by Julie Edwards

Published 1971

Alrighty, so, continuing my walk down memory lane, I’m reading all the books I own.  Many of them, like this one, I have owned for so long that my name in the front just says “Sarah W” in scraggly print, since I’ve owned them since before I could write in cursive!

This book is about a young girl who lives in an orphanage (Mandy, of course) and her desire to have something of her own.  She discovers an abandoned cottage and adopts it, planting flowers in the garden and cleaning the little house.

I think that what I really enjoy about this story is how Mandy has to learn about balance in her life–that having a special secret isn’t worth sacrificing honesty and friendship.

By the by, as I read these books I haven’t read since childhood, I like to look up and see if favorite authors ever wrote anything else.  And, call me super ignorant, but all these years, I had no idea that Julie Andrews was an author at all, much less that she wrote Mandy.  So that was a pleasant surprise!

This is definitely a happy little read, and a nice read-aloud for younger(ish) readers, because don’t all children dream of having a little house of their very own?

Fortune’s Folly


by Deva Fagan

Published 2009

Sometimes, I like to choose random books that Goodreads thinks I would like.  Ironically, I’m really bad at remember to update my Goodreads account, so sometimes its suggestions are a little off the wall.  Anyway, this one looked reasonable–a fairy tale-ish book for younger readers–so I gave it a try.

Sadly, though, I didn’t find a great deal to love about this book.  Fortunata has struggled to keep her father going since the death of his wife (her mother).  Once an amazing shoe-maker, her father lost his talents.  Once his wife died, the elves who had always come to tidy his workbench at night ceased to appear, and he is convinced that until they return, his skills will be lacking.  Fortunata (who also narrates the story… another mark against it, as I am innately prejudiced against first-person narratives), however, knows that there never were magic elves–it was simply her mother, slipping down to the workshop every night to clean things up.

Now, let us pause a moment.  Doesn’t it seem like the logical thing to do would be for Fortunata to simply take over her mother’s task?  Instead, she tries her best to sell the terrible shoes her father is making.  Eventually, they end up having to run away from town, blah blah blah, their donkey gets stolen by a wicket traveling amusement-wagon owner, and Fortunata and her father are forced to travel with them as Fortunata becomes the fortune-teller’s assistant.

FINALLY about a third or more into the book, we get to the main story, where Fortunata gives a fortune to a prince and has to travel with him to see if it comes true (and it has to come true, or else or father’s life is forfeit).

While I enjoyed some of the dialogue and characters, overall this book seemed lacking in direction.  Fortunata spends the entire book believing that the saints and magic (all the same, which also annoyed me, even in a fictional world) were just a bunch of hooey.  But sometimes, things that are inexplicable do happen.  Even so, Fortunata never really seems to change her mind, even while these things are never explained.  It was as though the author herself wasn’t sure whether or not magic exists in Fortunata’s world.

There were way too many villains.  There was the evil dude who disposed a random king in another city (who also happened to be the evil dude from the first chapter).  There was the evil wagon-owner.  There were his evil henchmen.  There was an evil princess (two, actually).  There was an evil witch (? her story makes her the victim, but she leaves them locked in a cage and then they steal stuff from her and once again you aren’t really sure who was supposed to be wrong or right and we never address that whole thing again really; it was just a tool so we could explain why the princess is evil, except we don’t believe in magic, right? So it doesn’t really explain it, unless magic actually is a thing…???).

Fortunata makes a living out of lying.  Her fortune telling is all a deception and she knows it.  The prince falls in love with her, but everything about her is a lie, and she never seems really apologetic about that (I mean, she says sorry, but more like she’s sorry that he had to find out about her lies, not that she told them in the first place).  I guess that, in the end, that was what really made this book unpalatable to me.  It was as though the moral of the story was, “Everyone lies, so lie when you have to, and try to not get caught.”

I’ll give it a 2/5.  It didn’t actually make my eyes bleed, but most certainly did not inspire me to seek out any of Fagan’s other works.

Band of Brothers



by Stephen E. Ambrose

Published 2001 (originally 1992)

In this non-fiction book, Ambrose focuses on a select group of men in World War II–Easy Company, a parachute infantry regiment.  And let me state right here and now: I know nothing about the military or how it works.  So please don’t judge me if I am really, really bad at explaining different groups of people!

But part of the charm of this book was that even someone as military-ignorant as myself still found it an enjoyable and informative read.  While some sections would probably make a LOT more sense if I was more familiar with military rank, etc. (I did look it up a couple of times, but it just doesn’t seem to stay in my head…  some charts or lists would have been super helpful for me), overall, the book is just the story of the daily lives of these men, and anyone can understand that.

From their incredibly rigorous training stateside, to their first jump of the war, all the way to Hitler’s mountaintop retreat, we follow Easy Company, listen to their stories, and try to see the war from their eyes.

If you’re interested in WWII, this is a good read.  Ambrose is quite readable, and makes this story an interesting one.

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase



by Joan Aiken

Published 1962

I love this book.  I can’t really explain why.  Maybe because Mom read it to me when I was a little girl, and even though I didn’t understand all of it, something about the cold and the dark and desperate wolves, about Bonnie’s optimism and Sylvia’s sweetness, Simon’s resourcefulness and Miss Slighcarp’s evilness–somehow, it stuck with me.  I’ve read this book almost every year for as long as I can remember.  It’s one of my personal classics.

The story is a bit of a stretch, I’ll admit.  Definitely not historical fiction by any means.  Aiken actually writes of a sort of alternate-universe England (hence the slavering wolves), but it makes an excellent story, and has the added benefit of gently reminding the reader that she doesn’t have to make everything “just so.”  I really love the characters of this book.  The story moves quickly.  I love children’s stories, where the good are good and the bad are bad and this book draws those lines distinctly.  The dark and wintry background adds to sense of urgency and fear.

Definite recommendation.

Time to Go House



by Walter D. Edmonds

Published 1969

As a child, I loved this book.  Mom bought it forever ago at a library booksale, and I can remember being fascinated by the story and the delicate line drawings that illustrate it.

Time to Go House is the tale of a young field mouse, Smalleata (seriously, is that the cutest name for a mouse or what?!) who, with her (large, extended) family travels to the human house to spend the winter.  Since Smalleata was just born that spring, this is her first time to go house.  The way is fraught with peril, and even in the house (with the humans gone, presumably south, for the season) can be dangerous.  Smalleata’s first friend is a young (handsome) house mouse.  Romance blossoms.

The story is simple and charming, and yet akin to those true classics like Bambi (the book, not Disney’s prettified animated version), humanizes animals only by giving them voice, not by taking away their animal nature.  Thus, there is some violence in this book (although not graphic, of course), especially when the weasels get in.

I do believe that this book is out of print and probably not readily available (obviously my library doesn’t have a copy any more… they discarded it about twenty years ago, lol), but if you happen to come across it, I do recommend it.  4/5.

Joy in the Morning



by P.G. Wodehouse

Published 1947

Okay, so I realize that I said that The Code of the Woosters was probably my favorite Wodehouse book, but Joy in the Morning!  Well, it’s right up there, too.  Instead of talking about this book, I would simply like to quote for you its opening pages (the first sentence is one of Wodehouse’s most beautiful, I think):

After the thing was all over, when peril had ceased to loom and happy endings had been distributed in heaping handfuls and we were driving home with our hats on the sides of our heads, having shaken the dust of Steeple Bumpleigh from our tyres, I confessed to Jeeves that there had been moments during the recent proceedings when Bertram Wooster, though no weakling, had come very near to despair.

“Within a toucher, Jeeves.”

“Unquestionably affairs had developed a certain menacing trend, sir.”

“I saw no ray of hope.  It looked to me as if the blue bird had thrown in the towel and formally ceased to function.  And yet here we are, all boomps-a-daisy.  Makes one think a bit, that.”

“Yes, sir.”

“There’s an expression on the tip of my tongue which seems to me to sum the whole thing up.  Or, rather, when I saw an expression, I mean a saying.  A wheeze.  A gag.  What, I believe, is called a saw.  Something about Joy doing something.”

“Joy cometh in the morning, sir?”

“That’s the baby.  Not one of your things, is it?”

“No, sir.”

“Well, it’s dashed good,” I said.

And I still think there can be no neater way of putting in a nutshell the outcome of the super-sticky affair of Nobby Hopwood, Stilton Cheesewright, Florence Craye, my Uncle Percy, J. Chichester Clam, Edwin the Boy Scout and old Boko Fittleworth–or, as my biographers will probably call it, the Steeple Bumpleigh Horror.

If that doesn’t make you want to read Wodehouse, you simply weren’t meant to do so.

The Rose Rent, The Hermit of Eyton Forest, & The Confession of Brother Haluin



by Ellis Peters

Published 1986, 1988, 1988

Truth be told, while I love every single page of these books, I feel like a broken record reviewing them, especially since I don’t like to tell too much about the plot–they are mysteries, after all!  So I thought that I would combine these three into a single post.

One of the things that I greatly enjoy about Peters’s writing is her ability to teach a lesson quietly and unobtrusively.  Through the mouths of Brother Cadfael and the Father Abbot especially, gentle truths are put forth, truths worth wrestling with and examining.  In these books, we learn the beauty of generosity, that there is indeed a time to mourn, and that all is not always as it appears.

Perhaps one of my favorite lessons is found in The Confessino of Brother Haluin, which begins when a young monk falls from a roof (in dire need of repair due to a heavy snowfall) and nearly dies. So nearly, in fact, that he calls the Father Abbot so that he can make his final confession. However, the brother does not die, and, though very crippled, receives leave to make a pilgrimage as penance for a long-past but very serious sin. Brother Cadfael, the only other man alive to know this story, is chosen as the brother’s companion.

But what I loved about this book was the acknowledgement that life does not always go the way we wish. Love is not always fulfilled in the way we want it to be, but sometimes the life that we would have thought of originally as second-best, turns out to be the first-best after all. It is one of those lessons that we never seem to teach (or learn), but great contentment can be found when one realizes the import of this teaching.

These books are by no means perfect, and the mysteries are not always as mysterious as one might desire, but the overall writing quality, historical research, and simple beauty of these stories make them well worth the read.

A Traveler’s History of China

by Stephen G. Haw

Published 2008

I’m actually a bit sad that I somehow didn’t take a picture of this little book, because I quite liked it.  Actually, part of the reason I checked it out to begin with was because of the way it felt–small, with a slick paperback and a comfortable binding.  Reading is usually an experience that uses several senses for me; I am a very tactile person, and if a book doesn’t “feel” right in my hands, my enjoyment of the tale is greatly diminished.

ANYWAY, this was a nice book.  I actually wrote down the other titles in the series for future reference (I’m trying to read about the histories of different countries).  The problem with China is that it has a LOT of history, and that history is so completely different from American/European history, because the cultures are worlds apart.  Still, Haw did an admirable job of succinctly summarizing large batches of history in a way that was interesting and useful.  It isn’t his fault that there were so many different names for me to try to remember!

I really could have used some better maps, and some more maps (I LOVE MAPS), but overall this book was an intriguing account of a fascinating country.  Haw also did a fairly good job of keeping his own opinions out of the book, although his obvious support for China’s abortion-enforced single-child family policy was a little disturbing.  Still, I would recommend this book for someone looking for a nice overview of the country’s history (especially if, like myself, you are as far from being an expert on Chinese culture as can be), and I look forward to perusing other titles in the series.

A Civil Contract



by Georgette Heyer

Published 1961

If you would like to read a book on how to be a good wife, this is it.  Jenny, a rich young heiress, marries a poor but titled young man, as a business arrangement rather than a love match.  Indeed, the young man, Lynton, is in love with another woman, Julia.  But he sets aside his feelings for the sake of practicality–his father, a gambler by nature, drained the family coffers dry before his death.  With a mother and sister to provide for, Lynton accepts the proposal of Jenny’s father–money in exchange for Jenny’s launch into genteel society.

Jenny, however, has secretly loved Lynton for some time, and is determined, not to make him love her, but to make him a good wife.  And that, I think, is why I enjoyed this book.  Jenny’s motives are pure.  She marries Lynton, and works hard to learn his ways and to please him, not because she has any yearning for a title or to attend exclusive parties (indeed, she finds that her life is happiest at Lynton’s family estate in the country), but because she simply loves Lynton and wishes his life to be happy and comfortable.

Lynton, it is only fair to say, treats Jenny very well.  Although he does not love her in a romantic way, he is always kind and patient, grateful for her efforts.  At one point in the story, he runs into Julia at a party.  She suggests that, since she is also to be married, that Lynton and she could engage in a extra-marital relationship, a common enough happenstance in a time where love matches were the exception and not the rule.  But Lynton refuses this tempting offer, determined to do right by Jenny, to treat her with the respect and honor that she, as his wife, deserves.

Heyer’s books are always happy in the ending, so it is no giveaway to say that Lynton comes to appreciate and love Jenny, and to realize that Julia’s fastidious and expensive temperament would never have suited him.  Jenny’s practical and sincere affection, not only for Lynton, but for Lynton’s home and lifestyle, make her a superior wife for Lynton in every way.

While some may deride this book for being dull, and Jenny being a little too housewifely, I found it to be refreshing.  While a long-term relationship can (and usually is) founded on passionate love, endurance comes from something deeper and steadier.  Lynton and Jenny discover that, and while there is never a moment where they leap into each other’s arms and embrace passionately, they do come to realize that a large part of a happy marriage is comfortable companionship and shared work and interests.  While this book may not get a very high grade from the romantics, I think that this couple has a far better chance of a still being happily and contentedly married in fifty years than most fictional couples.


House of Many Ways



by Diana Wynne Jones

Published 2008

In this sequel to Howl’s Moving Castle (following, it appears, Castle in the Air),  a young girl heads off to house-sit for a relation (by marriage) whom she has never met.  Of course, it turns out that the relation is a wizard and his house is, to say the least, a bit unusual.  As with Castle in the Air, old friends return (Howl is, if possible, even more annoying in this book than the first) and complicated plot twists abound.

While I really enjoyed this book, I will say that the villain, a strange creature whose name I can’t remember, really gave me the weirds, as it reproduces by inserting its eggs into innocent passersby (usually they are not even aware that this has happened).  If the egg-host happens to be male, the young hatch from the eggs and kill the host while emerging (!?!?!?) and if the egg-host is female, she gives birth in a  normal fashion, except instead of having a baby, she has a humanoid version of this creature.  And there’s just something about having some strange monster lay eggs in you when you don’t even know it that seems extra gross to me.  So I didn’t like that.

But the humor was strong and the dialogue delightful.  And, per usual when reading a Jones book, I could barely put it down.  4/5.