[Review] Once Upon a Wardrobe by Patti Callahan

Publisher and Publication Date: Harper Muse. October 19, 2021.
Genre: Historical fiction.
Pages: 320.
Format: Hardcover.
Source: Self-purchase.
Audience: Readers of historical fiction with references to Christ Jesus, and with a big emphasis on C. S. Lewis.
Rating: Excellent.

Link for the book @ Harper Muse.

Link @ Amazon.

Link @ Barnes and Noble.

Website for Patti Callahan. Pinterest/ Facebook/ Instagram/ Twitter/ Goodreads author page.

Summary:

England. 1950.

Megs Devonshire is a physics student at Somerville College, Oxford University. She has one sibling, George Henry Devonshire. George is 8. He has a heart condition. Most of the time he is in his bed resting. His devoted parents tenderly care for him. Megs comes home on the weekends to spend time with George. George has been reading a book titled, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis.
George asks Megs where Narnia came from. Is it real? He asks her if she has seen, C. S Lewis, the man who wrote the book. Megs begins to investigate his questions by asking Mr. Lewis himself. She takes notes on their talks. When she visits George, she reveals Mr. Lewis’s story.

Once Upon a Wardrobe is a heart-warming and tender story about love. It is not a romantic love, but the love, devotion, compassion, commitment for a family member. It is love displayed in action.

Once Upon a Wardrobe is also a historical fiction/bio of C. S. Lewis’s life.

My Thoughts:

First, this is the last book I will review in 2021. I plan to take a break for the holidays and my upcoming knee surgery on the 28th. I will return sometime in January with more reviews!

I adore, Once Upon a Wardrobe! I didn’t cry while reading it, but my heart certainly melted under the tenderness and compassion and commitment Megs has for George. I love this story!

Reasons why I love this story:

1. The vivid descriptions, tone, and dialogue, which is often warm and intimate, drew me into the story and created a vivid story.

2. I love the memorable and quotable words.
For example:
“There is a difference between imagination and reason.” Page 28.
“…companionable silence….” Page 63.
“‘Whenever you are fed up with life, start writing: ink is the great cure for all human ills.'” Page 51. “Maybe…maybe Narnia also began when Mr. Lewis sat quietly and paid attention to his heart’s voice. Maybe we are each and every one of us born with our own stories, and we must decide how to tell those stories with our own life, or in a book.” Pages 259-260.

3. I love books written by C. S. Lewis. He is one of my favorite writers. I’ve read 4 of his books this year. Even in a historical fiction book that has C. S. Lewis as a character, I love it! I didn’t know until a closing chapter; his stepson wrote a closing chapter in the book. It is rare for a family member to endorse and include a chapter in a historical fiction book about their relative.

4. I’ve expressed in reviews recently how I’d love to read books with other types of love. This book is the answer. Romantic love is fine, but not always lasting. The love Megs has for her brother is lasting. It is real. It is memorable.

5. Once Upon a Wardrobe is a kind and uncomplicated story. It is a story ripe for this era of annoying viruses, inflation, busyness, and other pesky annoyances.

6. I’ve known, and know, other young children who have serious illnesses. They are often mature beyond their years. They pick up on things and have time to ponder those things those healthier children do not.
George is a perfect example and real character. The story centers on him. If he were not a part of the story it would fall flat. It would not be as memorable. George to me is like an angel. He is an important figure. He seems meek, slight, pale, translucent, yet there is power in his words. He has a message to bring. Lessons are learned through him. He is unforgettable.

7. A reference is made in the last part of the book and from C. S. Lewis about Jesus Christ. This book is not a Christian book perse, but it certainly has the behavior of one.

8. There is a romantic theme in the book, but it develops later. It is not a theme that takes over the primary focus.

Themes in the story: love, family, compassion, kindness, charity, honor, loyalty, wisdom, beauty, dreams, grief, hope, gratitude, and circle of life.

Once Upon a Wardrobe is a perfect book to read during the holidays and winter. It is literally an escape from this world.

Merry Christmas to all my readers and a most Happy and Gracious New Year!

[Review] The London House by Katherine Reay

Publisher and Publication Date: Harper Muse. November 2, 2021.
Genre: Historical fiction.
Pages: 368.
Format: E-book.
Source: I received a complimentary e-book from NetGalley. I am not required to write a positive review.
Audience: Historical fiction readers of World War II.
Rating: Excellent.

Link @ Harper Muse.

Link @ Amazon.

Link @ Barnes and Noble.

Link @ Book Depository.

Katherine Reay’s website/ Facebook/ Twitter/ Instagram/ Pinterest.

An excerpt audio.

Summary:

Chapter One begins in America with the modern time period.

Caroline is contacted by an old college friend who is writing a story about her family. Caroline and Mat meet to discuss his intentions about writing a story about her great aunt’s betrayal to family and country during World War II. Mat had already met with Caroline’s dad. Her dad is furious about the expose. Caroline decides to go to London and stay with her mother to discover for herself the real story of Aunt Caro.

Caroline is the modern time period’s heroine. She is named after her aunt Caroline, but Aunt Caroline is known through most of the book as Caro. Caro, a British citizen, had lived in Paris and worked in a couture dress shop in the late 1930s to 1941.

The story’s main time period is the modern time period and will reflect back to the 1930s and 1940s-especially during the readings of letters and journals.

My Thoughts:

I have several thoughts!

After I read a book, I read a few reviews over at Goodreads. I did not know Katherine Reay has written Christian fiction stories. The London House is the first book I’ve read by her. So, I have no other work of hers to compare to this one. I am not a fan of Christian fiction. I’ve read a few Christian fiction books over the years but do not consider myself knowledgeable about that genre.

It’s interesting that The London House and another book I’d finished the day before are both polar in writing style. The other book is a quick read type story. There is little building to events-just a jump right into the scene’s story. There are some detailed descriptions. The story has a bite as far as the over-all dark theme…review on that book will be later!

The London House is a thinking story-a mature story. It is mature in that the characters (all of them) have moments of clarity, recognition, conviction, forgiveness, reconciliation, and a peaceful resolution. Now, there is nothing in the book that is considered Christianese words, but those themes I listed are Christian in nature. I dislike a story that pastes Christianese words so that the book will be labeled as a Christian fiction book. I want to yawn while typing that comment. I want to yawn because it does not help a story by pasting words without development of action or behavior in the characters. And the behavior of characters will be remembered longer than pretty words.

Caroline knows there is something in her family’s past they are not talking about. This is a prime example of not communicating and thus the intimacy and bond with the family members is disconnected and frayed. This has happened in my family. This has happened in many families-the inability to communicate about what is wrong. Communication is hard work. For many of the people I know, they don’t know where to begin. The words will not even come to them in their brain so that they can speak audibly. This can be true in all types of families. I dislike a label that this only happens in families that are not Christian. Pooh.

Caroline is a remarkable person. Despite the disconnect in the family, she perseveres to find a point of connection with her parents. She does not give up. She is responsible, protective, kind, hardworking, educated, independent, and patient. I love her transformation that progresses in the story!

Caroline’s parents struggle. They share a bitter traumatic memory. My heart grieves for them as well as for Caroline. In addition, Caroline’s father carries an unresolved generational trauma that impacted him as a child and is still evident. And it has impacted the generation of Caroline. On multiple points the family needs help. Katherine Reay did a splendid job of perfectly describing the family’s awkwardness and yet trying to find a place to connect.

Caro is a character who I know through her letters and her sister’s memories. Caro is so much more than what her family has pegged her. Isn’t this often the case? People make a preconceived judgement (without all the facts) about a person and then build on that until the person is whittled down to a matchstick of what they really are. It is terribly sad. Caro’s story is the important background story that sets The London House in motion. Caro represents all those courageous people who through action defied the enemy.

I love the story’s relocation to London. I love the places they visit. For example, cafes and tourist stops. Towards the end of the story there is Paris.

The London House is a story that builds. It is not a quick paced story. It is a visceral story. It is a story with a strong focus-mystery to solve-a need to find the truth and reveal it.

The London House shows me some of the characters thoughts and feelings. The primary characters are heavy developed in their thoughts, feelings, words, and actions.

The London House shows me that the truth comes out eventually. But during the journey, there will be other important discoveries.

The London House does not sweep up everything tidy and put a bow on it to show this is a perfect family because there are no perfect families, but it is real and endearing.

Themes in the story: loyalty, perseverance, courage, bravery, redemption, acceptance, compassion, patience, circle of life, sacrifice, romance, suffering, judgment, war, survival, wisdom, grief, hope, justice, and love.

(Review) The Anglophile’s Notebook by Sunday Taylor

Publisher and Publication Date: Spuyten Duyvil. 2020.
Genre: Fiction. Travel. Romance. Family saga. Contemporary fiction.
Pages: 356.
Format: Paperback.
Source: I received a complimentary paperback copy from Sunday Taylor. I am not required to write a positive review.
Audience: Contemporary fiction/romance readers.
Rating: Good.

For more information about the book @ Spuyten Duyvil.

Amazon
The Kindle Unlimited e-book is free.

Author Info:

Sunday Taylor grew up in Pennsylvania and Connecticut and attended Bates College in Maine. A graduate of the Master of Arts program in English Literature at UCLA, she spent the last four decades in California and currently lives in Los Angeles. Taylor is married with two grown daughters and two granddaughters. She journeys to England every year, reads Jane Eyre every autumn and identifies as an Anglophile. This is her first book.

Website

Summary:

The Anglophile’s Notebook is a literary mystery set in England. Claire Easton travels from Los Angeles to London to research a book on her favorite author, Charlotte Brontë. While seeking Brontë’s secrets, she discovers her own. The Anglophile’s Notebook will whisk the reader away to literary London and the beautifully wild countryside of Yorkshire, home to the Brontë sisters. Brimming with writerly ghosts, enchanting bookstores, cozy pubs, English country gardens, and memorable characters, this novel is for anyone who has found their imagination in the gardens of rural England or a two-hundred-year-old bookstore in London and felt utterly alive.

My Thoughts:

There are things I like about the book and a few things I do not like about the book.

What I like:
1. Claire Easton is a character who is down to earth and easy for me to identify with. She is a regular gal. She is someone I could be friends with. She is a believable character who has positive and negative human traits. Claire is a reader, bibliophile, writer, blogger, book reviewer, and gardener. These interests are the same as mine. Her background and environment might have created a celebrity status type person. Instead, she is a person who is kindhearted, unselfish, long-suffering; and, she’s also a little innocent and vulnerable. I am glad Claire is a mature woman of 42. She has lived long enough to understand a bit about life and how to make wise decisions. Lastly, Claire is a character who has a transformation. This is always a positive experience for me to read a character who has a remarkable change.
2. Charlotte Brontë is the pleasant fixation for Claire. Claire plans to write a book about Charlotte Brontë . The story centers around Claire’s research of the Brontë books, manuscripts, letters, and the town they lived in. Charlotte is the main emphasis, but the other Brontë family members are apart of The Anglophile’s Notebook.
3. The Anglophile’s Notebook is a travel book. For most of the book Claire is in England. She travels back to California a couple of times. While in England she visits museums, bookshops, art and book collections, estates, and the scenery of the Yorkshire Moors. I enjoyed her descriptions and experiences.
4. Claire is close to her only sibling, a sister named, Jane. Their mother died. There is unanswered questions about their mother. There is not a reconciling of the relationship. One of the reasons I continued to read this book is I wanted to know what happened? Claire dreams of her mother. The memories and feelings about her mother are always present for Claire. Claire is still experiencing grief. Grieving takes as long as it takes. There is no time limit. And, because there are unanswered questions, there remains a mystery about their mother. These issues helped to keep me reading.
5. Jane is a praying person. She acknowledges when a prayer is positively answered. However, it is never specifically stated who Jane prays to.
6. I love the secondary characters in the book. It is a lengthy list. It is a diverse list.
7. The conflicts in the story are internal.
8. The main plot is simple.
9. The story is told in chronological or linear form.

What I do not like about the story:
1. The story has a long list of high functioning words and local dialect sayings. I don’t mind a couple of words that I need to look up in a dictionary, but the list grew and grew. The average reader is not going to like this. When a reader has to pause too much to look up a word in the dictionary it breaks the flow of reading. For example, farcical and raconteur.
2. Ben is Claire’s husband. If he were cut completely from the story would it matter? No. He is actually a weight in the story that is not needed because the story is busy with other things going on. When a story is too busy, well it is just too busy, and the reader (me) is worn-out by the heavy traffic.
3. At this time in my life (or in my reading life), I have become bored with much of the romance that is weaved in a story. I don’t have the data that will back up how other readers feel about this topic. I know how I feel. If Claire had focused all her attention on the Brontë research, the traveling, and the mystery surrounding her mother, this book would be remarkable enough. But, Claire’s personal life became a weight and additional plots for the story. Bottom line for me is there are too many things going on in this one book. Just a few would be wonderful.

Themes:
Death and dying, loyalty, self-worth, honesty, redemption, acceptance, kindness, romance, innocence, guilt, wisdom, hope, grief, temptation, empowerment, dreams, and trust.

(Review) The Remnants of Summer by Dawn Newton

Publisher and Publication Date: Apprentice House Press. May 1, 2021.
Genre: Fiction.
Pages: 294.
Format: NetGalley e-book.
Source: I received a complimentary e-book copy from NetGalley and Mind Buck Media. I am not required to write a positive review.
Audience: Readers of coming of age and family stories.
Rating: Okay.

For more information about the book: Apprentice House Press-Remnants of Summer.

Amazon link

Author Goodreads Page without a bio, but it does list her books.

Summary:

Southeast Michigan.
Iris Merchant is a young teenage girl (14) in the summer of 1973. She has an older sister named Liz. She has a younger brother named Scott. Scott is 11. Iris and Scott are at Michigan beach enjoying a sunny day. When Iris wakes up from a brief nap while sunbathing she realizes Scott is not nearby. She assumes he went swimming and everything will be okay. She leaves the lake and walks home alone. Everything is not okay. Later, the family will find out Scott drowned in the lake. Iris blames herself; and, Liz blames Iris. The rest of the summer passes in a blur. The school year moves along at a slow pace. Another summer approaches with the realization a year has gone by without Scott.

The Remnants of Summer is part coming of age story and part family grief.

My Thoughts:

In 1973 I was 9. I actually have grown to love stories that have a time period of the 1960s and 1970s.

The Remnants of Summer is not a story that I am transported back in time because of the clothes or music references. There is mention of Watergate and President Nixon’s resignation.

The story is told from the narrator who is Iris. Iris is a young person who is not rebellious. She doesn’t act out after the death of her brother which is rare. Often there is an acting out after a traumatic crisis. On the other hand, she appears to me to be numb. This transcribes to paper. A numb feeling throughout the story.

Grief is the number one theme in The Remnants of Summer but grief is not processed. There is no mention of counseling. There is not a church family or neighbors who reach out to the family. There is no outside help for any of them. I don’t think counseling would have been considered for this era-not like today. Books and literature about grieving was about non-existent. However, there were counselors at school. And, there were pastors who counseled with families. Pastors and priests can at least pray and listen to the grieving family. None of these options are presented in the story. For me, this is sadly lacking. There is no resolve in the story. This theme hangs there and only grows larger.

The Remnants of Summer is slow. A slow and sad year in the life of the family-with the focus on Iris. While the grief is fresh, she is going through adolescence, peer pressure, abuse, school, a changing body, drama with friends, an older sister who is at enmity, parents who are going through their own problems, and an additional element in the story that impacts the community. This last example is not used as a big part of the story but more as a backdrop.

Over-all the story feels lacking.

Lastly, I feel this story is better suited for young adults.

Themes in the story: death, grieving, courage, innocence, fear, and guilt.

(Review) The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

Publisher and Publication Date: Harper Perennial. First published in 2019. My edition January 5, 2021.
Genre: Fiction. Family saga.
Pages: 352.
Format: Paperback.
Source: Self-purchase.
Audience: Readers of family saga stories.
Rating: Excellent.

Link @ Amazon
Link @ Barnes and Noble

Summary:

The Dutch House is the story of the Conroy family who bought the Dutch House in 1946. Cyril Conroy bought the home without his wife knowing. It was meant to be a surprise, but she didn’t like the surprise. Their children are Maeve and Danny.
The Dutch House is a three story home in Elkins Park near Philadelphia.
The story centers on the children.
The story reflects back on memories, but also their present lives.
The time period is mid 1940s to the 1980s (?). I’m guessing about the final years time period.
The narrator is Danny.

My Thoughts:

The Dutch House is a memorable story of the lives of two siblings who grew up in the home. A house that is its own character. Sometimes a house, building, material object can be used in a story like a person who is a character. The house is referred to so often in this story. It holds strong memories. Even after the children left, they are drawn back to the house again and again to try and peace together what happened.

I wonder, if the house could speak, what would it say?

Several reasons why I love this story:
1. Each of the four members of the original Conroy family are unique individuals. It’s as if they don’t belong in the same family. Their differences make the story larger. What I mean is if all of the family members were similar the story would seem small and uncomplicated. The vast difference in their personalities brings complications in understanding one another. It brings conflict.
2. Maeve is more like a mother to Danny. It is a relationship I’ve seen in my own life and in the lives of others. An older sibling becomes more of a parent.
3. The parent’s generation represents a people group who don’t communicate clearly. They don’t pass information on to their spouse or children about real heart issues. The children in the story is a generation who is trying to change this.
4. The Dutch House has a character who at first is difficult to like. This person has made a choice that’s shocking. Later in the story I understand the person’s feelings and decision. Even though I wouldn’t have made the same decision, I have empathy and no longer feel the prick of criticism.
5. The Dutch House is the story of love to the point of sacrifice. One sacrifices what they want to do in life in order to help another or please another. One sacrifices what they want to do even if that meant giving up a committed role.
6. The characters to some degree all have transformations in their attitudes, words, and behavior.

Themes are death and dying, betrayal, courage, honesty, loyalty, love, and sacrifice.

The Dutch House is a memorable story. After reading it, I feel these are real people I’ve met.

An audio reading of the first part. Tom Hanks is the narrator.