Mini Review: Linnets and Valerians by Elizabeth Goudge

Linnets and Valerians is full of all the best things that I loved about The Little White Horse with none of its overt moralizing and proselytizing. It’s about four children, ages 6 to 12, who run away from their grandmother and fortuitously end up at their uncle’s. They eat mouth-wateringly described food, romp all over sun-soaked hills bursting with color and smells, and proceed to have a glorious adventure by thwarting the “evil witch’s” wicked plans.

At its heart Linnets and Valerians is about magic—the magic of finding your heart’s family, the magic of nature, and well, the kind of magic which looks like magic but is also not that hard to rationalize. There’s also a very un-monkey like monkey, a man who could be a gnome, and madam queen and other bees who weave their own enchantment.

As with The Little White Horse, my favorite part remains Goudge’s writing—fat, gorgeous, luminescent words that paint evocative scenes which spring up in the mind’s eye fully realized, and vividly colored:

She stood and looked about her and she wondered if there was any place anywhere more lovely and strange than this, poised here half-way between the world of trees and of the clouds. It was a miniature green valley, almost like a garden, held in a cleft of the rock. . . . A small stream ran down the center of it and fell over the edge of the cliff down to the trees below, and the banks of the stream were thick with forget-me-nots and green ferns. There were flowers everywhere in the grass and more ferns and little rowan trees grew up  the sides of the valley. Nan put her flowers into a pool between two stones at the edge of the stream, to get a good drink, and she had a drink herself, lifting the water in her cupped hands.

Cozy, funny, generous, and delightful are all terms that can be liberally and aptly applied to Linnets and Valerians. It was such a satisfying read that it’s made me want to ILL my next Elizabeth Goudge book!

A Few Quiet Ones

I’m in a space right now where I’m preferring what I call “quiet” books—books low on drama, high on the fabric of everyday lives, and focused mostly on the inner landscapes of the characters.

The Other Wind by Ursula K. Le Guin: The first of these quiet books that I loved, loved, and loved was Le Guin’s last in The Earthsea CycleThe Other Wind. By the way did you know that Tehanu was followed by Tales from Earthsea, and then The Other Wind? I just kind of chanced upon that info, and then of course had to read them! I read a few of the short stories from Tales as well, including “Dragonfly,” knowing which helps in contextualising The Other Wind.

The reason why I loved The Other Wind is the same as why I loved Tehanu—the action and the scenes and the settings are intimate rather than being grandiose. It’s a more contemplative, and more conversation-driven than an action-packed story. The action-carriers, and plot-movers, are people who’d be deemed as ordinary (non-wizards), and not really all that important (women) in this world. There’s no really “high magic” in any of this. Even though the series started with Ged, the last book isn’t about him at all. It deals with the rest of the Earthsea, and puts to rest some of the big philosophical underpinnings of this world (and does it in a way that I personally loved by the way).

Someone to Hold by Mary Balogh: Ahhh, at last a historical romance that I enjoyed. Partly it’s the low-key setting (streets of Bath, school-rooms), but mostly it’s because of the characters. It was really satisfying to see the way Balogh charts Camille’s growth as she goes from floundering around and being unsure of herself to understanding what she wants, and why she wants it. Balogh also gives the reader an insight into why Camille’s doing all that she is, and that prevents her from being an annoying gnat. Joel, the hero, is an engaging character as well—a painter who’s interested in painting people as they ARE rather than how they appear to be. I think the number one reason why I love Balogh’s latest stories so much is because of their lack of “fashionable” cynicism. The characters in her book are hurt, and have problems, but that is not the sum total of who they are. Rather, these problems become the bouncing off place from which the characters explore more of themselves, and from which the subsequent story ensues, and unfolds. I’m really hoping that Viola, Camille’s mother, gets a story of her own too!

No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith: This book was a balm to my soul exactly when I needed one. This book has also made me realize that one reason why I love the stories I do is because of their setting. The open spaces of the deserts of Botswana was exactly what I needed to read at the moment, the warmth and the heat exactly what I was craving for while awaiting spring. The pace of the story is slow. It’s almost a series of vignettes strung together. There is a kindness to this book, a warmth, that probably stems from its thoughtful and deliberate protagonist Mma Ramotswe. The cases that come her way are of the everyday variety, and yet they’re never boring to read about. Some parts of the book feel dated, and slightly problematic (in terms of the attitude towards women, kids, etc.) but that doesn’t stop this from being a wholesome pleasure. I’m very definitely continuing with this series.

What about you? Do you have a preference for any particular type of book (including quiet ones)? Maybe that preference keeps changing? In any case, I’d love to get some recommendations for more “quiet” books!

In which I rant about Insta-Lust

So. I started with Eloisa James’s latest, Seven Minutes In Heaven, but ended up DNF-ing it about 50-60 pages in. I find I have little or almost no patience with most of the insta-lust stories out there. I mean I’m fine with you falling in lust with someone as soon as you set eyes on them (though really? but then again, who am I to say that that’s not a thing that happens a lot) but when your entire interaction is predicated on this lustiness then I HAVE NO PATIENCE WITH YOU CHARACTERS. OR YOU, AUTHORS. ESPECIALLY, YOU, AUTHORS.

I LIKED the premise—a successful lady running a governess business, and a mad-scientist hero who is born on the wrong side of the blanket. But when EVERYTHING BECOMES ABOUT hoo-boy, I can’t take my eyes off those ginormous man-and-lady-parts, then I AM DONE.

It’s not like insta-lust can’t be done right. I also happened to read Simona Ahrnstedt’s All In a while back, and though I was not as wild about the last quarter of the story as I was for the initial three-fourths, I definitely liked this insta-lust story!

David and Natalia have sizzling chemistry, and sleep with each other pretty early on in the book, but their physical relationship feels like an extension of the intellectual chemistry that they share. Their attraction to each other is of course about the physical but also so much more! (I don’t think there’s anything wrong with just the physical either, just that I find it utterly and completely uninteresting to read about) There’s enough meat to their interactions, right from the start, that I WANT to read more about their COMBUSTIBLE ATTRACTION to each other!

I’m someone who usually skips the sex scenes in romance novels. Generally speaking, there’s not enough of a build-up of the relationship itself for me to feel interested in reading the sex scenes. And I get that sometimes authors use those scenes to further the relationship but I don’t always find that to be the case. (Marriage of convenience in hist-roms fits this bill though, I think). HOWEVER, the scenes in THIS STORY?! I read through every letter, sentence, and smoking hot paragraph, believe you me!

So, have you guys read either of these books? What did you think? Which side of the insta-lust line do you fall on? Or are you more zen-like with insta-lust than I am apparently capable of being? (Confession: I’m more of a slow-burn girl!)

Slice of Life: Practising Appreciation

Many people call it gratitude. I prefer using the word appreciation since its less bandied about, and thus has less baggage attached to it.

Appreciating is one of my favorite ways to center myself in the here, and the now. The here. And the now. The way the sun falls on the building in front of me. The way the gold and the brown mix together to glow softly. The invigorating walk I just took. The delicious french-fries I ate for my afternoon snack today (you knew there was going to be food involved in this, didn’t you?)

I’ve been writing what I call appreciation lists on and off for years. I’ve often thought that the art of appreciation is really the art of observation. As I look around me, what catches my eye? Rather than trying to wrestle subjects that I have difficulty feeling good about, I choose to look for the simpler things, the things that are easy for me to feel appreciative about. Like running hot water. For showers, AND for dish-washing! Or a mattress that is perfect for me. Or looking out of the window, and seeing a sky that’s slightly silvered but mostly blue.

I love how even though I have to think a bit as I start, once I get going, words drip from my fingers, ideas flood my head, and I keep finding one thing after the other that I so love in this moment! My warm, comfy couch. Having so many delicious things to eat. The meditation app that I just found that is THE BOMB! The color blue. Living my life with a person I LIKE. Technology that makes it easy to keep in touch with those I love. Friends I’ve known for years, and years. People who are genuinely happy for me. People for whom I am genuinely happy. Words! Glorious, scrumptious words! Books that make me so, so happy! Finding that the stuff that I want is on sale! My notebook with its glittery cover of three kinds of blue, and purple, and pink, and big butterflies embossed on it! My “happy” notebook which is of a soft teal cover made of cotton, and which was gifted to me by a dear, dear friend. Taking the time to practise practices that are important to me, that center me, and keep me sane, and happy.

It’s funny. The more I write, the more the feeling of being truly blessed simply swells up within me. My problems don’t disappear in that moment. But I’m able to carve out a space in which they become smaller and my blessings become larger.

Note: This was inspired by The Annual Slice of Life Challenge, and by the joy that the art of appreciation brings to me.

Slice of Life: The Thoughtful Comedy of Trevor Noah

I remember the exact moment I knew I was going to love Trevor Noah. There’s a moment in “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” when Seinfeld asks Noah how he could laugh coming from the background he did (“born a crime” as he was during the apartheid in South Africa to a black mother and a Swiss father). And Noah goes, well it was either that or be angry all the time. (I wish I could transcribe the exact conversation but the episode can’t seem to load on my browser)

I’m not a devotee of “The Daily Show” but I’ve seen quite a few of the episodes with Noah, attended one of his tapings, and also his stand-ups which I think are just brilliant. For the longest time the best way I’ve been able to put into words about what I like the best about Noah is that his comedy is inclusive, rather than being divisive.

Imagine my delight then, when serendipitously enough, he expands on this very point in his conversation with Chris Johnson in yesterday’s Live From NYPL session. Johnson isn’t sure how to put it into words either—he asks Noah about this sense he has of Noah’s comedy being “kind,” and the response that Noah gives to that gave me all the delights.

His answer to the identity question is another that made sense to me, and also kind of made me realize why I’ve always felt a little ho-hum about stories that seem to be motivated primarily by this question. (I’m not sure why it’s never been a question that’s bothered me much. Maybe that’s partly ‘cus of my spiritual background and roots. For me the answer to who I am has always been more inward-focused than stemming from the labels that grease our interactions in society.)

The whole session was awesome but Noah’s answers to the last few audience questions is exactly the reason why I love, love, love his stuff!

All of which is my way of saying, please go and see the session. It’s just really, really good: https://livestream.com/nypl/events/7081860

And now, I cannot wait to read his book!

(Oh and if you haven’t already, check out his new Netflix release. It’s worth watching.)

Note: This was inspired by The Annual Slice of Life Challenge, and by the thoughtful comedy of Trevor Noah

Update: A commenter pointed out that the link only has about 12 seconds of music right now. Since other live sessions from recent past are fully available on the livestream website, I’m guessing it’s just a matter of time before this one is available too. I’ll update this update once it is fully available.

Shticks and Shenanigans. Mostly.

Miss Buncle’s Book by D.E. Stevenson: It’s possible that if I hadn’t read Jane and Prudence so recently, I’d have enjoyed Miss Buncle’s Book more. I was all prepared to be charmed but I found most of the characters, including the titular Miss Buncle to be just too insipid! This book just isn’t fun the way Barbara Pym’s Jane and Prudence is. I know, I know, they are two separate entities—why the comparison? Well, because they are both set in quaint English villages, detail the lives of those who people the said quaint villages, and both aspire to charm their readers (or so I think anyway!)

The problem is Miss Buncle’s Book has characters who are kind of cardboard cut-outs of various prototypes. So you have the gold-digger, the capable spinster, the queen of the social circle, the retired army-man, etc. etc. Their interactions are kind of interesting but each character in and of themselves are just plain boring. They’re simply not interesting enough for me to care much about them. (On the other hand, I WANTED to know what was going on with the characters in Jane and Prudence.)

I am wondering if I should give another of Stevenson’s books a go to see if I might like her any better? What do you guys think? Have you read any of her works? Did you like it?

“Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang: This one was prompted by the movie. We saw the movie, and wanted to read the story to see a) if we were right about the parts which had been Hollywoodized aka dramatized unnecessarily (we were) b) if the story was better than the movie. Duh. It was. Of course. I love sci-fi for the ideas it explores, and this was no-different. From the wielding of the Sapir-Whorf theorem (which is even more dramatically illustrated in the chapter “The Grammar of Animacy” in Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Brading Sweetgrass which I absolutely loved and am waiting for my turn at the library again so that I can finish it!), to Fermat’s Least Time Principle to the deconstruction of languages to my least favorite part of the story about free-will and determinism, “The Story of Us” weaves lots of stuff into a seamless plot. If you liked the movie, or are interested in any of the things I mentioned, I’d urge you to read it!

The Penderwicks at Point Mouette by Jeanne Birdsall: What is it about Birdsall’s stories that gives me all the feels? There’s something so honest about the way her characters think, and feel, and interact that I can’t help being sucked into their world. My favorite character by the way, is the five year old Batty! The sisters’ adventures reminds me of Enid Blyton but the depth, and the fullness of their inner lives reminds me of Elinor M. Brent Dyer’s Chalet School series. And there’s so much humor in Birdsall’s world! I wish I could be more coherent about these books. Maybe I’ll have more to say on a re-read? Do you love the Penderwicks too?

Slice of Life: The Internet’s Frontpage

If you’re like me—that is to say, generally clueless about things internet and pop culture—you probably heard of Reddit later in your life than sooner. The only reason I came to know about this time sink is because of my husband, who happens to be a class A nerd!

Reddit, as I said, is a sink hole. How is that any different from the rest of the internet you ask? Well, reddit, in my opinion, is a special kind of sink hole. It sports itself as “the frontpage of the internet”—and so “a discussion at the trump rally” shares page with “drainage canal in Germany is so clean they even have beer in it,” which of course inspired “drainage canal in America is so clean they even have dogs in it,” to “ELI5: What would happen if you take a compass into space?” (ELI5=Explain Like I’m 5).

HOWEVER, what makes reddit the special sink hole that it is are all of the comments!

See the thing that fascinates me the MOST about reddit is the utter joblessness/conscientiousness (depending upon your point of view) of the hundreds? thousands? tens of thousands? of people who devote so much time and attention to answering all the questions. And then commenting on all the answers. And then remarking on all those comments. And so on and so forth, till the initial question/post sort of becomes completely and totally beside the point!

And in case you’re wondering at the source of all my knowledge, let me assure you that I generally do NOT seek this time sink out on my own! Rather, it is husband, whose endless chortles annoy me enough to want to poke my nose into it too. Because yes, that’s the other thing about all these comments! They’re really, really funny! And sometimes insightful. And sometimes totally scratch-your-head-worthy! Oh, and there’s enough pictures of dogs and cats to please the highest of sticklers. (Does anyone remember ICANHASCHEEZBURGER?)

Note: This was inspired by The Annual Slice of Life Challenge, and yes, by reddit.