h1

The Brown Study

January 12, 2017

I have this embarrassing secret, only it’s not particularly secret and I don’t know if I’m embarrassed: sometimes I really like religious fiction. Yes, sometimes it’s cloying, and I’m not into that. But sometimes it’s Amy Le Feuvre being weirdly mystical, or G.K. Chesterton doing whatever the hell he ever thinks he’s doing. And sometimes it’s the kind of thing Grace S. Richmond writes, where religion is about firm ideals and practical good deeds and it’s almost not condescending. I’ve never had a particle of religious belief, but those ideals are compelling, and I don’t need religion to (to a certain extent) share them. Also, you know what else is compelling? Passionate, tortured, hidden self-denial. And The Brown Study is, like, 70% that.

I’ve read so few of Richmond’s books, but they’ve all featured attractive young clergymen, so I’m forced to assume that’s a thing for her. The Brown Study’s variation goes like this: Donald Brown was the minister at a fashionable city church, but he had to take some time off for his health. He moved to a poor area and offers unofficial spiritual support to his neighbors. He realizes that he can do more good there than at his fancy church, and also that his new work makes him a better person, but his old friends all want him to come home, including the girl he loves.

It’s all spiritual pining and being nice to the neighbors, and I enjoyed it thoroughly–although I might regret the nice plates and carpets and things Brown has to leave behind almost as much as he does.

There’s a second, unrelated story to fill out the book. In it, young Julius Broughton schemes to get his sister Dorothy and his engineer friend Kirke Waldron to meet. Once they’ve done that, though, they don’t need his help–they’re perfectly capable of carrying their romance through as straightforwardly as possible.

h1

The Wyndham Girls

January 8, 2017

Books disappoint me a lot. Especially older ones, I think, although that may just be because they make up the bulk of my reading material. It seems to be easier to write the beginning of a story than to end it satisfyingly, and I guess that makes sense. I also have what sometimes feel like unnecessarily exacting expectations, especially for romance. Read the rest of this entry »

h1

Recommend me an audiobook?

January 2, 2017

I’ve always been anti-audiobook, but now I’m cross-stitching and I need something to listen to that I don’t have to look at. I see that there’s stuff on librivox for authors I like, but I have no experience with audiobook readers and I don’t know where to start. Does anyone have favorites (or ones to avoid)?

h1

Strawberry Acres

December 29, 2016

I’m almost positive someone recommended Grace S. Richmond’s Strawberry Acres to me. It seems pretty unlikely that I would have accidentally bookmarked a story about a family of siblings moving out of their apartment to run a recently inherited farm.

The Lane siblings (one girl and three boys, ages ranging from 16 to 24) and their uncle move out to their new property in a makeshift way at first, with a tent in their pine grove and Max, Alec and Bob commuting to their jobs in the city. All three are more or less reluctant to become farmers, but their sister Sally and their friends Jarvis and Josephine Burnside eventually bring them around.

It’s a similar setup to The Enchanted Barn, but it’s better. There’s more visible work happening, and the characters and relationships are great. Sally is, as expected, the heart of the family, but she’s not too perfect to like. Max is perhaps the most interesting character–smart and practical, but inclined to get his back up when other people make plans, to the point where they have to work around his stubbornness. And I loved the Lanes’ friendship with the Burnsides, who have not only stuck around through the Lanes’ misfortunes, but have stuck so close that there’s almost no awkwardness about financial disparities. That set of relationships was one of many reasons Strawberry Acres so frequently reminded me of Six Girls and Bob.

No one will be surprised to hear that I wished there was more detail–specifics about farming and fixing up the house, especially–but I have to excuse Richmond, because she has a lot of ground to cover. The story she’s chosen to tell needs to develop slowly, and she’s due a lot of credit for letting it span four years instead of trying to squeeze it into one or two. That means we have to skip over a lot of the slow stuff I like, but what we do get is almost note-perfect, so I’m disinclined to complain. I found Strawberry Acres to be a satisfying read, and one that probably ought to be sending me to another of Richmond’s books and not to a reread of Six Girls and Bob. But, you know, the heart wants what it wants.

h1

Christmas Stories: On Christmas Day in the Evening

December 23, 2016

Grace S. Richmond wrote a sequel to On Christmas Day in the Morning, and it’s called On Christmas Day in the Evening. It’s pretty religious, but mostly in a cute way. It takes place two years after the events of On Christmas Day in the Morning, and it revolves around the village church, which has been standing empty for several years after a series of disagreements in the congregation.

The Fernald kids, led by Nan, decide to open the church for a one-off Christmas service, hoping to bring the villagers together. They enlist Guy’s brother-in-law, a minister in a fashionable city church, and he in turn enlists a retired minister who hasn’t given a sermon in fifteen years, but knows all about the local quarrels.

Everything winds up exactly as you’d expect, and even the family grouch gets in on the Christmas spirit action, but the story didn’t move me. I think it’s because all of the Fernalds are totally fine, and nothing is at stake. Even the Fernald parents, the only ones who still live in the village, aren’t involved–they’ve stayed out of their neighbors’ quarrels. The characters who are involved serve as country stereotype comic relief, so they don’t help much either.

I think Richmond is trying to bring in exactly the kind of firsthand emotion the story needs when she introduces Elder Blake, but he’s not central enough. She might have done better to give On Christmas Day in the Evening a brand new setting and not bother with the Fernalds at all. I like them, and was glad to encounter them again, but nothing about them is essential to the story.

 

h1

The House With Sixty Closets

December 22, 2016

I started writing a review of The House With Sixty Closets when I was only about twenty pages in, because I was enjoying it so much. This is not that review. I stopped enjoying it.

Here’s the thing: I loved the first section. The second section is worthwhile. The rest of the book is pretty much a dream sequence, and I don’t deal well with those. But I really do unreservedly recommend the description of the sixty closets and how they came to be, and if you really feel like reading about portraits coming to life and giving out allegorical Christmas presents and throwing a party chiefly attended by closets, you can continue.

The book took on another dimension when I learned that the house with sixty closets was a real house and Frank Samuel Child (the author) lived in it and the girl whose parents would like to fit her with a muzzle was in fact one of his daughters. I think this might make the book worse, because it means that only the truthful bits were enjoyable.

h1

Christmas Stories: On Christmas Day in the Morning

December 15, 2016

On Christmas Day in the Morning, by Grace S. Richmond, has everything I want in a Christmas story: brevity, nostalgia, just enough sadness to highlight the happiness, and, most importantly, the Unity of Christmastimes.

Guy Fernald, paying his parents a visit one Christmas, is dismayed to find that he’s the only one of the six Fernald kids to show up at all. Edson, Oliver, Carolyn and Nan have families of their own, Ralph lives out West, and Guy himself has spent the bulk of Christmas day with the girl he hopes to marry. His parents are touchingly happy to see him, which only makes Guy feel more guilty, and he promises himself that next Christmas will be different. Fast forward to the following December, when Guy starts enlisting his siblings in his Christmas plan. The plan works out, and so does Guy’s romance, and the whole thing is sweet and satisfying and so heartwarming I cried a little.

There were a couple of dialogues between the parents that struck a slightly false note for me, and, as ever, I wanted more detail—food and presents and Guy convincing his siblings—but I’m not inclined to complain. The story, like the plan, is carried along by Guy’s enthusiasm, and everything else falls neatly into place.