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A Letter to the Last House Before the Sea–reinventing yourself

A Letter to the Last House Before the Sea

by Liz Eeles

Many series depend on the continuation of a character or a set of characters. The Heaven’s Cove Series does not. The continuity is found in the setting—the little village of Heaven’s Cove and Driftwood House perched on a cliff high above the ocean. Therefore, with only a few characters from the first book showing up in the second, anyone can easily jump into the series with this second book, A Letter to the Last House Before the Sea. I should add, however, that I loved the first book and immediately after reading it purchased the second book so I would be ready to jump into the third which was recently published.

Lettie has had a hard time finding her way in life. Her family tries to manage her personal life while depending on her to be on call for their needs—be they babysitting, shopping, or sorting repairs. When she is sacked from a customer service job five weeks after the death of her beloved great-aunt Iris, she does a runner to Heaven’s Cove where she hopes to fulfill the bedside wish of her aunt to “find out for me, darling girl.” Aunt Iris had secrets about her past. She left Heaven’s Cove as a teenager with her whole family, never to return. She bequeathed a delicate gold key to Lettie that was connected to her secret. Lettie is committed to discovering what the secrets are that make up Iris’ past.

Locals are suspicious and disdainful of outsiders so Lettie has trouble researching the history, but in the process realizes that maybe she is ready to rediscover her former passion for history and reinvent herself. Along the way she meets several handsome young men and some cranky old timers. She finds Heaven’s Cove calling to her. As she follows leads on Iris’ story, she discovers someone else in need of her skills to track down a long lost love, adding another emotional dimension to the plot.

Lettie is a very likable main character. You will want the best for her and feel her frustrations as your own. My second visit to Heaven’s Cove kept me turning pages and ended with me smiling in satisfaction.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Women’s Fiction

Notes: 1. # 2 in the Heaven’s Cove Series, but would be good as a standalone.
2. Clean fiction—no sex or violence and very little swearing.

Publication: May 19, 2021—Bookouture

Memorable Lines:

Truth be told, Claude had saved Buster that night, as the rain lashed down and the shivering stray risked being swept away by the waves breaking over the quay wall. But then Buster had saved Claude, in return, from the loneliness that often threatened to overwhelm him.

“People disappear from your life, but they always leave an echo,” said Claude quickly.

Much as she’d grown to love Heaven’s Cove, she would never get used to the village grapevine. In London you could drop dead and no one would notice.

The Horse and His Boy–excellent storytelling

The Horse and His Boy

by C. S. Lewis

Herein lies the tale of Shasta, abused son sold as a slave. He joins forces with Aravis who is trying to avoid marriage to a much older, ugly, powerful, rich man. Shasta and Aravis devise a plan of escape that includes their Narnian horses who can, of course, talk.

There are many complications on their adventure including mistaken identity for Shasta and recognition of Aravis by an old friend. Lucy and Edmund, characters from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, play minor roles in this book as does their big sister Susan. Her rebuff of a suitor, Prince Rabadash, could cause a war.

Aslan, the Lion, appears and disappears, always a part of events as they occur. The characters learn that there is more to happenings than luck or chance. Even those who don’t already know about Aslan immediately feel there is something special about Him when they first encounter Him.

The Horse and His Boy includes characters who are noble and heroic and also those who are traitors. Aslan gives the despicable Prince Rabadash a second chance, and the outcome is perfectly constructed. It is fitting, but I certainly couldn’t have predicted it.

The Horse and His Boy is another storytelling triumph by C.S. Lewis who again has written a book that can be enjoyed on two levels. It is a fascinating fantasy, but it can also be read with religious themes in mind. Regardless of your reading goals, you will enjoy this entertaining fantasy without the intricate world building of current fantasies.

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: Children’s Fiction, Christian

Notes: This book is #3 in The Chronicles of Narnia. 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. The series begins with the highly popular The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, but many readers find each one of the books in the series to be their “favorite” as they encounter it.

Publication: 1954—HarperCollins Publishers

Memorable Lines:

Aravis immediately began, sitting quite still and using a rather different tone and style from her usual one. For in Calormen, story-telling (whether the stories are true or made up) is a thing you’re taught, just as English boys and girls are taught essay writing. The difference is that people want to hear the stories, whereas I never heard of anyone who wanted to read the essays.

“I must have come through the pass in the night. What luck that I hit it!—at least it wasn’t luck at all really, it was Him, and now I’m in Narnia.”

“Child,” said the Lion, “I am telling you your story, not hers. No one is told any story but their own.”

Hannah Coulter–“living right on”

Hannah Coulter

by Wendell Berry

The narrator through the voice of Hannah Coulter ends the first chapter of this novel with the simple line “This is my story, my giving of thanks.” Do not, however, be lulled into thinking you are going to read a book consisting of platitudes on gratitude. Hannah reflects from old age on a full life, but what most would consider a common, ordinary life. She grieves over those she lost whether to sickness or the War. She keeps moving forward because what else is she to do?

Wendell Berry, the author of Hannah Coulter is an agrarian, a novelist, a poet, and an essayist. He brings his characters to life with carefully chosen words that reflect their deepest thoughts about difficult subjects as well as their humanity. This is a book that you may want to reread, that may make you tear up, and that will certainly be the cause of reflection as you identify with certain characters or events.

Perhaps because I usually prefer linear storytelling and Hannah Coulter strays from that paradigm in its first and last chapters, it will not be one of my favorite books. I do recommend it as a book of depth with passages that are worthy of sharing orally for the way the words delight or for the descriptions meant to be savored for the images they evoke. Hannah Coulter opens the door to her heart, her life, and her community to the reader in an honest and touching manner.

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

Rating: 4/5

Category: Literary Fiction

Notes: 1. Part of the Port William series but they don’t have to be read in order.

  2. Map and Genealogy included at the end.

Publication:   October 10, 2005—Counterpoint

Memorable Lines:

Time doesn’t stop. Your life doesn’t stop and wait until you get ready to start living it. Those years of the war were not a blank, and yet during all that time I was waiting. We were all waiting.

He told of the time he went fishing and the mosquitoes were so big and fierce that he had to take shelter under a lard kettle, and the mosquitoes’ beaks were so tough and sharp that they pierced the iron and came through, and he picked up his hammer and clenched their beaks, and the mosquitoes flew off with his kettle.

The chance you had is the life you’ve got. You can make complaints about what people, including you, make of their lives after they have got them, and about what people make of other people’s lives, even about your children being gone, but you mustn’t wish for another life. You mustn’t want to be somebody else. What you must do is this: “Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks.” I am not all the way capable of so much, but those are the right instructions.

1984–is 2021 moving us into this future?

1984

by George Orwell

When I finished the first chapter of 1984, which introduces the very intrusive society of Oceania dominated by Big Brother and the Party, I was disquieted by what was happening in that society and the easy comparison to current events in the U.S. and around the world in 2020-2021. I knew I would return to the book, but immersed in the intensity of the total lack of personal freedom in this totalitarian regime, I allowed myself a few hours respite. I was only reading about it; what if I had to live it? George Orwell had my complete attention within the well-crafted words of the first few pages.

Winston Smith works in the Records Department at the Ministry of Truth where he rewrites the past to align it with current events. This process involves multiple revisions over time with all documentary evidence of a different previous reality immediately destroyed. He has a shabby existence—never enough food, a cold, dingy apartment, and most importantly the monitoring of every movement, facial expression, and utterance 24/7 by Big Brother through a telescreen. Even Big Brother’s eyes on giant posters seem to follow him. In this society, sex is allowed occasionally, but only for the sole purpose of procreation. Children belong to groups called “Spies;” and as they mature, they advance to the “Youth League.” Both organizations encourage their members to denounce their parents and other adults to the Thought Police for crimes of unorthodoxy. Party members engage in Two Minutes Hate daily to keep their loathing at a high level and focused on the internal threat, The Enemy of the People, and on the external threat, whatever group of countries is supposedly currently at war with Oceania.

Winston internally rebels, and 1984 charts the expression of his rebellion as well as the consequences. His parents were disappeared when he was ten or eleven. Using doublethink to convince the population that what is, isn’t and Newspeak to provide a minimal language in which it is impossible to express certain ideas, Big Brother (the Party) gains control of minds subtly, but effectively. We are, sadly, seeing a version of that today with censorship and mind control by main stream media as they tell us what to think and say and try to shame those who disagree. It is echoed in our educational system that stresses rote learning, eliminates creativity, and insists on social, political, and religious “correctness.” We are in a season that calls us to read or reread 1984 before this work of fiction becomes reality and is banned.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Fiction

Notes: 1. In the Signet Classic version, there is an afterword by Erich Fromm, a psychoanalyst who moved from Nazi Germany to the U.S. in 1934. This essay is about several books, including 1984 that warn us of the future unless we change our direction.

2. I strongly recommend reading Orwell’s Animal Farm first (and especially for younger readers) as an introduction to the ideas found in both books. As an allegory, Animal Farm is more gentle and less descriptive of the violence that is part of the control of the populace. 

3. A reader’s guide is available at penguinrandomhouse.com

Publication:  Originally it was published in 1949. I read one of the many reprints. My copy is a Signet Classic published January 1, 1961 by Penguin Random House.

Memorable Lines:

And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed—if all records told the same tale—then the lie passed into history and became truth. “Who controls the past,” ran the Party slogan, “controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.”

Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them…The process has to be conscious, or it would not be carried out with sufficient precision, but it also has to be unconscious or it would bring with it a feeling of falsity and hence of guilt…Even in using the word doublethink it is necessary to exercise doublethink.

…no change of doctrine or in political alignment can ever be admitted…And if the facts say otherwise, then the facts must be altered.

The Screwtape Letters–twisting good into evil

The Screwtape Letters

by C.S. Lewis

Welcome to the inside-out, topsy turvy world of The Screwtape Letters, correspondence supposedly written by Screwtape, an experienced devil who is mentoring his nephew Wormwood, a junior tempter, in the process of keeping the human assigned to him from becoming a Christian and making good choices. The human is considered a “patient.” God is called “the Enemy,” and Satan is referred to as “Our Father Below.” As you can imagine, this short book is not a quick read as you have to turn familiar designations of God and Satan, as well as your whole thought process, around so that the book will make sense.

First published in serial form in a newspaper, it is divided into chapters which are letters generally focused around one topic such as gluttony or humility and gives advice on how to twist things that God has created in beauty and purity into something that will draw the patient away from God and onto sinful paths.

I am glad I read this book, but I didn’t enjoy it in the same way I would an entertaining mystery or a gentle romance. It is quite witty with tongue-in-cheek humor throughout. It challenged my mind and spirit as I tried to decipher C.S. Lewis’ message. Reading The Screwtape Letters is rather like looking into a mirror. Beware! As you see a reflection of yourself in some of the passages, you may be inspired to make changes in your own life that will result in your reflecting God’s image rather than the one Satan would appreciate. With much food for thought, The Screwtape Letters could be read and studied many times, especially over the course of a lifetime, deriving a new depth of meaning applicable to you personally with each reading.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Christian, Fiction

Notes: C.S. Lewis was one of the intellectual giants of the 20th century. He is the noted author of many works of fiction and nonfiction including The Chronicles of Narnia and Mere Christianity. The Screwtape Letters was originally published in 1942.

Publication: 1959—Macmillan Publishing Co. 

Memorable Lines:

All virtues are less formidable to us once the man is aware that he has them, but this is specially true of humility. Catch him at the moment when he is really poor in spirit and smuggle into his mind the gratifying reflection, “By jove! I’m being humble,” and almost immediately pride—pride at his own humility—will appear.

Music and silence…how I detest them both!…Noise, the grand dynamism, the audible expression of all that is exultant, ruthless, and virile—Noise which alone defends us from silly qualms, despairing scruples, and impossible desires.

And since we cannot deceive the whole human race all the time, it is most important thus to cut every generation off from all others; for where learning makes a free commerce between the ages there is always the danger that the characteristic errors of one may be corrected by the characteristic truths of another.

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