Five Sentence Reviews: Dear Mrs. Bird, Anne Lamott, and Romance!

I’ve been on a month-long yoga journey with the amazing Adriene Mishler of Yoga With Adriene. I’ve practiced EVERY NIGHT. This is kind of a big deal because I’m famous for starting things and not finishing them. There are three practices left in the sequence (I started a day late.) I’m telling you this because the nightly yoga, while amazing for my soul, posture, and core, is not conducive to blog posting. I’ve been reading, though, so I’m (as usual) a bit behind on reviews. Here are some five-sentence reviews to clear the decks. All of these were four-star reads. In fact, in January I’ve had ALL four-star reads. Still waiting for the first five-star of 2019!

81w5wudgvllDear Mrs. Bird by A.J. Pearce. A charming historical fiction novel set in London during World War II. Emmy Lake is an irresistibly plucky heroine. She takes a job that she thinks is going to be a junior reporter for a newspaper but turns out to be a typist for an advice columnist at a floundering women’s magazine. Mrs. Bird, the advice columnist, is prudish and severe, so Emmy decides to secretly help the young women who need friendly advice in a scary time. This was an enjoyable yet moving look at lives in England during the Blitz.

After a big raid it was always sad to see flattened buildings and burnt-out churches which had stood for hundreds of years, but there was something rather triumphant about the monuments and statues, even the parks and big department stores that were still there, getting on with things. The Luftwaffe may have been  trying to blast us to pieces, but everyone just kept getting back up.

Almost Everything: Notes on Hope by Anne Lamott. I love Anne Lamott. I listened to 39203790the audiobook, read by the author, and it was wonderful. If you’ve never read her before, she’s like a kindly, slightly kooky neighbor or aunt who tells you hard truths about life but also gives you M&Ms and hugs. She is consistently hopeful yet aware of the pain of the world and unfairness of life. Reading her makes me feel better, stronger, less crazy, and this was one of her better recent books.

It’s okay to stop hitting the snooze button and to wake up and pay attention to what makes you feel okay about yourself, one meal at a time. Unfortunately, it’s yet another inside job. If you are not okay with yourself at 185 pounds, you may not be okay at 150, or even 135. The self-respect and peace of mind you long for is not in your weight. It’s within you. I resent that more than I can say. But it’s true. Finding a way to have a relatively healthy and safe relationship with food is hard, and it involves being one’s very own dearest person. This will not cause chaos or death, as you were surely taught, but rather an environment where you can drown out the many mean and mistaken voices.

51flpz8fm5lA Princess in Theory by Alyssa Cole (Reluctant Royals #1.) A fun, smart, sexy page-turner. This contemporary romance features a guarded, independent STEM-based grad student heroine, Naledi, and an actual prince from the fictional African country of Thesolo, Thabiso, who comes to New York to track down his long-lost betrothed. A case of mistaken identity brings to two together, where they experience undeniable chemistry. The storyline was so well-crafted I kind of skimmed over the sexy parts, to be honest. These characters were fully realized and incredibly likeable; I can’t wait to read more of this series (the next focuses on Naledi’s best friend Portia.)

“Um,” she said. Her general reaction to men she met in her daily life was indifference or tolerance, at best, but something about this man sent her thoughts spinning far, far away from lab work or serving or studying. The only data she was currently interested in collecting was the exact tensile pressure of his beard against her inner thigh, and the shift in mass of his body on top of hers.

Have you read any of these? Have you had a five-star read yet in 2019?

 

 

 

 

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Don’t you LOVE it when you read a classic novel and it turns out to be AMAZING?  And you wonder what on earth took you so long to pick it up?  My first book for the RIP Challenge is Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, a book that many of you have read and loved and one I have been meaning to read for quite some time.

517mee7CTTL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_Romantic, that was the word I had tried to remember coming up in the lift.  Yes, of course.  Romantic.  That was what people would say.  It was all very sudden and romantic.  They suddenly decided to get married and there it was.  Such an adventure.  I smiled to myself as I hugged my knees on the window seat, thinking how wonderful it was, how happy I was going to be.  I was to marry the man I loved.  I was to be Mrs. de Winter.  It was foolish to go on having that pain in the pit of my stomach.

 

For those who haven’t read it, here’s the (very brief) synopsis from Goodreads:

The novel begins in Monte Carlo, where our heroine is swept off her feet by the dashing widower Maxim de Winter and his sudden proposal of marriage. Orphaned and working as a lady’s maid, she can barely believe her luck. It is only when they arrive at his massive country estate that she realizes how large a shadow his late wife will cast over their lives–presenting her with a lingering evil that threatens to destroy their marriage from beyond the grave.

When we first meet our heroine, we know that she is the wife of Maxim de Winter, and we know that something ominous has happened to their former home, Manderley.  It’s in the third chapter that we learn how the nameless second Mrs. de Winter came to be married to the much older, richer, and more sophisticated Maxim. From the get-go she is full of self-doubt and anxiety about her relationship with Maxim.  He is not exactly a reassuring figure, and we learn early on that he is tortured by something traumatic in his past having to do with this previous wife.  Mrs. Van Hopper, the lady our unnamed heroine serves before she marries Maxim, tells her that Rebecca drowned in a tragic boating accident a year before.

Once our heroine is at Manderley, she is adrift in the role of mistress of the manor. Echoes of Rebecca, Maxim’s first wife, are everywhere, from the rhododendrons outside and the treasured pieces assembled in the morning room to the rhythms of housekeeping and the daily routine.  Our poor heroine doesn’t even get a tour of the whole mansion from her new husband, nor does he give her any hint as to how to run the household.  Add to that the severe, malevolent head housekeeper Mrs. Danvers, who was unnervingly devoted to Rebecca and it’s no wonder our poor heroine is terrified of making the wrong move and feels that all the staff are laughing at her inexperience.

After a bit of a slow start (really just the part before she marries Maxim,) I devoured this book.  I loved how timeless it felt.  I loved the slowly building atmosphere of tension and suspense, from the opening dream sequence chapter to the momentous costume party and beyond.  I found our unnamed narrator to be incredibly sympathetic.  How many of us have been in love with someone who didn’t match our intensity, who continually disappointed us and left us wanting, but we were desperate to hang on to him, so we forgave and made excuses again and again?  I loved the plot twists that kept coming in the second half of the novel.  At one point my jaw literally dropped; I looked at my husband sitting next to me on the couch and said, “Oh my gosh! I didn’t see that coming!”  I absolutely loved the writing.  The dialogue sparkled and the detailed description of the house and the grounds made Manderley come alive.  I loved this description of the library when our heroine first sees it:

Whatever air came to this room, whether from the garden or from the sea, would lose its first freshness, becoming part of the unchanging room itself, one with the books, musty and never read, one with the scrolled ceiling, the dark paneling, the heavy curtains.

It was an ancient mossy smell, the smell of a silent church where services are seldom held, where rusty lichen grows upon the stones and ivy tendrils creep to the very windows.  A room for peace, a room for meditation.

Our heroine is not just a young, naive dunderhead, however; she continued to surprise me with her contemplative observations on life, such as this one when she meets Maxim’s grandmother, Beatrice, for the first time.

I thought how little we know about the feelings of old people.  Children we understand, their fears and hopes and make-believe.  I was a child yesterday.  I had not forgotten.  But Maxim’s grandmother, sitting there in her shawl with her poor blind eyes, what did she feel, what was she thinking?  Did she know that Beatrice was yawning and glancing at her watch?  Did she guess that we had come to visit her because we felt it right, it was a duty, so that when she got home afterwards Beatrice would be able to say, “Well, that clears my conscience for three months?”

I have deliberately avoided writing about anything that happens in the last half of the book because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t read it yet.  But Rebecca is an absolute gem.  It’s quite possibly the perfect book for chilly Autumn nights.  It’s an exciting, suspenseful mystery layered within a atmospheric, Gothic romance.  I am eager now to read more of Daphne du Maurier’s novels – I had no idea she’d written so many!  And when I publish this post I’m going to pop in the 1940 Alfred Hitchcock movie version with Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine.  I’m excited to see how it compares!

Have you read Rebecca or seen the film?  What is a classic novel that it seems everyone else has read but you?  What makes you choose to read a classic rather than a newer book?  Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Mini-Reviews: Sarah MacLean and Jen Hatmaker

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Not sure about this cover.

Ten Ways to Be Adored When Landing a Lord was only my second ever romance novel.  I read her Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake last year, just for fun, as an experiment.  I’d been curious about the romance genre and wanted to go outside my reading comfort zone a bit.  It was fun, a bit predictable, but smartly done, and I certainly wanted to try another one of her books.  Ten Ways is set in the same time and place as Nine Rules, (1820’s England) only it features a different St. John brother, Lord Nicholas.  He is an expert in antiquities and also a renowned “tracker” (you kinda have to just go with that) hired by a Duke to find his missing sister.  While searching a town in Yorkshire, he ends up saving our heroine, Lady Isabel, from a team of runaway horses.  Lady Isabel’s father (nicknamed “The Wastrearl” for his gambling addiction) has just passed away, and Isabel is desperately trying to keep the crumbling estate going.  She has help from several young women who have come to the manor, which they have christened Minerva House. The ladies have sought shelter there for a variety of reasons, from physical abuse to poverty.  Isabel, ignorant of the real reason Lord Nicholas is in the area, invites him to examine her family’s collection on marble statues, in the hopes that they can sell some to make money for the estate.  Of course, sparks fly!  Of course, Nicholas doesn’t tell Isabel about his hunt for the duke’s sister!  And naturally, Isabel is very wary of men, as the only example of a husband she’s had was her good-for-nothing, cheating father, who ruined her mother’s life and left them in poverty.

This was a good change of pace for me, a light, fun, sexy read.  I liked that Isabel was so resourceful and so devoted to caring for the young women who depended on her, as well as trying to do her best to raise her younger brother.  She was a very appealing heroine.  The group of young women at Minerva House were spunky and resourceful as well.  Not having read many romances, I’m really not sure if I’m a good judge of this particular one, but I very much enjoyed it, and I plan on reading more MacLean novels, as well as venturing further afield in the genre.  For a fun list of 10 recommended historical romance series, check out this Book Riot article.  (Four stars.)

12171769My next read was Jen Hatmaker’s 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess.  This fits in with my goal of reading more books about religion and spirituality in 2017.  I’m a sucker for “person does wacky experiment for a year” kinds of memoirs anyway, so I figured I’d be into this, and I was. Hatmaker is a Christian writer and she and her husband started a church in Austin, TX.  After hosting hurricane victims in her home, she became fully awakened to her family’s privilege and decided to do something about it.  So they embarked on a seven month quest to simplify and serve their neighbor.  She writes in the introduction,

As I write this, I enter the next seven months for (at least) two of these extreme reasons.  First, and foremost, repentance.  7 will be a tangible way to bow low and repent of greed, ungratefulness, ruined opportunities, and irresponsibility.  It’s time to admit I’m trapped in the machine, held by my own selfishness.  It’s time to face our spending and call it what it is: a travesty.  I’m weary of justifying it.  So many areas out of control, so much need for transformation.  What have we been eating?  What are we doing?  What have we been buying?  What are we eating?  What are we missing?  These questions grieve me, as well they should.  I’m ready for the deconstruction.

So the areas her family focused on were Food, Clothes, Spending, Media, Possessions, Waste, and Stress.  One month she wore only seven articles of clothing (underwear excepted,) another she and her family abstained from seven forms of media.  They gave away their belongings, started a garden plot on their backyard with the help of an Austin organization that gives jobs and shelter to the homeless, and made due with just one car for a month. Hatmaker documents her struggles and her small victories with a good sense of humor and humility.  But what I liked the most about this memoir was her passion for embodying her faith in action, actually walking the walk.  Here’s another quotation I really liked:

Sometimes the best way to bring good news to the poor is to actually bring good news to the poor.  It appears a good way to bring relief to the oppressed is to bring real relief to the oppressed.  It’s almost like Jesus meant what He said.  When you’re desperate, usually the best news you can receive is food, water, shelter.  These provisions communicate God’s presence infinitely more than a tract or Christian performance in the local park.  They convey, “God loves you so dearly, He sent people to your rescue.”

I guess that’s why “love people” is the second command next to “love God.”  And since God’s reputation is hopelessly linked to His followers’ behavior, I suspect He wouldn’t be stuck with His current rap if we spent our time loving others and stocking their cabinets.

By the end I grew a bit weary of Hatmaker’s folksy, aw-shucks writing style, but overall I enjoyed reading her tale.  It was refreshing to read about someone so committed to acting out the tenants of her faith, so passionate about serving others.  It seemed as if her family came away from this experiment with a real sense of purpose moving forward.  It gave me a lot to think about, and it was a good way to begin my year of spiritual reading.  (Three stars.)