A Horseman Riding By

A Horseman Riding By

Paul Craddock, wounded in the Boer War, returns to England finding he has inherited several thousand pounds sterling from his father. “…they broke the news that his father had died the day he had landed in England. He was shocked by the news but not overwhelmed. He had not seen his father in almost three years…”

Rejecting the city life Paul purchases a large estate consisting of several farms and in this long, epic-ey novel of pre-war life in England, his story continues as he marries (twice), experiences all the upheavals of a changing class system and society that the war ushers in. Paul, although at first hesitant and naive, quickly adjusts to his role as “Squire Craddock” and forges lasting relationships both within his family and among the farming community.

Perhaps overly sentimental at times, the reader is nonetheless caught up in the realistic portraits of the characters and the descriptive passages of England’s countryside. Difficulty and hardships are not glossed over, nor the seamier side of life or problems that present themselves within the lives of the characters (suicide, alcoholism, divorce, adultery, murder and more are all part and parcel of the village life but these difficulties are neither too explicit nor overly-emphasized). Warfare during the World War One is described (and who knew? I learned several new things, among them the booby-traps left in trenches).

“He thought about the span of years before the world ran off its rails in 1914 – “The Edwardian Afternoon” people were already calling it, as though it had been a marathon garden-party but had it? There had been the pleasure of working and planning within settled terms of reference but even then one needed the resilience of youth to absorb the shocks and disappointments of life…the war had rushed down on them, and after that the stresses of the ‘twenties culminating in the slump. One accepted personal tragedies… and with them the ransoms of time, like the elimination of old friends and partners, but lately – just when they seemed to be adjusting themselves to the post-war pattern – fresh shock waves came out of nowhere and a man was flat on his back again if he didn’t keep looking over his shoulder!”

There is such a variety of characters here, all with their own personality traits and flaws, that it took me a while to place them all! Delderfield has a habit of punctuating dialog with exclamation marks, which, although not annoying, does seem to add more emphasis to the characters themselves.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and gave myself a pat on the back once it was finished! However I do have to admit that the first two-thirds were the best. After that, the story-line and themes seemed repetitive and it was more slogging through the same types of challenges. Navigating the English political system and differing parties became a little tedious for me. However, if you are in the mood for something long and saga-ish, something nostalgic and evocative of a vanishing way of life, Delderfield fits the bill.

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Peace Like a River

Peace Like a River

“Peace Like a River” carried me away to another time and place… the Midwest in the 60’s. I was so caught up in the story and characters that I had to stay up late to finish this novel.

Reuben Land is the narrative voice and he is just eleven years old. When his family, especially his young sister, is threatened by the town bullies (violent, unredeemable chaps), the town’s sympathies are swayed by the media (sound familiar, folks?) Reuben puzzles over his neighbors ‘ reluctance to show support for his family . He relates the many times his dad, Jeremiah Land had been there for his neighbors… but apparently this was different. Reuben’s brother Davy, out of motives of self-defense, has committed murder and escapes before his trial results in the inevitable sentence of “guilty”.

The reader is carried through the Land family’s journey as they set out after a series of events to find Davy and try to pick up the pieces of their broken life. But can there really be any peaceful resolution for the Land family as Davy is pursued by police and federal agents?

“Swede said, “What would you give, to get Davy home?”
The way she asked it warned me she’d been thinking about this.
“Well, most things; I guess anything.”
“And then what if they stick him in jail?”

Not just a compelling story of family loyalty and revenge, the strongest element in this novel are the characters themselves.

Swede, the third grade-younger-sister in the Land family, is a poignant nine year old. Abandoned by her mother at a young age (as all three children were), the reader’s sympathies are engaged right away (even though Swede seems a little young to be writing ballads with such resonating prose).

There are small comforts interspersed here and there for the Land family as they find temporary asylum with old and new friends:

“And breakfast? What would you say to butter-crumbled eggs that trembled at the touch of your fork? To buttermilk biscuits under tumbling steam? To orange sides of salmon lying creamed upon blue saucers? What would you say to fresh peach pie, baked not the night before but that very morning? For breakfast? And through everything Mrs. DeCuellar, like a small sun beside her proud and outshone husband, beamed down on Swede and me… I couldn’t ever remember being so easily liked.”

Reuben’s father’s character is very likable. Seemingly having a hotline to heaven, Jeremiah Land is a man of ‘miracles’ and I can’t help but be a bit skeptical as Reuben relates story after story of his dad’s escapes from natural consequences. However, Jeremiah Land’s personality is never offensively ‘pushy’ and is in fact, worthy of the reader’s admiration as his patience with the offences of others (including his oldest son), weighs in.

And of course, there is young Reuben himself. An asthmatic from birth, Reuben’s voice comes through strongly in contrast to his battles with his weaker physical side. Reuben wants so badly to remain staunchly loyal to his older brother and finds himself frustrated and restricted by his own frailties. Reuben has to somehow find peace within himself and reconcile his family loyalty with doing the ‘right thing’.

“… I asked Dad why he kept laughing – what a sound that was, his laugh, low and confident again, like your best friend’s laugh in the darkness when you’ve believed he was gone forever.
And Dad said, Because I was praying this morning and I prayed Lord, send Davy home to us; or if not, Lord, do this: Send us to Davy.”

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The Land of Green Ginger

The Land of Green Ginger

This is the first Winifred Holtby book I’ve read, and I’m still deciding, quite frankly, what to think.

Teddy Leigh, losing his mother and in turn inheriting her debilitating illness of consumption, dreams of a comfortable, fulfilling life. “When should he say, ‘’And Thou, O Lord, art my comfort?” Nobody was now his comfort, neither the form master who had praised his translation of the Eclogues that afternoon, nor the slatternly housekeeper who made him toast for tea and worried kindly about his cough, nor, certainly, his father, drowning sorrow in a stream of compound interest…

At a recruiting meeting in the autumn term of 1914, he had found the peace of mind for which he had prayed so long. Here was the perfectly clear and simple issue. Here was the sacrifice no longer chosen with hesitation, but demanded… He had set about, carefully, cautiously, knowing the difficulties of his past record (of illness), to enter the army.”

Little did Teddy Leigh know that his troubles were just beginning.

“And he had been cheated. Here, as ever, fate had robbed him of satisfaction. There had been no splendid sacrifice, no simple and sufficing act of courage. He had hoped for an honorable return, or for a poppy-covered grave, a simple cross, and his name living for ever more. He found himself imprisoned in a military sanatorium.”

If the military and serving in the war were not enough to give Teddy a sense of satisfaction, neither did his marriage to Joanna. Joanna had dreams of her own; dreams of travel, of finding her ‘land of green ginger’. Instead she finds herself bound in marriage to an invalid returned from the war, a self-absorbed war veteran whose dreams of honor have turned to dust and who must for health reasons, turn to farming and fresh air rather than the scholarly, academic life as a vicar he yearns for.

The farm itself is not only hard unending slogging with debts mounting yearly, but when foreigners move into the area, Joanna’s trials increase. Never truly accepted by the villagers, and already looked upon with suspicion, her innocent friendship with the hired man (who happens to be Hungarian), is turned into scandal. Even the local vicar Mr. Boyse, seemingly sympathetic to the Leighs, now decides he must ‘do something’.

“He knew now that he had been right in his judgment of her as a trifle odd. It was not merely because she wore green stockings, and said smart, uncomfortable things, and brought up her children badly, and proved herself to be no housekeeper; but because of that dangerous levity of manner, that impression which she created of temporary and incomplete adjustment to circumstance, as though she had never managed to settle down in life, as though her business of being a wife and mother were somehow not quite real to her. Almost it seemed as though she were playing at being herself, and not quite serious.”

Joanna is nothing if not gallant. Persevering, always hoping that things will get better for the farm, for her marriage, for Teddy, for her children, she is an admirable character and convincingly portrays the term, ‘never give up’.

“…lying on the sands or bathing in the sharp delicious water, Joanna had planned her future life.   No more dreaming over inaccessible countries. Here was her country. She would learn the arts which should subdue the stubborn earth. She would rear stock and sell milk and butter, and her eggs should be the talk of the countryside.

One day, perhaps, when she was a wealthy farmer, and the children had left school, they would sell the tumble-down old place and wave farewell to the dark circle of heather, and set off on their travels…”

If you are looking for a light, happy-go-lucky pleasant read, you won’t find it here. Holtby’s writing (in this novel, at least), realistically portrays the bleak monotony of unremitting labor for little return, the exhaustion of debilitating illness and their stressful effects on marriage and home life. Although at times the reader is uplifted by Joanna’s courage, her admirable traits are balanced with hardship and unending disappointments. This novel, although ending with optimism, was for me a sad commentary on small-town prejudices, precipitate choice, and the futility of naïve expectation. If the author’s purpose in writing “The Land of Green Ginger” was to portray the sad effects of war, poverty and bigotry upon society, she has succeeded.

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Her Mother’s Hope

Her Mother's Hope (Marta's Legacy, #1)

Growing up in Switzerland, Marta’s father is not only strict, he is also unfair and even abusive to Marta. Her beautiful sister Elise receives much better treatment as her health is fragile. Marta, the not-as-lovely elder sister is made to work and work hard. Although at the top of her class, Marta is taken out of school to work in a bakery and a hotel. Her mother encourages her to ‘follow her dream’ and escape her home life and the story takes Marta from housekeeping school to working in restaurants and boarding houses until she finally saves enough and becomes owner of her own boarding house. After Marta marries Niclas, a German (Marta speaks four languages), they eventually emigrate to Canada.

“Now, clutching the rail, Marta prayed God would keep her on her feet and keep what little food she’d eaten in her stomach. Please, Lord Jesus, bring us safely across the Atlantic.
She cast any thought of ever getting on another ship into the undulating sea. She would never see Switzerland again.’’

Marta hates the bleak, cold Canadian winters on the prairie but her husband’s dream is to be a farmer. “Could she live in the plains of Manitoba with winters forty below zero and summers of melting heat? Could she live out in the middle of nowhere, the closest neighbor a mile away and half a day’s ride for supplies in some small farm town? And how could a man who had gone to the university in Berlin be satisfied plowing fields?”

When her daughter Hildemara is born, Marta is determined to not allow Hilda to make the same tragic mistakes her sister Elise made and thus the miscommunications begin.

“Her Mother’s Hope” is a generational story based upon the author’s own background. Cutting across two world wars, we follow Niclas and Marta from Canada to life in California and the long journey to financial security.

In writing a fictional family story, the author attempts to correct the suppositions that we all make with one another and encourage open lines of communication. The author writes: “I am blessed to have many wonderful family memories… I knew there were times of stress and tension between my parents and Grandma, but all families have them. Most work through them. Sometimes minor disagreements can escalate when things aren’t resolved. No one but God can see into the human heart.”

It is possible that what Francine Rivers is trying to teach us in this novel might be that, with all of our gains, we are still the losers, if we cannot communicate our love and acceptance of our own children. Francine has written about some difficult circumstances in this partly-biographical novel. It kept me engaged and interested well into the night and even though a hefty tome (almost 500 pages!) I can’t wait to start the next one in the series.

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And the Shofar Blew

And the Shofar Blew

Trapped between the huge success of his father’s ministry and his unending search for the acceptance and self-esteem missing from his childhood, Paul Hudson is on a mission… but is the road to success as straightforward as he thinks?

Wounding both new and old members of his congregation, ignoring his son Paul’s needs and placing his marriage in jeopardy are only a few of the many mistakes Paul makes in this contemporary Christian novel about the seeker-sensitive movement so popular with many church congregations today. Will Paul find his way back to a healthy marriage, be able to admit to others his errors, and realize what truly matters in ‘serving the Lord’?

The author explains that the motivation behind her writing comes from her travel experiences:

“During my travels around the country and speaking at various churches, I saw many struggling through building projects and massive programs to draw more parishioners. Size of building and number of people in the pews seemed to define success or failure. Like a government out of control, the “church” (in many cases) has forgotten its foundation and purpose.’”

As always, Francine Rivers’ writing carried me away and I found this engrossing novel hard to put down. Bringing to life her characters, I grieved for them, hoped for them, aspired to be them (Abby!!) and identified with their flaws and weaknesses. Even when reading about the characters’ lives and their real-life struggles, one cannot help but realize that the author is coming from a true standpoint of love and mercy.

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Saturday’s Child

  • saturdayschild
Susan Brown wants it all. Tired of the drudgery of clerking in a busy office, tired of the same round of lunch with the office girls at noon, catching the trolley in the mornings in rain and slush, tired of the endless bills to log in and check, Susan is hoping for a better, easier life. The problem is that she doesn’t quite know all of what that life entails… but she is about to find out.

Enter Peter Coleman. Peter is a social darling; wealthy, assured, handsome and witty, he is immediately attracted to Susan and vice versa. Suddenly Susan is introduced to life on the ‘other side’ and she becomes caught up in the gaiety of social life among the comfortably wealthy. Although not at first confident in her new surroundings, and finding she has much to learn, she is enamored of the wealth and prestigious homes she is introduced to. However, and especially after she accepts a position as companion to one of Peter’s acquaintances, Susan begins to find that the life she thinks of as so easy and attractive is anything but.

“She saw the poisoned undercurrent of this glittering and exquisite existence, the selfishness, the cruelties, the narrowness. She saw its fundamental insincerity. In a world where wrongs were to be righted, and ignorance enlightened, and childhood sheltered and trained, she began to think it strange that strong, and young, and wealthy men and women should be content to waste enormous sums of money upon food to which they scarcely ever brought a normal appetite, upon bridge-prizes for guests whose interest in them scarcely survived the moment of unwrapping the dainty beribboned boxes in which they came, upon costly toys for children whose nurseries were already crowded with toys. She wondered that they should think it worthwhile to spend hours and days in harassing dressmakers and milliners, to make a brief appearance in the gowns they were so quickly ready to discard, that they should gratify every passing whim…”

But if the easy, carefree life Susan has so craved has its dark side, then where is poor Susan to find fulfillment and happiness? The reader may not be too surprised that after a her share of failed romances, Susan will discover that happiness entails (surprise!) not only companionship, but also hard work. Susan find fulfillment not within a life of idle luxury, but alongside a husband that shares her own values and is her true companion and friend. It is eye-opening to Susan to realize that joy can be found in the most simple of everyday pleasures, whether indulging in a dinner of fried oysters or a day spent picnicking in the countryside.

“Why, I was thinking that I’d rather,” Susan began hesitatingly, “rather have my work cut out for me in this life! That is, I’d rather begin at the bottom of the ladder, and work up to the top, than be at the top, through no merit of my own, and live in terror of falling to the bottom! I believe, from what I’ve seen of other people, that we’ll succeed, and I think we’ll have lots of fun doing it!”

A thought-provoking, satisfying read.

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Marling Hall

marlinghallLettice Watson has lost her husband at Dunkirk. Left with two small children to raise, she is living at home (Marling Hall), but in an apartment over the stables. Recognizing her mother’s tendency to ‘take over’ Lettice’s life, she very wisely distances herself as much as possible.

“She recognized, without rancour, that it always had been and always would be impossible to talk to her own friends when her masterful mother was present. For this reason, as we know, she had preferred to live in the flat over the stables where at least she had solitude when she needed it and could ask a friend to tea.”

Lucy, Lettice’s sister, on the other hand is assertive, bossy, and totally the opposite of her sister.   When Lucy invites a friend (Captain Barclay), home to tea, he immediately detects the contrast in personalities and is attracted to Leticia. But is it kind to Lucy, Lettice thinks, to steal her sister’s friend?

‘Marling Hall’ was published in 1942, written in 1941. Thirkell gives the reader a window into what everyday life was like in the beginning years of the war for England. Food and clothing rationing has not yet made a full impact (although the reader can tell that the effects of rationing will be felt soon).

There are several characters with not only the challenges of the war to overcome (and the changes brought to their personal lives), but their own internal foibles and problems. The charming David Leslie whom everyone seems to love (although he can’t fool his old nurse, Miss Bunting), is also enamored of Leticia. Whom will she choose? The Harveys, a brother and sister, rent from Mrs. Smith and Miss Harvey sets her cap at Oliver Marling.

“One of the things he admired in Miss Harvey was her firm, nay almost overbearing attitude towards her brother. He liked her spirit and did not stop to think that her power of bullying might be equally applied to a husband.”

The annoying Mrs. Smith, who is also a widow, rents her home out and then continually returns to ‘borrow’ the items she misses and her tenants seem unable to resist her.

“Oh, Mrs. Smith,’ said Mr. Harvey. ‘Is she a friend of yours? I wish you would ask her not to come and take things out of the house now we have taken it. She has got two saucepans and a reading lamp and she has just taken the dining-room tongs.’ “

Not my favorite Thirkell but entertaining nonetheless!

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