Sunday, September 30, 2007

September reading list

I can't believe it's October already. This month I turn 20. Yikes.

September wasn't a great month for reading, but it wasn't terrible either. A grand total of 23 books, and several great ones in there!

The Princess Academy--Shannon Hale: I enjoyed this book. Not the best I've ever read, but certainly not mediocre or bad. I enjoyed Miri's character very much and I also liked her close relationship with her family. Moreover, the ending is not what you might expect while being extremely fulfilling.

The Well of Lost Plots--Jasper Fforde: Jasper Fforde is always wonderful. In the third Thursday Next novel, a pregnant Thursday has gone into the BookWorld to escape the clutches of the Goliath Corporation. While there she deals with gramasites, rogue JurisFiction agents, and much more. Very enjoyable.

Light Thickens and Photo Finish--Ngaio Marsh: The next-to-last and last in the Inspector Alleyn series. They were....alright. Quite honestly, they made me glad that there were no more because Alleyn didn't have the charm and interest which makes the earlier books so readable. Black as He's Painted and Last Ditch were much better.

Sunshine--Robin McKinley: Reviewed here.

Busman's Honeymoon--Dorothy Sayers: Reviewed here.

Something Rotten--Jasper Fforde: The fourth in the Thursday Next series and the best since The Eyre Affair. Thursday is back from the BookWorld with her son Friday and Hamlet, who wants to see how he is portrayed in the outside world. Complications and hilarity ensue, especially since Yorrick Kaine, the corrupt book character, is still around and is causing anti-Danish feeling.

Inkheart--Cornelia Funke: I've read rave reviews for this book. Maybe it's the fact that I read it while I had a cold, but it didn't seem quite that good to me. It was definitely engaging and interesting, and I loved the quotes at the beginning of each chapter. I'd read it again, but as of this reading it won't be on my favorites list.

The Hostile Hospital
The Carnivorous Carnival
The Slippery Slope--Lemony Snicket: The beginning of the end of the Series of Unfortunate Events. All three were fairly typical Snicket.

Horseradish: Bitter Truths You Can't Avoid--Lemony Snicket: This handy little book has many of the best quotes from the series, although it's missing one of my favorites which means I'll have to read The Wide Window again. A must for any Snicket fan.

Holy Women of Russia--Brenda Meehan: Reviewed here.

The Grim Grotto--Lemony Snicket: This is where the series gets really, really good. The characters become more complex, the situation less formulaic. *cheers*

The Penultimate Peril--Lemony Snicket: Again, one of the best in the series. Still complex as the Baudelaires face hard decisions and overwhelming mystery.

The End--Lemony Snicket: Best book in the series. Highlight for spoilers: I cried when Count Olaf dies. I really wasn't expecting to do that. For everyone who hasn't read it, just know that this book answers many questions while leaving many others unanswered. Some people die, some people live, and the end of The End is ultimately both rewarding and frustrating.

The Wizard of Earthsea--by Ursula LeGuin: I'm still not sure what I think of this book. My favorite fantasy books draw me right in and make a part of the story and this book never did that in such an overt way but I kept reading which really tells me what a good writer LeGuin was!

Lemony Snicket: The Unauthorized Autobiography: The author for this is fairly obvious. Loads of Snicket fun. A few more questions are answered, at least in part, while even more questions arise. Typical.

Spiritual Counsels--St. John of Kronstadt: A wonderful book from a wonderful saint. Before reading this I wasn't quite sure why so many people found St. John so wonderful. Now I know. If you're Orthodox, read it.

The Beatrice Letters--Lemony Snicket: Letters to and from Lemony Snicket and the two Beatrice Baudelaires. Not as good as any of the other extra Series of Unfortunate Events books.

Island Magic--Elizabeth Goudge: Her first book. Not as good as some of her later ones, but still quite spiffy. And it's Elizabeth Goudge, which makes me happy. And the du Frocq family is absolutely charming.

The King of Attolia--Megan Whalen Turner: The third in the series which begins with The Thief and continues with The Queen of Attolia. I did not know this book existed until very recently and when I discovered it did, I was ecstatic. Just as marvelous as the other two books in the series, which is very marvelous indeed.

So, that was my month book-wise!

Monday, September 24, 2007

Holy Women of Russia: a review

Holy Women of Russia
by Brenda Meehan

Since I grew up in the Orthodox Church I grew up hearing and reading Lives of Saints. In a way, Brenda Meehan's book seemed a great deal like a non-Orthodox version of those Lives. Meehan does a fabulous job of presenting the lives of the five women she examines in a respectful manner. At the same time, it is very clear that she is not Orthodox and does not speak from that point of view. Specifically, it is very clear that Meehan wants to apply several aspects of modern feminism to the women she writes about. This jarred for me in several places, but I appreciate that she realized that the women worked within a system rather than rebelling against it.

One of the most interesting aspects of the whole book comes in the first line of the introduction.
I have had great difficulty writing this book. I am convinced now that it is because the women I am writing about--vibrant, spiritually intense women--didn't like the way I was originally telling their story, making it part of a dry analysis of the rise of women's communities in nineteenth century Russia....these women jumped up from the pages, refusing to be neatly contained within my chapters and withing a framework that stressed the sociohistorical at the expense of the spiritual. They insisted that I listen to the inner stirrings of their hearts and take seriously the spiritual paths they had trod. And I think they also wanted to say that holiness and spirituality are timeless.
I think that it was Meehan's allowance for that point of view which takes this book from the realm of academic research into a real evaluation of the lives of five Orthodox women who tried to serve God in their own ways. It takes them seriously and it asks how we can follow their lead--even those of us who are not Orthodox. Later in the introduction Meehan says, "These women believed, and shock us into believing, in a world in which virtue has meaning." This book is a wonderful introduction to five holy women who sought to find virtue in others and cultivate it in themselves.

Highly recommended.

Sunshine: A review

By Robin McKinley

I wanted to like this book. And on a certain level I do. Rae is a very likable character and one who I feel a lot of sympathy for and identification with. I want to do what she does, except with books instead of Sunshine's Eschatology and the giant cinnamon buns. And being me, I don't mind a lot of the aspects that others might find highly dubious. By this I mean the vampires.

On the other hand, a story that I would otherwise greatly enjoy was largely ruined for me by the smuttiness. Lots of smuttiness. I can deal with a little bit, but Sunshine contained quite a bit more than I could quite take.

Which is really sad, because Robin McKinley's writing is wonderful. I love almost all of her books and the fact that I can't whole-heartedly love this one makes me unhappy. It is also sad because at its bottom Sunshine is a story of good and evil, of light and dark. But it is what it is and so I cannot recommend it. I wish that I could, but in all conscience, I can't.

They've killed it. They've killed it dead.

So. This will be greatly distressing for all fans of The Dark is Rising Sequence. They're making a movie. And the trailer looks beyond horrible. It'll automatically come up if you click on the link above. Go look at it and then discuss with me how awful it is.

Okay, you're back.

~The setting is no longer England? What? The only people with British accents are Merriman and the Rider.
~What's up with the Lady? Why does she look kind of "Wicked-Witch of the West" like?
~He needs help talking to GIRLS????
~He's interested in MAGGIE???? That's definitely....which brother is it....Max?
~HE'S STEALING SOMETHING??? Unless that's a sign, they're definitely nuts.
~Again, the setting is no longer England. That just kills it. You can't have that lovely sense of agelessness the book gives in America. Sorry. Just not possible.
~He has issues with his family? One of my favorite parts of the book is the way he and his family are really loving. Yes, there are a few minor quibbles, but overall they get along well, and when it comes down to it, they're united.
~Merriman is just wrong all over. What happened to old and craggy? We are talking Merlin here.
~Oh, so the Seeker is a warrior now? Not quite so sure about that.
~What happened to all the birthday and Christmas/dark/light symbolism.
~His "powers" are "awesome."

Just for the record, I have deep problems with some aspects of the "Dark is Rising," namely the specific rejection of Christianity. But they're still well written books that deserve so much better than this.

On a happier note, this is my 200th Blogger post. Yay!

Friday, September 21, 2007

It's The End

That is, the 13th book in A Series of Unfortunate Events. I'm on page 64. And I'm worried. What if people die and I don't want them to? What if the Baudelaires never meet back up with the Quagmires? Who is Beatrice? How will they ever find anything out in their current predicament? Why does Ishmael worry me?

These are questions I can't possibly answer until I finish the book. So I'll take a deep breath and keep reading.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

A quote, a quote, my kingdom for a quote!

Yes, I do know that is wrong. Shush!

“And the ship went out into the High Sea and passed on into the West, until at last on a night of rain Frodo smelled a sweet fragrance on the air and heard the sound of singing that came over the water. And then it seemed to him that as in his dream in the house of Bombadil, the grey rain-curtain rolled back and turned all to silver glass, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise.”
~J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

One of the most beautiful quotes ever. I wish I could write like that.

Sunday, September 16, 2007


I went home this weekend for a wedding at church. It was very lovely, although having the reception outside may not have been the best idea. It was cold.

At any rate, it struck me once again that the Orthodox services are so rich, so full of grace and symbolism and reality. I don't believe that any other denomination can claim that in the same way (sorry my Protestant and Catholic friends). I'm deeply thankful that I am Orthodox.

Tomorrow is the start of another week. To (mis)quote Anne Shirley, one with "no mistakes in it." I'm grateful for that as well.

Friday, September 14, 2007

I am Christopher Robin

Or at least I've felt remarkably like him for the past few days.


Christopher Robin
Had wheezles
And sneezles,
They bundled him
His bed.
They gave him what goes
With a cold in the nose,
And some more for a cold
In the head.
They wondered
If wheezles
Could turn
Into measles,
If sneezles
Would turn
Into mumps;
They examined his chest
For a rash,
And the rest
Of his body for swellings and lumps.

A.A. Milne

It continues, but it's a rather long poem, so I'll just say if you want to read the whole thing, find a copy of Now We are Six, which also contains such gems as "Solitude," "King John's Christmas,' and "The Knight Whose Armour Didn't Squeak."

And that's Friday Poetry

Thursday, September 13, 2007

FAW: Maud Hart Lovelace

I suspect that there are several generations of girls out there who remember Maud Hart Lovelace's Betsy-Tacy books with a great deal of fondness and who will lament with me the fact that they are now going out of print. (Seriously, sad day here!) Where else did we learn about eating dinner on a cloud, the Big Hill, pony carts, and the color green? Betsy, Tacy, Tib, Winona, and the whole gang are as much a part of my childhood as Winnie the Pooh (by which I mean the book) and Anne Shirley. They are sweet while avoiding schmaltz.

Incidentally, the more minor books in the series, Carney's House Party, and Emily of Deep Valley are both just as good as the Betsy books, although somewhat different in tone.

In the end, I think that everyone who has read the Betsy-Tacy books will know exactly what I'm talking about and those who haven't won't. Which means they should go read the books, as soon as possible because they're likely to disappear. Seriously, several of them are getting more and more expensive on Amazon, which is sad because I wanted to buy copies.

Interestingly, much of the series is based on the life of the author and most of Betsy's friends are traceable to friends of Maud Lovelace.

Favorite Books
Betsy-Tacy, and Tib
Betsy and Tacy go Over the Big Hill
Betsy and Joe
Betsy and the Great World
Betsy's Wedding
Carney's House Party
Emily of Deep Valley

Handy Links
Maud Hart Lovelace on Wikipedia
The Betsy-Tacy Society
The Betsy-Tacy Homepage
The Betsy-Tacy Catalog

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

FAW: Gerald Morris

The first Favorite Author ever! It was very difficult to decide who should be featured first. I'm actually not sure why I picked Gerald Morris. But I did.

For those of you not familiar with his work, Morris is the author of a series of retellings of Arthurian legends, commonly known as the Squire's Tales or the Squire series after the first book, Squire's Tale.

As with almost any favorite author, there are several facets of Morris' work which stand out to me. The first is probably the most important: He really does have an honest appreciation and love for his source material. His retellings somehow manage to stay Arthurian despite the blatant anachronisms. There are anachronisms all over the "original" Arthurian legends anyway, so it probably doesn't matter that much. But his characters do feel medieval, not 20th century made over, at the same time that the problems they face are very much current and real.

There are his characters, who are often brilliant. While the major figures of Arthur's world (Gawain, Arthur himself, Guinevere, Galahad, Lancelot, Merlin, Kay) appear, the main characters are usually, although not always, obscure or completely fabricated. Terence, the real hero of most several books, is both engaging and believable. Gaheris, Lynet, Luneta, Eileen, and the rest all are memorable and interesting people.

The books are also just plain funny. Ask my sister. We quote them to each other all the time, probably ad nauseum for the rest of the world. We fought over who would get to read The Quest of the Fair Unknown first. (She stole it from me. It was checked out on my card.)

And finally, while the books are definitely not preachy, they are moral. There are good guys and bad guys (a few of the classifications are surprising and most of them are not set in stone). There is a sense of fighting for something, and of a desire to find a purpose.

Highly reccomended for approximately 10 and up. I mean the up. They're aimed for children but they're definitely readable for adults as well.

Favorite Books
Squire's Tale
The Squire, His Knight, and His Lady
The Savage Damsel and the Dwarf
The Lionness and Her Knight
The Quest of the Fair Unknown

Handy Links
Short author biography
Interesting autobiographical sketch
Review of the Savage Damsel and the Dwarf

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Busman's Honeymoon: A Review

I finally finished Busman's Honeymoon by Dorothy Sayers. It's the very last in the Lord Peter Wimsey series. I warn you here and now, this review will include spoilers for both Busman's Honeymoon and Gaudy Night so if you want to avoid those, this review is not for you.

To be honest, this book is a bit of a let-down for me. It's not that there is something wrong with the book itself. In fact, it's a perfectly respectable book in a very good series. But it comes directly after Gaudy Night, which is possibly the best "mystery" ever written and certainly the best book in the series. Moreover, it is the book where Lord Peter and Harriet actually end up with each other, after something like a four book extended courtship. To end with that, and then to begin the final book, just after Gaudy Night, with letters, mostly to and from people we have never met before and will never meet again, feels like a mis-step. This is a hard admission to make for a Sayers fan but it is true.

On the other hand, giving us the Dowager Duchess' diary is quite lovely in a certain way. For one thing, I love the Dowager Duchess. She is majorly funny. For another, she has a perspective on Peter that no one else, certainly not Harriet, has. The line about this being the "magniloquent Peter of twenty years ago" really gave me a sudden picture of the Peter of twenty years ago.

There are certainly lovely parts to the book. I like that Peter and Harriet's honeymoon is not all romance and roses. For one thing, it seems more real without being overly realistic (if that makes any sense whatsoever--they don't end up hating each other nor getting a divorce), and for another, it was the right choice for Peter and Harriet's characters. Finally, despite their difficulties, the book does end happily for them, although not for Frank Crutchley.

In the final analysis, this is a good book and one which I would certainly reccomend. It is only faulty in coming after Gaudy Night and not maintaining the absolute pitch of that book.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Favorite Authors Week

This is a new feature I've thought up. A Favorite Authors Week is likely to be declared at any time, with or without waring. During that week I'll post as often as possible (I make no promises) on a favorite author--a new one each day.

These posts will not really be about the author per se--that is, they will not be biographical precis. You can find those on Wikipedia. Instead, I hope to examine what it is exactly about their writing which makes me count that particular author as a favorite. I'll also try to include some interesting and/or fun links.

You're free to join in the fun. You can either participate in one of my Favorite Author Weeks by posting about your own favorite, or you can even declare one of your own. In either case, I will link back to you if you comment and give the address of your post(s). I even made a graphic.

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In addition, all Favorite Authors Week posts will be included in a new sidebar category.

So consider the first one begun!

Friday, September 07, 2007


Probably most people know by now, but Madeleine L'Engle died yesterday. She was one of the best writers I've ever had the pleasure to read. It's a bit sad to know that she's gone, although it is a comfort to know that her writing will still be a clear and lovely as ever.

Wallace Stevens

I'm not a big fan of Wallace Stevens, to be honest. I can think of several other modern poets whose work I enjoy much more. But we read this poem in my poetry writing class yesterday and I sort of fell in love with it. I do that sometimes with poems by poets I don't really like. The plum poem by William Carlos Williams, for instance.

Anyway. Here it is.

The Poems of Our Climate

Clear water in a brilliant bowl,
Pink and white carnations. The light
In the room more like a snowy air,
Reflecting snow. A newly-fallen snow
At the end of winter when afternoons return.
Pink and white carnations--one desires
So much more than that. The day itself
Is simplified: a bowl of white,
Cold, a cold porcelain, low and round,
With nothing more than the carnations there.

Say even that this complete simplicity
Stripped one of all one's torments, concealed
The evilly compounded, vital I
And made it fresh in a world of white,
A world of clear water, brilliant-edged,
Still one would want more, one would need more
More than a world of white and snowy scents.

There would remain the never-resting mind,
So that one would want to escape, come back
To what had been so long composed.
The imperfect is our paradise.
Note that, in this bitterness, delight,
Since the imperfect is so ot in us,
Lies in flawed words and stubborn sounds.

And that's Friday Poetry.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

A collaborative poem

We wrote collaborative poems today in my poetry writing class. Each of us wrote five questions and five answers, none of which had anything to do with each other. Then we paired up and combined questions and answers in some way. Here's the final contribution from my partner and myself.

What does the wind think as it blows?
Soft winter snow.

What is love?
In the dark stillness, a fawn sleeps.

What do animals think about?
Clouds are never rabbits, but only sheep.

What is color?
Songs die out, but music is eternal.

Is there a place where in never rains?
In the dark of the moon, wolves howl.

Why do lobsters turn red in the pot?
A momentous journey.

How do we gain confidence?
Once, I saw two eagles race in a canyon.

What stops a breath?
Green is not the color of life.

Why do pigeons always sit on statues?
The distant roar of waves.

Why does the sea tug at our hearts?
Thunder of a roller coaster.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Nature and God

"Nature never taught me that there exists a God of glory and of infinite majesty. I had to learn that in other ways. But nature gave the word glory a meaning for me."

~C.S. Lewis

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Fr. Seraphim Rose--25 years

Today is the 25th anniversary of the death of Fr. Seraphim Rose, one of my personal spiritual heroes, and, in my belief, a saint.

I wrote about him a year ago here. I won't repeat all of that since none of it has changed. Let me simply say that Fr. Seraphim has inspired me and countless others. In fact, I wonder sometimes if my family would be Orthodox if Fr. Seraphim had not been who he was.

Here are a number of resources and links concerning Fr. Seraphim.

Articles by Blessed Hieromonk Seraphim Rose

Fr. Seraphim Rose, on nominal Christianity

Christianity and Suffering

Forming Young Souls

A thread on Fr. Seraphim in a Catholic forum

Saints of Christ

Excerpts from Fr. Seraphim's writings

Pastoral Guidance

Lives of a Saint--article from Pomona College
Personal Reminiscences from Fr. Ambrose Young

Photographs of Fr. Seraphim

Relating to non-Orthodox

A number of posts on Fr. Seraphim

Interviews on Fr. Seraphim

Holy Fr. Seraphim pray to God for us!

Saturday, September 01, 2007

August reading list

Ta da!

Once again, I'm just going to list them. If you have any questions or want to hear my opinion on a certain book, just ask!

In the Teeth of the Evidence--Dorothy Sayers
Sleeping Murder--Agatha Christie
Murder at the Vicarage--Agatha Christie
The Squire, His Knight, and His Lady--Gerald Morris
The Blue Sword--Robin McKinley
After Many Days--L.M. Montgomery
The Gentle Falcon--Hilda Lewis
Cheaper by the Dozen--Frank and Ernestine Gilbreth
The Children of Hurin--J.R.R. Tolkien (if anyone can tell me how to add accent marks, I would be most grateful)
Black as He's Painted--Ngaio Marsh
Last Ditch--Ngaio Marsh
Belles on Their Toes--Frank and Ernestine Gilbreth
A Schilling for Candles--Josephine Tey
Belle Prater's Boy--Ruth White
Grave Mistake--Ngaio Marsh
Betsy and the Great World--Maud Hart Lovelace
Betsy's Wedding--Maud Hart Lovelace
The Thief--Megan Whalen Turner
The Queen of Attolia--Megan Whalen Turner
The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency--Alexander McCall Smith
Birds, Beasts, and Relatives--Gerald Durrell
All Things Bright and Beautiful--James Herriot
The Daughter of Time--Josephine Tey
Tears of The Giraffe--Alexander McCall Smith
The Hero and the Crown--Robin McKinley
Carry On, Jeeves--P.G. Wodehouse
Lord Peter--Dorothy Sayers
Now We Are Six--A.A. Milne
Outlaws of Sherwood--Robin McKinley
Miss Pym Disposes--Josephine Tey
The Franchise Affair--Josephine Tey
The Body in the Library--Agatha Christie