The Witness // Before I Wake // by Dee Henderson

I had so many good resolutions when I last posted here, all these ways I was going to get caught up on my backlog of reviews and get this blog back on track!  …and then my internet went out for a week.  Ah well, such is life.  I don’t really get all that stressed about it, other than the fact that the piles of books around my computer are threatening to topple over…

As I mentioned, I’ve been reading through Dee Henderson’s standalone novels.  It started because I received her most recent book, Threads of Suspicion, as an ARC from Bethany House.  Now this book is the second book in Henderson’s new series – the Evie Blackwell Cold Cases.  Being myself, I thought I would just go ahead and read the first book, Traces of Guilt, first, and then I would be good to go.  I really have a problem of not being able to dip in and out of series… I basically feel a compulsion to read them all, in order.

So anyway, I open up Traces of Guilt and start to read… and on the very first page is a character that I definitely remembered from being in one of Henderson’s other books!  So then I started wondering if this really was a new series, or if there were going to be a lot overlapping characters……..and before I knew it, I had been sucked in, and ended up reading all of the novels she has published since her O’Malley series (which I actually really enjoyed).

Here’s the thing:  Henderson’s “standalone” novels aren’t really standalones… a lot of them have interconnecting characters, which, over time, does become kind of important.  I’m at the point now where I’ve been immersed in her world for eight books, though, so it’s kind of hard for me to say whether or not these books would make sense if genuinely read on their own.  Some of them would, I think, but others it seems like a lot would go over your head if you didn’t know some of the background for the characters.  What I really don’t understand is why, in general, authors don’t indicate when books are connected??  I’m not sure if they don’t want to scare people off by making their  books a series or what, but I’ve come across this with other authors as well, and it honestly drives me crazy.  I WANT TO READ THE BOOKS IN ORDER and it’s extremely aggravating when I can’t even figure out what order that is supposed to be because the author is pretending like they are all independent books when they AREN’T!  With Henderson, I had to go through and determine when each book had been published and read them in that order.  What.  Even.

SO.  General ranting about the concept of calling books standalone when they are not, in fact, standalone, is over – on to the actual books themselves!

The problem is that I really enjoyed the O’Malley series so much.  They were engaging, exciting, full of solid conversations, and tackled topics and themes in a realistic and thought-provoking way without ever sounding preachy.  And none of Henderson’s other books have lived up to those in my mind, so even though many of her books are pretty decent, I’m always somewhat disappointed because they aren’t as good as the O’Malley series.

With that in mind…  I found both The Witness and Before I Wake to be 3/5 reads.  They were interesting and had decent characterization, but somehow just lacked the zing.

//published 2006//

The Witness was just a bit slow, especially since it SEEMED like it should be quite exciting.  Luke is the chief of police and, in the first chapter, is on the scene shortly after a shooting takes place in a jewelry store.  The only witness is a young woman who, Luke eventually finds out, is on the run from a different crime she witnessed several years earlier.  While the story started well, it slowly devolved from a thriller into a gentle romance, a theme I found running through several of Henderson’s books.  It just doesn’t seem right to advertise a book as a romantic thriller when it’s basically just the romantic part…

Soon there were too many couples:  Luke and Amanda.  Connor and Marie.  Caleb and Tracey.  And several other pairs that Henderson kept hinting around should or would be dating soon.  After a very long middle section where basically nothing happens except for all the couples working through their internal problems (which are pretty easy to solve because everyone is ridiculously wealthy – another common Henderson theme), all of the sudden there is a bunch of action that feels quite abrupt and SOMEONE DIES, which was quite upsetting and felt completely unnecessary.

All in all, not a bad book, but not one I feel compelled to read again.

//published 2003// Also, she has some of THE WORST covers of all time, ugh //

There were some common issues with Before I Wake.  Again, the premise is completely engaging – several women, apparently unconnected, die in their sleep, despite being youngish and in apparently good health.  No sign of foul play or visitors.  Rae has recently moved to town to become a business partner with a guy she used to date, Bruce, who is a private investigator.  Rae used to work undercover for the FBI and had an assignment go south.  Still recovering emotionally, she’s left DC behind and moved to this small town outside of Chicago.

This book had a tighter story and more tension.  But there was this weird, super-polite love triangle as Bruce is still quite interested in Rae romantically, but the sheriff, Nathan, is also very interested in Rae.  Rae isn’t sure what she wants to do with her life or if she is interested in either of these guys, and in the meantime the three of them work together virtually with no tension, which didn’t really seem likely, given the interconnecting emotions.

This book would have probably gotten 4/5, except the ending felt like a total cop-out.  There were several suspects and a lot of different motives, but SPOILER, it’s just a random dude?  And then he just conveniently dies in a car wreck, so everyone’s problems are solved, hurrah!  There was also no resolution in the relationships between Rae, Bruce, and Nathan, and it honestly felt like Henderson was getting ready to start another series with this trio, as the relationships had that very open-ended feel to them.  But we actually don’t here from these guys again in the rest of the books, so oh well I suppose.

Overall, Before I Wake was a book that could have been really good but ended up kind of meh because of the weak ending.

This actually means that I have FINALLY finished reviewing all of my May reads, so maybe someday we’ll actually look at books I’ve been reading in June… even though June is almost over…!!!

The Nesting Place // by Myquillyn Smith

//published 2014//

I have this crazy idea in the back of mind that I will finish writing reviews for books read in May and THEN do an April/May Rearview…  except it’s already June 12…  ah well.  Yesterday was my last day of my seasonal job, so I’m anticipating a better pattern of reading and reviewing (haha) in between playing with the puppy, keeping up the garden, doing laundry, running my Etsy shop, etc….

Somewhere along the line I stumbled into this book.  I’m rather drawn to home organizational books and magazines; I love looking for ideas that I can use (or tweak a little and then use), especially since we somehow seem to always be remodeling something around here.  This book had delightfully smooth and glossy pages and perfect binding; lots of photographs and beautiful font, so I was immediately attracted.  And once I started reading, Smith’s friendly and encouraging writing kept me turning the pages.

This book felt like a letter from a friend, possibly because Smith is actually a blogger.  But despite the warm tone, the book stayed focused and orderly, making it not just enjoyable for a one-time read,  but a book that can be referenced again and again.

I was expecting a typical book about organizing your home – step-by-step instructions and suggestions.  I was also hoping for some tips on home decorating, as I sometimes struggle with making things look ‘right’, especially in our small home where it is very easy to cross the line to ‘cluttered’.  What I wasn’t anticipating was an actual message that would both encourage and challenge, as Smith believes that the first step to decorating your home is getting your heart and attitude in the right place.

She starts by outlining her own house history, which involves 13 houses in 18 years of marriage – I believe this qualifies as a lot of moves by any standard.  As Smith talks about the different houses, she also talks about how, at the time, each one wasn’t ‘the one’, and so she didn’t make much of an effort to nest in.  But what she began to realize was that everyone house is ‘the one’ for the current season, and while it may not be worthwhile to throw down thousands of dollars on projects in every house, it is always worthwhile to make every house your own home.

A lot of what Smith discusses has to do with the importance of contentment.  So often we cheat ourselves out of enjoying the present because we are wishing we had something different.  I love the quote that she attributed to Epicurus – “Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you have now was once among the things you only hoped for.”

Smith’s message is not a complicated one; in fact, I was rather blown away by its simplicity.  Appreciate where you are now.  Work within your current means.  Be willing to try something new.  Stop worrying about what other people think and instead create something you love.  Remember that your home is a haven, and go from there.

According to Smith, perfection is overrated.  Because we set “perfection” (a somewhat vague term when it comes to home decor) as our goal, we become frozen with fear and do nothing.  “Done is better than perfect,” Smith says.  “Welcoming and comfortable do not have to equal perfection.”  She quotes Sandy Coughlin –

Excellence is working toward an attainable goal that benefits everyone, while perfection comes from a place of great need – usually the need to avoid criticism and gain praise and approval.

One of the big things that really hit me was Smith’s discussion about apologizing for things in the home.  “Sorry, it’s such a mess today,” or “I’m so embarrassed by what a disaster this kitchen is!”  These types of comments do not make people feel comfortable and welcomed.  Instead, apologizing not only broadcasts your discontentment with your current state of affairs, it sets up whomever is receiving your apology to wonder how harshly you would judge their messes if you were in their home!

After quite a bit of time on attitude and contentment (time that was not at all wasted, in my opinion), Smith gets down to some of the nitty-gritty of nesting.  She says that a big part of making decorating decisions is first of all determining the purpose of your home and of the different spaces within it.  She points out that most of us want things that are somewhat intangible for our homes.  Smith suggests taking a moment to “think about words you would use to describe the feel of the home you’ve always wanted,” and later she lists several words that she gathered from some of her blog readers.  The words were things like “restful,” “welcoming,” “comfortable,” “safe,” “fun,” and “joyful.”  Start with your words, she says, and go from there to create intentional spaces.

I’ve rambled on quite a bit about this book, but it really impacted me, and I highly recommend it.  While I’ve talked a lot about Smith’s thoughts on attitude and contentment, she also has a lot of practical advice.  A huge take-away for me was the importance of making the spaces in my home purposeful – to look at each room/area and decide what it is I want that space to do, and then only place things in that space that further the purpose.

Funny story, I thought I would start with the little dining nook off our kitchen, and I started to write down the different things we use that space for, and realized that the one thing we don’t use it for is eating… and now we’re in the process of turning the entire area into a pantry, and there are boxes of food stacked all over the place and construction dust everywhere, so be careful whilst reading this book!

I also have to say that Smith has been a renter throughout the majority of her married life, and her book reaches out to renters as well as home-owners.  So  many of her suggestions and thoughts are inexpensive and easily changed (hanging pictures, moving furniture, painting things, etc).  I found myself wishing that I had read this book back when we were renters and I so often found myself staring at those dreadful flat-beige rental walls!

All in all, The Nesting Place was an unexpected encouragement.  Warm and thoughtful, challenging and practical, I highly recommend this book if you are feeling a smidge overwhelmed about creating a “look” for your home.

The Mysterious Benedict Society Quartet // by Trenton Lee Stewart

I first read The Mysterious Benedict Society back in 2007, when it was first published.  I can’t remember how I initially found it – probably browsing about the library – but I enjoyed it so much that I purchased it soon after.  The fantastic cover art and interior illustrations drew me in, and the story was strong enough to make the read well worth it.  Since then, I’ve read this book several times and enjoyed it more with each reading.

//published 2007//

Our story begins with Reynie, a boy whose parents died before he remembers, and who now lives in an orphanage.  Reynie is basically a genius, incredibly intelligent and keen to learn.  One day, he and his tutor are reading the newspaper – as they do most days – when they come across a rather odd ad:  “Are you a gifted child looking for special opportunities?”  Reynie responds, and soon finds himself involved in a series of tests – and then even more.

This is a children’s book, so much of the writing is rather simple.  However, Stewart has not dumbed-down his story, which has a fabulous villain and lots of action.  As an adult, I found small snippets of it to be verging on polemic, but in some ways I think the almost-spelling-out fits in with the age of the targeted audience.  Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a preachy book by any means.  Reynie and the trio with whom he soon joins forces (The Mysterious Benedict Society – Sticky, Kate, and Constance) infiltrate a school for the gifted that may or may not be a mere cover for something much, much more sinister.

I love the bit where the kids are first entering the school.  A couple of the older students, Jillson and Jackson, are showing them around.

“It sounds like there are no rules here at all,” Sticky said.

“That’s true, George,” said Jillson.  “Virtually none, in fact.  You can wear whatever you want, just so long as you have on trousers, shoes, and a shirt.  You can bathe as often as you like or not at all, provided you are clean every day in class.  You can eat whatever and whenever you want, so long as it’s during meal hours at the cafeteria.  You’re allowed to keep the lights on in your room as late as you wish until ten o’clock each night.  And you can go wherever you want around the Institute, so long as you keep to the paths and the yellow-tiled corridors.”

“Actually,” Reynie observed, “those all sound like rules.”

Jackson rolled his icy blue eyes.  “This is your first day, so I don’t expect you to know much, Reynard.  But this is one of the rules of life you’ll learn at the Institute: Many things that sound like rules aren’t actually rules, and it always sounds like there are more rules than there really are.”

And I do appreciate Stewart’s apt summation of government schools:

Rote memorization of lessons was discouraged but required; class participation was encouraged but rarely permitted.

All in all, The Mysterious Benedict Society is a fun and engaging story with relatable characters and a solid plot, yet also manages to be thoughtful at a level that is challenging for both its target audience of middle schoolers and older readers as well.  I highly recommend it.  5/5.

//published 2008//

//published 2009//

The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey and The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner’s Dilemma are also enjoyable reads, but not quite as engaging as the first book.  I hadn’t read these two as often as the first book, so I really enjoyed delving back into them.  The entire cast of characters returns for these books as the pursuit of the villain from the first book continues.  These two books lack the deeper level of the first book, but are still well-paced and fun stories, and a lot of the questions from the first book are answered.  I would have appreciated a slightly more involved epilogue, but for the most part solid 4/5 reads.

//published 2012//

The final book, The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict is a prequel that looks at a formative season in the childhood of Mr. Benedict.  This is actually probably my second-favorite of the four books.  I really like that Nicholas isn’t a perfect kid, and his character development is done very well, especially the way that he learns to see that everyone has a motivation for what he does, and that understanding that motivation before passing judgment is an important part of life.  Another 5/5.

Jackaroo // On Fortune’s Wheel // The Wings of a Falcon // by Cynthia Voigt

These three books are loosely linked as “The Tales of the Kingdom.”  Somewhere along the line, I picked up Jackaroo at a library discard sale.  I remember reading it in high school and liking it and not thinking much more of it.  Then, a year or so ago I stumbled across On Fortune’s Wheel at the Salvation Army for a dime.  Goodreads revealed that The Wings of a Falcon rounded off the trilogy, so I went ahead and ordered it used on eBay for a couple of dollars.

//published 1985//

I enjoyed my reread of Jackaroo.  It’s a decent story set in a kingdom far, far away and centers around Gwyn, the daughter of an innkeeper.  The Kingdom is ruled by the king, and two earls under him, and lords under the earls.  The common folk pay their taxes and struggle to make a living, something more difficult due to a famine over the last couple of years.  Gwyn and her family have it better than most; there is always business for the inn, and her father is a shrewd businessman.

This isn’t exactly a fast-paced story, but it unwinds at a comfortable pace.  Gwyn is a likable character (although her brother is quite aggravating), and I enjoyed watching her realize things about herself and her life that led her challenge her own way of thinking.  A 3/5 story that was pleasant but not life-changing.

//published 1990//

On Fortune’s Wheel revolves around Gwyn’s granddaughter.  This story had a bit more adventuring to it as Birle leaves the Kingdom and travels south.  Despite that, the book still felt slow at points.  When Birle returns to the Kingdom, there are several chapters that really seem to drag out.  This book also involved a scenario that consistently infuriates me: girl gets pregnant and doesn’t tell the father because it’s “her” decision – as though he had nothing to do with it!  I’m really tired of fathers getting zero rights and/or only the rights begrudgingly granted to them by mothers.  (Followed by the mother sighing and bemoaning the fact that the father is distant or not helpful or whatever, urgh)

Anyway, another 3/5 read that was again a pleasant story but not something that really spoke to me.

//published 1993//

The final book, The Wings of a Falcon, again takes place about twenty years later, but begins in the southern country rather than the Kingdom. This book was a lot weirder than the other two, and I found the main character, Oriel, to be 100% obnoxious.  I never felt like Oriel grew as a person at all.  He started by being a self-confident and pompous ass, and continued to be that type of douchey person from boyhood to adulthood.  He uses everyone around him and only does things that benefit himself.  The whole story really dragged and felt completely aimless.  It was a 1/5 read for me, and not a book I would ever return to.

Overall, the trio garners a 2/5 rating.  While I didn’t particularly love reading these books, at least I will have three empty slots on the bookshelves, as these are going into the giveaway box.

April Minireviews

Usually this space is reserved for books I felt kind of “meh” about, but this time around it’s just a way of trying to catch up on some of the backlog.  I’m ready for summer break!!!

Paper Towns by John Green

//published 2008//

I really was going to write a whole long review complaining about this book, but who has time for that?  I read this book because I felt like I needed to actually read one of Green’s books before dismissing him as a pretentious and condescending guy who just says whatever young adults want to hear so he’ll stay popular.  (These days, they call that “being relevant.”)  Now I can be quite smug about not liking him, because, after all, I have tried his books!

Paper Towns was about what I expected.  The main character was completely unrealistic, a high school senior who cared about grades, grammar, and making his parents proud.  And it wasn’t really those things that made him unrealistic, it was just his entire manner and way of speaking.  He spends most of this book running around trying to solve a mystery, following clues he believes his neighbor/crush has left for him.  I’ve heard Green get a lot of flack for perpetrating the “manic pixie dream girl” method of creating a story, but I’m not sure I buy that.  Like half the point was Quentin realizing that he saw Margo as a manic pixie dream girl (although he doesn’t use those words), and understanding that he’s only ever seen her as a very one-dimensional character instead of an actual person.  Yes, Margo is weird and quirky; and yes, she helps Quentin appreciate his life more fully; and yes, we don’t really get to know her from her own perspective – but I still felt like Quentin’s realizations of her were above the MPDG level.  A little.

Overall, the story was just dumb and kind of pointless.  It was a book that desperately was trying to be poignant and deep, but really just came through as cliched and boring.  I compare that to something like The Scent of Waterwhich doesn’t at all try to be poignant and deep and yet manages just that, and can’t believe that people hail someone like John Green as a genius and brilliant writer.  OVERRATED is the main word that comes to my mind, as this book was desperately boring, the characters were flat, and the entire book read like one long cliche.  2/5.

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

//published 1817//

Somehow, I had never gotten around to reading this particular classic, and I’m quite sorry that I waited this long.  While this book didn’t have the character studies of some of Austen’s other works, I found myself laughing out loud on multiple occasions.  Austen’s wry sense ofhumor was at the forefront of this rather frivolous tale, and I loved the way that she poked fun at all sorts of things, but all in such a gentle and kindhearted way.

I purchased the perfect copy of this book, a wonderfully-sized paperback that I love.  My only problem was the “introduction,” in which I was treated to a ten-page synopsis of the story (complete with all the spoilers) and not a word of actual insight or thought!  I’m really heartily tired of introductions that are actually a CliffNotes version of the book.  Just because it’s a classic doesn’t mean that everyone who picks it up has already read it!  I mean really.  If the foreword isn’t going to actually give information, what’s the point?!

But the story itself is adorable and fun, and although this may have been my first reading of it, I don’t anticipate it being the last.  5/5.

Wild Palomino: Stallion of the Prairies by Stephen Holt

//published 1946//

This is another book in the Famous Horse Stories series, and one that I’ve had on a shelf for years and never actually read.  I wasn’t really missing all that much, as Wild Palomino was a wildly impractical tale from page one through the finish.  At the time that I actually read it I kept thinking, Wow, I should make sure to point out that crazy plot twist when I review this book!  But I honestly don’t remember many of specifics as this was an easily-forgotten story.  It’s perfectly fine, and the younger audience for whom it was written would probably enjoy all the drama and excitement, but it was just too implausible for me to really get into.  2/5.

The Prince and Betty by P.G. Wodehouse

//published 1912//

So I mean, sure, some people complain about Wodehouse’s books being a little samey.  I’ve never found that to be an issue for myself personally, because each one has its own unique charm, despite following more or less a set of guidelines.  But I found myself getting major deja vu when I was reading this book, mainly because it wasn’t my imagination – Wodehouse actually used part of one of his other stories!

The part I haven’t been able to figure out completely is whether or not this book or Psmith, Journalist came first, mainly because of the whole thing where Wodehouse wrote lots of his books as serials before printing them as a book, and also tended to have some of his books published first in the U.K. and then in the U.S.  or vice versa.  Either way, this whole book felt weird because of the inclusion of virtually the entire plot of Psmith, Journalist, including a character named Smith!

The Prince and Betty starts as its own story, with Betty’s rich stepfather (or possibly actually father or possibly uncle, I’m not sure which as it has been a while) deciding that his next big scheme is going to be opening a casino on a small European island country.  Complicated hijinks begin, including the rich guy’s attempt to  make Betty marry the prince of said small country.  Of course, Betty and the prince already knew each other from before (except she didn’t know he was a prince… and neither did he!), but Betty thinks that the prince is just trying to appease her father (or stepfather or uncle), so she gets angry and runs away.  So far, so good.

Except next the story takes a strange turn.  Betty lands a job as a secretary for a small newspaper and – well, insert the entire plot of Psmith, Journalist here!  It’s a shame because I actually love Psmith, Journalist  – like, a LOT – but it didn’t feel like it fit into this book at all.  I’m not sure if it’s because I had already read Psmith, or if it really did read like two different books mashed together.  So yes, both halves were good reads, but they didn’t go well together, but that could have just been me…

The Scent of Water // by Elizabeth Goudge

//published 1963//

Back in 2012 I read my first book by Elizabeth Goudge, The Little White Horse.  I was completely blown away by the simple beauty of that story and resolved to read more of Goudge’s works.  Somehow, I’ve only just now gotten around to reading another of her books, and this one was just as beautiful, uplifting, and oddly challenging.

While The Little White Horse was a children’s book, The Scent of Water is regular adult fiction.  It is not a tale of high excitement, yet I found myself completely engrossed in this story every page of the way.  The main character is Mary Lindsay, middle-aged in 1950’s England.  She has just inherited a small cottage in a small village and although she has always been a city girl, she has decided to give country life a try.  Mary is vaguely discontented with herself, despite the fact that she has had a successful career and has maintained her independence.  Yet she feels that she is a ‘land-locked sea,’ and wonders why she has never ‘felt’ things the way that others seem to.  Her fiancee died in the war, and while she mourned him, she realized at the time that what she was truly mourning was the fact that she had never been able to love him the way that he loved her.

Now, as she comes to this cottage, she recognizes that she wishes to come to know two people, and both of them have already died: her fiancee, John; and her cousin, also named Mary Lindsay, who left her this cottage despite the fact that they only met once, when our Mary was a very young girl.

I’m not really sure that I can tell you what the ‘point’ of this story is.  Mary gradually gets to know the other people in the village.  It is a small community, and I found myself frequently thinking of a line from Velvet Pie that I have remembered all these years – ‘so many currents in such a small puddle.’  This is really a story of those currents, a recognition that even ‘unimportant’ people have lives, feelings, drama, joy, sorrow.  It is a book about ordinary people living ordinary lives, and yet so much more.

Goudge writes from a decidedly Christian perspective, but I think that it would be hard to be offended by her gentle, loving lessons that are revealed throughout.  Mary herself begins the story rather ambivalent towards God, and while she never has a moment of ‘conversion,’ as the story progresses, she begins to see the beauty and detail of life, and to believe that God Himself is weaving life together.

There are three necessary prayers and they have three words each.  They are these, ‘Lord have mercy.  Thee I adore.  Into Thy hands.’

I started with a library copy, but swiftly realized that this was a book I wanted to own, if for no other reason than so I could underline and mark various passages.  This was the first book that I have read in a long time that made me want to cry from the sheer beauty of it.

There seems to be a great trend in writing about people with mental illnesses, and I believe Goudge was far ahead of her time in her portrayal of Cousin Mary.  Her story, told through her journal entries, was heartbreaking and beautiful – hard, yet ultimately hopeful.  I loved that Cousin Mary never ‘solved’ her mental illness, but she did learn how to cope as best she can.

This is a story about love, and what that really means.  There are several examples of it throughout the story, and Goudge draws us into the conclusion that love is so much more than a mere feeling.  One of her characters writes in her journal,

I had not known before that love is obedience.  You want to love, and you can’t, and you hate yourself because you can’t, and all the time love is not some marvelous thing that you feel but some hard thing that you do.  And this in a way is easier because with God’s help you can command your will when you can’t command your feelings.  With us, feelings seem to be important, but He doesn’t appear to agree with us.

Yet despite the fact that I would say this is a story about love, it is not at all a love story.  Mary is not ‘rescued’ from her spinsterhood; she is still quite single at the end of the book, with no real reason to believe that that will change, and I loved that.  It was so refreshing to read a story about a woman in her fifties, contentedly and productively single, who stays that way!

There are several stories woven together in this narrative, but I believe my favorite was the beauty of Mary discovering just why her cousin had left her this home, and how her cousin had lived and suffered and learned.  There is this glorious revelation of the interconnectedness of life, a reminder of things and lessons and faith that we inherit from those who have come before us, and that we leave for those who come after.  Cousin Mary’s journal said,

Who will live after me in this house?  Who will sit in the little parlor reading by the fire?  And then she will put out her lamp and come up to this room and light the candles and kneel by the bed to pray.  I don’t know who she is but I loved her the moment I walked into this room, for that was a moment that was timeless.  I shall have my sorrows in this house, but I will pray for her that she may reap a harvest of joy.

I don’t feel as though I am expressing this book very well, and I also feel like I am making it far more religious than it was in the actual reading.  Just trust me on this: it is well worth the read.  The language is wonderful, the characters drawn so well, and the lessons produced so gently and thoughtfully that I have found myself thinking about this book a great deal, weeks after the reading of it.

It was also an interesting contrast, because I read this shortly after reading Dead End Closewhich I hated.  Yet, in its way, Dead End Close was a similar sort of story: a small community of individuals, delving into each of their lives, seeing how they are all connected, etc.  But where Dead End Close concludes that all people are base, evil, selfish, animalistic; Goudge concludes that there is hope for anyone and everyone who willing to reach out and realize that all of our lives connect; that there is no darkness that cannot be relieved.

The very title of her book comes from a passage in Job which she quotes in the front of the book:

For there is hope of a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again, and that the tender branch thereof will not cease.  Though the root thereof wax old in the earth, and the stock thereof die in the ground; yet through the scent of water it will bud, and bring forth boughs like a plant.

The literal scent of water plays an important role in the story, a symbol of hope and life.  Goudge’s characters are not perfect – they don’t start that way, and they don’t end that way.  Yet somehow she portrays them in such a loving, generous light that I came to love even the unlikable ones.

All in all, The Scent of Water is one of those unexpected treasures that has immediately leaped onto my list of all-time favorite books.  It is absolutely beautiful, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

A Gentleman of Leisure // by P.G. Wodehouse

AKA The Intrusion of Jimmy

//published 1910//

As I am reading through all of Wodehouse’s books in published order, it is rather fun to watch his novels shape into what I would consider ‘traditional’ Wodehouse.  A Gentleman of Leisure has many of those components, with lively dialogue, engaging characters, love at first sight, overbearing fathers, and overwhelming aunts.

The story starts well, with a group of actors gathered together at their club after a successful night of a new play.  They are all happy to see their old friend Jimmy show up.  He inherited a bunch of money a while back, so he’s been off traveling the world and they never know when they will see him around again.  He chats it up with his friends, complimenting them on an excellent play, one which revolves around the story of a thief.  As their conversation continues, Jimmy supposes that breaking into a house would be no difficult feat, and, long story short, he and a friend make a bet as to whether or not he can successfully break into a house that very night.

As luck would have it, after Jimmy gets home and settles into his chair, what should happen but that a thief should attempt to rob him!  Rather than turn in the would-be criminal, Jimmy convinces him to show Jimmy how to break into a house.

The story continues as we follow the would-be love life of Jimmy, and there were plenty of laugh-aloud moments.  This plot is, by Wodehouse standards, fairly straight-forward, but one can already see some of his favorite tropes coming into play.

One interesting thing is that I originally started reading this on my Kindle – all of Wodehouse’s earliest works are available as free Kindle books because they are out of copyright.  I found I was enjoying this one enough that I decided to go ahead and order a hard copy from eBay.  While the Kindle edition was a straight copy of the original 1910 print, my hard copy is a later edition that was published in the 1960’s.  I had initially read maybe a third of the story on my Kindle, and I was intrigued to find that there were several differences in the newer copy.  The biggest one was that in the original book Jimmy had just arrived in America via the Lusitania, but in the later edition the name of the ship has been changed to the Mauretania, presumably due to the tragic sinking of the former, which would have occurred several years after the book was first printed.  The newer book also included some random background story on one of the characters (which seemed weirdly unnecessary as it never came into play later in the story), and probably other changes that I don’t remember/didn’t notice.  It was just a funny thing to remember how much many of his books changed over the years as Wodehouse himself edited them before they were reprinted.

Anyway, all in all A Gentleman of Leisure wasn’t my favorite Wodehouse ever, but was still a fun and lively little read, and one that I’m glad to add to my ever-growing collection.