Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

“Dear, dear Norland,” said Elinor, “probably looks much as it always does at this time of year. The woods and walks thickly covered with dead leaves.”

“Oh,” cried Marianne, “with what transporting sensation have I formerly seen them fall! How have I delighted, as I walked, to see them driven in showers about me by the wind! What feelings have they, the season, the air altogether inspired! Now there is no one to regard them. They are seen only as a nuisance, swept hastily off, and driven as much as possible from the sight.”

“It is not everyone,” said Elinor, “who has your passion for dead leaves.”

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My favorite scene in Jane Austen’s novel Sense and Sensibility comes when Marianne Dashwood bemoans her problems with a specific man to all those within hearing distance. In an effort to calm Marianne’s nerves, the gossipy (and hilarious) Mrs. Jennings prepares a glass of wine for her; however, Marianne’s sister Elinor Dashwood, who is having very similar problems with another man but who characteristically keeps it a secret, interrupts Mrs. Jennings and offers to take the glass of wine to her sister. But instead of taking the wine to its intended recipient, she goes off in secret and drinks it herself.

I envision Elinor perhaps quickly chugging a large goblet of wine or maybe throwing back a small glass like a shot, but maybe she just sits by herself and sips it – slowly. In any case, I found the whole scene very funny and a microcosm of the Dashwood sisters’ larger story.  Their inwardness and outwardness project the confinements placed on them by their society. Given that Jane Austen has achieved rock star status some 200 years after her death, it’s not surprising that those same confinements (gender, lack of money) can still be recognized in society, today.

While Sense and Sensibility’s focus is on the Dashwood sisters with Elinor being the main contributor to the narration, it’s actually the story of these two women in addition to three men. The dashing Willoughby is the man who is the most “passionate” and outwardly seems to be the most rebellious – the man one might think would be the most likely to brush off those societal chains. But that’s not the case. His counterparts, Edward Ferrars and Colonel Brandon, both very straight-laced and what one could consider shy, become the rule breakers.

The more I think about this novel, the more I like it.

Jane Austen Read All

Sense and Sensibility is the first of Jane Austen’s novels to be published and the first in the Jane Austen Read-All-Along sponsored by James at James Reads Books, the goal of which is to read all of Jane Austen’s novels in the order of publication by the end of the year – one each month starting in July. In August, I’ll be re-reading Pride and Prejudice.

The Birds of Opulence

Imagine a tree, a bird in the tree, the hills, the creek, a possum, the dog chasing the possum. Imagine yourself a woman who gathers stories in her apron.

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Crystal Wilkinson’s novel The Birds of Opulence visits familiar themes I’ve encountered in her short stories. There are familiar names and places, also. She weaves them all into a story of four generations of women who live in Opulence, Kentucky along with a friendship between the youngest of those four generations and a girl who has difficulty feeling she belongs in Opulence even though she grows up there.

Wilkinson scatters the novel with the joy of the mountain landscape, the pleasantry of singing birds and the celebratory nature of the community’s church picnic known as Dinner on the Grounds. These happy details are not a facade. They are real and alive.

At the same time, the joy melds with the haunting presence of mental illness and the dark spectre of racial, social and cultural prejudice. These aspects of the story are very real, also.

Wilkinson’s brilliance is her ability to bring both together without one dismissing the other. The tragic ending doesn’t displace the laughter, but the laughter doesn’t cover up the tragedy.

I’ll sum everything up by saying “Go and read this novel!”

The Warden and the Wolf King

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Be still.

The voice repeated the words again and again, like a beating heart, until Janner was at last able to obey and to rest, rest, rest. There in the light of the Fane of Fire, Janner Wingfeather encountered – absorbed – an abiding peace that he would never forget all the days of his life.

He was still. And he was loved.

The title in Andrew Peterson’s The Warden and the Wolf King, his conclusion to The Wingfeather Saga, refers to Janner and Kalmar Wingfeather who take center stage along with their sister Leeli in this masterfully told story. The brothers continue to come to terms with who they are as the royal family of the lost Shining Isle of Anniera. This growth and growing up comes with more bumps along the way but the brothers continue to become aware of the other’s strengths and the need of each for the other.

Throughout the series, the children’s grandfather Podo reminds them of a game they play called Ships and Sharks. I have imagined this being a pirate version of Dungeons and Dragons. Podo tells them never to give up – there’s always a way out. A determination set with a resilient hope becomes the theme of the whole story and a driving characteristic of the children’s fight against the evil in their land.

My posts about these books have focused on Janner and Kalmar but I don’t want to leave out the character of Leeli, whose gift for music gives her a unique role in the war against Gnag the Nameless. She shows as much strength and bravery as her brothers.

As I thought in my previous post, names take on important meanings in the story and the fact that Gnag is Nameless is significant.

And then there is the ending. An ending I want to talk about but just can’t so as to let others enjoy and discover this tale on their own. But its an ending about which anyone who reads these books will have an opinion.

Maybe I’m letting the little kid in me come out when I simply say “I loved these books!” But I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

The Monster in the Hollows

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His heart was black with despair, so the Maker’s magic was most welcome. It helped him believe there was power pulsing behind the veil of the visible world, pulsing like blood through the world’s veins, sending life and light coursing through everything, surprising and confounding at every turn. When he remembered this, the darkness glimmered with goodness.

We’re up to The Monster in the Hollows, Book 3 in Andrew Peterson’s Wingfeather Saga and as I said to my youngest daughter after I finished this one, they just keep getting better! I will call out “Spoilers” here even though I’m not revealing anything that isn’t in the description on Goodreads.com.

The Igiby family is now known by their true identity, the Wingfeathers, the royal family of the once glorious but now destroyed Shining Isle of Anniera. In order to escape the Fangs (half animal and half human creatures created by the evil Gnag the Nameless), they travel from the Ice Prairies to the Green Hollows, Nia Wingfeather’s childhood home and the closest thing to safety they know.

Not an uncommon theme in fantasy stories, the fear of evil can cause an evil of its own. Expecting to be welcomed to their new home, Kalmar (known as Tink in his younger days) and a choice he made in the previous book North! Or Be Eaten leads to fear and suspicion from the otherwise peaceful folks of the Green Hollows. In spite of a few friends, the Wingfeather children find themselves alienated from virtually everyone around them – strangers in a strange land.

The working through this alienation is one of the highlights of the series so far. In addition, the jealousies and insecurities that exist between Kalmar and his brother, Janner, slowly change to mutual admiration, respect and, yes, perhaps even love.

Also in the story, a mystery begins to be revealed little by little. I found myself early on asking questions like “I wonder?” or “Could it be?” It’s easy sometimes to criticize a plot line by saying “I saw that coming a mile away” but in the case of The Monster in the Hollows that “mile” is one of the best feats of story-telling I’ve read in a while. And the emotional punch at the end of that mile can’t be dismissed, either.

 

 

North! Or Be Eaten

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Only Armulyn the Bard was able to muster any true feelings of joy, and Janner had noticed that for himself and for the people who listened to his songs with such desperate attention, the joyful feelings the songs brought to the surface always came with tears. Theirs was a burden too heavy to be lifted by songs alone, however fine the melody.

The whimsical gets darker in North! Or Be Eaten, Book 2 of Andrew Peterson’s The Wingfeather Saga. But the whimsy isn’t lost nor is the hope.

The Igiby children, brothers Janner and Tink and their sister, Leeli, flee to the Ice Prairies with their family to escape the Fangs of Dang who specifically chase these three children at the order of the evil Gnag the Nameless. The reason the children are being chased is still a mystery to both them and the reader.

As the brothers get separated in their flight, Janner takes a wrong turn both literally and figuratively, ending up in a Dickensian Fork Factory. Janner’s desperation palpably jumps off the page. But so does his determination and, I’ll say it again, hope.

These wrong turns are what I would consider “true” mistakes. Yes, as in the first book, the Igiby family manages to escape many hair-raising situations but not in a James Bond manner. They use their brains and their will-power and their refusal to give up to make their way in a world of peril and evil. They don’t always make the perfect choices.

And speaking of choices, Tink (who’s real name is Kalmar) makes a choice with more dire consequences. Consequences that aren’t as easy to escape.

In my post about the first book On the Edge of the Dark Sea of DarknessI mentioned that I thought perhaps the leader of the evil forces, Gnag the Nameless, may have been a nod to Voldemort (or He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named) in the Harry Potter Series. After reading the second book in the Wingfeather Saga, though, I realized that “names” take on more significance. Names are tied closely to the characters’ identity. It seems the fact that Gnag is nameless may say more about him than the fear people have of him.

So far, this series by a master story-teller has been the highlight of my summer.

On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness

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“There’s just something about the way he sings. It makes me think of when it snows outside, and the fire is warm, and Podo is telling us a story while you’re cooking, and there’s no place I’d rather be – but for some reason I still feel…homesick.”

-Janner Igiby on hearing Armulyn the Bard sing

Singer/songwriter Andrew Peterson’s Wingfeather Saga has been on my radar for a while now. From years of listening to his music and reading his articles, I know that he has a giant appreciation for Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. I’ve finally gotten around to reading his own fantasy series and based on the first book, it’s going to be great!

In the world of Aewiar, in the land of Skree, live Janner, Tink and Leeli Igiby with their mother Nia and ex-pirate grandfather Podo. Since the Great War, Skree has been ruled by the Fangs of Dang, lizard-like creatures under the control of Gnag the Nameless (perhaps a nod to Rowling’s Voldemort or He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named but Gnag’s not Nameless because that’s his name which I found humorous).

Oldest Igiby sibling, Janner, is going through what many young men might go through in trying to figure out his place in the world without a father. His father died in the Great War.

Throughout the novel, Peterson’s humor mixes well with the darker situations in which his characters are involved. I’ve heard Peterson quote G. K. Chesteron several times about the role fairy tales and scary stories can play in childhood:

Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.

As the plot unfolds, the children find themselves drawn into conflict with the Fangs and wondering about the secrets Nia and Podo appear to be hiding from them. The adults know something about the Lost Jewels of Anniera in which Gnag the Nameless has a great interest. The Jewels might hold some sort of power like the One Ring in Tolkien’s trilogy but Peterson is making this story his own and by the end secrets are revealed that put a whole new and wonderful light to the adventures of the Igiby children.

A new and wonderful light that makes me want to read more.

 

Water Street by Crystal Wilkinson

Last year, I enjoyed Crystal Wilkinson’s short story “Humming Back Yesterday” so when I found her book Water Street on display at my local public library in the  “local” section, I decided to pick it up and give it a try. Not surprisingly, I’m glad I did.

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We are almost Southern but not northern at all. Stanford’s black children root here. Some of her white ones, too. This street is our homeland.

We have streetlights but we are not quite country. Not city at all.

These opening lines set the stage for a series of related vignettes that revolve around Water Street in Stanford, Kentucky. Though Stanford is a real place (I looked it up on a map), the stories and characters are fictional. Each story is about a different resident and may be set in various timeframes. The reader might hear a minor mention of a charater in someone else’s story and then get a larger story about that character later on. The interrelationship between the stories mirrors the relationship between the characters.

The story that Jeanette Stokes tells intrigued me because it almost stands alone unlike the other stories. She tells of her mother leaving her when she was a girl – not physically but mentally after Jeanette’s father dies. Her mother continues to talk to her father setting them apart from the other neighbors. She gets ridiculed at school for living in a haunted house.  Eventually, Jeanette deals with the death of her mother:

In the weeks that followed, I kept my eyes peeled for Mama’s second coming. I had hoped she would come back a sprightly vision, her and Daddy two-stepping around the old couch. But I don’t think we have choice in the spirits who haunt us. We have to settle for what we get. And I have.

In a slightly happier story, Pearline, the elderly mother-in-law of Lois Carter (who has her own story), tells about having to move in (for health reasons) with Lois and Pearline’s son, Roscoe. The ladies don’t really get along. They do try to put on their best faces for each other, though:

“Bye, Honey, You are so sweet.” Pearline could act too. She was Lena Horne made over.

Pearline watching TV with her friend Hazel over the phone makes for some good laughs, too. I enjoy the way Pearline isn’t giving up – especially with her morning walks.

Wilkinson beautifully manages to show the individuality that exists on Water Street as well as the community. She shows the uniqueness of Water Street compared to the rest of the world but she shows the sameness, too.

Another Wilkinson story is on my list for Deal Me In 2017 and I’m looking forward to when that one shows up in my deck.