Category Archives: Favorite authors

Death Comes for the Archbishop

“During those last weeks of the Bishop’s life he thought very little about death; it was the Past he was leaving. The future would take care of itself.”

Death Comes for the Archbishop is my favorite book written by Willa Cather so rereading it for my Classics Club challenge was a pleasure. It’s such a beautifully written book. It is an historical fiction, based on the life of Jean-Baptiste Lamy, who served as the first Archbishop of Santa Fe, New Mexico, and of his friend, Joseph Projectus Machebeuf.

From the publisher:

There is something epic–and almost mythic–about this sparsely beautiful novel by Willa Cather, although the story it tells is that of a single human life, lived simply in the silence of the desert. In 1851 Father Jean Marie Latour comes as the Apostolic Vicar to New Mexico. What he finds is a vast territory of red hills and tortuous arroyos, American by law but Mexican and Indian in custom and belief. In the almost forty years that follow, Latour spreads his faith in the only way he knows–gently, although he must contend with an unforgiving landscape, derelict and sometimes openly rebellious priests, and his own loneliness. Out of these events Cather gives us an indelible vision of life unfolding in a place where time itself seems suspended.

The character of Father Latour was of a gentle, caring, intelligent and introverted man. This man’s personality was in stark contrast with the rugged western landscapes and the “wildness” of the west at that time, but he showed courage, perseverance, and kindness toward all through the experiences of his life.

But Jean, who was at ease in any society and always the flower of courtesy, could not form new ties. It had always been so. He was like a very few. To man’s wisdom it would have seemed that a priest with Father Latour’s exceptional qualities would have been better placed in some part of the world where scholarship, a handsome person, and delicate perceptions all have their effect; and that a man of much rougher type would have served God well enough as the first Bishop of New Mexico. Doubtless Bishop Latour’s successors would be men of a different fibre. But God had his reasons, Father Joseph devoutly believed. Perhaps it pleased Him to grace the beginning of a new era and a vast new diocese by a fine personality. And perhaps, after all, something would remain through the years to come: some ideal, or memory, or legend.

The stories of the Archbishop’s interactions with the Mexican and Indian peoples and their cultures were poignantly and honestly told. The political problems of both cultures with the American government were complex, but reflecting towards the end of his life, the Bishop said, “My son, I have lived to see two great wrongs righted; I have seen the end of black slavery, and I have seen the Navajos restored to their own country.”

Cather’s  descriptions of New Mexico are exquisite. She uses her words as if a painter and the visions she creates in our minds are full of color and emotion.

“The sky was as full of motion and change as the desert beneath it was monotonous and still, — and there was so much sky, more than at sea, more than anywhere else in the world. The plain was there, under one’s feet, but what one saw when one looked about was that brilliant blue world of stinging air and moving cloud. Even the mountains were mere ant-hills under it. Elsewhere the sky is the roof of the world; but here the earth was the floor of the sky. The landscape one longed for when one was away, the thing all about one, the world one actually lived in, was the sky, the sky!”

I do love this work of art and the artistry of Willa Cather. Reading this book fills me with sunshine and deep emotion. I am in awe of her mastery of language.

“Something soft and wild and free, something that whispered to the ear on the pillow, lightened the heart, softly, softly picked the lock, slid the bolts, and released the prisoned spirit of man into the wind, into the blue and gold, into the morning, into the morning!”

I read this book as one of my 50-books-in-5-years for The Classics Club. It was also a book on my list for my personal reading journey, “May Sunshine Light Your Day.”

 

 

No Holly for Miss Quinn

No Holly for Miss Quinn, is the 12th book in the Fairacre series by Miss Read. There are a number of books in the series that celebrate Christmastime in the wonderfully imagined village of Fairacre. They have all become favorite holiday reads for me.

from the publisher:

Nobody in Fairacre knows much about Miss Quinn, which is a rare state of affairs and much regretted by the villagers. Apart from the fact that she lives in the annex to Mrs. Benson’s house and that she works in Caxley, her past history and the amount of her salary remains a tantalizing mystery.

In fact, Miss Quinn is a highly efficient secretary to a Caxley businessman. She runs him, and her own affairs, with terrifying competence. She is completely unsentimental and plans to spend her Christmas exactly as she wants, without fuss or family.

But before the great day, her brother rings to say his wife has been rushed to the hospital, and could she come and cope with the children? Secretly dismayed, Miss Quinn sets out to do her duty.

Miss Quinn’s Christmas becomes so much more than “doing her duty.” It’s really a lovely story about family, growth and change. I love Miss Quinn’s independence and strength, and her love of solitude. But I also loved that she experienced the magic of Christmas with her nieces and nephew, and came to know and appreciate her beloved brother and his wife in a whole new way.

A wonderful holiday story that can easily be read each Christmastime.

Reading Miss Read

In the last few years, I have fallen in love with the Fairacre series, by Miss Read (the pseudonym for English author, Dora Saint). Fairacre is an imagined English village, and the stories about the life and people in this village as told by the village school teacher are absolutely delightful. Not everything is idyllic in the village, but nonetheless, I would love to live there, and I thoroughly enjoy my time spent there when I’m reading one of the books in the series. When I finish reading the Fairacre series, I will most happily move on to her Thrush Green series. Thrush Green is another village full of more delightful stories.

This is an ongoing personal reading challenge…one of my “Reading Journeys.”  I haven’t been reviewing each of the books I’ve read in the series, but this post is where I will keep track of the ones I read and link to the ones I review.

The Fairacre series:

  1. Village School – 1955
  2. Village Diary – 1957
  3. Storm in the Village – 1958
  4. Miss Clare Remembers – 1962
  5. Over the Gate – 1964
  6. Village Christmas – 1966
  7. Fairacre Festival – 1968
  8. Emily Davis – 1971
  9. Tyler’s Row – 1972
  10. Christmas Mouse – 1973
  11. Farther Afield – 1974
  12. No Holly for Miss Quinn – 1976
  13. Village Affairs – 1977
  14. The White Robin – 1979
  15. Village Centenary – 1980
  16. Summer at Fairacre – 1984
  17. Mrs. Pringle – 1989
  18. Changes at Fairacre – 1991
  19. Farewell to Fairacre – 1993
  20. A Peaceful Retirement – 1996

The Thrush Green series:

  1. Thrush Green – 1959
  2. Winter in Thrush Green – 1961
  3. News from Thrush Green – 1970
  4. Battles at Thrush Green – 1975
  5. Return to Thrush Green – 1978
  6. Gossip from Thrush Green – 1981
  7. Affairs at Thrush Green – 1983
  8. At Home in Thrush Green – 1985
  9. School at Thrush Green – 1987
  10. Friends at Thrush Green – 1990
  11. Celebrations at Thrush Green – 1992
  12. Year at Thrush Green – 1995

The Caxley Chronicles:

  • The Caxley Chronicles Omnibus: The Market Square and The Howards of Caxley

Other Works by Miss Read:

  • Tiggy – 1971
  • Fresh from the Country – 1955
  • Mrs. Griffin Sends Her Love

 

Holiday Reading

As soon as November arrives, I start my holiday reading. I love this time of year filled with lots of family activities and fun. I enjoy hunkering down on cold and icy days with a good book and a cup of tea. And I love reading holiday stories, old and new.

I started this holiday season with a short book from Miss Read’s Fairacre series (Fairacre #10). The Christmas Mouse was delightful, as are all the Fairacre books!

from Kirkus Reviews:

‘Twas the night before. . . and all through the house (will there be a dry eye?) in which Mrs. Berry lives with her daughter Mary and Mary’s two little girls (Mary’s husband has just passed on suddenly) there is still a twitch of expectation. But not for the creature who appears in Mrs. Berry’s room — with tiny pink paws, and goodness only knows she hadn’t anticipated the bedraggled little boy who turns up just before the day itself with its happy crinkle of packages. . . . Oh dear how dear, but then Miss Read’s own audience won’t be catnapping.

This was a kind and gentle story, a reminder of the things in life that really matter — family, kindness, acceptance, and love. A little book definitely worth reading on a cold November evening!

 

I Worried

I confess that I’m a worrier. I really have to keep reminding myself to just “let it go,” that worrying doesn’t get you anywhere!  This poem, by Mary Oliver, is so perfect for those of us who waste precious energy in the worry loop!

I took her advice earlier this week (before the rains returned) and this was what greeted me when I took my old body and went out into the morning. It was so much better than worrying!

 

Katherine Mansfield

Today is Katherine Mansfield’s birthday. She was born on this day in 1888 in Wellington, New Zealand, and died very young, at age 34. She wrote wonderful short stories, but years ago I read the book, Journal of Katherine Mansfield, and enjoyed it every bit as much as her stories. As I read through her journal, I copied down many quotes into my notebook (that was before computers!), and this is one of my favorites:

“Grownupedness”

Four o’clock. Is it light now at Four o’clock? I jump out of bed and run over to the window. It is half-light, neither black nor blue. The wing of the coast is violet; in the lilac sky there are dark banners and little black boats manned by black shadows put out on the purple water.

Oh! how often I have watched this hour when I was a girl! But then — I stayed at the window until I grew cold — until I was icy — thrilled by something — I did not know what. Now I fly back into bed, pulling up the clothes, tucking them into my neck. And suddenly, my feet find the hot water bottle. Heavens! it is still beautifully warm. That really is thrilling.

Katherine Mansfield having tea at her work table, at the Villa Isola Bella at Menton, in the south of France. (Photograph by Ida Baker, 1920)

Death in the Castle

The Classics Club issued a DARE for the month of October. Choose one book from my list of classics to be read in five years, and dare myself to read it.

“Simply read a CLASSIC book from your #CClist that you classify as thrilling, a mystery, or Gothic. It could even be a book or author that SCARES you (because of it’s length, it’s topic, it’s reputation etc).”

This sounded like a lot of fun to me, and it was a perfect blend with my RIP XIII challenge, as well as my 2018 TBR Pile challenge! So I chose to read Death in the Castle, by Pearl S. Buck, for both the Classics Club Dare 2.0 and for the Readers Imbibing Peril XIII challenge.

The old castle is a thousand years old, and although it has been in the family for generations, SIr Richard Sedgeley and his wife, Lady Mary, can no longer afford to keep it. The National Trust will only agree to take it over if they can turn it into a prison–not an acceptable option for the aging Sir Richard. However, a young and wealthy American is interested in it and wants to buy it. But he also wants to move the castle, stone by stone, to Connecticut! What a difficult dilemma for the aging owners of the castle!

He let the reins lie slack as he went and his eyes roved over the mellow landscape of field and forest. The afternoon light lengthened the shadows and deepened the gold of the willows and the green of growing wheat. In the distance the castle stood against the sunset in all its stately beauty. It was his home, his inheritance, and how could he give it up?

Lady Mary has always believed in “others who had lived in the castle and until now she had accepted the possibility of the persistence of the dead beyond life.” Not ghosts, but the life forces of those ancestors who lived there before her. And Lady Mary is quite sure that the Others can show her where some treasure is hidden so that they will have the money to save the castle.

“There’s no such thing as death, not really,” Lady Mary said. “It’s just a change to something—I’ve told you—another level of whatever it is that we call life. It’s only a transfer of energy. Can you understand? Please try, Kate! It would mean so much to me.

This was a story that involved mystery, intrigue, suspense. A gothic-type mystery is not the usual subject matter for a book by Pearl Buck, but it was, as always with her books, well-written and enjoyable to read. The suspense definitely worked for me because I couldn’t stop reading until I found out what would happen to the castle and the different characters. A fun read!

RIP XIII: The Eyes of the Amaryllis

The Eyes of the Amaryllis, by Natalie Babbitt, is one of my favorite books. When I was teaching, I read it aloud to my sixth grade students, year after year, and never tired of Babbitt’s lyrical, descriptive, lovely writing. My Grandson started school last week, a 5/6 grader now, and it triggered memories for me of those special books I loved and read each year. It was definitely time to reread this one.

It is an unusual story. Eleven year old Geneva (Jenny) Reade, went to help her grandmother, also named Geneva, who lived beside the ocean. Gran had broken her foot and needed some extra help. Jenny was excited to see the ocean for the first time, but not very excited about having to cook or help her grandmother with those kinds of things. However, that’s not the kind of help Gran needed. With her broken foot, Gran could not walk the shoreline each day, searching. Jenny would have to search for her.

Jenny’s grandfather had been a sea captain on the ship, The Amaryllis, and while arriving home during a fierce storm, the ship sank and everyone aboard was lost. Sadly, it sank within sight of the shore, and both Geneva’s father and her grandmother watched helplessly from the bluff. The trauma of watching his father’s ship go down was too much for young George, and he soon left the oceanside and went to live with an aunt who lived inland. Gran stayed at their home at the ocean, waiting for anything to wash up from the wreck…waiting for “a sign from her darling.” Nothing ever washed up, but Gran kept vigil checking the shoreline after each turn of the tide…for over 30 years, but nothing ever washed ashore.

Geneva soon learned that her grandmother’s life centered around the sea, the tides, her undying love for the sea captain, and for her hope that he would somehow send her a sign.

Your grandfather and I—what we felt for each other doesn’t just stop. Remember what we talked about the first night you were here? There’s another world around us, Geneva, around us all the time, and here I can be closer to it.

There is another important character in this book, called Seward, who calls himself the “guardian of the sea.”  His job is to walk the shoreline and make sure that nothing the sea values is taken, and if something of value is found, it must be returned to the sea.

Gran explained to Jenny that Seward was once a sensitive artist/sculptor who threw himself into the sea after being rejected by a woman he loved. His body was never found, but he returned mysteriously and walks the shoreline each day. No one but Gran has seen him. His story is fantastical, and Geneva can hardly believe it…except that she, too, has seen him.

“He really saw the ship on the bottom,” she said. “Yes,” said Gran. “Sailing. Keeping watch. The sea bottom was covered with treasure, he told me, and there were lots of wrecked ships, too, great ruined hulls, lying down there forsaken, full of holes and rotting away. But the Amaryllis, and all the ships with figureheads, are kept whole and clean, he said, to sail on the bottom and guard the treasure.”

It is the figurehead from The Amaryllis that finally washes ashore. And then the story gets really interesting.

I won’t tell you more. You’ll have to read it to find out what happens. But I will say that it was wonderful to share this story with my students! You wouldn’t think that sixth graders would necessarily want to sit through a story about undying love, but they listened with rapt attention to this one. It captured all our imaginations and our hearts!

This was my third book read for the Readers Imbibing Peril XIII.

RIP XIII: The Silkworm

The Silkworm, by Robert Gailbraith, (a pseudonym for J.K. Rowling) is the second in the Cormoran Strike series of mysteries. Gailbraith’s mysteries are riveting and powerful. Cormoran Strike is a private detective and a war veteran who was severely wounded during his service. He and his assistant, Robin Ellacott, take on difficult and brutal cases. The solving of these crimes is fascinating, as is the growing, changing, relationship between those two main characters.

Summary from Robert-galbraith.com:

The Silkworm – It takes a unique mind to solve a unique crime.

A compulsively readable crime novel with twists at every turn, The Silkworm is the second in the highly acclaimed series featuring Cormoran Strike and his determined young assistant Robin Ellacott.

When novelist Owen Quine goes missing, his wife calls in private detective Cormoran Strike. At first, she just thinks he has gone off by himself for a few days – as he has done before – and she wants Strike to find him and bring him home.

But as Strike investigates, it becomes clear that there is more to Quine’s disappearance than his wife realises. The novelist has just completed a manuscript featuring poisonous pen-portraits of almost everyone he knows. If the novel were published it would ruin lives – so there are a lot of people who might want to silence him.

And when Quine is found brutally murdered in bizarre circumstances, it becomes a race against time to understand the motivation of a ruthless killer, a killer unlike any he has encountered before…

My responses to the book: I didn’t listen to this audiobook straight through. When I first started it a few months ago, it seemed a little too gruesome and dark, and that wasn’t what I wanted to be reading at that time. So I set it aside for a while and then decided to go ahead and listen to it for RIP-XIII.  This time, I found it impossible to stop listening to it!  The plot was complicated and compelling, and the narration by Robert Glenister was excellent.

J.K. Rowling is an amazing and versatile writer, and I am now completely hooked on this series.


This was my second book read for Readers Imbibing Peril, XIII.