Review of Ramona by Helen Hunt Jackson

When I was in elementary school in Denver, Colorado, there was a book high on the top shelf of the school library that kept catching my eye. The book’s title was my name. How intriguing! I saw it year after year, but I couldn’t reach it, and anyway it looked too thick and grown-up to me. After I left elementary school, from time to time, I would run across the book. I got the impression that it was an overly historical book and very dull. Nevertheless, I’d often think, “One day I’m going to read that.”

Fast forward almost twenty years and I was now living in San Diego, California. One of the places a co-worker had taken me was called Old Town, a historical part of San Diego that included an area called “Ramona’s Marriage Place”. (Here is a photo of me there in 1981.) One day I was browsing around at the public library…and there it was! Helen Hunt Jackson’s book, Ramona. Well within reach now, and no time like the present, I checked it out. I was surprised to find out that it was considered a classic American novel. And to my amazement, this historical novel was set right THERE…in the San Diego area!

Serendipity!

This novel tells the story of Ramona, a half-native woman from a wealthy Spanish family, who meets Alessandro, one of the Native American shepherds near her home. They develop a friendship which turns into love, marriage, devotion and tragedy because of discrimination against her husband.

Helen Hunt Jackson delves into some politically incorrect territory for that time in history. In October of 1879, she learned about the plight of the Native Americans and the mistreatment they received from the government. Sympathizing with their cause, she toured many of their impoverished communities, and wrote articles and a book to publicize their struggles. In 1883 the plot of a novel came to her suddenly one morning, and she began writing.

Of course I highly recommend this classic novel. The inside flap of my 1912 edition says

For over a half century Helen Jackson’s romantic story of Spanish and Indian life in California has been widely read until it has become an American classic. Originally published in 1884, “Ramona” has been issued in various editions, with a total of 135 printings. The Atlantic Monthly has termed the story “one of the most artistic creations of American literature,” while the late Charles Dudley Warner [an American essayist, novelist, and friend of Mark Twain] called it “one of the most charming creations of modern fiction.” Born in 1831, Mrs. Jackson was an ardent champion of the Indians to the end of her useful life, in 1885. “Ramona” has been three times produced as a motion picture, been played on the stage, adapted for a pageant and may eventually be utilized for a grand opera.”

More of my personal connection

I have always had an interest and a special place in my heart for the Native Americans, so of course I loved this book with its focus on these people. That, along with the fact that it was a romance based on actual history, including characters living out their faith, made it nearly the perfect book. I won’t give away the ending, but I will say that the tragedy in the story was softened by an unexpected ending of kindness.

The book inspired the Ramona Pageant, which is still performed in the hills of Hemet, California. It is said to be California’s Official Outdoor Play and the longest continuously running outdoor drama in the United States. The original “Ramona” movie came out in 1928, and was remade in 1936, starring Don Ameche and Loretta Young. I’d always known that my grandmother named me after the song, but when I found out that the song was created for the movie based on the book that I loved, I was beyond excited!

While I was growing up, many teachers and other adults sang the first few lines of the song to me, and I finally found a copy of the entire song online. It just so happens that I love it; it is a very sweet, flowing love song. I love the references to nature–hills, mountains, babbing brook, kissing the sky, meeting by the waterfall–and hearing the church “mission bells above”.

One year our family toured southern California and we stayed overnight in the town of Ramona, northeast of San Diego. The town was named to capitalize on the popularity of the fictional character from the best selling novel. I made sure we stopped in Temecula, one of the towns mentioned in the novel (much to my family’s disappointment!), where I purchased a book called The Annotated Ramona and a little Spanish maiden figurine as a memento. The book opened up the whole historical side of the book to me, as well as a biography of the author. I learned that later in her life she moved to Colorado, my home state. Magical!

Here is a postcard a friend in California recently sent me. Notice in the far lower right corner it says, “The Real Ramona”. I’m not sure what that means, exactly, but it is clearly quite an old photograph. Very intriguing.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little bit of my history, and will check out this wonderful book. It’s a gem!

My Favorite Books of 2017

Here are the books I enjoyed reading the most in the past year. They fall into various categories of fiction and non-fiction, old and new, and are listed in the order that I read them. The only thing they all have in common are that they are generally positive and upbeat!

I Remember Nothing by Norah Ephron © 2010 – some quite humorous essays

The Man of the Desert by Grace Livingston Hill ©1914 – inspiring characters, excellent Christian romance

The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen (fiction) by Siri James © 2008 – absolutely incredibly awesome.

The New Year © 1968, by the amazing Pearl S. Buck, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature – characters of strength and integrity – a perfect marriage is rocked by a letter from 12-year-old Korean son of wartime romance

Refuse to Choose: A Revolutionary Program for Doing Everything that you Love by Barbara Sher © 2006 – thank you Barbara for saying that scanners are unique and intelligent and valued!

The Year Without a Purchase by Scott Dannemiller © 2015. Hilarious! And it does have some good solid advice and thoughts for people addicted to buying.

Venetia by Georgette Heyer © 1958. Humorous Victorian romance – one of her very best!

The Sojourner © 1958 by Marjorie Rawlings, author of Pulitzer Prize-winning The Yearling – wonderful, I reviewed this here.

Selected Stories by P.G. Wodehouse © 1958 – even the author’s foreword is funny, every story is laugh-out-loud hilarious (to me, anyway!).

Charmed Particles: A Novel by Chrissy Kolaya ©2015 – a theoretical physicist, his wife and daughter assimilating into suburban America, the last great gentleman explorer and his politician wife and their precocious daughter; all living near the superconductor supercollider in Illinois. Fascinating on so many levels, I couldn’t put it down (a debut novel—wow!).

WWII poster, U.S. Office of War Information–still relevant!

 

And for a few more, here is my post from last year: Positive Uplifting Humorous Reads

What are YOUR favorites?

Happy New Year of Reading in 2018!

******

Images:

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3A%22In_a_War-Torn_World%2C_Let_Good_Books_Help_You%22_-_NARA_-_514614.jpg

Thanks to ulleo at pixabay for the creative commons photo of book heart https://pixabay.com/en/book-pitched-book-pages-browse-1975830/

Book review of The Sojourner by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

If you had offered me a book with a rather off-putting cover drawing about a family who endured the hardships of trying to make a living on a farm in the late 1800’s, I’d have probably declined. That’s been done in various scenarios, and sounds depressing. I’d have preferred something with more pizzazz and originality.

But when I found this book on the shelf of a thrift store, I discovered some key information to change my mind. It was published in 1953, the author’s name was familiar, she had won a Pulitzer Prize, and it was $2.50 that would go toward a good cause. Seemed like a good bet, and a good book to bring home. And was it ever.

The story centers around Ase, whose brother Ben is the apple of his mother’s eye. After his father dies, Ben leaves the farm to seek fortune and adventure. Their mother grieves his loss, and will not believe that he went on his own volition. She never pretends to have any affection for Ase, but he nevertheless devotes himself to her care and making a success of their farm. He marries energetic trickster Nellie and they start a family. He is a thoughtful philosophical dreamer, yet too responsible to let his own longings interfere with his duties.

Ase is wise, yet timid and unable to articulate what is in his huge heart and his keen mind, so others find him an easy target, including his own children. He opens his home to those down on their luck, and finds true friendship in unlikely places. Through hopeful and sad events, despite all the years that go by without any word of  him, Ase never stops hoping for the return of his brother.

From page one The Sojourner was too gripping to put down, and I didn’t want to miss one single word. Each character in turn was introduced in a few pages to make you feel as if you had known them for a lifetime. Each had their own strengths and weaknesses, triumphs and failures. The intense commitment of the farming community to their livelihood and to one another show the stoicism and dedication that built the powerful American society of the early twentieth century.

Reading it was a quiet experience. I don’t just mean that I read it in silence; it also calmed my mind. The longer I read, the more I joined this family miles away from the nearest neighbor, and enjoyed the restful evenings without electricity, as though I could hear the silent breeze rustling the grass in their distant field. All of these combined to make a quality story of depth, common yet uncommon humanity, spiritual truth, and a satisfying outcome.

Following the motivations, decisions and outcomes in each of their journeys was illuminating. It makes me feel like I understand those in my little circle, and people all around the world, even more. It is the kind of book I keep hoping to discover in contemporary fiction and rarely seem to find. (Please enlighten me if you have found otherwise, I’d love to find some great contemporary fiction!) And the wonderful thing is that in learning more about her, I have discovered nine more novels of hers to read.

Marjorie Rawlings’ classic novel is a great example of why I comb the vintage book sections and why I trust the classic authors of fifty or more years ago. Tell me: where else can you get a heartwarming, inspiring experience every evening for three weeks…all for the grand total of two-and-a-half dollars?

Quality Romance worth Reading

I love Valentine’s Day because I love LOVE. And I love reading about love. I have been browsing through my binder of book notes that goes back to about 1995, and I’ve picked out my 20 favorite books about romantic love.Valentine fr Bruce

How did these make the cut?

What I look for in a story of love between a man and a woman, in addition to excellent writing, is the qualities of the main characters.  I like to get involved with authentic, realistic characters that I would actually want to spend time with, people with qualities such as integrity, forgiveness, kindness, humility and goodness. By the end I want to see them overcome significant struggles, go through a positive transformation, or experience a revelation that results in a better life for them and those around them.

I look for the author to go beyond the action to expertly convey feelings, motivation, and attitude throughout the story, teach me something new, provide a good pace, and include humor or at least a generally positive outlook. I will stop reading stories with a huge amount of introspection, lengthy descriptions of scenery or houses, a depressing tone, or overdone violence or immorality.  I like a gentle writing style as long as it doesn’t get boring, and as long as the story keeps pointing towards significance.

Here is my list!

Here is a mixture of classic and contemporary books, published from 1605 to the present, which include history, humor, mystery, chick-lit, inspiration, and various locales such as Scotland, California, Mexico, England, Colorado, and more.  I include the year of their publication.

My top 20, in alphabetical order by author:

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen 1813 – exquisite

What a Girl Wants by Kristin Billerbeck 2004 – hilarious!

Lorna Doone by R.D. Blackmore 1869 – incredibly intense, especially the ending

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte 1847 – a roller coaster with the perfect ending

what a girl wants_Don Quixote by Miguel Cervantes 1605 and 1615 – idealistic knight, surpisingly funny

La Dame aux Camellias by Alexandre Dumas fils 1852 – true love’s sweet sacrifice

Sassy Cinderella and the Valiant Vigilante by Sharon Dunn 2004 – laugh out loud mystery

Reason to Believe by Kathleen Eagle 1995 – gentle story of two cultures

Nick’s Kind of Woman by Margot Early 1997 – fascinating relationship and action set in my home state of Colorado

The Well Beloved by Thomas Hardy 1892 – “a sketch of a temperament”

Arabella by Georgette Heyer 1949 – who knew the proper Victorian era could be this funny?

sassy cinderellaThorn in my Heart by Liz Curtis Higgs 2003 – the story of Leah and Rachel moved to 18th century Scotland

The Story of a Whim by Grace Livingston Hill – sweet, creative, upbeat surprise

Ramona by Helen Hunt Jackson 1884 – love amid racial discrimination after the Mexican-American War

Flowers from the Storm by Laura Kinsale 1992 – rakish mathematician Duke meets intelligent Quaker

My Favorite Goodbye by Sheila O’Flanagan 2001 – light and funArabella by G Heyer

The Promise of Jenny Jones by Maggie Osborne 1999 – never laughed so hard

Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers 2001 – pointing to the source of love

Happy Ever After (also called Family Happiness) by Leo Tolstoy 1859 – light, easy, insightful

The Sunset Coast by Susan Devore Williams 1995 – gradual awakening of love and faith

I hope you will be inspired to read something off your normal reading track!  If you do–or if you have some to recommend to me–please leave me a comment!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

San Diego 527

Book Review of Until the Harvest by Sarah Loudin Thomas

I am excited to have found this excellent writer! Until the Harvest is a masterful illustration of how hearts and lives are transformed through continued offers of friendship, food and forgiveness. It is a story of family, community, relationships and love; the hardships that they cause; and the beauty that only people can bring to our lives.

In the early chapters, I admit that I became impatient with the pace of the action and the simplicity of some characters. But I always looked forward to evenings spent in this community, often reading too far into the night. I appreciated how Sarah Loudin Thomas gradually revealed the nature of each character, and transformation. The subtle ways that the story changed me were a pleasant surprise.

What I loved the most was how the author, through the characters, showed affection even for the antagonists, the ones hardest to tolerate in the story, the ones who seemed to be evil to the core. The faith of a few characters is revealed naturally and subtly in only a few places in the story.   I liked that. It is refreshing to see genuine glimpses of their hearts, without characters being overly verbose, emotional or heavy-handed about their beliefs.

Until the Harvest smaller file 9780764212260

I found the farm setting an especially welcome mental retreat from living a fast-paced urban life filled with so many inconsequential time-wasting activities. Although it created an uncomfortable longing in me for a rural lifestyle I knew I was unlikely to ever live, it allowed me to have a taste of that kind of world. I found the tone of the book to be realistic, yet comforting and safe.

It is a true book. It could happen anywhere. People can be cruel for no apparent reason, selfishly deceitful, and manipulating to the point of ruining people’s lives and relationships. But, as we see in Until the Harvest, the power of friendship toward just those people is miraculous.

[Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the Bethany House book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.]

Valentine’s Day Review of Cotillion by Georgette Heyer

What better way to celebrate Valentine’s Day—in a literary way—than to read an excellent romance? (Well, chocolate might go head-to-head with a romance novel. But it is February and, as usual, the momentum from holiday chocolate intake has resulted in somewhat of a chocolate addiction, so I’m doing a cleanse. Guess I should have waited a week to start it!)

Valentine fr Katie K

 

One day about 15 years ago, I walked into Indigo bookstore and browsed the romance section. I’d become frustrated with constant disappointments in what were considered top quality romance, and before I quit reading that genre altogether, I decided to give it one last try. I asked the saleswoman if she could give me some suggestions, and she asked me who some of my favorite authors were. I listed several popular authors and classic authors, and she brought me to the “H” section where she introduced me to Georgette Heyer.

Georgette Heyer photo fr LIbraryThing

 

That first book was Cotillion, and it is still one of my favorites with its delightful characters, engaging plot and humor.

“Well aware that to bring the voice of sober reason to bear upon the exaggerations of agitated females was both fruitless and perilous, Freddy wisely let this pass…”

—Georgette Heyer, Cotillion

 

Miss Charing is animated, sweet, and driven to help others however she can. And Kitty, as she is called, will receive her guardian’s fortune if she marries one of his nephews.

 

Unfortunately, Kitty has her eyes set on the rake nephew, “rake” being short for “rakehell”, analogous in today’s language to a hell-raiser, who is in no mood to settle down. So Kitty persuades another nephew, Freddy Standen, to pretend to be engaged to her. Freddy is kind-hearted, says as little as possible, is hilariously understated with a dry, dry sense of humor, and never plans to marry.

 

Her plan is to make the rake jealous, and when he comes to his senses and proposes to her, she and her friend Freddy will break off their engagement.  But of course things never go as planned. The action moves quickly and the dialogue keeps a smile on the reader’s face.

Georgette Heyer Cotillion cvr fr LIbraryThing

“You think I’ve got brains?’ he said, awed. ‘Not confusing me with Charlie?’
‘Charlie?’ uttered Miss Charing contemptuously. ‘I daresay he has book-learning, but you have—you have address, Freddy!’
‘Well, by Jove!’ said Mr Standen, dazzled by this new vision of himself.”

—Georgette Heyer, Cotillion

Georgette Heyer Cotillion cvr fr LIbraryThing 2

 

After I’d read a few of Georgette Heyer’s books, and was looking for more, I found out that she’d written around 57 books! Many of them are in the genre called Regency romances whose settings are during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, approximately the time of British Regency. Having written over twenty-four of these between 1921 and 1972, Georgette Heyer is actually credited with establishing the genre, known as the “novel of manners.”

 

I browsed around the web and compiled my own list of her most beloved books, which I am still working through. Here is my list of books that I haven’t read yet, and am still looking for in the used book stores. They are ranked as some of her best, compiled from the various fan websites :

 

The Grand Sophy

Friday’s Child

Venetia

Frederica

The Nonesuch

 

(Okay, I’ll admit it, I carry this in my wallet!)

 

Cotillion was originally published in 1953, and was republished, as are many of Heyer’s books, thank goodness. I find most of her Regency romances equally humorous, full of intelligent, warm, witty heroes, and naïve yet determined and spirited heroines. What a breath of fresh air!

Georgette Heyer 170px-Edmund_Blair_Leighton_-_On_the_Threshold

I give this an A+ and highly recommend it and her other Regency romances, which can be found just about anywhere, including many brick-and-mortar book stores and libraries, and the Internet Archive.

Intrigued? You can also have a look at my reviews of two other Heyer books, Arabella and The Convenient Marriage.

 

Painting “On the Threshold” by Edmund Leighton (1853–1922), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Edmund_Blair_Leighton_-_On_the_Threshold.jpg

Cover and author images from www.librarything.com

(And the two valentines are straight from my elementary school scrapbook!)

Valentine fr Bruce

 

Review of Louisa May Alcott’s A Long Fatal Love Chase

Lately I’ve been reading parts of Louisa May Alcott’s journals and poems and, especially in her younger years, she writes with sweetness and light. After all that I’ve read of hers, I am still astounded at her talent for words and her inviting tone. Yet here is another one of her “blood and thunder tales”, swinging to the opposite end of the pendulum, yet never losing the wholesomeness and decency the author is known for.

 

Interesting things happened to me with this novel, which I will talk about later. Here I will give as thorough a summary of A Long Fatal Love Chase as possible without spoilers. If you are like me, and you don’t want any of the important parts revealed, you might want to skip the next two paragraphs and just trust me that this is a novel you must seek out and read.

Alcott Long Fatal Love Chase cvr 3

This is a love story between an adventurous young woman, Rosamond, who marries an exciting, brooding, mysterious stranger, Tempest, and sails away with him, leaving behind a restricted life with her grandfather. However, she learns that her beloved has not been honest with her, and kept a very important fact from her. Rosamond runs away from him, and hides in a place she believes he will never look for her. She no longer believes he is an upright man, and knows she should be through with him completely; yet she still loves him. He finds her and she flees; he pursues her obsessively. He wears her down with his ability to track her no matter where she goes and to appear out of thin air.

 

Finally, she seems to have lost him. Her life settles into a routine. She is safe living with a woman who is an unexpected, most improbable friend, and enjoying the protection and affection of her devoted priest, Ignatius. But her feeling of security is short-lived. Tempest pursues her when she flees by ship, separating her from the people who had kept her safe, terrifying her. The nightmare she had dreaded and endured for so many years has come true. I won’t tell the ending, but be assured that it is fascinating, unpredictable, and gripping until the last word.

Alcott Long Fatal Love Chase cvr 2

I always love “visiting” distant countries of the world that are the settings of characters’ lives. We visit England, France and Italy in this novel, originally titled A Modern Mephistopheles, and have the unique advantage of also experiencing life aboard a ship.

I started reading and thoroughly enjoying this book and then lost it. A year later, I found it in the zipper pocket of a suitcase. After a couple weeks I lost it again (honestly, this carelessness with books is not like me; it has never happened before or since), but found it soon after under my car seat (which gave me an image of sitting in my car while waiting for one of my sons to get changed after a hockey game.) At any rate, I’m glad it kept finding me!

Alcott quote

An extraordinary thing happened with A Long Fatal Love Chase. A co-worker and I had been discussing our favorite books, and we realized that we had the same preference for high quality fiction and classic authors. After this talk, we both felt that we had some books the other would like, and agreed to bring one the next day. Even though I felt she might be disappointed that I brought something rather obscure, outdated and melodramatic (and even had a twinge of fear that she might even lose respect for my reading tastes!), I brought A Long Fatal Love Chase to work the next day for her to read. As we pulled our books out of our bags, I could see that she had brought a thick book with an interesting cover. She handed it to me and I laughed. Although a different cover, she had brought me the same book!

 

I give an A+ to this less well-known but high quality 1866 Gothic romance by Louisa May Alcott. You don’t have to cave in to books with vulgarities, brutal violence or overly sensual relationships if you or your adolescent daughter are looking for excitement, drama, danger and tension in your reading. The latter is the kind of book that I enjoy, and this book of Louisa May Alcott’s, as well as the others I’ve previously reviewed*, fit the bill perfectly.

Alcott Long Fatal Love Chase cvr

Remember that a vast amount of Alcott’s writings are available online for free reading.

 

* My other L.M. Alcott book reviews are here…. here…. and here.

 

Book cover images from www.librarything.com