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?

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books I Read in 2014

toptentuesdayTop Ten Tuesday is an original meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. Head over there to see more lists like this one!

 

My list, I’m afraid, is in no particular order. I loved all of these books like children – individually and with no favorites.

nk_wwHow to Run with a Naked Werewolf by Molly Harper (2013)

Molly Harper is definitely one of my favorite light-reading authors, mostly for her deliciously snarky humor. This Alaskan werewolf romance is one of her best offerings yet.

 

 

farthingFarthing by Jo Walton (2006)

If you’ve never read alternate history fantasy, this is a great place to start. It’s set in a post WWII Britain where “Peace In Our Time” really lasted… at a price. Now the government is friendly with the victorious German Nazis, and Jews, homosexuals, and other “undesirables” fear for their lives. Farthing is the first book in a loosely related trilogy.

 

rithmatistThe Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson (2013)

Although such comparisons are usually shallow, unfair, or both, I’m going to describe this to you like I did to my girlfriends with reading children: Harry Potter. With magic math.

 

 

w_girlsThe Wicked Girls by Alex Marwood (2008)

This is the “not my usual” pick on this list – I don’t normally read crime. This one really worked for me, though – strong characterization, an unusual setting, and a mystery I couldn’t figure out. I originally got the recommendation from A Work In Progress, and so her review is linked above.

3tenses Take Three Tenses: A Fugue in Time by Rumer Godden (1945)

This short, somewhat stylized novel explores the life of a house over 100 years. Although it was written in 1945, I also found it to be very modern in the way it examined women’s roles in society.

wildroseA Wilder Rose by Susan Wittig Albert (2013)

What was the relationship between Laura Ingalls Wilder and her author daughter, Rose? This book is a fictionalized account of the years after Rose returned from Albania and settled down (or didn’t) to working with her mother on the Little House books. Albert does an amazing job of capturing Rose’s voice and filling in some missing years in these fascinating womens’ lives.

 bloodflowersThe Blood of Flowers by Anita Amirezzvani (2007)

This unusual piece of historical fiction is about a Persian village girl who dreams of working as a rugmaker in the big city. The story line of finding your place in a world that is not always friendly to women was so true that it resonated with me as a current-day woman engineer in heavy industry. There’s also some light romance and intrigue, and the setting is absolutely wonderful: richly and lovingly detailed seventeenth-century Persia.

imageMy Salinger Year Joanna Rakoff (2014)

This memoir successfully opens a window into another life & another world: in this case, mid-90’s  literary New York. Like most window-gazing, this book will satisfy your inner book-nerd voyeur.

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wisp

Wisp of a Thing by Alex Bledsoe (2014)

Although you could easily read it as a standalone book, Wisp of a Thing is the second installment in Bledsoe’s rural fantasy series about the Tufa, a mysterious group of people — or ?? — living in the hills in Tennesee. The books are infused with music and Appalachia and magic, and are the most wonderful antidote to too much urban fantasy.

ench_starsEnchantress from the Stars  by Sylvia Engdahl (1970)

Sylvia Engdahl gives us both fantasy and science fiction in this classic YA novel: a story of three brothers who try to slay a dragon with the help of an enchantress and a sorcerer, and science fiction about three anthropologists from an advanced race of humans that travel to a less developed planet to help the locals resist colonization.

 

Readers: What were the best books you read in 2014?

Top Ten Tuesday: New-to-Me Authors

toptentuesdayThere’s nothing better than discovering an established author whose work you really love. Then her whole backlist, or maybe even a completed series, is waiting just for you to come along and read it.

So for Top Ten Tuesday this week, since we’ve been challenged by The Broke and the Bookish through this fabulous meme to list our favorite new authors for 2014, I’m going to share five new-to-me authors. I hope you have fun discovering one or more of them. And if you’ve read more of their backlist than I have, please comment and tell me where to go next!

5. Tracy Madison

I don’t read much romance – especially not series romance. But when I picked up Taste of Magic by Tracy Madison, I knew I had a book that both my sister and I could enjoy. By extension, that means almost anyone would like it. There’s gypsy magic, so I get my fantasy fix, but there’s also some very satisfying ex-husband revenge and a whole lot of dessert. I immediately read the follow-up, Stroke of Magic, and plan to read more by this author whenever I’m in the mood for… well, dessert.

4. Cleo Coyle

I also don’t read many cozy mysteries, but I love coffee, and On What Grounds by Cleo Coyle does a wonderful job of evoking the daily life of a coffeehouse while also developing a light mystery plot with a little romance. Her follow up book, Through The Grinder, was actually an improvement on the first one. The only drawback was an ongoing and ambiguous love triangle. Since the series just published its fourteenth book, I’m guessing the author resolved that problem somewhere along the way.

3. Rumer Godden

My library copy of A Fugue In Time was the original 1945 edition, with an interesting note from the publisher about wartime paper shortages. It felt very up-to-date and feminist, but was also very clearly from a different time and place. Rumer Godden has a large backlist of adult fiction, including her most famous work, Black Narcissus, and is also known for writing children’s literature.

2. Josephine Tey

The Daughter of Time is a detective story with a limited viewpoint: the detective is hospitalized, and decides to solve the mystery of what happened to the princes in the Tower of London. I loved the idea that a modern-day detective could solve a historical mystery. This book is actually fifth in the Alan Grant series, but that didn’t bother me at all. Josephine Tey was a Scottish author and playwright who lived and wrote during the first half of the twentieth century.

1. Sylvia Engdahl

I read a lot of YA fantasy and science fiction, but almost all of it was written in the last five years. Sylvia Engdahl has been publishing since the 1970s, and is still an active YA and adult writer today. I just reviewed her Newbery Medal book Enchantress from the Stars, and I also have This Star Shall Abide in my TBR pile.

Bonus round! Authors 1, 2, and 3 above were recommended to me by Jo Walton via Among Others (fiction, but contains a lot of book recommendations) and What Makes This Book So Great (nonfiction collection of essays about her favorite books). Although I haven’t liked all of her recommendations, she’s pointed me towards some really excellent reads in many different genres. If you find my above suggestions interesting, you should read one or both of her books.

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