Monthly Archives: January 2009

The Twice Born and Seer of Egypt, by Pauline Gedge

twicebornWhen I read a historical novel set in medieval England, I feel like I’m on at least moderately familiar ground, as I’ve read so much set in that era.  I’m even beginning, due to last summer’s reading binge (and HBO) to feel a little at home in ancient Rome.  But there’s a special kind of pleasure in reading a historical novel set in a place and time I don’t know well.  Pauline Gedge’s books about ancient Egypt (this is the second series of hers I’ve read) fall into this category.

It’s definitely more work, to try to enter imaginatively into a country and an era that are so alien to me, but Gedge paves the way beautifully, creating a vivid and realistic Egypt.  Her descriptions are good and her research is obviously exhaustive — yet doesn’t intrude too much on the narrative. These two books, the first two of a trilogy, tell the story of Huy son of Hapu, born a peasant, who rises to become the titular “Seer of Egypt.”  Huy is a believably complex character, as are his family, friends and associates, and I was intrigued by his story and interested in its outcome from the very beginning.

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Filed under Canadian author, Fiction -- historical

Finding God in Unexpected Places, by Philip Yancey

findinggodChristian author Philip Yancey has given me a lot of encouragement over the years.  In one of his other books, Soul Survivor, he writes about 13 people, many of them writers, who salvaged his Christian faith when it might have hit the rocks.  If I were ever to make my own Soul Survivor list, Philip Yancey would be on it.  His compassionate, grace-filled, not-afraid-to-doubt view of evangelical Christianity has provided me with one of the anchors of my spiritual outlook.

Finding God in Unexpected Places is a collection of short pieces, grouped together by common themes, many of them inspired by places Philip Yancey has travelled or people he has met.  Some are funny, some touching, all thought-provoking.  The book was originally published in the 90s, but Yancey wrote several new chapters for this re-release, chapters which updated the book for the post-9/11 world.   Many of the original chapters, written after the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe, feel dated now — it’s hard to remember now the optimism with which we viewed the world after the Berlin Wall had fallen and apartheid was vanquished in South Africa.  But the inclusion of both the earlier and later chapters gives the book a broad perspective, and a valuable reminder that no matter what’s happening in the world around us, whether world affairs are hopeful or discouraging, God is still present.

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The Hatbox Letters, by Beth Powning

hatboxlettersThis was a book I hadn’t heard of until someone kindly gave me a copy for Christmas.  It’s a slow, quiet, and very rewarding novel about a woman in her early 50s whose husband has suddenly died of a heart attack.  Kate’s story picks up several months after Tom’s death, as she struggles to re-imagine her life as a widow after so many years of easy and comfortable partnership.

One of the things distracting Kate from her loneliness is a rekindled friendship with an old acquaintance, Gregory, who, along with his wife, knew Tom and Kate when they were both young couples but has since experienced the shattering loss of his son and the end of his marriage.  Kate’s relationship with the self-absorbed but genuinely suffering Gregory, her unlikely partner in grief, moves towards a truly unexpected conclusion, even as Kate moves through her own loss and discovers how difficult it is to rebuild a life.

The other, more satisfactory, distraction is the hatbox letters of the title — several boxes of old letters, diaries and documents saved from her grandparents’ house.  As Kate reads through these papers, she discovers another tragic story of love and loss — this one from the early 20th century, when diseases that have since been eradicated by routine vaccination regularly ended young lives.

While the story is not fast-paced, it is beautifully detailed, with painstaking descriptions that never get in the way of character and plot but only enhance the story.  I’m in awe of someone who notices such tiny details and uses them as effectively as Beth Powning does in this novel.  This is a lovely look at loss, grief, and the very slow path to recovery.

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Filed under Canadian author, Fiction -- general

Bringing Up Geeks, by Marybeth Hicks

bringing-up-geeks2I know it’s very early in the year to be guessing what books will make my Top Ten list this year. One of the wonderful things about being a Compulsive Overreader is that you never know what serendipitous treasures you may end up stumbling across in the bookstore or the library (or someone else’s house … hey, it happens). But Marybeth Hicks’ Bringing Up Geeks is a strong contender, because I freakin’ love this book and her parenting philosophy.

Now, I should point out that I have for a long time now described Jason’s and my parenting philosophy as “Geeks Raising Geeks,” so I may have been predisposed to love this book. I was certainly predisposed to grab it off the bookstore shelf when I first saw it. Our geekiness refers mainly to training our kids to love fantasy and sci-fi, which is not really what Marybeth Hicks is talking about, but it’s not unrelated. A true geek — for example, a hardcore Trekkie (we are softcore Trekkies) — is someone who is passionate about the things they love and doesn’t care at all about what other people think is “cool.” And that’s not too far off Hicks’ definition of what it means to be a geek parent raisin a geek kid, even if sci-fi isn’t your thing.

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The Sunne in Splendour, by Sharon Kay Penman

sunne1Although I enjoyed some works of young-adult historical fiction when I was a kid, The Sunne in Splendour is the first big, chunky, blockbuster of an adult historical novel that I picked up and read soon after leaving my college days behind.  I’ve reread it a few times in the intervening years, most recently over this Christmas break.  I have to say that for me, this novel, along with Margaret George’s The Autobiography of Henry VIII, sets the gold standard for historical fiction.  Everything else has to be weighed in the balances and, usually, found wanting.

The Sunne in Splendour is primarily the story of Richard III — a very Ricardian, very non-Shakespearean take on Richard III, which portrays him as a good though deeply troubled man, loyal to his brother Edward IV yet shaken and in the end destroyed by Edward’s mistakes.  But it’s not just Richard’s story — Penman uses the omniscient point of view skilfully, giving us the story from the perspective of Richard, Anne Neville, Edward, Edward’s wildly unpopular wife Elizabeth Woodville, and many other characters, while still keeping the story clearly focused on her main character.  That’s not easy to do, and she does it well.  As for using detail to create a sense of place and time — in this, as in her other novels, Penman does this so effortlessly that I suspect she’s actually discovered the secret of time travel and has really lived in medieval England.  There’s just no other explanation.

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Filed under Fiction -- historical, Old Favourites

Contest Complete!

The contest is complete and the winners have been chosen! Details are at http://trudymorgancole.wordpress.com/2009/01/08/winners/ . Thanks for playing, everyone, and I’ll be back with another contest next January!

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