Pandemic Reading: Free Literature Online

If you’re like me, all that “down time” you anticipated when quarantine began has quickly filled up with house and yard projects and cooking the sort of meals one doesn’t have time to prepare when running kids around to activities. But in case you–and your kids–are looking for books online, Audible is offering a selection of free audiobooks in multiple languages for elementary kids, tweens, and teens, as well as a limited selection of classics: https://stories.audible.com/discovery. Some of the tween and teen books have adult appeal as well, like Jane Eyre and several titles by C.S. Lewis.

In addition, Revelation Media released an animated “Pilgrim’s Progress” last year that is worth watching. It is available free for streaming until April 30: https://www.revelationmedia.com/watchpilgrims/CTWP1/. I recommend it for upper elementary/middle schoolers and up.

I’m reading Pride and Prejudice with my thirteen-year-old, and all three of us are reading True Grit as a family. Here’s something to contemplate while wrapping my saplings in deer-proof fencing: What do Elizabeth Bennet and Mattie Ross have in common?

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The Lowenskold Ring, by Selma Lagerlof*

Several years ago our family enjoyed the beautifully animated series “Ronja the Robber’s Daughter.” Upon investigating its sources I discovered it was based on a book by the same name written by Astrid Lindgren, Swedish author of Pippi Longstockings. I had read one or two of the Pippi books as a child and found them a bit disorienting. Having read mostly straight fantasy or realistic fiction, I didn’t know how to receive the intrepid Pippi with her impossible personal history. Continue reading

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The Grand Sophy, by Georgette Heyer

A local author introduced to the term Regency romance a few years ago. A genre dedicated to historical novels set during nine years of British history (1811-1820) intrigued me, but not enough to impel me to seek out examples. Until last month, when I ran across a reference to Georgette Heyer (1902-1974), the originator of the genre, respected for her meticulous historical research and accurate depictions of the era. Continue reading

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The Light Between Oceans, by M.L. Stedman

The Light Between Oceans came to my notice shortly after its publication in 2012, but the emotional complexities resonated a bit too strongly at the time. I returned to the book recently and found it a compelling and thought-provoking story of innocent love, fall from grace, and redemption.

Tom, a lighthouse keeper, embodies aspects of both fallen humanity and a redemptive Christ-figure. The early days of his marriage are painted in idyllic terms–ardent, young love on a picturesque, if isolated, lighthouse island off the coast of Australia.

*Spoiler alert: The remainder of this review reveals plot developments and outcomes.

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Recent Reads

It has been quite some time since I was at leisure to post a thorough book review. But as I recently shared book recommendations with a couple of friends, it seemed worthwhile post these brief observations for a wider audience.

Salt to the Sea, by Ruta Sepetys

I recently determined to read more contemporary historical fiction, as I am working in the genre myself. I thank Jane Kirkpatrick, a notable historical novelist from Oregon, for recommending Ruta Sepetys’s books.

Salt to the Sea is a multiple-point-of-view novel culminating in the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff in the Baltic Sea in January 1945, the deadliest maritime disaster in history. The POV characters represent Prussia, Germany, Lithuania, and Poland. Sepetys herself is Lithuanian-American.

Although the subject matter is grim, the characters are well drawn and (aside from those who aren’t supposed to be) sympathetic. I found the “shoe poet,” an elderly cobbler with a penchant for philosophizing, particularly appealing. While tragedy is unavoidable, the author doesn’t leave us crushed by it, and magnanimity and nobility of character are, if not precisely rewarded, celebrated. Sepetys’s other work is high on my to-read list. The Fountains of Silence is her most recent.

Jade Dragon Mountain, by Elsa Hart

JADE DRAGON MOUNTAIN (Li Du Novels)

This work of 18th-century historical fiction represents a comfortably familiar detective story–complete with a mysterious murder, a proliferation of suspects, and satisfying execution of justice–in an unfamiliar setting. In a culture that is far removed in time and, for most of her readers, place, Hart succeeds in crafting an array of sympathetic characters. The storyteller-sidekick Hamza is a particular gem. And how could you go wrong with a detective who is a librarian? (Of the Chinese imperial court … exiled and wandering in Tibet … the plot thickens.) Upon completing this initial volume, Brian and I proceeded directly to the second and have now embarked on the third.

Daddy Long-Legs and Dear Enemy, by Jean Webster

Daddy-Long-Legs and Dear Enemy (Penguin Classics)

My daughter and I just read Dear Enemy and re-read Daddy Long-Legs for our mother-daughter book club. I actually enjoyed the sequel more than Daddy Long-Legs, though preference for one book over the other was pretty well equally divided in our group. Both books are epistolary novels, in which the narrative is delivered in the form of letters. As almost half of my historical novel is composed of letters, I can attest to the challenge of preventing such a work from devolving into a dry recitation of facts and events. But the distinctive voices and witty turns of phrase employed by Webster’s letter writers  prevent any such literary catastrophe.

Daddy Long-Legs was published in 1912, four years after Anne of Green Gables, and our group observed a number of similarities in theme, style, and content. For starters, both Anne and Judy are orphans. In Dear Enemy, Sallie, a college friend of Judy’s, reluctantly accepts the post of superintendent of the orphanage in which Judy grew up. Much of the book’s appeal for me lay in Sallie’s stories of the children’s antics and the institutional reforms she undertook. Also of interest are the differences and trends in public care of minors over the past hundred years. I don’t know how many of Webster’s views were already espoused by policy makers of her time, but some of the ideas generated by Sallie are now standard practice in the foster care system.

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Forty Women and Me: Musings on Loss and The Wonder Years, edited by Leslie Leyland Fields  

In this season in which I and my home are being inundated with belongings, it is loss that I feel most keenly: the house that was my husband’s childhood home and mother-in-law’s abode for 55+ years; family history in the form of heirlooms, papers, books, and embroidered linens; and the woman who has been slowly slipping away from us for the past three years.

Me

In the shuffle of moving, bringing home, and sending away, countless things have been lost, overlooked, or misplaced. Keys, library books, homework, Benjamins, memories (literally), sick chickens, broken mirrors, spilled milk, burnt rice, “the Alaska Letters,” and the book Leslie Leyland Fields gave me to review just before this whirlwind of relocation descended upon us. Continue reading

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Sub-Text in the Sub-Floor

A host of concerns other than blogging have required my attention for the last couple of years: two trips to India; a mother-in-law in residence for eight months; hosting author lunches (at my former bookshop) and foster kids (in our home), not to mention the ordinary responsibilities of running a household; incremental progress on my historical novel; and, now, a return to manuscript editing. (For more on that and for contact information, click on the About tab above.)

I hope, eventually, to return to making occasional posts here. In the meantime, Story Warren has posted my latest review, a look at a delightful children’s picture book by Phoebe Gilman, Something from Nothing. I discovered Story Warren last year after our family read The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic, by Jennifer Trafton, a frequent contributor to the site. (We’re indebted to our young friends in Texas who recommended Jennifer’s book to us.) As an often-too-serious parent, I especially love what Jennifer has to say about “holy silliness” in this Story Warren interview: “Let there Be Play”

Story Warren is a fantastic resource and stimulus for creativity in kids and adults alike. To read my review, click here: “Sub-Text in the Sub-Floor”

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