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!

Super Mini Reviews: All Seated on the Ground by Connie Willis

This is a fun holiday-themed novella with a super intriguing premise. The execution isn’t as great as the premise itself but it’s a fun book to pass time with.

Here’s how the story starts: Earth has been invaded by aliens. Only, they aren’t interested in turning everyone to dust. Or kidnapping any earth people for any nefarious experimentation. They don’t really seem to be interested in doing anything except being rooted to one particular spot (so much so that people started wondering if they were some species of alien plant life), and glaring.

“They just stood there. And stood there.” And glared:

[n]o plant ever glared like that. It was a look of utter, withering dissaproval. The first time I saw it in person, I thought, Oh, my God, it’s Aunt Judith.

Why have these beings come to Earth? Why are they glaring with such disapproval? Can they even understand us? And why do they react the way they do to certain words in certain Christmas carols? All these are questions that our heroine races to answer.

I loved the start of the story, and I loved the ending. The middle sagged a bit for me. The endless list of holiday songs became a little tedious though it left me in awe of the author’s prodigious knowledge of all the music! Despite the too-muchness of it, that music is the linchpin of this story was my favorite part about it. One of the reasons I love this time of the year is the music. I love how singing together feels so joyous, and magical, and Willis’s story captures this wonder perfectly.

A bit for you to enjoy:

The commission at that point consisted of three linguists, two anthropologists, a cosmologist, a meteorologist, a botanist (in case they were plants after all), experts in primate, avian, and insect behavior (in case they were one of the above), and Egyptologist (in case they turned out to have built the Pyramids), an animal psychic, an Air Force colonel, a JAG lawyer, an expert in foreign customs, an expert in nonverbal communication, a weapons expert, Dr. Morthman (who, as far as I could see, wasn’t an expert in anything), and . . . the head of One True Way Maxichurch Reverend Thresher, who was convinced the Altairi were a herald of the End Times.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke

No, I haven’t been swallowed whole by the vagaries of the internetz. Yes, I’ve also been reading all this while. But I’m not up for long and detailed reviews so what I’ll do is post snippets on what I’ve read in the last two months through the next couple of days or so. Here’s the first one.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell reads exactly like what it purports to be—a history of magic in early 19th century Britain. It doesn’t really have a very plot-like beginning, middle and ending. There is, of course, a coherent story but one is left with the sense of there not being really a point to any of it till one realizes that well, this is, as the author would like us to have, a narrative of the history of magic.

As behooves a narrative about history, the book has hundreds of footnotes as contextual explanations. The footnotes expand on and give the backstories of the persons and events that are referred to in the main tale. These footnotes are stories unto themselves and in my opinion one of the best features of the book. The two main characters are sketched and drawn out really well. I didn’t like Mr. Norell initially—exactly, I think, as Miss Clarke intended.

However, this is a LONG book and normally, I’m one to enjoy excessive details and don’t require a reason for all the minutiae. But Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell was a bit much for me—I’m glad I made it through to the end of the book but I certainly did not see what the fuss (about this book) was all about!