#tbt book nerd style

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Some books are like warm hugs. You always feel good when you read them no matter how many times you’ve read the same words. When I was younger, that book was Love Comes Softly by Janette Oke.

Oke is a prolific and beloved author of Christian children’s books. Published in 1979, Love Comes Softly is Oke’s first novel and the first book in a series of eight following the same family. From that one book, Oke launched her career, which now includes over 70 books and several awards.

Set in the 1800s, Love Comes Softly tells the story of Marty and Clark Davis. The two meet under tragic circumstances after Marty’s husband dies in a horse-riding accident. Alone on the frontier, Marty, newly pregnant, has nowhere to turn until Clark, father of a one-year-old daughter, who also recently lost his wife, proposes a marriage of convenience. He even promises that, come spring, if Marty is unhappy, he will pay for her return east if only she brings his daughter with her so she can have a mama.

Christian Children's Books, Janette Oke

Feels like a warm hug

And so begins a year of challenges, frustrations, growth, and, of course, unexpected love.

Love for a little girl, for a new baby, for an unplanned couple and for God.

I grew up in a Christian household, and the rhythms of prayer, reading the Bible, and Sunday rest found in Clark’s home, which are completely foreign to Marty, echoed the atmosphere of my own home.

Over the course of the book, Marty realizes a love for Clark and a love for God. These great loves are the heart of the whole Love Comes Softly series.

Reading Love Comes Softly is like climbing back into the chair in my parents’ living room, when I was small enough to be enveloped in its cushions, feeling secure and sure of the world and my place in it. Perhaps it is time for a reread.

Do you have a book that feels like a warm hug?

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2014 in review

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Looking back is always part of New Year’s Eve, and looking back over a year of re: read pages gives me a lot of joy. I hope you found some great new authors or books worth rereading as a result of perusing this blog. Thanks so much for checking in. I hope to bring more discussion, reviews and writing updates in the year to come.

Check out the year in review for re: read pages from WordPress.

Happy reading in 2015!

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 990 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 17 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Going back to the source

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What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.
(Act II, Scene II, lines 43–44)

I can’t believe it passed so quickly, but December 9 marks the one-year anniversary of
re: read pages. I’ve had a great year with this blog and the books I’ve read and shared with you. The fact that I have 55 followers fills me with a giddy delight.

I thought that after a year together, I should share my name. My name is from a novel and not from the above quoted play, though Romeo and Juliet plays a role. My name is from Touch Not the Cat by Mary Stewart.

But before we get to that novel, let me introduce myself.

Hello, my name is Bryony.

Pardon, you say. Yes, Bryony.

I love my name. I never get bothered by mispronunciations or repeating it to people the first (or third) time we meet or spelling it out to everyone from government employees to Starbucks baristas.

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I can thank my mother for my name. She received Touch Not the Cat from her father. It was 1976, the year it was published, and she was already the mother of two boys with classic names. When she finished reading it, she knew if she ever had a girl that she wanted to name her Bryony. Two years later, she finally got her chance.

One of my favourite stories about my name happened on the day I was born.

My mother delivered me and the doctor announced that I was girl and asked what my name would be, to which my mother responded, “Bryony.” And he said, “It’s a girl you know.” Ha ha ha. Makes me laugh every time.

But getting back to the novel that gave me my name, Touch Not the Cat was a best seller and, while Stewart’s novels are known for a blending of mystery and romance, Touch Not the Cat also has an element of the supernatural. The novel follows Bryony Ashley as she deals with the hit-and-run death of her father and the resulting legal fallout surrounding her childhood home, Ashley Court, a crumbling estate with more sentimental value than actual worth.

Her father left a death bed warning of an unnamed danger that Bryony hopes to uncover with the help of her lover, a person with whom she has had a lifelong telepathic connection but is not sure of his identity. She suspects one of her second cousins – twins, James and Emory, who has inherited the Court as a result of a trust, or their brother Francis – as the telepathy runs through the Ashley line. But as she picks apart the meaning of her father’s last message she is no longer sure of whom to trust, even her lifelong companion.

The mystery of her father’s final words requires Bryony to delve into her family’s history, especially that of Wicked Nick, a relative from the early 1800s with a poor reputation that brought about his untimely death when he was shot by the brothers of his lover. Stewart includes scenes from Nick’s life at the end of each chapter and quotes from Romeo and Juliet at the beginning. It was Nick’s father, William, who was obsessed with Shakespeare and Romeo and Juliet, and who had the key to understanding the mystery Bryony is trying to solve.

Some of the novel falls a little hard on the ears of modern readers. For example, getting past her deep love for someone she calls cousin, no matter the distance, but more importantly her seeming disinterest in how her life will unfold following the upheaval the loss of her father represents. She is unconcerned for herself, beyond identifying her lover, and is focused only on deciphering her father’s message, and not even the danger he refers to but the mystery of “William’s brook.”

Perhaps, besides moving the plot along, Bryony’s focus also reflects Stewart’s stated viewpoint on the actions of her characters. Stewart said she would “take conventionally bizarre situations (the car chase, the closed-room murder, the wicked uncle tale) and send real people into them, normal, everyday people with normal, everyday reactions to violence and fear….” With this in mind, it is easier to understand Bryony’s choices and rationales.

On a whole, Bryony is no pushover. She knows when to stand her ground and when to yield. She is observant, kind, and perseverant; a quality my mother appreciated when she read the book the first time.

As preparation for this post, I asked my mom for her thoughts on the novel and character from which I gained my name. She still likes (and recommends) Touch Not the Cat – she believes she has read it around six or seven times – and enjoys how the story of Bryony’s ancestors is brought forward into the present. While the character of Bryony didn’t influence her decision to choose it for me, my mom found the name to be romantic and full of an adventurous spirit. I like to think I am both of those things.

And, despite my experience of a lifetime of correcting people, my mom says she never had a problem pronouncing it correctly. Ever the teacher, she says she just followed “the phonetic rules.” For those who want to double check, Bryony is also in the dictionary as it is a poisonous climbing vine native to western Eurasia.

The story of my name is one that I’ve shared many, many times. And I love that I have a copy of the book that bears my name on my bookshelves. This past spring, in May, Mary Stewart died at the age of 97. She wrote 20 novels as well as three children’s books and a book of poetry. To celebrate the gift of her writing, the source of my name, and one year of re: read pages, I am giving away a copy of Touch Not the Cat. Just leave your favourite character name in the comments below and I will do a random draw to select a winner.

This is how you do it

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I intended to do a close read of The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant for re: read pages but instead the novel became a pleasure read that I devoured in almost one sitting.

The Birth of Venus is a historical fiction set in Renaissance Florence, and it grabbed me from the first paragraph. I couldn’t help but put my pen and notepad down, squish down into my chair and turn page after page. The opening lines open the story wide and already showcase Dunant’s gift for seamlessly meshing research and writing:

No one had seen her naked until her death. It was a rule of the order that the Sisters should not look on human flesh, neither their own nor anyone else’s. A considerable amount of thought had gone into drafting of this observance.

So much is said in just the first three sentences. We know that a nun has died. We know one of the rules under which she lived and the importance placed on hiding away the female form – the implication of the dangers of the flesh. And, because the rule is being pointed out, that the revealing of this nun’s flesh will yield more than just a naked body.

The opening paragraph goes on to outline the rules surrounding this observance. While Dunant’s understanding of the time and place in which the story takes place is evident, the information never feels like it is being dropped in, like a side note in the middle of lecture, but folds into the plot and drives the narrative.

I didn’t take any notes, as I usually do while reading for re: read pages. I was just enjoying myself too much to want to break away from the story, something that hadn’t happened in a long time.

The choices Dunant makes throughout the story just build strength on strength, with the historical setting supporting, influencing and revealing her characters. For example, the protagonist, Alessandra Cecchi, a teenager, is the daughter of a wealthy cloth merchant. The novel is set in Florence just as the Sumptuary Laws (rules limiting conspicuous consumption, such as fur lined gowns or jewel encrusted hair pins) were being blasted from the pulpit by Girolamo Savonarola, a real historical figure who enthralled the city and enraged the pope. So the very thing upon which her family has earned its fortune, the selling of luxury, is being questioned by the highest leader in the community.

As Florence is in upheaval around her, so is Alessandra’s life. She is interested in art and wishes to become an artist but also knows her duty to her family as a daughter of a marriageable age. Her response and her intelligence never take her out of her age or time, but still give her an autonomy that is uniquely hers, especially when compared to the life of her older sister.

The novel was a pleasure from start to finish, and I will definitely be rereading this novel. Dunant’s talent is admirable, and the final pages sums up how I feel about my writing in comparison to the greatness of her own.

Alessandra is reflecting on the art she has created through the years, including painting the chapel walls in the convent in which she resides, and concludes that it is “sadly mediocre” but does not feel the lesser for the results:

And if that sounds like a statement of failure from an old woman at the end of her life, then you must believe me when I tell you it is absolutely not.

Because if you were to put it [the chapel] with all the others…then you would see it for what it is: a single voice lost inside a great chorus of others.

And such is the sound that the chorus made together, that to have been a part of it at all was enough for me.

Summer book lovin’

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One way to watch your stats flatline is by not posting for a month.

I spent the month of May celebrating and reading: two birthdays, a wedding, four novels and one non-fiction. Nothing to complain about but I am glad to be back at the keyboard.

It is June, the weather is heating up and people are planning their holidays, all of which points to summer reading. (Summer is just over two weeks away here in Canada!)

Some readers use the summer to mentally relax and pick up so-called beach books, which are largely genre fiction like thrillers or romance, but others like to take all that free time to really dig in to a more difficult read since they have the time to focus.

I like to mix it up a bit, more of a location-based reader, so I thought I would suggest a few summer reads and share some books on my summer reading short list.

Beach Reads

The Bride by Julie Garwood (1989)

One of my all-time favourite romance novels. Set in 12th century Scotland, the story has familiar romance tropes: a feisty heroine is married against her will to a strong, gruff hero but through their banter they fall in love and, ultimately, overcome their challenges. Garwood keeps the plot moving so well and with touches of humour that you can’t help but enjoy what would otherwise be another typical romance novel.

The Red Fox by Anthony Hyde (1985)

Hyde’s debut novel (maybe I will cover it for re: read pages one day), it is the one spy thriller that I keep reading over and over. Set during the Cold War, it follows the search of protagonist Robert Thorne for his former fiancée’s missing father. In true Cold War fashion, what initially seems to be a simple story expands to a larger, more dangerous conspiracy. Spanning the globe from Canada to France to Russia, this story holds up despite some dated references and technological limitations.

Time to Think

The Sybil by Pär Lagerkvist (1956)

In this beautifully written story, a man cursed by Jesus to live until his second coming (known as the Wandering Jew according to medieval legend) meets with a disgraced priestess from Delphi and the two discuss the fallout of their experiences with the divine. This book always gives me shivers.

East of the Mountains by David Guterson (1999)

A man with terminal cancer takes a trip into the American West with the intention of killing himself at the end of his journey. The pace of this novel stayed with me a long time; it feels unrushed despite the limited time accorded to its main character, whatever way he may end up dying. A truly lovely read.

In Real Life

Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us by Michael Moss

I finished reading this one recently; it is a well-written, well-researched exploration of the processed food industry. I am still talking about it weeks later and it changed the way I viewed the grocery store and nutrition labels.

Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan (2013)

This book aims to put the life of Jesus in historical context, to see what we can know by looking at the facts surrounding his life and the writing of the biblical books that describe his life and teachings. Though not without its faults, Aslan presents an interesting and respectful account of the life of Jesus.

As for me, I have a pile of books to get through, but I’m looking forward to spending sometime with these titles:

Sacred Hearts by Sarah Dunant

I recently discovered that I love Dunant’s writing (I enjoyed three of her novels years apart before I realized that they were all by the same author – check back later this month when I post my thoughts on The Birth of Venus) and am prepared to binge read the rest of her catalogue over the summer starting with this one.

Moby-Dick by Herman Melville

Part of my new Why Haven’t I Read This Yet series (the inaugural post, discussing One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez, is coming this Monday!), I am reading this book because it has sat on my shelf for too long and the cute board book for my one year old has sparked my interest.

Jennifer, Gwyneth, and Me: The Pursuit of Happiness, One Celebrity at a Time by Rachel Bertsche.

In a continued attempt to not take non-fiction so seriously that I can’t enjoy it I decided to put this book on hold at the library. Despite the lighthearted topic, I think Bertsche will have some interesting observations about the influence of celebrity lifestyle on expectations for our own lives. As someone who just hosted two children’s birthday parties, I can tell you GOOP would have been disappointed in my execution.

What are your reading plans for the summer?

BJL

Birthday books

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Today we are celebrating my son’s third birthday! I can’t believe he is three already.

Books have been a big part of his life since day one. Besides reading during the day, books became the centre of our bedtime routine. We would curl up together in our bed and my husband would read while I nursed our son to sleep – a practice that has continued with our second son. That first spring, we read Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck, among other things.

Now, with our son having more of a say in the books we read, the stack is full of more age-specific selections, but we also read a section of longer books, such as Mal Peet’s Mysterious Traveller, a lovely story with wonderful illustrations. Our son also reads a board book (or two) to his baby brother; Moby-Dick is a favourite.

So to mark the occasion of my son’s third birthday, I am posting a picture of his first book (Polar bears), one of his favourite books (Frog and Toad are Friends), and the book we are currently reading (Bill Peet An Autobiography).

Charles books

Happy birthday, sweet boy! Mommy loves you bunches and bunches.

J.K. Rowling is awesome

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It is time for me to come clean. I love the Harry Potter series. Love the books, love the movies. For me, the fact that J.K. Rowling is awesome is not to be disputed. I know there are flaws and I know you probably will want to argue with me, but you will never change my mind.

The little things Rowling puts in the text are just the best, which makes the Harry Potter series worth more than one reread. Here is a good example that just came to my attention thanks to @ArryPottah on Twitter:

The first time Snape speaks to Harry, he says, “Potter! What would I get if I added powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood?”.

During the Victorian era, each flower type had a specific meaning when a flower was given. Asphodel is a member of the lily family and to give some an asphodel meant “My regrets will follow you to the grave”. Wormwood meant “absence; bitter sorrow”. Thus, Rowling was actually having Snape say to Harry “I bitterly regret Lily’s death.”

While the meaning of asphodel, I believe, is a little stretched to fit the situation (as far as I know asphodel simply symbolizes regret), the statement does still have a deeper meaning to the character. It seems so simple but I think details like that add so much to a story.