Valentine’s Day Romance – The Naturalist by Christina Dudley

Most Valentine’s Days, I’ve reviewed a favorite romance. As far as I am concerned, Jane Austen, Rosamunde Pilcher and Georgette Heyer are by far the most reliable authors for a quality, wholesome romance novel.

But I have discovered a new author of great talent, Christina Dudley!

I still haven’t figured out how I even ran across this book. It may have been connected with a yearly binge online search of my local library for clean romance novels. Or it could have been through Amazon’s recommendations based on some wholesome romance novels I bought from the Kindle store.

Anyway, I read great reviews about The Naturalist, which is a Regency novel, and Book 1 of the The Hapgoods of Bramleigh series. So, because the main characters were scientists, I decided to buy it.

Now, I didn’t really expect much, because statistically I only actually like about 1 out of 30 romance novels that I pick up these days. But what a pleasant surprise!

The main characters meet over their mutual fascination with flora and fauna, and their intense devotion to observing and recording data about them.

At first they assume that their strong attraction is professional. But when social conventions force them apart, they realize it’s a strange but wonderful kind of love, and their own unconventional thinking and determination drive them to do what is unthinkable in Regency society.

Their relationship is pleasant, and turns hilarious as some secrets are revealed. Both have a strong, moral character which heightens their inner turmoil throughout the story. The plot twists are realistic and unexpected. And the tension created by all the people trying to keep them apart and by their perplexing feelings for each other kept me glued to my Kindle screen!

What a rare find. I agree with one reader who said that it is a quiet, soothing, yet interesting, read, and I will add “intelligent” to the list as well.

highly recommend The Naturalist to anyone who is looking for a quality, intelligent romance or is a fan of Jane Austen or Georgette Heyer!

Happy Valentine’s Day, and happy reading!

I hope you’ll let me know what your favorites are!

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Here are my previous Valentine’s Day reviews:

Ramona by Helen Hunt Jackson

God’s Good Man: A Simple Love Story by Marie Corelli

Quality Romance Worth Reading

Cotillion by Georgette Heyer

Thorn in my Heart by Liz Curtis Higgs

Winter Solstice by Rosamunde Pilcher

Arabella by Georgette Heyer

The Convenient Marriage by Georgette Heyer

 

Hearts background courtesy of Monika Stawowy at https://www.publicdomainpictures.net/en/view-image.php?image=241019&picture=valentines-day-background, License: CC0 Public Domain

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The New Year by Pearl S. Buck

Imagine a happily married couple–no, a blissfully married couple–sharing and supporting each other through many years’ of challenges and joys.

Now freeze that frame.

A shocking revelation blindsides the man, a fallout from a difficult decision he made during his youth while under the severe pressures of combat duty. He knows how much his wife loves him, but he fears this could destroy his marriage. It almost certainly would ruin his public standing, just as he closes in on the triumph of his political career.

Return to the quiet, thoughtful, intelligent couple. Christopher Winters and his scientist wife, Laura, are best friends, open and honest, calmly discussing problems, genuinely caring for each other.

Although on the other side of the world two people’s lives are in the balance, he would be insane to reveal his secret. Will he?

I highly recommend The New Year, and what a great time to read it, in January!

Spending time with these characters  made me want to be more like them. I am quite sure that reading this book changed me for the better. It showed me how a crisis can be handled with patience, good judgment, compassion, integrity and faithfulness. It is rare these days to find a fiction book with meaning, but this one is brimming over with it.

The New Year was published in 1968, over thirty years after Pearl S. Buck wrote her Pulitzer-prize winning novel, The Good Earth, about a family living in a Chinese village in the early 20th century. The author’s parents were missionaries in China and she grew up there.

The Good Earth appears on so many must-read lists that, about ten years ago, I put it on my own To Read list. The premise didn’t sound very interesting to me, but I forced myself to read the first few pages. After that, I couldn’t put it down, and it has stayed with me all these years.

In my imagination I can still see the main character, O-lan, struggling stoically through her life. This best-selling novel–only the second novel she’d written!–led to the author’s winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1938. According to Amazon.ca, she is the most widely translated American author to this day.

And I recently discovered something lovely about the effect that Pearl S. Buck’s writing had on one reader.

Author Anchee Min grew up in Shanghai and wrote in her 1994 memoir, Red Azalea, about her youth and the chaos of China’s Cultural Revolution. In an NPR interview, she tells how in her teens students were asked to denounce Pearl Buck as an American cultural imperialist.

Min told her teacher she didn’t know about Pearl Buck, and asked if she could read the book, The Good Earth. Her teacher said that the book was so toxic that it was considered dangerous to even translate it. So she dutifully completed her assignment by copying lines from the newspaper: ‘Pearl Buck insulted Chinese peasants. She hates us, and therefore she is our enemy.’

Min didn’t think about the author again until 25 years later, when she was on a book tour. “I was in Chicago in a bookstore doing a reading, and a reader came to me. She says, ‘Do you know Pearl S. Buck?’ And before I could answer, she gave me a paperback. She says, ‘This is a gift. I just want you to know that Pearl Buck taught me to love Chinese people.’ ”

Min said that when she read the novel, she broke down and sobbed because she had never seen anyone, including her own Chinese authors, who wrote of the Chinese peasants the way Pearl Buck did, with such love, affection and humanity. And it was at that very moment her 2010 book Pearl of China was conceived. Pearl of China, about the life of Pearl S. Buck, offers a perspective of how Chinese people saw this brave American woman who was beloved by the people close to her but denounced by authorities.

You can read an excerpt from Anchee Min’s book at the NPR link, here.

Since reading Buck’s The New Year, I have set a goal to read as many of her books as possible, starting with one of hers that I found recently at a used book store, a hard cover published in 1945, Portrait of a Marriage. She wrote over 100 works of literature, including 46 novels and many children’s books.  Many of her books are reviewed on Goodreads.

I hope you’ll treat yourself to a Pearl Buck novel and make it an even Happier New Year!

 

A German Christmas

Today my post is by a guest author, sharing first-hand memories of what Christmas was like for the children of Germany two generations ago.

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One of us always wanted to be the first to pull the 30th of November off the calendar, because Dec. 1 marked the beginning of the Christmas season.

The Advent calendar was taped on the window pane, the Advent wreath was hung around the kitchen lamp, the stores were suddenly full of wonder and magic and angel hair, and children began to write their Christmas lists.

Mama would say, “Remember, Sankt Nikolaus is keeping books on everything.” Every time she reminded me I tried very hard not to commit the slightest infraction of the rules and never say, or even think an unkind word. To my sister, the angel, that came natural, and the baby had no rules and couldn’t talk. To be quite honest though, I was always tempted to test Sankt Nikolaus’ omniscience – (or mother’s memory, which I suspected of being an able and willing informer). The only thing which kept me from being tagged incorrigible was the thought of Sankt Nikolaus’ fearsome companion, Krampus, who was known to lack understanding for temperaments such as mine.

I suppose the underlying idea which was being instilled in us was that “You can’t have what you wish for unless you earn it with virtue.”

Advent Calendar “Im Lande des Christkinds” (In the Land of the Christ Child)

On the evening of Dec. 6, (Sankt Nikolaus Day), the children in Germany eagerly await, or dread, the “hour of judgment.” Mothers prepare a festive table with Spekulatius and Pfeffernuesse (the traditional Christmas cookies) and lighted candles as a welcome for the honored visitors. Father is, for different reasons, always out until after “it’s over,” and wide eyed, fidgety children sit humbly on the living room floor. (But no matter how hard you try to look humble, you appear to be holding your breath and jump at the sound of the doorbell.)

Our Sankt Nikolaus was a tall, slender, awe inspiring, yet gentle, figure dressed in a white robe trimmed with gold braid. He wore a tall, pointed bishop’s hat set above kindly eyes and a resolute mouth made softer by the white, wavy beard. With a faint smile and soothing voice, he read from the list of nice and naughty things we had done, and he was surprisingly accurate.

“Well, I will see you all again next year, and I trust I will have nothing but good things to say. God bless.” He patted us gently on the head, winked at Mother and slowly disappeared into the hall.

Then suddenly Krampus appeared in the door. My little sister’s eyes widened, and she gripped my arm. And Krampus did look fearsome! Dressed in black from hood to boot, he carried a switch torn from a tree and a rope in one hand, and a sack flung over his shoulder in the other.

Without saying a word…his kind doesn’t talk…they just get physical…Krampus struck the floor with his switch as he aimed for my legs. At that point I thought I would faint. But then he turned on his heels and quickly left the room. How I wished Papa had been there to see such cruelty to helpless children! But fathers are always out of the room then because they have such important things to do.

Mother, who always had that twinkle in her eyes (a mixture of understanding and gentle reproach) looked at us and said, “Now, remember, you have time to make amends; so be good and keep praying for Christkindl to come.”

Every day until Christmas Eve was a new delight. Every morning we would politely take turns at opening a new window in the Advent calendar, would listen with both ears when Mama or Papa spoke, and were grateful for every encouraging note contained in the 24 little drawers of the Christmas House.

Frau Holly, the fairytale lady in the sky, was shaking her featherbeds and pillows just at a time when the layer of snow wore thin under the sleds, or the frozen leaves clung to the boots when we played in the nearby woods.

Frau Holly, you see, would shake the bedding so hard that the seams popped and all the feathers and down spilled out and made the sky white. We would catch the gaily dancing feathers and watch them melt in our hands.

And our little Bavarian town, surrounded by dark, dense, whispering pines, was the loveliest place on earth.

A day or two before Christmas, Papa would cut a fresh tree in the woods so tall that the star which adorned its tip would touch the ceiling. No one was allowed in the living room; all the hoping, the wondering, the preparing, was done in the family kitchen. At 6 o’clock on the dot, the traditional Christmas Eve dinner of baked fish was served. The magic hour of 7 o’clock seemed an eternity away.

With pounding hearts and flushed faces and deep faith in Christkindl, we’d wait for Papa to ring the bell from the living room. Then we would all rush to the door at once, and there, in the opposite corner of the room, stood the Christmas tree, decorated with white and silvery balls and angel hair, white candles lit to bathe the room in shimmering light, and Wunderkerzen throwing off sparks reflected in children’s eyes.

Lit candles and Wunderkerzen (sparklers) on the Christmas tree

As Papa passed out the presents, the excitement melted into a warm and sublime feeling of happiness and love.

And I quietly vowed, from that day forward, to always be good and kind and forgiving … just like Christkindl.

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Thanks Mom!  I can never hear this story too many times. I love you!

 

 Last summer, visiting my mother’s home town of Bayerisch Eisenstein, Germany, for the first time

For a first-hand telling of my own–rather humorous–childhood Christmases, showing the strong German traditions even while growing up in the U.S., you can read my article here.

I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoy hearing it. Merry Christmas! And may the Christ child, the Savior, Emmanuel, be with you always.

 

 

Photo credits:  The photo of St. Nikolaus and Krampus is courtesy of Terrie Schweitzer at Flickr, “St. Nicholas and Krampus”, https://www.flickr.com/photos/terriem/11285200115/.    The gorgeous advent calendar is courtesy of Richard Ernst Kepler [Public domain], https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Richard_Ernst_Kepler_-_Im_Lande_des_Christkinds.jpg.    The lovely winter scene is courtesy of MaxPixel CC0 Public Domain “Snow, Snowfall, Lantern, Lights, Light, Christmas, Mood” https://www.maxpixel.net/Christmas-Snow-Lights-Lantern-Light-Mood-Snowfall-1782614 .  The above black and white photos are from my mom’s scrapbook, and the last color photo is from my camera.

An easy way to marvel at the night sky

… or the early morning sky, in my case.

For almost a week I have noticed a extra-bright light in the still-dark southeast sky before I go to work. At first I thought it was an airplane; it’s not uncommon for me to stand out on my balcony and see a brilliant light in the sky heading toward me until it is almost overhead, and then turning north to the airport.

But this one just sat there, blazing. Was it a comet? I didn’t remember hearing about a comet, but was curious so I Googled it. I landed on Time and Date’s  “Planets Visible in the Night Sky” .  There on the The Interactive Night Sky Map you can see what the night sky looks like–at this very moment, at your exact location. And there was my bright light and the crescent moon exactly where I saw them.

The Interactive Night Sky Map

The luminous orb turned out to be my old friend, Venus, “the morning star” whom I’ve long admired. But I still didn’t know why it seemed so much brighter than usual.

I got my answer on EarthSky.org:

Venus is brightest in our sky around the time it passes between us and the sun. Astronomers call this its “greatest illuminated extent”. In 2018, Venus will reach its greatest illuminated extent in the morning sky on December 1 or 2, 2018. You can read more about it here.

PikWizard

And also, by coincidence, it turns out that right now there is a comet we can see! Wirtanen, the last comet of 2018, will be visible throughout December. In my area, the best time to see it is from about 7:30 to 9:45 PM.

 

Ah, the sky!

Such joy to the eye!

In you we can see

Eternity

 

Seek the one who fashions the Pleiades and Orion, who turns the deep darkness into morning, who darkens day into night, who calls out to the waters of the sea, pouring them out onto the surface of the earth: the LORD is his name. (Amos 5:8)

 

Image at PikWizard is licensed under CC0

Banff Bison – Sustainability in Canada’s Ecosystems

Ever since I learned about Canada’s ecosystems while researching my book Respect Our World-SustainabilityI have had the topic on my radar. I am very thrilled about Parks Canada’s announcement that after 140 years of absence, bison have been reintroduced to Banff National Park!  Right in my backyard!

This is not only an ecological triumph, it is also a move to show respect and a spirit of reconciliation with our First Nations people throughout the country, who are very near and dear to my heart.

Treat yourselves to an inspiring story, and some gorgeous scenery in this video!

 

 

Making it Merry Again

The simple act of receiving a Christmas card means someone remembered you,

that you are cared for, and that you are not invisible.

When my friend Barb initiated a wonderful tradition in sharing the joy of Christmas cards with homeless individuals, the initial goal was to collect 80 cards. As it turned out, 80 was “a drop in the merry bucket” as over 1200 cards came in from all across Canada, UK and the USA in a little over three weeks!

I’m joining in the merriment again this year, and hope you’ll been inspired to snail-mail a card! And you could have the children in your life send a card (here are Samples of Cards sent by children).

Here is some more information on the website, and I appreciate Barb’s Resources page for help in composing messages. Here is a link especially for teachers.

How to send a card:

  • Purchase a Christmas card or hand-make one (see FAQs for suggestions) .
  • Include a simple handwritten Christmas message, inspirational thought or note to let the receiver know they are cared for
  • Signing the card with your first name is essential to provide a personal connection
  • Mail your Christmas card by December 10th (or November 30th if you are outside Canada) to:

    MakeItMerry
    P.O. Box 96107 West Springs
    Calgary, AB
    T3H 0L3

 

If you pass this along, even more joy can be spread!

Thanks everybody!

Culture, geography, history and inspiration – Chinese Immigrants in Canada

From as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated by other cultures and eager to know about countries around the world.

This fascination has led to traveling, learning about global holidays, attending pow-wows…

…writing to overseas pen pals, learning Scottish Highland dancing, volunteering at a First Nations wilderness camp…

…AND writing about other cultures!

Immigration to Canada – Then and Now is a new series of educational books published by Beech Street books. I was thrilled last winter when Red Line Editorial invited me to write one of these books, and am celebrating receiving my author copy of Chinese Immigrants in Canada!

An Educational Experience

What an educational experience it was for me to learn about this strong, determined, resourceful, industrious ethnic group in Canada. I have enormous respect for the Chinese immigrants and Canadian-born Chinese people who battled hardships with dignity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I didn’t know how much I didn’t know about Canada and immigration, until I began gathering information. What a valuable experience!

Let me encourage you to “go back to school” and have a look at some of the fascinating people groups in your country. I’m sure you will be as inspired as I am at their journey and accomplishments.  Here are some links to whet your interest!

 

 

The History of Immigration to Canada

The History of Immigration to the United States

The History of Immigration to Britain

And here is a link showing another children’s educational book I wrote for Beech Street Books about sustainability.

If you or someone you know is a teacher or librarian, and are interested in these books, you can purchase them at the publisher’s website, or on Amazon.

Lonely Lily: a vintage children’s book by Mary L. Code

Lonely Lily or The Shepherd’s Call, a tiny thin book published in the U.K. in 1893, gently tells a sweet but powerful story of faith.  It is written for children, but nevertheless fascinated me with its suspenseful telling of the inner journey of hearts, from despair to comfort.

I am struck by how much more serious children’s lives were when this book was written, and how mature the themes in children’s books were, compared to today. It is heart-warming to see the traits of diligence, patience, duty and faith demonstrated in this story.

The beautifully designed front cover of Lonely Lily gives the image of a girl pondering, as she stares out the window at the moon and stars

 

The story

Grandmother Parfitt, an “old, silent woman” lives a reclusive life in an attic apartment with her granddaughter Lily, “a fair, pale flower, pale from the atmosphere of smoke and heaviness” in their city.

Life had dealt Grandmother much bitterness and regret through the deaths of her husband and children, neglect from those from whom she expected kindness, and the theft of her treasures. She has drawn away from others and wants Lily to do the same.

Lily loves to hear about her grandmother’s happy days living in the beautiful country of Switzerland, and one day wonders if heaven is like the countries where she’d been. Grandmother tells her she shouldn’t worry about such things at her young age and senses that Lily is lonely.

Soon Lily is allowed to spend time with Rose, a girl who lives in the same building, and through her family starts to get some answers to her questions about faith. Yet “the child felt alone and ‘outside’; and still she did not see the hand that would guide her [to heaven], nor hear the voice that was saying ‘Come unto me’.”

It wasn’t until Lily was invited to Annie Spencer’s to hear weekly Bible lessons that Lily finally understood God’s kind invitation. Annie, the daughter of a wealthy merchant, is afflicted with a spine condition that causes her constant pain, yet she welcomes a group of girls to visit every Saturday. After her lesson, she senses that Lily has questions and takes her aside for a quiet talk. Then Lily understands that God forgives, and promises not to send anyone away who comes to Him. Finally, she loves Him for sending Jesus to die for her sins, and is comforted. Lily is no longer lonely.

After a torrential rain, Lily’s granny returns from work cold and drenched, and becomes seriously ill. Lily reads to her from her new Bible, which brings hope to Granny for her feelings of regret. She feels sorry for her hard heart and how she had done cruel wrongs in her life. Grandmother realizes that God can love and forgive even her, knows Jesus is her Savior, and forgives those who had done her wrong. After granny’s peaceful passing, Lily is taken in by Rose’s loving family.

About the book

I must admit that it was a sad book, even though good things happened at the end. Quite a serious book, especially for children, it is nevertheless a beautiful one.

My edition, published in 1893, is called the New Edition. The original was apparently published in the 1860’s.  My copy has an interesting inscription: “To Lillian From Rudi”. Did Rudi give this to Lillian because her name was similar to Lily? No inscription date is written, which is unusual.

Judging from all of my online searches, this seems to be a rare book and relatively unknown author. I only found one copy of it at AbeBooks that seems to be an authentic copy of the original printed book.

I found only one of the author’s books, Left at Home , on Gutenberg.com. The OCAC/WorldCat lists several copies of all of her books in Canada, the U.S. and the U.K.

I found no information on the author, which is surprising because my copy lists four other books she had written.

 

Do you have any similar gems to share?

Here are three of my previous posts about other vintage children’s books if you’d like to check them out:

Sam’s Mission , by Beatrice Marshall, published 1892

The Little Hunchback Zia , by Frances Hodgson Burnett (the author of the well-known The Secret Garden and A Little Princess), published 1915

Junior Instructor Encyclopedia , first published 1916

 

Stumbling upon Don Quixote in a German Palace

When I posted my thoughts about the classic novel, Don Quixote, I never dreamed that within one week I would see 17th and 18th century artistic renderings of the story on the walls of a palace!

On our summer trip to Germany, my friend and I decided to go to the Charlottenberg Palace in Berlin. This palace was built by Elector Friederich III in 1699 as a summer palace for his wife Sophie Charlotte.

In one of the first rooms we walked through, I noticed the scene in a tapestry–the tell-tale helmet on one tall slim character and the round character on a donkey–could this be Don Quixote and Sancho Panza? Yes!

Made in Paris, the tapestries were presented to Prince Henry, the brother of Friedrich the Great, as a gift from Louise the XVI of France. Imagine! This book, written by Don Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra in 1605, was so popular that 18th-century artists created huge paintings and tapestries to depict the scenes, and kings gave them to other kings as presents.

 

History of the Don Quixote tapestries from an information plaque in the palace

 

 

And a glorious painting filled the ceiling, showing the windmills Don Quixote imagined to be giants…

To the best of my ability (typing in the correct letters into Google Translate), the French text curving under the ceiling mural translates in English to “Don Quixote led by madness to be a wandering knight.”

What a strange and thrilling experience to see that the author (1605), the artists (tapestries 1763-1784) and all of us today were all reading the same book!

One note about the palace, and something that made me proud to be German. The palace — like so many cities and churches and palaces all over Germany — was severely damaged in World War II, and rebuilt starting in the 1950’s. Thank you, Germany, for that determination and devotion to restoring the breathtaking beauty in art, music, architecture and gardens throughout your land!

Faulkner’s Favorite – Don Quixote by Miguel Cervantes

I regularly recommend this novel as one of the most hilarious books I’ve ever read. Do yourself a favor and treat yourself to the pleasure of this story!

Actually, the full title of the novel is El Ingenioso Hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha (The Ingenious Low-Born Noble Don Quixote of La Mancha). And, apparently, this was William Faulkner’s favorite book; he read it once a year, and Don Quixote was his favorite character.

I didn’t know all this, however, when I sat down unenthusiastically to read it. Because the description made it seem so dry, irrelevant and archaic, I had to “make” myself read Don Quixote, because I wanted to read more of the classics of English literature, and this one makes it to the top of many lists.

Don Quixote did not start out with a bang, as many novels do today. In fact, I felt that throughout the book there was no clear main plot or building suspense. Rather, there were little vignettes of humorous adventures as Don Quixote and Sancho Panza travel, believing they are knights, trying each others’ patience, and trying the patience of those they meet, giving and receiving blows in some cases!

Once I got used to the pace of the story, I sat back and enjoyed every minute of it. What is so endearing is how their ridiculous antics are taken very seriously, and our pair are given respect and honor, even by the royal family who ultimately has the power to bring them success or leave them a failure. I found myself rooting for them, hoping beyond hope for their success, although their quest seemed destined for defeat. By the end, I was sad to leave these two “companions” of mine, Don Quixote, knight errant, and Sancho Pansa, most loyal friend, for whom I’d grown so much affection!

Don Quixote is one of the books you can find in most any library or bookseller, and I hope you give it a try!

Would some of my previous reviews of classic novels interest you?  Here are The Bridge of San Luis Rey, My Antonia, The Inheritance and Pride and Prejudice.  And here are more books to entice you in my post last month. I trust one of these will catch your eye!

Happy summer reading!

 

[Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons: “Don Quixote and Sancho Panza” by Jules David]