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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.
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
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.
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.
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)
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
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.
Category: General Fiction (Adult), Women’s Fiction
Notes: Clean—no inappropriate language, sex, or violence
Publication: May 4, 2021—Tyndale House Publishers
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.
City of the Dead
by Jonathan Kellerman
City of the Dead is the first Jonathan Kellerman mystery for me, but it is certainly not his first suspenseful book. In fact, it is the thirty-seventh book that features Alex Delaware, a psychologist who is frequently called on by the police to make sense out of crimes and uncover the perpetrator. Although I might have enjoyed the book more if I had read others in the series, I had no problem following this tough as nails plot. It begins with a double homicide when a truck collides with a nude young man and a barely noticeable trail of blood leads to a nearby house where another body is found. Alex is called in to consult. He does not interact much in interviews, but the police rely heavily on his instincts and perceptions based on his observations of those interviews.
While aiding in this case, he is working on a separate case in his professional practice. He interviews the members of divorcing couples to advise the family court judge of his custody recommendations. This time the child is a three year old girl. The mother hails from a wealthy background, and the father is a professor with Ivy League credentials who jumps from job to job. His specialty, besides the study of symbolism, seems to be disparaging his wife because she is not an academic.
Alex Delaware is an interesting character—highly intelligent, a keen observer, and compassionate in a professional way. He interacts well with the police officers he works with; they sometimes need his help and counsel personally and professionally. His own support system is his partner Robin who restores and repairs musical instruments. They both have offices and work spaces at home which involves them in each other’s work at least minimally.
Pieces of this puzzle gradually come together, especially as more DNA evidence emerges. The tricky part is knowing whom to get that evidence from and where to look for it. The joint, noncompetitive efforts of the police and Alex pull out some interesting clues. In the end, the killer is a surprise as the last pieces of the puzzle are put together. If you like a mystery that is a little tougher and more suspenseful than a cozy mystery, you’ll probably like this one.
I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Ballantine Books (Random House) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Mystery and Thriller, General Fiction (Adult)
Notes: 1. #37 in the Alex Delaware Mystery Series, but could be read as a standalone.
2. Contains descriptions of the results of violent acts and some objectionable language.
Publication: February 8, 2022—Ballantine Books (Random House)
But when I embark on a custody consult, optimism falls by the wayside and I assume everyone’s going to lie to me.
The practice of family law—of law, in general—has nothing to do with truth and everything to do with brinkmanship and illusion.
Humans are programmed to detest uncertainty, and nothing ruins a detective’s life more than too many question marks.
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.
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
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.
A Portrait of Emily Price
by Katherine Reay
There is depth to Katherine Reay’s A Portrait of Emily Price. A story of painful pasts, the approaching death of a patriarch, and the love of family, it is a novel that draws the reader in with characters who seem straight forward at first, but are actually struggling to find their ways through life. It is the tale of people who, like all of us, have events in their pasts that affect their relationships and their futures.
Emily Price is a restorer and an artist. She has a talent for fixing thing. Ben is a handsome Italian chef who comes to Atlanta to reconnect with his brother Joseph after 18 years of separation, but quickly falls in love with Emily. In Italy she finds herself in a situation where she is unwanted; no matter what she does, she ruffles feathers.
Ben’s family has experienced great trauma, but no one is willing to bring the source out in the open so the distance between Joseph and his mother grows and their hearts harden. The author only gradually reveals the core of the difficulties as Emily confronts them. The tale is spun organically at just the right speed. We learn about Emily’s family’s troubles and Ben’s family’s problems as part of the pair’s character development and in such a way that, like Emily, we want to be able to fix them.
Life is not always easy and hurts do not always go away quickly. Giving and accepting forgiveness can be difficult. In the process of negotiating problems and overcoming pain, we learn more about ourselves and others. We grow through those trials. This book records a portion of the journey Emily experiences as she becomes part of a noisy, messy, Italian family.
I would like to extend my thanks to Edelweiss and to HarperCollins Christian Publishers for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: General Fiction (Adult)
Notes: Ends with questions for discussion or thought.
Publication: November 1, 2016—HarperCollins Christian Publishers
It almost made me wonder if I’d gotten it all wrong. Perhaps fixing things wasn’t about the end product—it was, oftentimes, about the process.
Home. That word again. In my life, it had always been transient, replaceable with each stepfather or with Mom’s next job. But there was nothing transient about this place. Lucio had said eight generations. This was the dream—stones warmed from above and roots that gripped deep below.
…while I might not know much about his family, I understood pressure, fear, the need to fix things, and the black hole that opened within you when you realized nothing could fix all that was broken.
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.
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
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.”
The First Christmas
by Stephen Mitchell
While I am not a theological scholar, I have been a Christian for over sixty years. Those are years in which I have studied the Bible, and God has grown my faith. When the author of this book gives an interpretation that I disagree with, I can accept that as a difference of opinion. An example in Stephen Mitchell’s The First Christmas is the angel Gabriel’s appearance to Mary. In the Bible this event is reported in chapter one of Luke. I believe this account literally, that the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary in a physical form and spoke to her in an audible voice. In fact, there is a dialogue recorded there. The author wants to interpret the appearance as a bright light (“the best I could come up with,” he says) and its communication as “empathy and telepathy,” nothing “so gross as speech.” Based on the writings in Luke, the author is creating a fiction that, though unconfirmed, could have happened. Many describe near death experiences as a comforting, blinding, white light. So, here, the author is using his imagination within the context of an angel visiting Mary.
What is more believable in his telling of the story are the extensive thought processes that Mary must surely have engaged in during the days and months following the angel’s announcement that she had been chosen to bear the Son of God as He comes to Earth in human form. The Bible doesn’t give details of all of her thoughts and feelings, but it does record her song of praise often called The Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55). Luke also shows us that her response is meditative.
There were shepherds who had an angelic visitation. After that they came to worship the baby Jesus, explaining how they found the little family in Bethlehem filled with visitors paying their taxes. “Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). Using common sense and based on Biblical evidence that Mary was a reflective person, the inner dialogue the author creates is believable, even if you don’t agree with all the fictional details.
There are some larger issues with this novel, however, that bother me. Mary says “No one had ever prophesied that the Messiah would never die.” This statement skirts the issue that there were many Old Testament prophecies which predict the Messiah would be resurrected to reign in His eternal kingdom. Her statement feels like a deliberate distraction in the text. Author Mitchell is clear that Mary would know the Jewish teachings. Therefore, she would have been aware of the many prophesies that Jesus would be resurrected and sit on the right hand of God the Father (Psalm 110:1). Psalm 49:15 says “But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave, for He shall receive me.” Interpretations are acceptable, but contradictions are not.
The format of the book is interesting. The author states “my only agenda was to inhabit the characters.” He tries to put himself into an ancient time and experience it as each of the characters in the Nativity story might have. As he looks at the role each person or animal had in this pivotal moment, the author makes the decision to tell the story in the third person for the people and first person for the animals. He separates the chapters with an “Interlude” which is his opportunity to reveal his thoughts as an author and provide some background information. This format (which he explains in an Interlude is based on “the glorified sestet of an Italian sonnet) is a good choice for this book. Unfortunately, the author deviates in the second part of Mary’s story and interrupts the tale as he inserts his “authorial I” into her story rather than waiting for the Interlude. This happens again in Joseph’s story. In general I found Joseph’s tale more convincingly told. Oddly though, Mary and Joseph were approached in the book by angels who were totally different in appearance with Joseph’s angel not even culturally appropriate to the time period.
The section of The First Christmas that tells of the visit of the wise men is an elaborate fictional tale of two Jewish scholars who travel to the East studying Buddhism and other mystic philosophies that concentrate on meditation and finding the god within. It deviates from Scripture in many ways, most notably in the visions of the future of Jesus and his family that the men have as they sit with Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus. (In the book, they visit the family in the stable whereas most Christians believe this visit occurred somewhat later as the Bible says the wise men or magi went to a house.) If you believe that Jesus is the Son of God and He was with God from before the creation of the world, as set forth in John 1:1-3, then much of this chapter is disturbing. They envision a confused young man, estranged from His family, and perhaps mentally deranged. A reading of any one of the four gospels shows anything but what they see for His future. He was fully man and fully God. Their supposed vision is not in character. They even shortcut and omit important parts of His death, fantasize his burial in a mass grave, and totally neglect His resurrection.
The last major section focuses on the donkey and is my favorite. The donkey tell the Nativity story from his perspective. Recalling ancient donkey traditions, he retells the Biblical story of Balaam’s donkey who could both see angels and could talk. He points out the good qualities of donkeys—intelligence, honesty, service, dignity, and trustworthiness.
I have an admiration for the author as a multi-lingual translator, well-versed in many Eastern religions and philosophies. He possesses a great imagination and makes connections from various works of literature. I hope that he will return to the Bible to connect with Jesus in a personal relationship. I don’t regret reading The First Christmas as an intellectual exercise, but I don’t recommend it as an Advent activity or as a pleasure read.
I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to St. Martin’s Press for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Religion & Spirituality, General Fiction (Adult)
Publication: November 9, 2021—St. Martin’s Press
[From the chapter Yosef (Joseph)] Where was the Lord now? Not here, not amid this swirling chaos. But if the Lord was not with him, it was his own fault. He knew that. God had not left him; he had left God. It could be no other way.
[From the chapter Yosef—speaking of Maryam (Mary)] She was graced with a quality he had been striving for all his life, ever since he had realized what his purpose, what the purpose of every Jew, was: to love God with all his heart and to fulfill His commandments as impeccably and with as much joy as he could summon.
[From the chapter The Donkey] …throughout the day angels from every order of the hierarchy descending to take a peek at the new little visitor. They don’t knock or announce themselves; they just fly in through the roof or the walls, without so much as a by-your-leave, and nobody greets or even notices them. When they see me, though, they nod to acknowledge my presence and to let me know that they know I know.