Category Archives: Favorite authors

Changes at Fairacre

Times are changing in the charming village of Fairacre…

In this time of changes in my life, I find great comfort in reading the books in the Fairacre series, by Miss Read (the pseudonym of British author, Dora Saint). Changes at Fairacre is the 18th book in the series, so I am getting close to the end of my time in Fairacre. I’ve been reading them slowly, savoring them, not wanting them to end. Since I only have two books left in the Fairacre series, I am grateful that Dora Saint wrote another series to follow — that takes place in a neighboring village called Thrush Green. So it will be awhile before I have to say goodbye to these gentle, delightful stories.

I think Changes at Fairacre is one of my favorites in the series so far. It was a tenderhearted story, with all the changes that were happening in the village and in the life of the main character. Time moves on in these books, and this main character, the village school teacher, faces new challenges and some losses that touched my heart. The seasons and each school year come and go. The children grow and change. Life goes on as the village faces all the problems of modernization. Changes.

From the Publisher:

Times are changing in the charming downland village of Fairacre, and Miss Read isn’t certain that it’s all for the best. The new commuter lifestyle has caused a drop in attendance at the local school, and officials are threatening closure. Miss Read worries about the failing health of Dolly Clare. Vegetable gardens have given way to trips to the Caxley markets, and the traditional village fete now includes a prize for best quiche. With her trademark patience and good humor, Miss Read hopes for the best and plans for the worst as the village grows increasingly modern. Despite all the innovations, Fairacre still retains its essential elements: gentle wit, good manners, and the comfort of caring neighbors.

A few of my favorite passages from the book:

“Everything was quiet. I leant out of the bedroom window and smelt the cool fragrance of a summer’s night. Far away, across Hundred Acre field, an owl hooted. Below me, in the flowerbed, a small nocturnal animal rustled leaves in its search for food. A great feeling of peace crept over me. The tranquillity of Dolly’s old abode and my new one enveloped me. I knew then that I had come home at last.”

“My bedtime reading at the moment was Virginia Woolf’s essay about my favourite clergyman, eighteenth century Parson Woodforde. I had come across her remarks on the entry: ‘Found the old gentleman at his last gasp. Totally senseless with rattlings in the Throat. Dinner today boiled beef and Rabbit rosted.’ ‘All is as it should be; life is like that,’ she comments.”

“There may be many changes in Fairacre, I thought, but the seasons come round in their appointed time, steadfast and heartening to us all.”

Painting by Robert John Hammond…

April Activities

Is it only April 7th today? It seems like April has already been a month long! How much Life can be packed into seven days, anyway? Well, I have to answer my own question with: A LOT!

April Activities thus far:

I have finished two books already in April. I read Round the Bend, by Nevil Shute, for my Classics Club Spin book. I will be reviewing it soon. Then, I listened to the audiobook version of When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi. It’s a beautifully written memoir of a young neurosurgeon’s battle with lung cancer. It made the waiting room time go much faster.

 

Our daughter came to spend time with us, which is always a delightful time for us. Once again, she helped out with our yard work and gardening, something she loves to do and which we appreciate so deeply.

Our daughter starting the spring clean-up the butterfly garden…

Byron underwent his second chemotherapy infusion, and in these first few days of April, has completely lost his hair. He is tolerating these chemo treatments every three weeks pretty well, with fatigue (and hair loss!) being the main side effects so far. During the times that he is feeling deep fatigue, we have been watching (and really enjoying) a YouTube channel called 4kSeoul. A very talented young man films his walks through the beautiful city of Seoul, South Korea. There is no narration, just sounds of the city surrounding you (especially if you put on your headphones to listen). Byron loves to see the architecture of the city as we walk through different neighborhoods. I am fascinated by the people we see, the energy of that city, and the historical structures we come across on these walks. It’s a fun way to experience a different place and a different culture.

On a walk in Namsan Park, in Seoul, South Korea…

So, hello to April! Life is full and busy for us right now, albeit in some ways we didn’t anticipate, and we are enjoying and appreciating the beauty of early Spring.  I hope you are enjoying your April, too!

Classics Club Spin # 29

It’s time again for a Classics Club Spin! (Click here to see how a “SPIN” works.)  I missed the announcement of this new Spin, so I didn’t make a list of 20 books from my current Classics Club list. However, I want to participate, and so when I realized that a number (#11) had already been chosen (too late to put together a list), I looked at my list for my TBR Pile Challenge, and found that #11 on that list is also on my Classics Club list. Perfect!  So for Classics Club Spin #29, I will be reading Round the Bend, by Nevil Shute! And I’m looking forward to it!

A Little Princess

Illustration by Jesse Willcox Smith…

A Little Princess, by Frances Hodgson Burnett, was one of my favorite books read this year. It had been so many years since I last read it that I’d almost forgotten what a treasure it is. I think I loved the story even more this time around.

From the publisher:

Sara Crewe, an exceptionally intelligent and imaginative student at Miss Minchin’s Select Seminary for Young Ladies, is devastated when her adored, indulgent father dies. Now penniless and banished to a room in the attic, Sara is demeaned, abused, and forced to work as a servant. How this resourceful girl’s fortunes change again is at the center of A Little Princess, one of the best-loved stories in all of children’s literature.

Some of my favorite quotes from the book:

“It’s true,” she said. “Sometimes I do pretend I am a princess. I pretend I am a princess, so that I can try and behave like one.”

“She says it has nothing to do with what you look like, or what you have. It has only to do with what you think of, and what you do.”

“Perhaps kind thoughts reach people somehow, even through windows and doors and walls. Perhaps you feel a little warm and comforted, and don’t know why, when I am standing here in the cold and hoping you will get well and happy again.”

“If Nature has made you for a giver, your hands are born open, and so is your heart; and, though there may be times when your hands are empty, your heart is always full, and you can give things out of that — warm things, kind things, sweet things — help and comfort and laughter — and sometimes gay, kind laughter is the best help of all.”

This is a story of resilience in adversity, and of choosing to be positive and hopeful even under the worst conditions. It is about kindness and compassion and love. What better story to read during the holiday season?

 

The Land of the Blue Flower

More wise words from Frances Hodgson Burnett, the author of The Secret Garden.  A lovely thought from her short book called The Land of the Blue Flower:

“The earth is full of magic…Most men know nothing of it and so comes misery. The first law of the earth’s magic is this one. If you fill your mind with a beautiful thought there will be no room in it for an ugly one.”

My Robin

I am quite captivated by the works of Frances Hodgson Burnett since reading Unearthing The Secret Garden, by Marta McDowell. Included in that book is a short memoir — the story of the little English robin that inspired the robin in The Secret Garden. My Robin is a lovely book to read on a gray and rainy afternoon.

I did not own the robin—he owned me—or perhaps we owned each other. He was an English robin and he was a PERSON—not a mere bird. An English robin differs greatly from the American one. He is much smaller and quite differently shaped. His body is daintily round and plump, his legs are delicately slender. He is a graceful little patrician with an astonishing allurement of bearing. His eye is large and dark and dewy; he wears a tight little red satin waistcoat on his full round breast and every tilt of his head, every flirt of his wing is instinct with dramatic significance. He is fascinatingly conceited—he burns with curiosity—he is determined to engage in social relations at almost any cost and his raging jealousy of attention paid to less worthy objects than himself drives him at times to efforts to charm and distract which are irresistible. An intimacy with a robin—an English robin—is a liberal education.

This story is also available in book form, as an e-book, and as a short audiobook through Audible. It’s a sweet little read, especially for those of us who loved The Secret Gatden.

Illustration by Inga Moore, from The Secret Garden

Unearthing The Secret Garden


If you love gardens and are interested in the lives of authors, Marta McDowell writes books for you to love. My sister-in-law recently sent me a lovely gift — a copy of Marta McDowell’s new book, Unearthing the Secret Garden: The Plants and Places that Inspired Frances Hodgson Burnett.

Frances Hodgson Burnett is one of my favorite authors. She wrote The Secret Garden and A Little Princess, two of my all time favorite books. She was also an avid gardener, and created three special gardens over her lifetime — one in England, one in the United States, and one in Bermuda. This book goes into great detail about each of those gardens and about the life of FHB herself.

What an interesting character was FHB! She was not at all what I expected, but I enjoyed getting to know so much about her personality and her life. The book was also filled with wonderful photos and illustrations. Two of the photos that I thought were quite lovely are below. The one on the left shows her sitting in her garden at Maytham Hall. I thought the photo was like a lovely impressionistic painting and had to look closely to see her. The photo on the right is of her writing desk, and I love to see photos of the desks and spaces that writers use to create their wonderful works!

Her love of gardens and her writing were deeply intertwined.

It was a lovesome, mystic place, shut in partly by old red brick walls against which fruit trees were trained and partly by a laurel hedge with a wood behind it. It was my habit to sit and write there under an aged writhen tree  gray with lichen and festooned with roses.

~ From My Robin (1912), describing the rose garden at Maytham Hall..

Marta McDowell divided the book into four sections: before The Secret Garden, inside The Secret Garden, after The Secret Garden, and outside The Secret Garden. At the end of Part Three, she wrote:

Frances Hodgson Burnett gardened as she lived — large — and became the unlikely inspiration for generations of gardeners through The Secret Garden. She unlocked a door that beckons. If you ask a gardener if they have a book — in particular a childhood book — that led them into gardening, many of them would name The Secret Garden. Frances would be pleased.

And for those of us who garden and grab ideas for our gardens from everywhere, there is an extensive table in the book that lists the flowers, fruits, and trees FHB planted in each of her gardens. Finally, I have to rave about Marta McDowell, not just because of this table, but because of all the amazing detail she put into this book! She is a wonderful researcher!

November Reading, 2021

November has been a busy reading month for me. Here are the books I finished this month:

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And here are the books I’ve been reading in November that are taking longer to finish:

Summer at Fairacre

Chalgrove, England: watercolor by Ian Ramsay

The author, Dora Saint, whose pseudonym is Miss Read, wrote two delightful series about life in an English Village as described through the eyes of the village school teacher. The first series is the Fairacre series, the second is the Thrush Green series. As a personal project, I have slowly been reading my way through the Fairacre series, and enjoying each volume and growing to love the myriad of characters that live in the village. I’m looking forward to moving on to Thrush Green soon!

Summer at Fairacre starts with the first day of spring and ends at the beginning of autumn. It is an ode to the loveliness of the village during the warmth and beauty throughout the summer months. First, there’s the anticipation of the warmer months and the freedom that arrives with them. Then, there’s the changing of the season, the storms, the gardens, the birds, the quiet moments of just sitting and enjoying the warmth of the sun. And interwoven with all of this was the school, the children, and the schoolmistress, with all the complications and joys of daily life.

The golden weather continued. For week after week the sun had gilded all with glory, and it came as quite a shock to realise that July was upon us, and still the sun shone. Soon it would be end of term, with all that that involved for a schoolmistress…

The only major drama in this story concerns the cantankerous Mrs. Pringle, the school cleaner. She’s so difficult to get along with, but keeps the school sparkling clean. Unfortunately, she gets offended easily, and this time decides to quit her job, out of spite, it seems.  But more unfortunately, finding a permanent replacement for her proves to be almost impossible.

We all know that summer goes by too quickly, and that was the feeling in Summer at Fairacre. While living their everyday lives, the people of Fairacre celebrated the season and appreciated each other, even when that was difficult to do.

It grieved me to think of the waning of this most glorious of all summers, its joys and its splendours. Well, we had celebrated it, every one of us, and must face the inevitable, I supposed.

This was a gentle and humorous read. If you need a break from the stress and hustle of the holiday season, and perhaps are missing the warmth of summer, I recommend this book and series as a healing antidote.

The Hobbit

The Hobbit, read by Andi Serkis

The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien, is a book I’ve read so many times I’ve lost track of the number. But every time I reread it, I find something new to enjoy about it. This time, I listened to the new audiobook version narrated by Andi Serkis. What an incredible talent he has for voices, dialects, and everything it takes to bring such a story to life!  Just in case you don’t know, Andi Serkis was the voice actor and motion capture actor for the animated character of Gollum in the movie version of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. And he did an awesome job of narrating The Hobbit!

from the publisher:

Bilbo Baggins is a hobbit who enjoys a comfortable, unambitious life, rarely traveling any farther than his pantry or cellar. But his contentment is disturbed when the wizard Gandalf and a company of dwarves arrive on his doorstep one day to whisk him away on an adventure. They have launched a plot to raid the treasure hoard guarded by Smaug the Magnificent, a large and very dangerous dragon. Bilbo reluctantly joins their quest, unaware that on his journey to the Lonely Mountain he will encounter both a magic ring and a frightening creature known as Gollum.   Written for J.R.R. Tolkien’s own children, The Hobbit has sold many millions of copies worldwide and established itself as a modern classic.

If you are looking for a delightful audiobook for the whole family to listen to during the holidays, look no further! This is just a delightful entertainment for all.

Smaug, illustration by J.R.R. Tolkien

Garden Snapshot: Fall Hydrangeas

I love what happens to my hydrangeas in the Fall! This part of that “long cycle” is so beautiful, and I know that Spring will bring the return of these lovely flowers.

…the flowers ring their changes through a long cycle, a cycle that will be renewed. That is what the gardener often forgets. To the flowers we never have to say good-by forever. We grow older every year, but not the garden; it is reborn every spring.

~ May Sarton, Plant Dreaming Deep