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The Magician’s Nephew–another C.S. Lewis masterpiece

The Magician’s Nephew

by C.S. Lewis

I entered The Magician’s Nephew not really knowing what to expect. It was written by C.S. Lewis the year prior to the publication of the last book in the series, The Last Battle, which I have not read yet. At the suggestion of a member of our book club who was actually rereading the series, we inserted The Magician’s Nephew immediately before The Last Battle—not because it belongs there chronologically, but because it could perhaps be appreciated better at that point in our reading. I don’t think you could go wrong with any sequence of these books! C.S. Lewis intended it to be read first in his Chronicles of Narnia, but by the time it was first published, many of his readers would have already greedily devoured the first five books. It is indeed a prequel to the delightful The Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe, but for those who have already read that first classic tale, you will enjoy the “ah ha” moments that arise as Lewis gives you a backstory that renders both subtle and obvious connections. It never has the feel of a book written at the instigation of a publisher who just wants to squeeze more out of a popular series. It seems that it is Lewis’ desire to bring the pictures he has painted in his novels together with cohesion and forward looking vision.

In The Magician’s Nephew, a story which begins in London, you will learn of the creation of the world Narnia, meet Aslan the Lion, and witness the awakening of the Witch. There are many connections to the creation of Earth and its population as found in the Bible; but of course it is Narnia and in this fictional realm we learn how the animals came to talk and see the never changing character of Aslan who reigns with power and love, who grieves for the things that grieve us, and gives us hope during times of devastation.

This book has sad and fearful moments as well as happy and triumphant ones. The humor as the animals plant and water Uncle Andrew in hopes that the poor “plant” will revive is more refreshing to the reader than to Uncle Andrew! The pure evil of Jadis the Witch is the stuff of ancient fairy tales as is the conflict of good and evil. The characters are ones you can feel strongly about. The setting, as always with C.S. Lewis, is so vividly and well described that you can visualize both the “real” world of London and fictional worlds to which the children (main characters Digory and Polly) can transport themselves. As to plot, it constantly throws in surprises, but events are always connected. It becomes a quick read, not because it is short or light reading, but because it is so much fun to read. As with all the books in the series, it can be read as a child enjoys fiction or as an adult looking for deeper meaning. I suggest you read it both ways at once. Come to the story for entertainment and leave with the enrichment of a well-told tale imbued with rich symbolism.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Fiction, Christian

Notes: #1 in The Chronicles of Narnia series, but can be read at any time in the reading of the series. Warning: If this book is your first experience with this series, you will probably want to read more!
This series is often listed as Children’s Fiction, but is really appropriate for all ages with adults reading it on a different level from children. It is perfect for a read-aloud.

Publication: 1955—Harper Collins

Memorable Lines:

For what you see and hear depends a good deal on where you are standing; it also depends on what sort of person you are.

She has won her heart’s desire; she has unwearying strength and endless days like a goddess. But length of days with an evil heart is only length of misery and already she begins to know it. All get what they want; they do not always like it.

For the rest of that day, whenever he looked at the things about him, and saw how ordinary and unmagical they were, he hardly dared to hope; but when he remembered the face of Aslan he did hope.

Christmas Island–romance in Norway

Christmas Island

by Natalie Normann

I am not moving to Norway. Ever. It’s too dark and too cold for me. I had a lot of reading fun coming to that conclusion, however, as I read Christmas Island, a romance that begins on a wet, cold, dark, rainy island in Norway. The snow and the need for many layers of heavy clothing would come later. The author, Natalie Normann, is highly qualified to be our atmospheric guide as she grew up in a shipping town on the west coast of Norway. When she writes about the many Christmas foods and traditions peculiar to Norway, she speaks from experience. Originally a Norwegian writer of historical romance, she has lived in Cardiff, Wales, since 2017, and Christmas Island is her second book written in English.

Holly Greene has an enforced four week leave of absence from her hospital job as a doctor resulting from a problem with a co-worker on the job. She is invited to Christmas on the island by her brother Jack as a way to help her survive this period. She meets Tor, mysterious and reclusive, who has rented a house on the island. The reasons both are there are revealed to the reader quite gradually. Holly lives in London and Tor in Oslo making a long-term relationship out of their holiday fling problematic to say the least. They are likable characters in need of healing. Will they find what they need in Norway? Within the island community? With each other?

Normann really helped me experience Norway. I felt like I was tasting the foods along with Holly. I understood her difficulties with the language. Once I raised my head from the pages almost expecting to see a wet snow drifting down. The backdrop she paints is important to the story and pervades the reader’s imagination.

I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to HarperCollins UK (One More Chapter) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Romance

Notes: 1. #2 in the Very Hygge Holiday Series, but could clearly be read as a standalone.
2. There are too many American and British swear words and vulgarisms for my taste. When I embark on a Christmas read, I look forward to sweet and clean. Although there is a fling, there are no graphic details. Language is the only obstacle for me with this Christmas read.
3. Recipes for three sweet Christmas treats are included.

Publication: November 30, 2020—HarperCollins UK (One More Chapter)

Memorable Lines:

“Fresh air is the Norwegian cure for everything. If you’re unwell, get some fresh air; if you can’t sleep, get some fresh air; if you’re feeling sad, get some fresh air. I think it comes from living too close to the sea and the mountains,” Tor said.

At the hospital gossip and rumours were part of the daily routine, and mostly it was friendly and amusing…until it wasn’t. But she didn’t want to dwell on that today.

Holly opened her mouth to answer, then got completely flustered and knew she was blushing like a whole crop of tomatoes.

Love Your Life–another fun Kinsella main character

Love Your Life

by Sophie Kinsella

Ava is the latest in the line of Sophie Kinsella’s over the top lovable main characters. She rescues almost everything—from her mischievous beagle Harold to books no one else would want to buy. She is passionate about her ever-changing interests but never seems to achieve any of her goals. Her conversations with herself and others can best be described as stream of consciousness. The word “tidy” is not in her vocabulary.

Ava’s support group from university choir days is a cadre of unlike souls who nevertheless get along fabulously. Ava goes to Italy at their urging for a writer’s retreat where she meets Matt whose family business is all consuming. He has a sterile apartment, weird taste in art, and two odd roommates. Their dynamic is amusing in a male supportive kind of way.

The rules at the writer’s retreat keep everyone anonymous and focused on their writing—in theory. Ava and Matt quickly focus on each other and reveal their identities to continue their relationship when they return home. Watching Ava and Matt interact is like watching the proverbial train wreck. You know disaster will happen, yet you can’t look away. Although much of the book is pleasantly predictable, there are some stunning surprises along the way. Love Your Life is a fun foray into chick lit: twenty-first century romance featuring online dating and What’s App and wacky but lovable characters. It is a humorous look at the glue that hold friendships together and the ties that bind hearts in love.

I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Random House (Dial Press) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Romance, Women’s Fiction

Notes: Some foul language

Publication: October 27, 2020—Random House (Dial)

Memorable Lines:

Maud’s basic conundrum in life is that she has three children but only two hands.

Nell doesn’t normally do hope. Not since she got ill. She describes her life philosophy as “managed pessimism.”

For a few minutes we’re both silent as rain starts to thunder down on the car roof. Hurt is crackling around the car like a lightning storm.

A Pretty Deceit–the pursuit of Ardmore continues

A Pretty Deceit

by Anna Lee Huber

In the aftermath of The Great War, there are many “walking wounded.” This category refers to soldiers with physical wounds, of course. Also included are those psychologically affected, unable to relate to others, even those they love most. Waking or sleeping, the horrors of the war remain with them. Their families have suffered as well. Many have lost sons, fathers, brothers, and husbands either through death or trauma. Women are living in limbo or trying to raise children on their own. All of these injured are touched on as we witness the struggles of the characters in A Pretty Deceit. The protagonist, Verity Kent, is a high society woman married to a war hero. You would think the couple would be happily “living the life” after the war. They harbor secrets, however, as each individually worked for intelligence services, and their past efforts continue to disrupt their current lives.

Verity has a penchant for solving mysteries, and in this historical novel by Anna Lee Huber, Verity is called on by her family to investigate her aunt’s missing possessions as well as the disappearance of a maid. Her husband’s influence is solicited to encourage the government to provide reparations to Verity’s aunt for damages that occurred when Air Force officers were billeted in her home. As the couple tries to help, a murder is discovered on the estate, and Verity is called on to clear the murder victim’s wife. In the middle of these investigations, the couple is asked, unofficially, to investigate a wealthy businessman with connections that rise high in the government. He rarely dirties his own hands but has many minions willing to do his bidding.

I have read two more books in this series, and A Pretty Deceit is my favorite so far. Well written, as all of the books in this series are, this novel is outstanding in background, pace, and character development. We meet Reg, Verity’s cousin who was blinded in the war. We also see her current interactions with two men who had a romantic interest in Verity during the war. Verity is well aware of her attractiveness and is not afraid to subtly use it to achieve her ends. The position and influence of a woman in this time period is well demonstrated by the reactions of characters to women in accordance with class status and race. This historical fiction is a piece worth reading.

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: Historical Fiction, Mystery

Notes: #4 in the Verity Kent Series, but works well as a standalone

Publication: September 29, 2020—Kensington Books

Memorable Lines:

For all that Aunt Ernestine would be horrified at such conduct in others, she was remarkably oblivious to the fault in herself.

Compassion need not be a restricted commodity, especially not during a time when everyone was still struggling to right themselves after the topsy-turvy years of the war.

He was a cunning manipulator, making people question even those things they knew beyond a shadow of a doubt to be true, and exploiting people’s best and worst natures to convince them to do things they would never have dreamed themselves capable of.

False Conclusion–dangerous inheritance

False Conclusion

by Veronica Heley

Much to her dismay, Bea Abbot, the owner of the Abbot Agency becomes desperately entangled in the affairs of the rich and influential Trescott family. All is not as it appears in that closely knit family…well, closely knit in terms of the secrets they try to keep. Mysterious deaths keep piling up. Bea’s ward Bernice is rather forced at boarding school into a friendship role with the Trescott matriarch’s niece Evelina (Evie), a disheveled and almost incoherent teenager. Evie is meant to marry an older cousin Joshua who has promised to take care of her and, Bea suspects, her fortune too. Meanwhile, some rather disturbing patterns arise when Joshua’s tempestuous brother Benjy takes an interest in Bernice who is only 14 and also destined to be wealthy.

Veronica Heley’s False Conclusion is a good mystery that combines reasoning, investigation, and character conflicts with action. The author’s writing style insists that the reader sneak a quick peak at each “next chapter” which, of course, segues into the next and the next; it is a book that is hard to put down.

If you have been following this series, you will be interested in the relationship developments between Bea and her ex-husband Piers, a famous portrait painter whose artistic skills and quick thinking play a role in False Conclusion’s plot. If this series is new to you, don’t hesitate to dive in; you will quickly be brought up to speed on the characters and find that the plot is fresh. In fact, the intriguing opening lines throw both new and returning reader into the story without hesitation: “Bea Abbot shut the front door on her departing guests and demanded, ‘What on earth was that all about?’ ”

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery, Christian

Notes: 1. #14 in the Abbot Agency Mystery Series, but would work as a standalone.

2.  Although not overtly a Christian book, the author does show Bea’s reliance on God through a few short prayers for wisdom and protection during difficult times.

Publication:   July 7, 2020—Severn House Publishers

Memorable Lines:

His hand on her shoulder had been heavy. He’d meant her to feel the weight of his hand, and to remind her of the power behind it. He was smiling, but his eyes glittered, needle sharp. He had ceased to dismiss her as a pawn in the game.

She stared into the future. It was a dark pit, filled with crashing noises and a seething tangle of snakes. It was more real than her bedroom. It horrified her. She couldn’t look away. She couldn’t even pray.

“Forgiveness comes with understanding. And remorse. And courage to look into the future and not back at the past.”

I Owe You One–the power of guilt

I Owe You One

by Sophie Kinsella

I Owe You OneI have read and enjoyed a number of books by Sophie Kinsella who is perhaps most famous for her Shopaholic series. Then I read one that just didn’t have the same zing and humor, so I entered I Owe You One with some trepidation. I am pleased to report that Kinsella’s latest book lives up to her standards and my expectations. At first I was a little concerned there would be too much predictability. The main character’s name is Fixie, derived from her penchant for fixing things ranging from the placement of objects to personal relationships. OCD is definitely in play as she struggles not to rearrange things or declare her every thought. As Fixie’s high school heartthrob reenters her life, the reader is watching a foreseeable train wreck: “No, Fixie, don’t do it!”

The plot leaves the anticipated pathway soon after with lots of surprises in store. It does not focus solely on Fixie’s love life. Fixie also struggles with family relationships which are closely tied with the family business. You will like Fixie if for no other reason than she tries so hard in everything she does. She feels like a failure, is loaded with unwarranted guilt, and carries the torch for making everything turn out right and keeping everyone happy—a big burden for one person.

There are many other interesting major and minor characters you will meet, but not all of them are likable, of course. The setting is West London where the denizens range from scruffy to posh. The book flows nicely with lots of humor and is a fast and enjoyable read.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Dial Press for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Women’s Fiction

Publication:   February 19, 2019—Dial Press

Memorable Lines:

When I think how I believed his version of everything, how I rationalized everything he said and did, I feel warm with stupidity. But he was so convincing.

Ryan’s pathological, I’ve realized. He says anything to anyone to get out of whatever situation he’s in. Truth doesn’t count, integrity doesn’t count, love doesn’t even figure. Yelling at him would be like yelling at a rock. It’s never going to change.

I learned that failing doesn’t mean you are a failure; it just means you’re a human being.

Coming Home to Holly Close Farm–starting again

Coming Home to Holly Close Farm

by Julie Houston

Coming Home to Holly Close FarmI had strong mixed feelings as I read Coming Home to Holly Close Farm. The tale begins with Charlie (Charlotte) having the worst Friday of her life when she discovers her lover is married with three children. Fallout of this revelation is that she also loses her home and job in one fell swoop. Charlie is a likable main character—smart, attractive, funny, and like many women, gullible when it comes to believing the one she loves.

Author Julie Houston’s book is actually two interwoven stories, and Houston handles that complexity well. One, of course, is the story of Charlie as she starts to rebuild her life. The other is the story of Madge, Charlie’s great-grandmother, and her love of a bomber pilot in World War II. Madge kept her past a secret from all of her family and as the story develops you can see why. It is only revealed because Madge, in her nineties, decides to sell part of Holly Close Farm with the proviso that the buyer must hire Charlie to be the architect for the house renovations. Once that decision is made, the secrets begin to trickle out.

My difficulty with the book is partly one of personal taste. I read it based on the appeal of the plot summary. It seemed like a gentle romance with a complex plot. It is a good plot, but too much of the book is about characters who bed hop, and it is replete with British vulgarisms. In the second chapter there is an extensive description of bawdy pranks on an airliner. This type of humor set a bad tone for me and though that is the worst of it in the book, the other elements continue. While I enjoy Britishisms in books to enhance the setting and characters, the vulgarisms detract for me.

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

Rating: 4/5

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

Notes: includes bawdy humor and British vulgarities

Publication:  February 5, 2019—Aria

Memorable Lines:

Funny how sorrow makes you slop around in old trackies, eschewing the shower and make-up, but fury has quite the opposite effect.

“You know, war invades not only countries but also the mind and spirit.”

“…finance and big business and being in the centre of London was never really my thing but you get yourself on the treadmill and it’s going so fast you can’t get off.”

Dark Tide Rising–disappointing

Dark Tide Rising

by Anne Perry

Dark Tide RisingI know that Anne Perry is a celebrated author with two main series and many other books to her credit. Therefore, I was really looking forward to reading this work of historical fiction, a genre I have come to enjoy recently. Unfortunately, I was disappointed. A lot of Dark Tide Rising centers around a betrayal that is central to understanding the kidnapping and murder of Kate Exeter. When I say “a lot,” I mean Perry belabors the points to the extent of redundancy. Also, I figured out the identity and motive of the murderer early on in the book. The last courtroom scene of the book is interesting as it establishes proof of the murderer and motives for the actions of some of the minor characters. Another overly emphasized point is that Monk’s wife Hester served with Florence Nightingale in the Crimean War. Although Nightingale has long had my admiration, I do not think any and every association with her needs to be touted as proof of a woman’s fortitude. On a positive note, I did enjoy learning about the Thames River Police.

Although I was anxious to bring this book to a close, I am open to reading another by this author. I want to determine if the problem is this particular book or if Perry’s books are just not a good fit for me.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Random House (Ballantine) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 3/5

Category: Historical Fiction, Mystery

Notes: #24 in the Monk series, but works as a standalone

Publication:  September 18, 2018—Random House (Ballantine)

Memorable Lines:

Monk himself ached in every bone, but how much was bruising and minor cuts, and how much the torture of utter failure, he did not yet know.

And what other secrets would the search lay bare? Perhaps it was selfish in the face of such grief to think of personal fears, not yet realized, but he could not discard them. When he lay alone and silent in the dark, there was nothing to hold them at bay.

Educated–painful, but powerful memoir

Educated

by Tara Westover

EducatedVery few books leave me speechless, but Tara Westover’s memoir Educated is one of them. Well written, this is the author’s very personal story of growing up in a dysfunctional family with abuse of various types from several family members and later betrayal by others. Tara lived a secluded and physically difficult life with a large family dominated by an authoritative father with mental issues. He was an extremist Mormon with an antigovernment, end times, survivalist fixation.

Tara was supposedly homeschooled, but her education was basically nonexistent. She and several of her brothers in turn realized their only escape was through education. Self-taught, Tara scored high enough on her ACT test to qualify for admission to Brigham Young University as she turned 17. She was unprepared mentally and socially for a college experience. She did not even have basic hygiene skills.

Over the course of her academic education, she was confronted with multiple instances where the foundations of her beliefs from childhood were shattered by learning the true version of events. She was lied to, put in danger, and manipulated time after time. Tara’s journey to mental health and a new normalcy happened slowly and only after many confrontations with her family. Eventually she was forced by them to choose with whom her loyalties would lie and the direction of her life as an adult.

Educated is a powerful memoir and emotionally very difficult to read. Its focus on education, relationships, and faith results in a painful tale as Tara journeys from Idaho to Cambridge with forays to New England, Paris, Italy, and the Middle East—all places she could not even dream of because she previously knew nothing about them.  This is a story that needed to be told, and one I am glad the author shared.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Random House for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Memoir

Notes: links provided by Random House

LISTEN to Tara’s NPR Fresh Air interview: https://www.npr.org/2018/02/20/587244230/memoirist-retraces-her-journey-from-survivalist-childhood-to-cambridge-ph-d

 

WATCH Tara’s CBS This Morning segment: https://www.cbsnews.com/video/tara-westovers-journey-from-off-the-grid-childhood-to-cambridge/

 

DISCUSS the book with your book club: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/550168/educated-by-tara-westover/9780399590504/readers-guide/

Publication:   February 20, 2018—Random House

Memorable Lines:

I’d never learned how to talk to people who weren’t like us—people who went to school and visited the doctor. Who weren’t preparing, every day, for the End of the World.

“There’s a world out there, Tara,” he said. “And it will look a lot different once Dad is no longer whispering his view of it in your ear.”

It’s strange how you give the people you love so much power over you, I had written in my journal. But Shawn had more power over me than I could possibly have imagined. He had defined me to myself, and there’s no greater power than that.

In that moment part of me believed, as I had always believed, that it would be me who broke the spell, who caused it to break. When the stillness shattered and his fury rushed at me, I would know that something I had done was the catalyst, the cause. There is hope in such a superstition, there is the illusion of control.

How to Stop Time–historical fiction with a science fiction twist

How to Stop Time

by Matt Haig

How to Stop TimeThe typical work of historical fiction takes a character from a specific time and place and imagines, hopefully based on some research, what life would have been like for that person. How to Stop Time is not a “typical work of historical fiction.” Author Matt Haig dares to explore what would happen if certain people were naturally genetically designed to age slowly, to live hundreds of years. What would life be like for that person? What would the response of others be to them? How do you form a relationship with someone who will certainly age at a different rate? What if one of these “albatrosses” becomes powerful enough to use various means to control the others?

How to Stop Time follows Tom Hazard as he negotiates life in the twenty-first century and reflects on events in his past spanning multiple centuries, locations, careers and aliases. He is musically inclined and along the way discovers an aptitude for teaching history.

Tom is a likable character whose situation is in some ways different from the circumstances of “normal” human beings. In many aspects, however, his struggles are the same as he tries to fit in, decides how open to be with those he meets, and battles with opening his heart. We all on occasion want to stop time to savor the moment, to revisit past decisions, and to look ahead into the future.

How to Stop Time is an excellent work of fiction, well-written and interesting. It introduces historical characters such as Shakespeare and  Captain Cook, but there are equally fascinating fictional characters who convincingly embody the everyday men and women of past generations. With its fast-moving storyline, this book is one I recommend you add to your To Be Read list.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to the Penguin Group (Viking) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Historical Fiction

Publication:   February 6, 2018—Penguin Group (Viking)

Memorable Lines:

I had no idea I had been looking for her, but now I had found her, I had no idea what would happen. I felt like I was spinning fast and out of control, like the seed of a sycamore, traveling on a changing wind.

I kept going cross the desert and over dry hills and mountains and past a large quarry that seemed to my delirious mind like the blackness of death itself calling me towards it like the River Styx.

I can’t right now think of a better purpose in life than to be a teacher. To teach feels like you are a guardian of time itself, protecting the future happiness of the world via the minds that are yet to shape it.

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