Reading the Backlist, part 3: Rumer Godden

bredeThis week, I’m continuing my exploration of favorite authors’ backlists by picking up In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden.

Godden’s 1945 novel, Take Three Tenses, was one of my Top Ten Books in 2014 as well as a recommendation from Jo Walton in her book, What Makes This Book So Great. It was a short, very feminist book about the life of a house over 100 years. (Check out this interesting publisher’s note from the wartime printing).

I skipped ahead over 20 years of Godden’s work when I opened In This House of Brede, which is a thick novel about the lives of Benedictine nuns. It was a very different experience, and one that was probably colored by my expectations from Take Three Tenses

In This House of Brede could easily be a TV miniseries. Although there is an overarching plot in the spiritual development of Dame Phillippa the executive-turned-nun, this book is really a string of subplots involving scandal, money troubles, intrigue, and personal crises among the nuns. There’s also a lot of info-dumping about how a Benedictine monastery works, and about the changes taking place in the Catholic church in the 1950s.

I was initially intrigued by Dame Phillippa’s story, because she started as an executive-level businesswoman (type unspecified) in her 40’s. Based on my expectations from Take Three Tenses, I expected this very feminist character to further develop her leadership skills when she became a nun, and triumph in that way. Nope – this was primarily a book about spiritual development, and so instead, she grows in humility and patience while working on her personal issues. Plus, she does this somewhat in the background, because there’s so much other drama going on around her. By the end of the book, her narrative has almost been dropped, and is wrapped up for a hasty conclusion.

In the end, I’m not warning anyone off of In This House of Brede. Just don’t read it because you loved Take Three Tenses. If you  are looking for entertainment in the form of a dramatic, soap-y read about Benedictine nuns, this is a good offering.

Readers: Have you tried anything else by Rumer Godden?
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Reading the Backlist, part 2 – Elizabeth Wein

This week, I’ve been digging deeper into Elizabeth Wein’s backlist.

I first fell in love with this author’s work when I read Code Name Verity. Rose Under Fire was just as good, and I have her latest release, Black Dove White Raven, on my TBR (here’s a really positive review from In Bed With Books, and a less enthusiastic one from Bookshelf Fantasies). All are excellent character-driven YA novels with unusual historical settings, and a moderately strong feminist perspective. lionhunter

Last year, I dipped into her backlist when I read the Mark of Solomon series which wins my award for diversity in setting: Aksum (modern-day Ethiopia) in the sixth century A.D. While I loved being introduced to a new world, and there was nothing really wrong with the books, I wasn’t in love with them either. I blogged more about this series last August – we’ll call that Reading the Backlist, part 1.

This spring, I picked up her very first novel, The Winter Prince, as well as its sequel, A Coalition of Lions. winprince First novels are tricky beasts – but The Winter Prince satisfied in every way. It was wildly imaginative with an interesting structure, and I zoomed through it in a single day. It focuses on the story of Mordred in the Arthurian legend. If you’re not familiar, Mordred is the incestuous son of King Arthur and his sister, and he can play a very dark role in the Arthurian saga. In this case, the story focuses on Mordred’s perspective on the later part of Arthur’s story as he is explaining it to his highly dramatic and influential mother. It’s also the story of Mordred’s relationship with his half-sister and half-brother, and his eventual ability for self-determination. In strength and scope, if not in subject matter, The Winter Prince is the equal of Wein’s later novels such as Code Name Verity.

coallionsI can’t say as much for A Coalition of Lions. This story picks up where The Winter Prince left off, but follows the story of Mordred’s half sister as she flees Arthur’s crumbling kingdom after a series of disasters that have occurred between the two books. Her flight takes her to Aksum in Ethiopia (sound familiar?) where she is involved in court intrigue to ensure the future stability of Arthur’s empire. It may be my own distaste for court intrigue related plots, or it could be related to my lack of enthusiasm for this author’s Aksum books, but I’d recommend skipping A Coalition of Lions.

However, if you are a fan of Wein’s recent novels, definitely give The Winter Prince a try.

Readers, what’s your favorite Wein novel?

Library Loot: This Book Doesn’t Like That Book

librarylootnew

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by The Captive Reader and Silly Little Mischief that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries

 

This week I had two great pieces of library loot:

The first was Prudence, the first in a new adult series by Gail Carriger. As much as I’ve enjoyed her YA series, they didn’t quite scratch the same itch as the Parasol Protectorate (Changeless, Blameless, etc.) I snatched the  beautiful shiny new purple-and-red book off the hold shelf, and then saw what else was waiting for me.

I also had You Learn by Living (1960) by Eleanor Roosevelt. I picked this up as a recommendation from Modern Mrs. Darcy, when she recommended book flights that go together. I skipped the flight and just went with what interested me from her list. She says: “You Learn by Living is Roosevelt’s memoir/advice manual about living the good life. You’ll appreciate just how hard-won that advice was when you read No Ordinary Time (warning: it’s 800 pages).” So, I put You Learn By Living on hold and skipped the other one.

At the library check-out, the librarian saw these two books and started laughing. Not a quiet little librarian chuckle, either. She actually laughed out loud, then lined the two books up side by side, like this, so that the two ladies were looking at each other:

prudence Eroos

“What do you think SHE [Eleanor] would have thought of HER [Prudence]?” the librarian asked, still laughing.

I answered, “Oh, you might be surprised.”

What did you pick up this week? Did it make your librarian laugh?

Library Loot: with mini-reviews

librarylootnew

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by The Captive Reader and Silly Little Mischief that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries

My most recent library haul included The Girl on the Train (300+ wishers at my library), Dead Heat by Patricia Briggs (just released!), and Leaving Berlin by Joseph Kanon (also a new one). It’s been a good week!girltrain

The Girl on the Train is a suspenseful mystery with an unreliable alcoholic narrator who is both slightly repulsive and yet a sympathetic character. As her backstory unfolds, we start rooting for her to solve the mystery: not only the surface mystery of what she saw from the train, but the mystery of what happened in her life. The resolution was fast-paced and exciting, as I’d read from other reviewers. I’m just not sure whether alcoholism and depression is really so easily resolved.dhbriggs  leaveberlin

I’m now halfway through Dead Heat, and it’s wonderful. Briggs has managed to change the setting, the characters, and the rules, all while satisfying my need for more Charles and Anna. The couple has traveled to an Arabian horse farm in Scottsdale, Arizona to visit an old Navajo friend that is tied in to local werewolf and witch culture. There is a deep distrust between the Navajo and witches, but (I’m guessing here) they will all have to learn to play nicely together in order to defeat a greater evil.

Finally, I haven’t cracked Leaving Berlin yet, but it’s a post WWII suspense novel. I’m not familiar with the author. I was just looking for something outside my usual. If you’ve read it, please leave a comment!

What did you pick up this week?

Review: Peace Like a River by Leif Enger

peaceriverI’ll admit it: I’m already getting cabin fever.

Winter is the time of year I look forward to. The reading! The blogging! The crafting! When it gets here, I find that as much as I love all of those things, I need a balance in my life. I’m missing sunshine. I’m missing exercise. There are only so many treadmill runs a girl can do.

Luckily, I have had a few really good books to keep me company lately.

One in particular is Peace Like a River by Leif Enger. After Modern Mrs Darcy recommended it again and again and again and again, saying wisely

The jacket description didn’t sound interesting to me, so don’t worry if it doesn’t sound good to you either. – See more at: http://modernmrsdarcy.com/?s=peace+like+a+river#sthash.2oGzgwLq.dpuf

I finally gave in and opened this not-my-usual read. 11 year old boys don’t always make the best narrators when you’re reading as an adult woman. Set in the 1960’s in rural Minnesota and North Dakota, it had very little regional appeal to me. Also, the book echoes (parallels? parodies? uses as metaphor?) classic Westerns. And finally, almost all of the goodreads reviews I read carry on about how this is a great Christian novel – which I don’t object to in the abstract sense, but let’s face it: Christian fiction has a long and glorious history of being really boring.

I opened the book and all of those stereotypes and judgements fell away. Right away, it’s clear that we are dealing with an unreliable narrator. Not the really hardcore kind that is lying to you or crazy (or is he??…)  It’s just that as an 11-year old kid, Reuben has a bad case of hero worship for his dad, who he believes is a modern day prophet and miracle worker, and for his older brother, who he views as a Western-style hero. He views his kid sister Swede as very ordinary and down-to-earth, even though she may be the most extraordinary character in the book.

The reality comes out more slowly, and due to the limited viewpoint, you really have to look for it. For me, that’s part of the magic of this book: on top of the obvious mystery/manhunt plot, there’s also this question of what is really happening all around Reuben. Who is his dad, really? What happened to Swede? Who shot those two teenage boys, and why? In the end, although we have some answers and a few good guesses, we also realize that some questions will never be answered.

In the same way, I think you have to read this book for yourself and see what you get out of it. For those who either loved or hated the Christian theme: that’s a very literal reading where you’re buying into Reuben’s 11-year-old, near-magical viewpoint. And that’s OK, if that’s what works for you. But if you approach the limited narration with a little bit of skepticism, I think the novel you end up reading will be a lot more cynical, and perhaps more realistic, too.

Library Loot: HUGE book haul for Winter

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Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by The Captive Reader and Silly Little Mischief that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries

 

This week, I picked up so many books that I brought my husband with me to the library, kind of like my own personal footman. (Ooh… sweetie… are you reading this? Sorry.) I even got a bunch of crochet and knitting books, adding to my project list. I’m snugging in for winter!! Where should I start?

Each image is linked to the Goodreads entry for that book.

vanessa

I loved Parmar’s debut novel, Exit the Actress!

woods

Uh-oh – looks like a college textbook.

sugar

I can’t remember who recommended this one!

snow

New release, with mixed reviews. My turn!

sari

“A tale of women and power in India”

rooms

I have been reading a lot of books about houses lately.

pool

Favorite author – but second checkout for this book.

pioneer

YES! yes yes yes yes yes!

magician

New release! This was a Wishing and Waiting post from Bookshelf Fantasies.

lively

Is it a bad idea to read an author’s memoir before you read any of her books?

lila

Loved Housekeeping, but DNF’ed Gilead. Not sure Lila is a good idea?

liars

This is one of those “must reads” that I don’t have much enthusiasm for.

killer

Because I loved The Wicked Girls.

forget

Because Halloween is all year round.

 

Library Loot: Caves, Sheep, and Chocolate

librarylootnew

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by The Captive Reader and Silly Little Mischief that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries

 

This week, I picked up Death Sworn by Leah Cypess, and a whole bunch of nonfiction.deathsworn

So far, Death Sworn is straight up YA fantasy, with two small but interesting twists. First, the setting is a cave, and I love caves.. And second, instead of the heroine having special, mysterious powers, she is losing her magic and trying to hide it. I’m interested to see where the author takes this concept.

sheepish  I also picked up Crochet with One Sheepish Girl, The Book of Kale and Friends, and Raw Chocolate Treats. The crochet book is based on a blog, One Sheepish Girl, and so far I’ve just flipped through it. Here were my initial reactions:

1. I would never crochet lots of things to stick all over a sweater.

2. I kind of like the latte cup, but I never enjoy making that sort of thing.

3. That’s some cute house stuff, but just not me.

4. Oooh… I could make the placemats. Apron… I like. Gift baskets…. like.

5. Ok, there’s some stuff here I want to make.

So I hung onto the One Sheepish Girl book, subscribed to her blog, and will try a few of the projects. The book definitely has a “cute” vibe that sometimes works for me, and sometimes doesn’t.

As for the other two books, we’ll call them Kale and Chocolate, the librarian wrinkled her nose at the kale book and then let her breath out when she got to the chocolate. “That’s better,” she said. “I could actually eat some of that.”

What did you pick up this week?