amish: One Woman’s Quest for a Slower, Simple, More Sustainable Life

I’ve read countless others since 1983 when I read the first book.

Novellas in November Review: Train Dreams: A Novella by Denis Johnson

My Interest

The cover was what attracted me–I saw it and thought it was a print by my Great Uncle, artist Edwin Fulwider. When I read the story was set in Idaho–where Ed worked in the summers and late lived in retirement near Bayview, right on Lake Pend Oreille I was certain. Ok, I was wrong, but below you can get an idea of WHY I thought so. The painting I was recalling be in a private collection for I could not find an image via Google of it. Sadly, that part of Idaho was first invaded by Neo-Nazis (remember Ruby Ridge?) and then tourists. Now it is unrecognizable as the summer artists’ colony Indiana University/Stanford University David Star Jordan helped found [More about him in another post–he’s currently a non-person due to the new book Why Fish Don’t Exist).

The Story

“All his life Robert Grainier would remember vividly the burned valley at sundown, the most dreamlike business he’d ever witnessed waking—the brilliant pastels of the last light overhead, some clouds high and white, catching daylight from beyond the valley, others ribbed and gray and pink, the lowest of them rubbing the peaks of Bussard and Queen mountains; and beneath this wondrous sky the black valley, utterly still, the train moving through it making a great noise but unable to wake this dead world.” (Train Dreams)

Every man laborer Robert Gainer lives a typical Northern Idaho life at the start of the 20th Century. Dumped? Orphaned? He does not know, but was raised with cousins and considered an aunt and uncle his “parents.” His early memory is of being on a train with a tag upon which was written his ultimate destination. His life is cruel in the way so many lives were cruel before social safety nets. The place he lands in is a raw, mining area near Sandpoint in the panhandle. Life continues to be cruel, but he takes it in his stride. He has experiences–some dreams as he goes through his very ordinary existence.

My Thoughts

I’ve made that sound very gloomy, yet it IS somehow a beautiful book. There is one scene I could have lived without, but even it was so carefully told I could let it go. Times were different. Many people had no reason to expect more than Bob Gainer found in life. Johnson’s prose is superb.  The audiobook performance was worthy of this fine writing. At 2.25 hours anyone can find time to listen and enjoy this little marvel of a novella.

I wish Uncle Ed had been alive to enjoy this with me. He would have marveled at it. It so perfectly captures the feel of old-time Panhandle life.

Train Dreams: A Novella by Denis Johnson

Edwin L. Fulwider

Trains, mines, and Northern Idaho, all figured prominently in his body of work. Paintings, four-color lithographs, black/white lithography–all were staples in his portfolio.

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i1035 FW1.1  Edwin L. Fulwider: “Tearing Locomotive” lithograph Photo Source

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Edwin L. Fulwider: Untitled depiction of the Great Northern Railway


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Edwin L. Fulwider: The Union Pacific


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Storm, Salmon River Valley, Idaho by Edwin L. Fulwider


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