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The Princess and the Goblin–multi-layered fairy tale for all ages

The Princess and the Goblin

by George MacDonald

Ready for another, good-for-all-ages fairy tale? My book club read The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald, a Scottish minister, poet, and novelist, who inspired and influenced many authors through the ages including C.S. Lewis, Lewis Carroll, J.R.R. Tolkien, G.K. Chesterton, and Madeleine L’Engle. Like The Chronicles of Narnia, The Princess and the Goblin is first and foremost a fun fantasy tale, beautifully written. As it progresses, layers of symbolism are added with themes of courage, honor, belief, trust, virtue, and faith. As any good fairy tale does, The Princess and the Goblin differentiates between good and evil. Children and adults are living in a rather messy world today where ethics often are blurred, but there are still truths that need to be valued. There are morals that hold us to a standard that forms a good society.

With the author’s great descriptive powers, all of the characters are detailed both physically and morally. The goblins are all evil with designs on the full destruction of the human race. The humans in the story are not perfect, but demonstrate character development based on their experiences.

Irene is a little princess who lives in a country castle. Her noble king-papa visits her regularly as he tours his kingdom staying in touch with his people. Irene discovers her great-great-grandmother living in a section of the castle. No one else has seen her or her rooms. She acts as a God figure in the story, guiding Irene to safety and to belief. A very wise woman, she helps Irene understand that not everyone is ready to believe at the same time. This is apparent in Lootie, Irene’s nurse, who has responsibility for the child’s safety and in Curdie, a clever and brave young miner who befriends and helps Princess Irene. The goblins desire the little princess as a mate for their prince.

There is a lot of adventure in this tale as Curdie works underground (literally) to discover the goblin plots and thwart them. The Princess and Curdie are at odds as he does not initially see what Irene sees because the great-great-grandmother does not actually disclose herself to him.

The settings include a castle with lots of hallways, some beautiful mountains, a small miner’s cottage, pitch black caves where miners toil away picking out ore, and goblin caverns and tunnels. These are the backdrops for the dramatic action of the goblins’ convocation, the Princess’ wanderings, and Irene and Curdie’s courageous rescues of each other. The battle scenes are well played out as Curdie defeats them with poetry and foot stomping.

This is a book that I am sorry I missed earlier in my life. I would love to have shared it with my children and grandchildren when they were younger, but I am happy to pass on the word now to new generations looking for well-written books with substance and value. I look forward to reading The Princess and Curdie, which was written eleven years later, as well as some of MacDonald’s other works (numbering over 50) which encompass a variety of genres. I believe that even reading a biography of this author’s life and influence would be quite interesting as his work did not take a straight forward path. He and his family were plagued with health issues, and despite his success and the admiration of his colleagues, he was not always financially solvent.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Fairy Tale, Fantasy

Publication: November 16, 2010—Project Gutenberg (which includes beautiful illustrations by Jessie Willcox Smith from the 1920 version.
First published by Strahan & Co. 1872
Also published by David McKay Co. 1920

Memorable Lines:

Her fear vanished: once more she was certain her grandmother’s thread could not have brought her there just to leave her there…

“But it wasn’t very good of him not to believe me when I was telling him the truth.” “People must believe what they can, and those who believe more must not be hard upon those who believe less. I doubt if you would have believed it all yourself if you hadn’t seen some of it.”

…Lootie had very foolish notions concerning the dignity of a princess, not understanding that the truest princess is just the one who loves all her brothers and sisters best, and who is most able to do them good by being humble toward them.

The Nine–despair and courage

The Nine

by Gwen Strauss

Five years of research and writing went into the creation of The Nine, a nonfiction work that focuses on a group of nine women, most in their twenties, who joined the Resistance movement in World War II at various times and places. Six were French, two Dutch, and one Spanish. They were individually captured and sent to worse than horrible Nazi internment camps.

The author was able to interview her great aunt Helène who spoke five languages and was the leader of this band who joined together to survive and escape. Strauss followed quite a maze of information and was aided by many including families of “The Nine.” The book begins with Helène’s story which for me was emotionally difficult as she provides some details of her capture and torture. There were some types of torture, however, that Helène would not discuss or even name. The rest of the account moved more quickly as we learn more about each of the young ladies in the first nine chapters along with descriptions of life in a labor camp. Each chapter moves them closer to either death or escape. Most of the rest of the book lays out their last days together and concludes with what happens after the war is over.

The ladies did not share their stories with very many people for a variety of reasons which the author relates. Several wrote about their experiences in unpublished formats to be discovered after their deaths. Many former prisoners of World War II suffered again after their presumed return to safety—homes and loved ones were gone, their bodies were physically ruined, and society turned against them. Statistically they were lucky to survive, but they bore visible and invisible scars. Most returnees were reluctant to discuss their imprisonment with even those closest to them and found that, in general, people did not want to hear about their experiences.

I highly recommend this book for the author’s insightful and thorough reporting about the brave women of the Resistance and the cruel and evil system that treated them as vermin. One of the policies that I sadly see repeated currently is those in power inciting division to weaken and control those under them. In the camps, the Poles received the best treatment from the Nazis, followed by the Reds. Every group looked down on another in the camps with the Roma (Gypsies), criminals, and homosexuals regarded as the bottom of humanity.

I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Rating: 5/5

Category: History, Nonfiction (Adult)

Notes: 1. Subtitled: The True Story of a Band of Women Who Survived the Worst of Nazi Germany
2. At the first of the book there is a list of the women with their nicknames and a brief description
3. At the end of the book are notes about the author’s journey into the past, a bibliography, notes on each chapter, and a list of the illustrations (which sound interesting, but were not included in my Advance Reader Copy).

Publication: May 4, 2021—St. Martin’s Press

Memorable Lines:

The Jewish prisoners were given the worst rations, worst living conditions, and the hardest jobs. They were already the most traumatized group, having suffered pogroms, witnessed mass murders, and narrowly escaped the gas chambers. All of them had probably seen their loved ones die, and they may or may not have counted themselves lucky to be alive.

They were proud of how they served each other, divided food equally, and maintained their civility in such an uncivil place. It had kept them strong when others become more and more like animals, lost their sense of themselves, and fell into dark despair.

In the sea of people who seemed to have been tossed up like pebbles on a beach, the prospect of finding their loved ones felt nearly impossible.

Under the Italian Sun–looking for family

Under the Italian Sun

by Sue Moorcroft

Zia is a young English woman in search of a family after her grandparents pass away and she finds herself without a job. She knows her father, who is not listed on her birth certificate, was from Italy. She does some sleuthing and decides to go to Italy to hopefully discover some family ties and perhaps persuade her father to legally acknowledge her, thus easing the pathway to Italian citizenship.

Along her journey, Zia uncovers long buried secrets, meets some family, and falls in love. The road to happiness even under the Italian sun and overlooking a vineyard and winery is not an easy one. Not everyone is welcoming in Montelibertá, and Zia’s ex-boyfriend morphs from an insulting cheater into a vengeful stalker.

Sue Moorcroft’s Under the Italian Sun is an interesting romance with a great setting. Zia’s past is dismal as she gradually loses those close to her, but she is an intelligent young woman, a good friend, and full of hope. She falls quickly and hard for her handsome Italian neighbor. Can they really settle for a summer fling knowing Zia can not legally stay in the country indefinitely?

I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Rating: 4/5

Category: General Fiction (Adult), Romance, Women’s Fiction

Notes: Rather disappointing for me, this really nice story has an “open door” bedroom scene and a lot of expletives.

Publication: May 13, 2021—Harper Collins (Avon Books)

Memorable Lines:

The oven timer continued to ping in counterpoint to the gull’s plaintive calls but Zia heard the shush-shush of her heartbeat louder than both. As spooked as a child at a horror film, she had to force her breathing to be even.

Church steeples poked up between terracotta-tiled roofs, buildings were painted cream, ochre or apricot, the major structures gracing the town centre while houses huddled on the slopes like children hatching mischief.

At some point this afternoon she’d made the decision never to identify herself to Gerardo. It had come from an instinct to protect herself from disappointment rather than from structured reasoning but the decision was a relief. Couldn’t trust him. Could do without him.

Under the Magnolias–a darkness of the mind

Under the Magnolias

by T. I. Lowe

Dave Foster is a tobacco farmer and the pastor of the church he fondly refers to as the First Riffraff of Magnolia. He has a large family including two sets of twins, a mentally challenged son, and another who is physically disabled. His wife Edith is a loving mother who somehow manages her husband’s dark times and keeps the family happy. The main character is the oldest daughter Austin, and the story is related from her point of view as she finds herself at the age of fourteen having to become a mother to her six siblings and walk the fine line of respect for her father while acting as a buffer between him and the other children. She works to maintain his standing in the community and keep the tobacco farm running.

Under the Magnolias is very much a character driven story as Austin struggles and sacrifices for others. She is a very intelligent young lady who puts aside her dreams to help her family survive. Unfortunately her father’s dark times become deeper and more frequent and his outbursts more violent. A teenager, Austin doesn’t really know how to deal with her father’s mental issues or get assistance.

Help does come in the form of the mayor’s handsome son. Although Austin won’t let him get close because she is driven to maintain family secrets, he continues to stand by her. Others in their little church and her siblings are important to the story as they all suffer from the occasions when Dave’s mental illness surfaces and bubbles over.

This book is very well-written. In terms of emotional impact, it is hard at times to read. The author, T. I. Lowe, puts the reader right in the middle of the struggles waiting, as Austin does, in the good times for the other shoe to drop. “It was too good. Too shiny. Too normal. No matter how much I wished, prayed, begged, I knew this season wouldn’t last.”

The story takes place from 1980 through 1988. There is a final chapter that relates how life works out for all of the characters. It makes a fitting conclusion because over the course of the book the reader has gotten to know each of them, understanding why they are the way they are. The pacing is excellent with about two chapters per year presenting cumulative snapshots rather than blow-by-blow descriptions. There is an authentic South Carolina flavor in both plot and language. I highly recommend Under the Magnolias as a tale whose characters resonate and linger long after the final page.

I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Rating: 5/5

Category: General Fiction (Adult), Women’s Fiction

Notes: Clean—no inappropriate language, sex, or violence

Publication: May 4, 2021—Tyndale House Publishers

Memorable Lines:

Looking through the innocent lens of adolescence, those happier days were perfection. Sadly, they had an expiration date just like those snack cakes. Happiness staled and nothing was pleasing after that. But just like the expired cakes in a meager season, we had no other choice but to stomach whatever life tossed our way next.

I figured it was a blessing that she could pretend something didn’t happen, but we would both learn later in life that pretending something away was no better than constantly dwelling on it. Both produced impactful wounds that tended to fester in other parts of living.

“Honey, the living creep me out. Not the dead.” He picked up a cosmetic brush and touched it to Mrs. Fannie’s pink cheek. “The living can be cruel, judgmental, quick to complain, and slow to please. The dead never yell or cuss you out. Or call you ugly names.” There was such a sadness to his gentle voice.

The Woman with the Blue Star–refuge in a sewer

The Woman with the Blue Star

by Pam Jenoff

If you are an aficionado of World War II novels, you will probably like The Woman with the Blue Star, the story of Sadie and her family who are forced into a Polish ghetto and later avoid a roundup of Jews for deportation by fleeing to the dark stench and filth of the sewers. Their survival depends on the mercy of the sewer worker who leads them there and provides them with what food could be had in Krakow in 1942. The Germans leave little for the local population and ration cards are required.

Sadie’s path crosses with Ella’s at a chance glance down through a sewer grate. Ella lives with her stepmother who maintains a fairly good standard of living by acting as a mistress to various German officers.

The author describes in detail both the disgustingly putrid conditions for the Jewish family in the sewer and the better, but still precarious, lives of the Polish citizens above ground. The characters and their reactions are generally believable. There are a number of dramatic twists in the story along with some romantic threads and a look at those involved in the Polish Home Army underground movement.

Most of the story seems realistic. I do wonder about the many occasions when Ella ventures out after the government imposed curfew, once even with Sadie above ground. Given the enormous threat of German soldiers and Polish police patrolling the streets, their adventures seem foolhardy and unlikely.

I love the epilogue which confirms something I suspected, but its revelation makes a great twist. Although it is difficult to read about the enormous hardships, this book is an important reminder of a piece of history we should never forget so we will not allow it to be repeated.

I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Historical Fiction, Women’s Fiction

Publication: May 4, 2021—Harlequin

Memorable Lines:

We had almost nothing by the end; it had all been sold or left behind when we moved to the ghetto. Still, the idea that people could go through our property, that we had no right to anything of our own anymore, made me feel violated, less human.

Once I could not have imagined staying in the sewer for so long. But there was simply nowhere to go. The ghetto had been emptied, all of the Jews who lived there killed or taken to the camps. If we went onto the street, we would be shot on sight or arrested.

Saul talked on and on through his tears, telling stories of his brother, as if pressing the memories of his brother between pages to preserve like dry flowers.

50th Wedding Anniversary in Branson, MO

Showboat Branson Belle

Cabin in the Woods

Silver Dollar City

WonderWorks

Performance of “Jesus” at the Sight and Sound Theater

Dolly Parton Stampede

Healing the Rancher–making a family

Healing the Rancher

by Melinda Curtis

The story of the Mountain Monroes in Idaho continues in Healing the Rancher with a focus on Kendall Monroe, a city-girl with a knack for twenty-first century PR through social media. Needing employment, she decides to try to land a contract with a Texas ranch, but she needs to prove her cowgirl credentials to the owners. The problem is that she never really took to ranch life when she visited Grandpa Harlan in Idaho as a child. She returns to the little town of Second Chance where most of her cousins have relocated and agrees to intern on a ranch owned by Finn McAfee, a handsome but scarred ex-Marine. Besides his physical scars, he is weighted by the death of his young wife and his own cancer diagnosis.

Sparks fly when Kendall meets her tough new boss Finn who views her as a “princess.” She shows him how strong she is while keeping a smile on her face. The back and forth between the two will keep the reader smiling as will Lizzie, Finn’s adorable four year old daughter and their collection of “misfits,” animals dropped off at the ranch because their owners didn’t want them.

All kinds of problems arise as Kendall tries to become a cowgirl, but she owns up to her mistakes. Other difficulties have to be faced up to as well, things that are not her fault—cattle rustling and financial issues for both of them.

Several of the Monroe cousins play supporting roles and for those readers who have followed the Monroe saga, it is fun to see how those cousins’ lives are progressing. As with all the books in this series, the conclusion is more than satisfactory and will leave you with smiles just thinking about the future for Kendall and Finn.

I would like to extend my thanks to Melinda Curtis for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Romance

Notes: 1. While Healing the Rancher (#11 in the Mountain Monroes series) could be read as a standalone, I recommend reading the whole series in order.
2. All the books in this series are clean romances.

Publication: May 24, 2022—Harlequin

Memorable Lines:

“I feel like my grandfather wasn’t afraid to reinvent himself. Or afraid of failure. That’s what makes people succeed, I think. They want something more than they fear going belly-up.”

The grand Sawtooth Mountain range was just as imposing here as it was in Second Chance. The jagged mountains were as hard as she imagined the life here was. Or maybe that was just her perception as someone from the city.

“Boo, this is why I need to learn how to be a ranch boss and move on. The man is more irresistible than chocolate to me. And I’m like day-old bread to him.”

Souvenirs from Kyiv–devastation of war

Souvenirs from Kyiv

by Chrystyna Lucyk-Berger

I want to believe Chrystyna Lucyk-Berger’s stories in Souvenirs from Kyiv are more fiction than history, but I know that is not true. She has researched and conducted interviews with survivors of World War II and its aftermath. She has compiled their memories into composite stories that share brutal truths about war. Her goal Is to “make it clear that conflict is not about two teams meeting on the battlefield—one called ‘good’ and one called ‘bad.’ There are no winners in this story.”

These tales are emotionally hard to read; I put aside the book several times to regroup. Because the author is Ukrainian-American, I expected the book would be slanted towards the Ukrainians. While they are certainly the focus, they are not depicted as guiltless. The barbarism of war is demonstrated in acts performed by Germany, Poland, the USSR, Ukraine, and the United Nations. “Sides” were not clear cut and people had to quickly change their nationalism based on necessity for survival.

In Ukraine’s War of Independence (1917-1921), a chant was popular:
Glory to Ukraine.
Glory to the heroes!
Death to the enemies.

It was revived in the 1940’s as a partisan group struggled to “ ‘purify’ Ukraine of Jews, of Poles, of Nazis, of Soviets.” The Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) was founded after WW I. It fractured into two groups, each fiercely loyal to its leader. They expended energy which would have been better used in fighting their common enemy. That is an easy position to take from my safe twenty-first century armchair.

The author creates believable, fictional characters. Through them she makes real:
–the desperation of those in labor camps
–the hard work required just to survive each day
–the quick adjusting of priorities for those fleeing
–the raw, animalistic violence that emerged during the fight for survival—whether to get a place in a bomb shelter or to grasp a stale piece of bread.
There are also shining lights:
–parents sacrificing for children
–the kindness of a German officer leading a refuge family to safety during a bombing
–everyday citizens risking their lives by sharing their homes and what little food had been left for them by ravaging soldiers.

These are all stories that need to be told, but the tale goes further. When the dust of battle settles, what happens to the survivors? To what country will they claim allegiance? Even those captured by an army and put in uniform or forced into slave labor, can be blacklisted as traitors in their home country. There is the unimaginable prospect of labor camps once more. If these threats are not realized, the survivors still have to overcome physical and mental hurdles of reintegrating into a society, perhaps not the one of their birth. During and after the war, Ukraine Diaspora occurred in the U.S. and in Europe.

Although this book is historical fiction, I learned a lot about the strife between Ukraine and its neighbors. Conflict is not new in that area. The author made history come alive with characters caught up in a war not of their making. It is important to read the forward. The first story slowly immersed me into the time period. Then the rest of the book sped by quickly. This author has written other books, and I am interested in reading them as well. Although Souvenirs from Kyiv is about Ukraine, its theme, the devastation of war, has worldwide applications.

I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Bookouture for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Historical Fiction, General Fiction (Adult)

Notes: 1. A map of Ukraine is included.
2. The book ends with a letter from the author and also a valuable glossary. Some foreign language words are defined within the story, but the glossary is helpful for the other terms.

Publication: April 22, 2022—Bookouture

Memorable Lines:

I think of the Germans picking up and fleeing, the Red Army laying claim to the scorched land, and I know that one oppressor is no better than the next.

[Pretend death notification letter composed by an enlisted Ukrainian forced into the German army.] As we waited for our weapons to thaw, your son took a bullet. He did not die a hero. He did not kill many Red Army troops. He was shot, and others have died of TB, frozen to death, or have simply lost hope. You may stop sending blankets. They go to the officers, anyway. You could send clubs and knives, for we have been forced to turn into primitive cavemen. Our weapons are useless in this frozen land.

…if he has learned anything on this journey, it is this: he will give up everything—including his principles, including his painting, his life—to keep his family alive.

Mulberry Hollow–obstacles to love

Mulberry Hollow

by Denise Hunter

Denise Hunter continues her Riverbend Romance Series with the Robinson family at the center of the stories. Mulberry Hollow focuses on Avery, the youngest child of three and the only daughter in the merged family. Avery is high achieving and operates her own medical clinic in the little town of Riverbend Gap that is an oasis of relief and comfort for weary hikers from the Appalachian Trail. Avery’s family handles her with kid gloves because she has a 50% chance of having a fatal, degenerative disease. She has resigned herself to a love life with the clinic and the community and rejects the possibility of having children.

One evening she finds Wes Garrett, dehydrated, with a high fever, on the clinic’s doorstep. He was formerly a worker in Columbia for Emergency Shelter International, but is currently a thru-hiker on the Appalachian Trail in honor of a deceased friend. Wes’ background was tough growing up, and as an adult he is saddled with paying off his father’s debts. Wes is a man of his word and a man of honor. While the handsome guy’s qualities are admirable, they also cause obstacles in any romantic relationship that might develop.

I loved this story and its characters. These are people that fight hard to do the right things putting others above themselves. It’s hard not to keep turning the pages in hopes that good things will happen for Avery and Wes. There are a lot of twists in the plot that will have you groaning at the unfairness of life, but the characters continue to trust in God and pray for others. The religious element is not dominant; instead it reflects the way these characters live out their lives through good times and bad and when the right choices are not the easy ones.

I received a complimentary copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Romance

Notes: 1. Discussion questions are included.
2. This is #2 in the Riverbend Romance Series, a trilogy. It could be read as a standalone, but the characters continue from the first book, Riverbend Gap, so you would probably enjoy it more if you read them in order.
3. Clean romance.

Publication: April 19, 2022—Thomas Nelson Fiction

Memorable Lines:

“He was a hustler?” “He could’ve sold mosquitos to a backpacker—and he would’ve if he hadn’t been so lazy. Such as it was, he made do with home improvement scams.”

She took in the now-familiar angles and planes of his face. He was pretty to look at, no doubt, but he was even more attractive on the inside. A man who put aside his plans to help another was a man who could be counted on. A man who spent months on the trail to honor a friend was a man to be admired.

She considered all he’d been through. His difficult childhood, the loss of a dear friend. And yet he’d somehow flourished as a human being. Emerged from his trials a good and caring man. She was thankful God had brought him to Riverbend just when she’d needed him.

Riverbend Gap–looking for love

Riverbend Gap

by Denise Hunter

I didn’t think a romance could be an actual page-turner for me, but Riverbend Gap surely was. Although there are a few dangerous, dramatic scenes, that was not the cause of my reluctance to put the book down. It was the characters!

All of the main characters are seeking love, stability, and trust. Katie, who spent most of her life in the foster care system, moves to Riverbend Gap in search of her biological mother. After the death of her brother, she needs a new start. She needs the love of a family. When Cooper, a deputy, finds her in a precariously balanced car on a cliff after a near-miss with a deer, they make an emotional connection. Unbeknownst to Cooper, Katie is dating his brother Gavin. The brothers have tried to live above the reputation of their alcoholic father all their lives, but it is not easy in a small town. Gavin has other personal issues that are devastating. No one wants to see him hurt even more. Clearly, there is romantic conflict as Katie and Cooper try to stamp out the sparks in their relationship while Gavin is initially oblivious to their attraction.

The Robinson family was blended when Cooper and Gavin’s mom remarried giving the brothers a sister Avery. Avery is a doctor who is also Katie’s boss in Avery’s medical clinic where Katie works as a nurse. The Robinsons are fiercely loyal to each other and well-respected in the community. Problems pile on as Cooper runs for sheriff, and the rumor mill in Riverbend Gap operates at full speed. The community is challenged when part of the Appalachian Trail is closed for repairs. Many businesses in the area depend on thru-hikers who stop to rest up, enjoy a good meal, and restock their packs.

The plot is well played out. I really wanted good things for Cooper, Gavin, and Katie, but it was like watching a train wreck and being unable to predict anything except a collision. Afterwards, how will they pick up the pieces? Will the Robinson family survive betrayal? Will Katie experience rejection once more by her mother? Can Cooper’s campaign for sheriff be salvaged at the ninth hour? The answers are all delightfully found in Riverbend Gap.

I received a complimentary copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Romance

Notes: 1. Discussion questions are included.
2. This is #1 in the Riverbend Romance Series, a trilogy.
3. My next review will be on #2, and (sneak peak) I really liked it too!
4. Clean romance.

Publication: October 19, 2021—Thomas Nelson Fiction

Memorable Lines:

He stared into blue eyes that were as convincing as any he’d seen. But he also had an alcoholic dad, and he knew they were capable of lying to themselves—not to mention others—quite convincingly.

He sank deeper into the sofa cushions, wishing he could disappear into the crack with the Doritos crumbs.

Feeling like something a cat coughed up, she locked the door and turned off the light. Her chest was heavy with the crushing weight of Gavin’s pain. The hollow ache of guilt.

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