Category Archives: Book Reviews

The Beatryce Prophecy, by Kate DiCamillo

Brother Edik approached the goat’s stall warily, since Answelica had a very hard head and was not hesitant to use it on any of the monks’ backsides, but what he did not expect to find was a young girl curled up fast asleep, holding on to Answelica’s ear as if it were a lifeline.

Beatryce could only remember her name, not her parents nor where she lived, but she could easily read anything put in front of her, which was a crime. Girls were not allowed to read. As a matter of fact, Edik had not even known that it was possible for females to read, so he shaved her head, put her into the smallest monk’s robe he could find, and took her into the monastery of The Order of the Chronicles of Sorrowing in order to protect her life, whatever that life might be.

Of course, Brother Edik knew what Beatryce did not: that there was a prophecy that read, “There will one day come a girl child who will unseat a king and bring about a great change.” The king and his counselor knew it, however, so Beatryce’s life was in danger, although no one knew why.

Every tale Kate DiCamillo spins turns to gold, and this one is no exception. Folded into this medieval story of a lost girl and a charmingly wicked goat are glimpses of glory, a good dose of feminism, nuggets of wisdom, and a stubborn hope for a brighter future. When it came time for Beatryce to prove that she could write, she slowly inscribed: “We shall all, in the end, be led to where we belong. We shall all, in the end, find our way home.” Indeed, we shall.

Don’t miss DiCamillo’s other works, especially The Tale of Despereaux, and those reviewed in this blog, Flora & Ulysses, Raymie Nightingale, Louisiana’s Way Home, and Beverly, Right Here.

A luminous tale for ages eight to eighty-eight. Very highly recommended.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Kaleidoscope, by Brian Selznick

When we look at an object through a kaleidoscope, it is fractured and scattered around our field of vision, almost unrecognizable, yet glittering and beautiful. Afterward, when we see the whole object, it is a revelation.

What if we did the same thing with a story?

In a series of tales told out of time, Selznick gives readers a kaleidoscopic view of the first-person narrator’s relationship with James. Some are fairy tales, while others are stories of an ordinary boy’s life. And who is James? He could be a friend, or perhaps an imaginary friend. At other times, he seems to be the ghost of a departed friend or the King of the Moon. James and the main character sail a ship to the moon, explore a dark cave, break into an ancient castle, and live in a house in Kensington.

Each story begins with a two-page spread of a view through a kaleidoscope, followed by a one-page sketch of the normal appearance of the object. On a webinar about the book, Selznick discussed the depression he experienced in his isolation during the pandemic, and how he decided to experiment with a kaleidoscope he found. Each of Selznick’s books, beginning with The Invention of Hugo Cabret, has showcased his artistic talent in a different way, but I would say that this volume takes his storytelling to new heights. The prose is scintillating, and the dreamlike stories hint at deep mysteries bound by ties of a love stronger than death.

Not the usual fare for middle grades, but a jewel that will especially enjoyed by children who love fantastical fairy tales.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Clovis Keeps His Cool, by Katelyn Aronson

If anyone needs to keep a tight rein on his temper, it’s a literal bull in a china shop.

Clovis used to play linebacker for the Cloverdale Chargers and help his granny in her tea shop. Since Granny died, though, and left the shop to him, Clovis has traded tackling for polishing and practices a few moments of meditation each day in order to keep a peaceful heart. He repeats Granny’s saying: “Grace, grace, nothing broken to replace.” In spite of his best efforts, though, the bullies just won’t leave him alone.

Eve Farb illustrates this hilariously motivational picture book in cool blues and whites, with just a spot of red here and there, until the page where Clovis—spoiler alert—loses his cool. The cover sets the tone with this oversized head of livestock seated primly at his delicate table, pouring a cup of tea and fuming at the hecklers in the window. A few pages later, the painting of the hulking Clovis, seated on the floor with his eyes closed and his little hooves raised in the lotus position, is priceless. The amusement continues on with page after page of fragile china teetering perilously close to the roughhousing, clumsy animals, until… well, you can imagine the result.

Little ones with anger issues or those dealing with real bullies will discover coping strategies for maintaining control and defusing confrontations, but they will also learn about forgiveness, both for the aggressive meanies and for themselves when they fail to live up to their own expectations.

This beautiful picture book of a bull trying desperately to be good may be just right for an earnest little one of your acquaintance.

Highly recommended.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Fallout, by Steve Sheinkin

We can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube, but we do need to acknowledge that the planet is now covered with toothpaste.

After the bombs dropped at the end of World War II, the government encouraged scientists to create an even more destructive weapon using nuclear fusion, instead of fission. At first, they couldn’t figure out how to ignite the fusion bomb without obliterating the launch pad, but at last, of course, they got it. As we learned in Sheinkin’s earlier works, even deadly secrets don’t stay hidden for long, and so, the world moved rapidly from having zero nuclear weapons to a world where the two superpowers at the time— the United States and the Soviet Union— were armed to the teeth with enough nuclear weapons to destroy the entire planet many times over.

Transitioning from the Eisenhower administration through Kennedy’s presidency, Sheinkin details the confrontations between Nikita Khrushchev and the American leader, not in physical battles, but in the excruciating brinksmanship that dragged on over years in what is called the Cold War. He spends many pages explaining the Bay of Pigs disaster and the Cuban Missile Crisis, not only in the overt actions by both sides, but also in each leader’s political posturing and private considerations, showing that Khrushchev thought of the new American president as young and weak, while Kennedy struggled against both physical pain and his own bellicose generals. If it had been left to General Curtis LeMay or Cuba’s new dictator, Fidel Castro, the Cold War would have been short and catastrophic. It is sickening to read of the many close calls that took place just within the few days of the Missile Crisis: prank phone calls, US pilots straying into Soviet airspace accidentally, and misinformation falling into the wrong hands. Complete destruction was just a breath away.

Sheinkin is the master of young adult historical nonfiction. His previous books have won multiple awards, and I’ve reviewed Bomb, Lincoln’s Grave Robbers, and Most Dangerous in this blog space. To be honest, the 342 pages of this book are just about right for most adults who want to be conversant on the topic without slogging through excessive, tedious detail. Sheinkin’s writing is more like a spy novel than a textbook, and readers will gain context for why the Berlin wall was such a big deal and how building rockets for exploring the universe turned into the Space Race. Even though I was a child for some of these events, I learned a lot! My brother and I spent hours discussing this book. Not only is he ten years older than I am, he is also a historian, so I knew he would be up on all of it. He told me that Barbara Powers, the wife of the downed pilot/spy Francis Gary Powers, had lived in our hometown of Milledgeville, Georgia, while he was in a Soviet prison, and that our next-door neighbor, who owned the radio station where my brother worked, had interviewed her for national television. The federal government was openly encouraging citizens to dig bomb shelters in their backyards at the time, and he clearly remembered a few obvious ones in our town.

Fallout: Spies, Superbombs, and the Ultimate Cold War Showdown is a thrilling nonfiction read for anyone twelve or older. The toothpaste is most assuredly out of the tube, and the most chilling thing about this book is that the world is far more fractured now than it was then, and there are even more nuclear bombs in many more hands today.

Very highly recommended.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Kids’ Bio Bonanza

Wonderful children’s biographies are being published this fall, and even adults may discover new heroes and heroines! Here are a few that I’ve read recently.

Banksy Graffitied Walls and Wasn’t Sorry, by Fausto Gilberti

This small book is a cartoon-style, speculative biography of an artist that no one knows. Banksy started leaving his graffiti art in public places in England in the 1990s, and he has since placed random works of art in various museums, waiting to see when people would notice. He has never been caught, so there is a great deal of buzz over the mystery of his true identity, or whether he is actually a woman or even a group of artists. Italian writer Gilberti created all of the artwork for this book, with just one photo of a Banksy piece in the back, so this volume is best used as a jumping-off point to create curiosity in children for further research online. Very fun.

Einstein: The Fantastic Journey of a Mouse Through Space and Time, by Torben Kuhlmann

Okay, this is not technically a biography of Einstein, since it is told through the point of view of a mouse, but it will introduce children to the life and scientific theories of the great man. A little mouse wants to attend a cheese festival, but he arrives a day late, and somehow ends up in Einstein’s former workshop, trying to figure out how to go back in time. He goes too far back, though, and lands in Einstein’s lifetime, leaving the scientist notes that lead to his discovery of the theory of relativity. The real star of this thick picture book is Kuhlmann’s artwork, which is luminous and fascinating. If you and your children have not discovered this artist’s work in the past, do yourselves a favor and get all his books. Your kids will spend hours poring over all the tiny details, and they might even learn something!

J.R.R. Tolkien for Kids: His Life and Writings with 21 Activities, by Simonetta Carr

This large paperback is part of the Chicago Review Press series that relates easy projects to the subject of the book. If your children are of an age to read The Hobbit, this biography would be the perfect accompaniment. From his birth and the early death of his parents, through World War I and his romance with his beloved wife, to his professorship and famous works of literature, this volume chronicles Tolkien’s long life on an upper elementary or middle school level. Although all of the activities are simple to accomplish at home, some reinforce the narrative more appropriately than others. There is an annoyingly large number of typographical errors, but the content is worth it. Tolkien’s works will enrich every child’s life.

Osnat and Her Dove: The True Story of the World’s First Female Rabbi, by Sigal Samuel and Vali Mintzi

Osnat was born in Mosul about 500 years ago. Her father was a rabbi, and even though he didn’t think girls needed to read, he didn’t have any sons, so he taught her. When he died, Osnat’s husband took over the yeshiva—or school—where he taught boys about Hebrew and their Jewish faith. Since he was busy, Osnat began teaching Torah, so that when her husband also passed away, she was the natural choice to lead the yeshiva herself. She went on to perform miracles, along with her beloved pet dove. Mintzi filled this picture book with vivid paintings in red, deep blue, and gold that recall the colors of ancient Iraq. A beautiful volume to introduce your children to a rich culture.

Unbound: The Life + Art of Judith Scott, by Joyce Scott, with Brie Spangler and Melissa Sweet

Joyce and Judith Scott were twin sisters and best friends throughout their early childhood in the 1940s. One day, Joyce came home from school to find that her beloved sister had been confined in an institution because she was deaf and had Down Syndrome, and at that time, doctors had no alternatives for parents. When Joyce grew up, she petitioned to have her sister come to live in her house, and each day, she would take Judith to the Creative Growth Art Center. At first, Judith seemed uninterested, but one day, the staff brought out yarn, ribbons, and fabric scraps. Judith began gathering up pieces of wood and various objects and creating sculptures with the materials. She hid things inside the layers of material, excitedly bringing meaning to her art. Eventually, people began to appreciate her creativity, and her work was displayed in art shows, written about in books, and honored in documentaries. Judith died in 2005, but her sister continues to spread the word about the value of creativity for all people. The body of the book is illustrated with Melissa Sweet’s lovely, childlike drawings, followed by photographs, a timeline, and other explanatory backmatter.

Disclaimer: I read library copies of all of these books. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Rachel Held Evans

Rachel was the best little Christian girl. She won prizes in AWANA for her knowledge of the Bible. She looked for things to do for others so that she could be a servant. She pitied everyone else because they were all going to burn in hell. By her own admission, she was pretty insufferable. When she reached a certain age, though, she started to notice that some things just didn’t make sense in the worldview she’d been given by her parents and her church, so she started to ask questions. This did not go over well with her Sunday School teachers, but her very religious parents supported her curiosity and allowed her to pursue answers to her quandaries. It took a long time to shed the Good Evangelical Girl persona, but in time, Rachel Held Evans was able to write about her faith journey, and she became famous on one side of the church and infamous on the other.

Rachel Held Evans was the author of Searching for Sunday and The Year of Biblical Womanhood, among other works. She started the Evolving Faith conference with her friend, Sarah Bessey, and spoke and worked tirelessly for groups that the church had marginalized, especially the LGBTQ community. She was the mother of two little children when she suddenly contracted an infection, then had an allergic reaction to the medication. She died at age 37. Her death stunned the Christian world. She had just started on what looked like a brilliant career, and then she was gone. I recently listened to her speaking on a podcast from just a few months before her death, and she and the host were talking about her upcoming projects. None of us are promised tomorrow.

Two new books by Rachel are being published posthumously this fall, one for adults and one for children.

Wholehearted Faith

As you might imagine, a prolific writer has a lot of manuscripts and fragments in computer folders, desk drawers, and sundry other places. After her death, Rachel’s husband, Dan, gathered up some of them and asked Rachel’s friend, Jeff Chu, to help get them to publication. Jeff edited and organized the manuscripts, plus he filled in those she had left unfinished. This volume is a collection of essays on a variety of topics, written in Rachel’s friendly, thoughtful voice. Some of them recount her childhood and faith journey, while others muse on the complexities of life and the corruption of the church.

Her chapter called “From Death to Life” is especially compelling. It is a long chapter that starts with self-deprecating humor. She admits that her Enneagram type 3 personality can turn a fun game into a fight to the death, and how that drive for success affected her life and her faith. She grows more serious toward the end as she shows how the drive to be successful in our country has influenced the church, and she reminds us that those afraid of death do not believe in the resurrection. If the death of the American church is inevitable, she recounts the many ways that it could be resurrected more gloriously, and she concludes by stating that death is not the end of the story. I would love to quote these beautiful passages, but I read an advance reader copy, so that is not allowed. In November, though, you can read them yourself.

For those who loved Rachel Held Evans or for those troublemakers who ask questions, this is a deep and moving collection from a writer whose canon closed too soon.

What Is God Like?

I did not know that Rachel Held Evans was friends with one of my favorite picture book illustrators, Matthew Paul Turner. Since she had little children, Rachel had started to write her ideas about God for a very young audience just two months before she died. At that time, she and her husband, Dan, had a three-year-old son and a new baby girl. Dan asked Turner to bring this unfinished work to completion. Using images and emotions from nature and children’s daily lives, she describes God in open, nonspecific ways that convey love and safety to little ones. Her language is inclusive and trinitarian, showing a mother on one page and a father on the next, three dancers of various genders and ethnicities, happy children playing outdoors or creating artwork, all using “he” and “she” pronouns equally. The illustrator, Ying Hui Tan, stays close to Turner’s usual style, with floaty, swooping figures and diverse skin tones.

This beautiful book will be helpful to parents who wish to convey reassuring ideas about God to young children. There is no reference to sin and punishment or even to any particular religious tradition. Evans prefers to introduce children to the mystery and lifelong pursuit of the divine, which may be a tall order for children at an age when their thinking is fairly concrete. Parents who are more sectarian might take note that this volume will not reinforce the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Whether parents find this book charming or not will be according to the style of their own pursuit of the divine.

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So, be open with your questions and share your gathered wisdom, because God already knows, but the rest of us might need to hear it.

Disclaimer: I read an advance reader copy of Wholehearted Faith and a library copy of What Is God Like? Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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The Personal Librarian, by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray

Belle Greener’s father was a professor who became a civil rights activist in the years between the end of the American Civil War and the enactment of Jim Crow laws. For a short space of time, the future looked hopeful for freed Blacks, but during their years at the university, Belle’s parents saw the mood of the country turning against them. At that point, Belle’s mother decided that the only way her light-skinned children could be safe was to pass as white. The Greeners separated over this issue, and their daughter lived the rest of her life as Belle da Costa Greene, inventing a Portuguese ancestor to explain her olive skin.

After attending Princeton University and working for a short time, Belle was hired by the famous financier, J.P. Morgan, to be the librarian in charge of his incredible collection of ancient manuscripts and artworks in New York City. Her salary allowed her sisters and brothers to complete their education and secure good jobs of their own. Over the years, Belle’s career grew beyond her wildest dreams, and Morgan trusted her completely to journey to Europe to negotiate for rare volumes and works of art. These trips also allowed her to meet secretly with the much-older art dealer, Bernard Berenson, with whom she maintained a romantic relationship that lasted for decades, although they endured some rocky years.

On my last trip to Manhattan, in pre-pandemic times, my brother and I visited the Morgan Library. What a treasure! I had not heard of it before, but I read an article about its medieval illuminated manuscripts and its Gutenberg Bibles, so I thought it would be worth a trip. The soaring architecture, particularly the three-story main room, is awe-inspiring. The manuscripts were as beautiful as described, but there were many other fascinations, including sculpture and paintings, ancient cylinder seals from the near East that I looked for in vain as earrings in the gift shop, and the only intact copy of Lady Susan in Jane Austen’s own handwriting. There were other handwritten manuscripts and musical compositions, as well, and so much more. At that time, there were very few people in the museum with us, but the success of The Personal Librarian may have changed that.

The fact that a woman, and a black woman at that, was in control of the selection and acquisition of this important man’s collection is gratifying for this librarian! Morgan included Belle in many of his family functions, although not all of his children appreciated her prominent role in their lives. Marie Benedict turned to Victoria Christopher Murray to portray a more authentic understanding of a black woman’s feelings and experiences. Between the two of them, this novel hews very closely to the historical record, while sweeping readers along for all of the fear, thrill, excitement, sorrow, and triumph that was Belle da Costa Greene’s life.

I listened to this book on an excellent audio version, although I own an advance reader copy that I will treasure, as well. This is an absorbing novel for anyone who loves history, biography, art, and literature. Read the book, see the library. Highly recommended.

Disclaimer: I listened to an audiobook version of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Cloud Cuckoo Land, by Anthony Doerr

Zeno is headed to the library in February, 2020, to work with a group of kids he’s come to love. They’re putting on a play that Zeno translated from the ancient Greek. Seymour is headed to the library, too, to set off a homemade bomb.

Anna lives in Constantinople in 1452 with her seamstress sister who is going blind. Anna is learning to read by deciphering a set of parchments she found while stealing and selling old manuscripts in order to pay for her sister’s treatment. Omeir is outside of Constantinople with the Sultan’s troops. He was conscripted into service with his beloved oxen, helping to build the siegeworks to bring down the city walls.

Konstance is in a spaceship in Mission Year 55 with her family, part of a generational effort to save humanity from an earth that has been destroyed by pollution and to start anew on the planet Beta Oph2. By stepping onto her Perambulator, Konstance can join her friends and their teacher in the huge library in virtual reality. She loves the atlas of Earth and spends whole days inside, walking around whatever country she chooses that day.

Weaving back and forth in time, Doerr divides the sections by inserting passages from the folio of Cloud Cuckoo Land, by Antonius Diogenes, the ancient manuscript that connects all of these stories.

A 622-page novel may seem daunting, but Anthony Doerr, the bestselling author of All the Light We Cannot See (reviewed here), makes the pages fly by. Each of the characters is compelling individually, but the growing realization of how these stories set in different times and places weave together is stunning. It is through the tiny details and ordinary days of small, seemingly inconsequential lives that we perceive the greater story of the fall of rich kingdoms, powerful cultures, and even entire planets. Whether the power is held by soulless developers, greedy sultans, or vast corporations, most people are at the mercy of a stranger’s voracious quest for wealth and dominance. Yet, Doerr counterbalances this sad story of mankind’s endless appetite for conquest with a deep love of nature and a gratitude for its endurance and continual rebirth. It is in the sight of an owl, the sprouting of a seed, or the first lungful of fresh air that our souls are touched.

From battlefields to hearths, Doerr’s stories are so fascinating that the reader becomes attached to every character. In each plot thread, someone is absorbed in the satisfying work of scholarly research and storytelling, and the novel is filled with a love for libraries and librarians. This is a book that will appeal to every type of reader, since the author brilliantly combined historical fiction, contemporary realistic fiction, and science fiction, all in one volume. Set aside some time for this one. It will be THE literary event of the year. The publication date is September 28th.

Very highly recommended.

Disclaimer: I read an advance copy of this book, with thanks to @simonandschuster and @scribnerbooks. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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New Grandma’s Review Roundup

In June, I was thrilled to become a new grandma, although it was almost three months early and my knitting projects were still in progress! After all, I have double the projects with newborn twins, sister and brother. What with trips to the hospital for cuddles, library work, and keeping the yarn flowing, I am listening to more audiobooks and writing fewer reviews. Here are some quick picks from a wide range of titles.

My Contrary Mary

Such fun! This alternate history of Mary, Queen of Scots and her young marriage to Francis, heir to the French throne, is somewhat complicated by the fact that, in this version of the world, some people can turn into animals and some cannot. Naturally, the ones who can’t hate the ones who can and vice versa. Don’t bother looking up the dates on Wikipedia, this story is about what the writers want to have happen in the unfortunate monarch’s life. The team of Brodi Ashton, Cynthia Hand, and Jodi Meadows bring us another rollicking tale, supposedly written for teens but with many adult fans, certainly among my own acquaintance. I listened to this one on audio, because the reader, Fiona Hardingham, is fabulous and adds another dimension to the experience. My favorite by this group is still My Plain Jane (reviewed here) perhaps just because of the petulant voice of the ghost.

The Eternal Current, by Aaron Niequist

Many Christians are leaving traditional churches these days, not because they don’t believe, but because they cannot find life in the dry, rote services they find there. Jesus gave us traditions that are earthy and real, and they were embraced by the early church, but somehow lost over the centuries. Pastor Aaron Niequist and a group of like-minded believers formed a group called The Practice which began meeting each week to recapture historic and new traditions of Christianity. This book, subtitled How a Practice-Based Faith Can Save Us from Drowning, is also a podcast to help readers flesh out the concepts and even the methods for the various practices. For example, the members of Niequist’s group all expressed a desire to participate in communion more often and in more meaningful ways. Jesus obviously taught this meal to his disciples, but most Protestant churches today only have communion once a month or even less, using little plastic cups of grape juice. Niequist isn’t condemning these churches; rather, he is asking: “How can we do this better? What did Jesus intend?” If the name Niequist rings a bell, his wife, Shauna, is also a writer and appears with him on the podcast occasionally. Her book, Present Over Perfect, is reviewed here. One of our pastors mentioned this book as being instrumental in the direction of our church, so if you are also longing for meaning, reach out to me and I’ll give you more details.

Bring Your Baggage and Don’t Pack Light, by Helen Ellis

The author of Southern Lady Code brings us another collection of humorous essays, this one centering on the lives and relationships of women past a certain age. Think hot flashes. Helen Ellis can be hilariously funny, but she can also be quite coarse. The author reads the short audiobook herself, which is always a treat. I listened to this one while prepping dinner for just a few days. Entertainment for the fiercely feminist, but proceed with caution.

Love People, Use Things, by Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus

I was expecting the Marie Kondo element, but the 7 Habits vibe, the heavy dose of Dave Ramsey, and especially the memoir took me by surprise. Also the kick in the pants. The guys from The Minimalist podcast start off by helping you to deal with your extra stuff, and then Joshua launches into a life history with lessons that he learned along the way. Ryan ends each chapter with a summary and some questions to get you thinking. They take a deep dive into relationships and values, delivering far more than a cleaning manual. Good stuff if you want to give your life a thorough airing, plus I gave away six boxes of donations just from my dresser drawers and closets.

We Are the Brennans, by Tracey Lange

Sunny Brennan left her large, Irish-American family five years ago to live in California. When she drank too much and crashed her car, she reluctantly agreed to come back home to her three grown brothers, her ailing dad, and her former fiancé, who is now married with a little son. She had only planned to stay while she healed, but her family soon had her helping at the pub, where she began to suspect that her oldest brother was hiding something. He’s not the only one. Sunny has been keeping a painful secret that has changed all of their lives forever. So much family drama! An engrossing read with love triangles, squabbling siblings, and crimes new and old. Sunny’s mother is firmly planted on my Most Despicable Characters list.

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The usual disclaimer: I read or listened to advance copies of all of these except The Eternal Current, which I own. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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The Pursuit of Love, by Nancy Mitford

The Book

Fanny was an only child, but she spent a great deal of her early years at Alconleigh, the estate of her raucous and numerous Radlett cousins. Fanny was being brought up by her single Aunt Emily, since her own mother had abandoned her to live what the cousins considered a thrillingly scandalous life. They were so jealous, since their parents were stuffy and strict. Aunt Sadie dithered through life, surrounded by tumbling, energetic children, while Uncle Matthew spent most of his time hunting and shooting. Matthew scorned Emily’s attention to Fanny’s academic pursuits, as he was completely opposed to education for “females” and was proud that his daughters were ignorant and decorative. Fanny and Linda were the same age, and they could not wait to grow up and fall in love, with Linda pining for the Prince of Wales. They were the children of The Great War, and no one ever thought there would be another such terrible conflict, but as adolescence gave way to weddings and babies in the late 1930s, rumblings of war began again, and all their wealth and sparkling parties could not keep them safe.

The Pursuit of Love is an autobiographical novel by Nancy Mitford, the oldest of the real-life Mitford sisters, who were rather like more mannered Kardashians of their day: beautiful, famous, and always scandalous. It is told in the third person from Fanny’s point of view, but she is not actually the author’s true identity. That falls to her Radlett cousin, Linda, who led a much wilder life than Fanny.

Mitford’s style can only be called charming. Her writing is so light and amusing that it reminds one of Jane Austen; however, Miss Austen would blush at Linda’s tempestuous existence. After an indulgent childhood, Linda gravitates toward people on the outer fringes of society, and even when she tries to make good choices, they turn sour before her very eyes. Mitford takes on the serious issues of her day, including the failing aristocracy, misogyny and women’s education, communism, class distinctions, and war’s far-reaching power. Perhaps the most shocking element of the story is Linda’s complete disregard for her daughter, whom she finds repugnant from the moment of birth. Still, the heaviness of these issues does not weigh down the fascination of the plot and the humor carrying the reader through the pages.

Nancy Mitford also wrote a sequel to this novel, Love in a Cold Climate, as well as several well-received biographies.

The Miniseries

Amazon Prime has recently adapted The Pursuit of Love into a 3-episode miniseries, starring Lily James as Linda and Emily Beecham as Fanny. While the book would probably be rated PG-13, the miniseries brings it up to an R rating, and some of the sensationalist elements that were hinted at in the book were splashed out on the screen. Others were made up from whole cloth. There is one improbable scene that looks as if it were borrowed from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The miniseries does manage to hold on to the humor, though, and even seems campy at times. The introduction of new characters and places reminds one of Love & Friendship, the Kate Beckinsale adaptation of Jane Austen’s Lady Susan. Everything freezes, and the name of the person or place is scrawled across the screen in antique script.

The film follows the plotline of the book very well— aside from its startling first scene— and images of English estates and Parisian streets are always fun. The period costumes are fabulous, and Lily James is lovely, as usual. It’s a great popcorn experience, but this is one time that I would say to please, please read the book first. Nancy Mitford doesn’t deserve the judgment that I, for one, would heap on her if I had only seen the miniseries.

Rating: The book is better, probably 4 ½ stars. The miniseries is 3 ½ stars.

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*Miniseries photo from The Hollywood Reporter.

Disclaimer: I own a copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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