Thursday, July 28, 2016

'The Light Between Oceans' by M.L. Steadman

I read and reviewed this one some time ago, but since I like to focus on Australian stories and the occasional classic or best seller, I thought I'd add it to my blog. 

 After four harrowing years on the Western Front, Tom Sherbourne returns to Australia and takes a job as the lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, nearly half a day’s journey from the coast. To this isolated island, where the supply boat comes once a season and shore leaves are granted every other year at best, Tom brings a young, bold, and loving wife, Isabel. Years later, after two miscarriages and one stillbirth, the grieving Isabel hears a baby’s cries on the wind. A boat has washed up onshore carrying a dead man and a living baby.

Tom, whose records as a lighthouse keeper are meticulous and whose moral principles have withstood a horrific war, wants to report the man and infant immediately. But Isabel has taken the tiny baby to her breast. Against Tom’s judgment, they claim her as their own and name her Lucy. When she is two, Tom and Isabel return to the mainland and are reminded that there are other people in the world. Their choice has devastated one of them.

M. L. Stedman’s mesmerizing, beautifully written novel seduces us into accommodating Isabel’s decision to keep this “gift from God.” And we are swept into a story about extraordinarily compelling characters seeking to find their North Star in a world where there is no right answer, where justice for one person is another’s tragic loss.

The Light Between Oceans is exquisite and unforgettable, a deeply moving novel.

Genre: Australian fiction, modern classics, books which have been made into movies.

During the aftermath of World War One, Tom Sherbourne decides that for the rest of his life, he only wants to cause good and not harm. For that reason, he applies for the job of lighthouse keeper at remote Janus Island in Western Australia, situated where the Indian and Southern Oceans meet. He'll have plenty of time to ponder and may help save ships from being wrecked. Little does he know he'll soon find himself in a horrible position in which causing happiness for one woman will result in unspeakable grief for another, and vice versa.

Allowing his beloved wife, Isabel, to keep the child she deeply loves, and who seemed to be washed to their shore by providence means sentencing the baby's birth mother, Hannah, to a lonely life of heartache and forever unanswered questions.

Although my heart ached for each of the three adults, I grieved most for little Lucy. When I was little, I used to dread being taken away from my parents, who meant stability and all the world to me. Her confusion and pain was heartbreaking to read. Is this story about the eventual resilience of the human spirit, or would being the subject of this horrific predicament have scarred her for the long term more than the end of the book seems to indicate? I really don't know.

I found myself wondering whether or not Tom's job choice would be a good one. Being on the introvert side of the spectrum, a whole lot of social interaction quickly becomes tiring for me, but I'm not sure I'd like none at all. Tom was happy though, even in those years alone before he married Isabel. He went for stretches of months without ever seeing another person, and they'd only know he was doing his very important job because the lighthouse on the island would obviously go on each night. When I mentioned it to my husband, he said, 'To be honest, I'd love it,' but I'm not sure he was thinking it through.


I guess some readers may call the ending 'realistic' and others may say that it constitutes a 'literary' rather than 'popular' ending. Still, I would've liked it if twenty years hadn't lapsed before any contact was made. It seemed like a final cruel twist that Lucy eventually showed up one week after Isabel's death. It is definitely a book to help readers treasure those sweet, monotonous times with our own children.

4 stars

Monday, July 25, 2016

Writers living with Kids

I'll start with a bit of background to this post. In winter 2003, I expected to have a lot of time to myself the following year. My son was in Year 3 and my daughter in kindy, soon to begin Reception. But my son became very unhappy at school. I wanted to try a stint of homeschooling, just to see if his spark would return. At the same time, my husband was planning to resign from a job which had bored him for a long time. We intended to take a caravan holiday up the coast of Australia before settling down to homeschooling. Then I discovered I was expecting a third baby! For a while, we wondered if this would throw a spanner in the works, but decided to go ahead with the plans anyway. A newborn baby boy shouldn't make it impossible to live on the road. So we sold our house and for a few months of 2004 we were all five of us homeless travelers. And I've been homeschooling ever since.  

Finding time to pursue writing, my own hobby and craft, was important to me. Over the years, I've been asked how I managed to do it with kids always at home all day long for all that time. I'll try to answer that here.

I've been a homeschooling mother for such a long time, it's morphed into a comfy lifestyle rather than any particular teaching method. Interruptions are just a way of life. Putting aside a specific time for routine quickly became a bone of contention, and eventually a joke. When the kids were engrossed in some pursuit of their own, those were the times I'd work on my own novels. They could be any hour of the day. I'd just snatch it.

Interruptions would blend into each other so we couldn't tell them apart. Was reading them 'Story of the World' an interruption from my writing, or was my writing an interruption from 'Story of the World'? It got to the point where it didn't really matter, because it was all just stuff that we did. So was taking them to archery lessons, dance lessons, art lessons, and currently Japanese lessons for my youngest. And it was the same with nature hikes, allowing my daughter to cook, or letting the three of them loose with the video camera to create their own little current affair or movie take-offs.

But I found having the kids around 24/7 improved my writing habits in a good way. When you have to snatch your moments, you don't get so intimidated by a blank page. I'd think, 'This is probably the only hour I'll have today, so I'm not going to waste it by getting all freaked out or overly serious, as I used to do at Uni. I'll get something on the page to work with later, no matter what it is. If I keep worrying about choosing the right words straight off, and not being good enough, I'll never get anything done at all.' And then surprisingly, I'd get quite a lot done.

Interestingly, I came across something Julia Cameron wrote in her, 'Sound of Paper' that matched my experience. She said that when her daughter was small, she had to make her writing 'portable and doable.' Julia wrote, 'We get a lot done when we give up the dream of writing full time and settle for patchwork squares of time here and there.' Since I've written nine novels and countless blog posts and reflections, I have to agree with her. I'm now well on my way through a tenth book based on some family history. Patchwork squares of time are great.

When I started writing the novel which became 'The Risky Way Home' my eldest son was a crawler busy pulling himself up on the briefcase I used to keep the manuscript in, to practice walking. When I wrote 'Picking up the Pieces', I used to work it on it when I'd dropped him off at kindy and driven around a few blocks to get his baby sister to sleep in the back of the car. Then I'd park somewhere nice and start writing.  It was a good life.

Admittedly, my kids made it reasonably easy. They are all three low-key personalities who have long attention spans and are happy to spend time by themselves. On many occasions, we all welcomed the opportunity to get on with whatever we were doing and not bother each other. I'm not sure how I would have coped with hyped-up, energetic, socially demanding kids. But here's what a couple of other writers have had to say about writing with kids around.

Fay Weldon, when asked why she wrote longer sentences in her later novels, replied, 'As my children grew older, I had fewer interruptions.

Anne Tyler: It seems to me that since I've had children, I've grown richer and deeper. They may have slowed down my writing for a while, but when I did write, I had more of a self to speak from.

Look out for my post next week, when I talk about the flip side of this one, Kids living with Writers. From what mine have said, it can be interesting. 

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Some of literature's most awkward marriage proposals

I understand that guys may have a tense and anxious time when planning how to pop such a vulnerable, potentially life-changing question. Most of these books were written by women who either wanted a bit of a laugh, or to prove that being put on the spot and having to come up with an answer isn't easy either.

There are hundreds to choose from, of course, but I've decided to go for a few of the more well known literary proposals I can remember.

1) Almanzo Wilder to Laura Ingalls
Using the indirect approach and putting out feelers may be fine, but look out for quick witted girls like Laura.

Almanzo: I was wondering if you'd like an engagement ring.
Laura: That would depend on who gave it to me.
Almanzo: If I should?
Laura: Then it would depend on the ring.
(From 'These Happy Golden Years' by Laura Ingalls Wilder)

2) Maxim de Winter to his second wife
Wording your proposal as an ultimatum isn't the traditional way to go, and may lead to confusion. Following up with an insult doesn't help either. 

Maxim: Either you go to America with Mrs Van Hopper or you come home to Manderley with me.
Young Heroine: Do you want a secretary or something?
Maxim: No, I am asking you to marry me, you little fool.
(From 'Rebecca' by Daphne du Maurier)

3) Billy Andrews to Anne Shirley
Guys, however nervous you may feel, please don't do it by proxy. Be man enough to at least ask her in person.

Jane: Anne, what do you think of my brother, Billy?
Anne: I don't understand. Why... I like him, of course.
Jane: Would you like him for a husband?
Anne: Whose husband?
Jane: Yours of course. Billy wants to marry you. He's always been crazy about you, and now father has given him the upper farm in his own name, and there's nothing to prevent him from getting married. But he's so shy, he couldn't ask you himself if you'd have him, so he got me to do it.
(From 'Anne of the Island' by L.M. Montgomery)

4) Jimmy Pendleton to Pollyanna Whittier
This was a delicate situation, and no fault of the hero. Pollyanna was in love with her childhood friend Jimmy, but suspected that his adopted father, John Pendleton, intended to propose to her himself. Since Pollyanna's mother had broken John's heart, she felt obligated not to repeat history. Poor Jimmy didn't know the craziness he was entering into. 

Jimmy: You mean you'd marry him, Pollyanna?
Pollyanna: No! I yes, I suppose so.
Jimmy: Pollyanna, you wouldn't, you couldn't. You're breaking my heart.
Pollyanna: I know it, I know it! I'm breaking mine too. But I'll have to do it. I'd break your heart, I'd break mine, but I'd never break his.
Jimmy: Alright little girl, it'll have to be as you say. But surely never before was a man kept waiting for his answer till the girl he loved, and who loved him, found out if the other man wanted her.
(From 'Pollyanna Grows Up' by Eleanor H Porter)

5) Fitzwilliam Darcy to Elizabeth Bennett
Don't ever begin a marriage proposal by telling the lady that it was against your better judgment!

Darcy: In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how much I admire and love you.
(Then when she ticks you off as you deserve, don't stick your foot in it even more!)
Darcy: Could you expect me to rejoice in the inferiority of your connections? To congratulate myself on the hope of relations whose condition in life is so decidedly beneath my own?
Elizabeth: You are mistaken, Mr Darcy, if you suppose that the mode of your declaration affected me in any other way than as it spared me the concern which I might have felt in refusing you had you behaved in a more gentleman-like manner. You could not have made me the offer of your hand in any possible way that would have tempted me to accept it.
(Bravo Elizabeth. He's lucky he got another chance.)
(From 'Pride and Prejudice' by Jane Austen)

6) Rhett Butler to Scarlett O'Hara
If you want to propose to a lady, don't go on the very day of her former husband's funeral! She'll consider it bad taste.

Rhett: My news is this. I still want you more than any woman I've ever seen, and now that Frank's gone, I thought you'd be interested to know it.
Scarlett: I... you are the most ill bred man in the world, coming here at this time of all times, with your filthy... and Frank hardly cold. If you had any decency... would you leave this...?'
Rhett: Hush, I am asking you to marry me. Would you be convinced if I knelt down?
(From 'Gone with the Wind' by Margaret Mitchell)

7) St John Rivers to Jane Eyre
Claiming that you speak for God as well as yourself must be the ultimate pressure. This has got to be one of literature's most unromantic proposals. 

Rivers: Jane, come back with me to India. Come as my helpmeet and fellow labourer. God and nature intended you for a missionary's wife. It is not personal but mental endowments they have given you. You are formed for labour, not for love. A missionary's wife you must, shall be. You shall be mine. I claim you not for my pleasure but for my sovereign's service.
(From 'Jane Eyre' by Charlotte Bronte)

8) Valancy Stirling to Barney Snaith
It's a very brave move for a girl to propose to a guy. Expect him to be surprised, and it might help to have something up your sleeve.

Barney: Going home, Miss Stirling? 
Valancy: I don't know... yet.
Barney: I thought I'd run down and see if there was anything I could do for you.
Valancy: Yes, there is something you can do for me. Will you marry me?
Barney: Come now. I knew luck was just waiting around the corner for me. All the signs have been pointing that way today.
Valancy: Wait. I'm in earnest. Of course with all my bringing up I realise this is one of those things a lady shouldn't do.
Barney: But why... Why?
Valancy: For two reasons. The first is I'm crazy about you. The second is... this.  
(From 'The Blue Castle' by L.M. Montgomery) 

I hope you enjoyed this face palming post, brought to you from my memory and a quick bit of flipping back through books.   

Monday, July 18, 2016

'Rebecca' by Daphne du Maurier


"Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again . . ."
The novel begins in Monte Carlo, where our heroine is swept off her feet by the dashing widower Maxim de Winter and his sudden proposal of marriage. Orphaned and working as a lady's maid, she can barely believe her luck. It is only when they arrive at his massive country estate that she realizes how large a shadow his late wife will cast over their lives--presenting her with a lingering evil that threatens to destroy their marriage from beyond the grave.
First published in 1938, this classic gothic novel is such a compelling read that it won the Anthony Award for Best Novel of the Century.

Genre: Classics, Gothic fiction, 1930s.

My main reservations about this famous book can't be given without spoilers, but I'll clearly mark them down below if you wish to dodge them.

The young narrator starts off as a paid companion to the domineering Mrs Van Hopper. She accepts a shock marriage proposal from Maxim de Winter, a fairly recent widower who is twice her age. His property, Manderley, still bears the strong influence of his former wife, Rebecca, whose beauty, cleverness and charm seem to be legendary. The new Mrs de Winter discovers that trying to stamp her own distinct personality over someone else's life is a disaster, but believes that any attempt to change things would end badly too. It's the worst position for a shy and uncertain person to find herself in. 

The young Mrs de Winter's personality was the best part of the book for me. She captures so accurately the agonising thought processes of a shy person, and I can relate to her.

Shy people are cowardly and brave at the same time. We are too nervous to earn censure by objecting to anyone's demands, yet carrying them out often takes every ounce of courage we have. We're hard on ourselves, judging every minor slip-up as incredibly stupid. I kept wishing she'd stop mentally beating herself up, when she was coping with the circumstances as best she could. Shy people can be too acquiescent, going along with anything for nods of approval. This girl considered buying a whole new set of lingerie just to impress the maid. The danger in this sort of behaviour is that it becomes so easy to relinquish your own personality. People who keep saying 'yes' when they really mean 'no' are puzzles for others. They aim to be low-maintenance, but end up being high-maintenance because their loved ones just can't figure them out.

She omits her name throughout the whole story. We only know that it must have been unusual, since it was rare to find it spelled correctly. So all we know is that she would more likely be a Persephone or Hermione than a Hannah or Jane. I think the purpose might have been to highlight the fact that she considered herself so completely in Rebecca's shadow, she never even ventured her own name. I quite liked her, whatever her name was, because the running commentary in her head shows that she was really a loving and original person with great depth of thought.  And she loved Jasper, the dog. Anyone with such a kind heart toward animals has to have some good in them.

The one thing I didn't relate to was her great affection for Maxim. I couldn't take to him at all, and liked him less the further I read. He comes across with no compassion for his wife. Since he brought her to Manderley, I thought he had a certain responsibility to help her fit in, but he just shrugged off her anxieties with no regard for her feelings. And he treated her like a pesky little kid, putting her in her place so many times. He's the type who can stir the feminist in any woman. Even at his best, it's, 'Pour out my tea, sweetheart, and forgive me for being such a bear to you.' I was hoping she'd throw it at him. Later, when we discover the reason for his dark preoccupation, my first thought was, 'Ha, I never liked him anyway!' That brings me to the plot spoilers.


How did he get away with it???

No justification for Maxim's act of murder was really given. I feel Daphne du Maurier copped out a bit by not filling in details. He tells his second wife that Rebecca was completely despicable and vile with no redeeming features, but I don't want to simply take Maxim's word for that. All we see is a headstrong woman who entertains lovers and does as she pleases. Her worst crime, in his eyes, seems to be that she despised him. Well, I didn't like Maxim either, so I concur with Rebecca as far as that goes. Taking it into his head to shoot her in cold blood makes him a murderer, plain and simple.

The new Mrs de Winter's instant support of him had me shaking my head. All she expresses is relief that Maxim hated Rebecca and loved her all along. Come on, get your head straight, girl! I would've thought, 'Gee, I hope I never tick him off during a marital tiff to the same extent.' She should have been more worried, especially when he showed signs of being less than pleased with her. 'You were so aloof. You seemed to have more to say to Frank than to me.' Well, I could tell him why. Frank was a much pleasanter person.

Finally, I found the twists predictable, to the extent that I wondered if I'd ever seen or read 'Rebecca' before and forgotten about it. When Mrs Danvers suggested the fancy dress costume, I thought, 'I bet it'll be something Rebecca wore.' And when we readers are set up to believe Rebecca had been pregnant, I thought, 'Naw, it'll be bound to be some terminal illness which will provide a suicide motive.' I couldn't believe my instincts were right every time. Maybe I'm used to the sorts of events which happen in melodramatic old stories. It was also no surprise when Manderley joined the ranks of gracious old literary mansions which go up in flames.

What a weird story. Rebecca's cousin, Jack Favell, is right in his accusations the whole time, yet it's written in such a way that readers are supposed to take the sides of a murderer and his confidante. Maxim shouldn't have got away with it, but as one commentator mentioned, aren't they getting their just desserts when you think about it? They end up as jumpy, homeless vagrants hanging out in average hotels.


Overall, it wasn't my cup of tea, although I might have felt differently if I could've mustered more sympathy for Maxim. As it was, when he started kissing his new wife passionately and talking about starting a family, I could only shudder. Would you adore a tetchy grouch who addresses you as, 'Child' and assumes your worst motives over an accident? Best book of the century? No way!

3 stars


Thursday, July 14, 2016

Several perplexing conscience stories

I'm sure we all know the scenario here. A character knows (s)he should speak up about something important, because there may be a lot riding on it for someone else, or it is simply the right thing to do. It's usually something juicy, delicate or with the potential to cause a scandal. But the poor guilt-ridden person hesitates to become vocal, because the stakes are so high, the repercussions of letting the cat out of the bag could be devastating. Where do you turn, when doing the right thing means that you, or somebody dear to you, stands to lose such a lot?

We've probably all been in small situations like this at times in our lives. Reading about people with enormous dilemmas of the same type can be unforgettable. It's the equivalent of having a mental, emotional and spiritual workout, as we ache for these people, and imagine ourselves in their shoes. It's been said that reading fiction increases our ability to feel empathy. No more so than with stories like these.

I tried to incorporate conscience stories into some of my own novels. My heroines, Jasmine and Imogen, try to conceal significant information from heroes Courtney and Asher, in Best Forgotten and Imogen's Chance respectively. You have to make up your own minds whether or not they had grounds for feeling guilty when you read the stories.

Here are some others which spring to mind. They are a pretty varied lot, which proves that conscience issues can rear their ugly heads in all times and places.

Sweet Mercy by Ann Tatlock
Sweet Mercy The teenage heroine, Eve, sees moral issues as clear cut black and white. She's faced with a situation which makes her question whether the response that stands out as clearly correct is actually the kindest move. And should kindness ever trump the law? It's set in the 1920s during the Prohibition Era when bootleggers and moonshiners were doing their sneaky, secret business.  My review is here.

Career Advice for the Lost SoulCareer Advice for the Lost Soul by Rebecca Hayman
The conscience dilemma belongs to Sid, the elderly janitor. A certain instruction from the senior pastor he greatly admires leaves him wondering whether he should keep carrying it through. My review is here.

Anne's House of Dreams by L.M. Montgomery
Dr Gilbert Blythe realises that a certain medical procedure on a patient, Dick Moore, may help restore his lost memory. But since Dick used to be a cruel brute to his wife, Leslie, others, including Anne, try their best to talk Gilbert out of going through with it. He doesn't have to even mention anything at all. What's the right thing for him to do under the circumstances?

The Conscience Case of David Bell by L.M. Montgomery 
Anne's House of Dreams (Anne of Green Gables, #5)This is a short story from her collection, Chronicles of Avonlea. David, the father of the Bell clan, has been very depressed lately, and his family cannot figure out why. At last, he psyches himself up to get the matter off his chest, and everyone can relax again. Would you have felt the same way David did about a similar issue? Every reader is bound to have a different answer.

The Pounamu Prophecy by Cindy Williams

The Pounamu Prophecy

As a girl, the Maori heroine, Mere, takes some drastic action to pay back some oppressors who destroyed her family. Only later does she find out that the thing she's kept silent about for so long reverberated far further than the people she wanted to hurt. Is it ever as simple as tit for tat? My review is here.

The Road to Testament by Eva Marie Everson
The Road to Testament Ashlynne and Will are in the business of journalism on a small country paper. It's not surprising that some moral dilemmas pop up to test them, but this doesn't make it any less comfortable. My review is here.

My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick
My Life Next Door In this YA novel, the heroine, Samantha Reed, is in a no win situation. Keeping quiet will make it impossible for her beloved boyfriend's family to receive the help they're entitled to, but speaking up means that her mother's political career will be destroyed. No matter what she does, somebody she loves is bound to be hurt. And putting off making a decision is still a decision in its own right. This is a really sensitive conscience story, but comes with my warning that the language gets pretty rough. My review is here.

From this Moment by Elizabeth Camden
From This Moment A certain person who is pivotal to the plot was involved in a boyhood prank that went horribly wrong, and somebody else suffered greatly at his expense. Since then, he's been trying his best to be a model citizen to make up for it, but is a guilty conscience so easily assuaged? My review is here.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Jane Eyre Edward Fairfax Rochester is trapped in a marriage to feral mad-woman Bertha Mason, but is in love with the placid, intelligent Jane Eyre. He doesn't believe he even has a dilemma throughout most of the book, but readers must ask ourselves whether proposing to Jane is a loving action, or quite the opposite, since he'd be making her a co-partner in bigamy without even knowing it? My review is here.

Now for the drum roll. I cannot think of a story with a more  heartbreaking conscience situation than this one. What an emotional roller coaster. This last one has to be the king of all gut-wrenching conscience stories. 

The Light Between OceansThe Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman  
Tom and his wife Isabel have endured the heartache of losing pregnancies, but fate seems to be smiling upon them when a boat containing a dead man and a tiny baby girl are washed up on their lonesome island, where he is the lighthouse keeper. They embrace little Lucy like a gift from above, but when enough time has passed for the bonding to be complete, they learn that their daughter's birth mother, Hannah, is living on the mainland and still grieving her loss bitterly. What do they do? I must add the warning that this story made me cry my eyes out. My review is here.

Monday, July 11, 2016

'Jane Eyre' by Charlotte Bronte


 Orphaned into the household of her Aunt Reed at Gateshead, subject to the cruel regime at Lowood charity school, Jane Eyre nonetheless emerges unbroken in spirit and integrity. She takes up the post of governess at Thornfield, falls in love with Mr. Rochester, and discovers the impediment to their lawful marriage in a story that transcends melodrama to portray a woman's passionate search for a wider and richer life than Victorian society traditionally allowed.

With a heroine full of yearning, the dangerous secrets she encounters, and the choices she finally makes, Charlotte Bronte's innovative and enduring romantic novel continues to engage and provoke readers.

Genre: Great classics, Gothic fiction, romance. 

Warning: Although I usually take great care to avoid plot spoilers wherever possible, I consider old classics to be fair game. If by any chance you've never read 'Jane Eyre' and would prefer not to have any details revealed, you might want to skip this review. 

I read this novel more than once in my teens and early twenties, and studied it in my English course at Adelaide Uni. I thought it high time I read it again, to see how it strikes me after having been married and raised a family. I loved it more now than then. 

Firstly, Jane herself is a refreshing and interesting heroine, and it's easy to admire her for some of the same reasons she appeals to Rochester. She's an introvert reader's dream, as we probably share some of her best qualities. It's lovely to have a heroine admired for her quietness and caution. What a great role model she is. Serene and peaceful in her outlook, no matter what happens in the daily run of things. Anybody who wants to learn to enjoy their own company just needs to take a leaf from Jane's book.

As for Rochester, I remember deciding that he wasn't my favourite hero when I was a teenager. Back then I thought he sounded too old, ugly and controlling. This time through, I fell for his charisma and charms, and kept wanting to hug him. What ruggedness coupled with vulnerability, which nobody really sees but Jane. He no longer sounds that old, and his physical description is intriguing, in spite of the frequent use of the word 'ugly'.

Their relationship is based on a heart-warming friendship, which I believe all romances should be. They come across as soulmates in the true sense of the word. I love the way he refers to her as his 'little friend'. And when she's staying with her Reed relatives, she sketches Rochester's likeness just so she can comfort herself that she's looking in the face of a friend. This sort of detail shows that they bring out the best in each other, and then when the romance heats up, we can't help loving it and feeling that it's just right.

I don't remember if this question ever occurred to me as a teenager, but this time round I even started to Google it, and the search engine finished asking my question instantly. Why couldn't Rochester divorce Bertha? The procedure wasn't unheard of in their time, and I thought he would have had excellent grounds, with a snarling, fang-dripping wife who was hanging out to set him on fire or rip his flesh with her teeth. The responses that came up didn't seem very satisfactory, the main one being that insanity might not have been seen as a reasonable grounds for divorce. Sounds pretty silly if that was the case, but if it had been easy for him, Charlotte Bronte might not have written her brilliant novel.

I appreciate the way Rochester's possible rival didn't turn out to be a villain or heartless scoundrel, but a great guy in his own way, as well as being Rochester's contrast in many ways. Several of us may have had run-ins with people like St John Rivers, or been related to them. They are living, breathing guilt trips in human form. He has a crusader's zeal, erring on the side of earning his salvation. Doing arduous, sacrificial tasks makes him happiest, and he expects the same of everyone he admires most. Jane was wise, at her young age, in figuring out that St John 'is a good and great man but forgets the feelings and claims of little people in pursuing his own large views.' It's a pity St John couldn't have hooked up with Jane's pious cousin, Eliza Reed. They could have been awesome together.

I was fascinated by the archaic and unusual words Charlotte Bronte used throughout the story. Some of them sound beautiful, and it's a shame they've been pushed out of the modern dictionary. Words like chimera, incubi, charivari, diablerie, cynosure, hierophant and cairngorm. Does anyone have any idea what someone might be talking about who says, 'She has cairngorm eyes'? I certainly didn't, until I looked it up. (No, I'm not telling you. You'll have to look it up yourself.) It's interesting to see Jane mention feeling a 'ruth' for her aunt's or Rochester's great sufferings. I've never seen it used before. Funny how we've kept 'ruthless' but dispensed with 'ruth'.

Needless to say there are a quantity of wonderful quotes from Jane and Rochester, regarding the depth of their love for each other. But one of my favourite lines comes from the cold St John. When Jane mentions the beautiful Miss Oliver's admiration for him, he says, 'It's very pleasant to hear this. Go on for another quarter of an hour.' Then he actually takes out his watch to mark the time. What a guy.

Of course this book hasn't delighted thousands of readers for nothing, and deserves full marks. If only there had been a sequel. Has anyone ever written any fan fiction about Rochester and Jane's son, that baby with his father's dark eyes who was mentioned on the last page? 

5 stars

Jane Eyre also appears on my list of a dozen famous orphans.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

The Middle Stage of Writing and Life

I could have also called this post 'The Three Tenses of Writing and Life.' 

The elderly folk (my parents' generation) get to look back at their lives with a nostalgic, past tense sort of feeling. When we converse with them, they may say, 'This is what I did with my life before I retired.' Living out your twilight years in peace sounds like a relaxing and comfortable place to be, like the athlete who has given an event his all, so he can now sit back and watch the other competitors. The artist has completed his masterpiece, and the author has finished the book into which she has poured so much time and effort. I imagine old age might be a bit like the contentment I've experienced when I've finished writing a book and the final proofs have arrived back from the publisher. I can check through them at a more leisurely pace than the drive which spurred me to work on the project. I've given this my best shot, and here's what I came up with.

The younger folk (my kids' generation) are charged with energy. When we're in our teens to early twenties, we approach life with a future tense, 'This is what I plan to do with my life' sort of feeling. We apply for courses at University, we wonder if chance encounters may be potential marriage partners, we consider the pros and cons of different career paths, pondering which may suit us. This is akin to the initial excitement of planning a book, writing out plot outlines, and daydreaming about possible events. It's all ahead of us, and we're so excited about what it may end up looking like. Yet at this stage, if the rough drafts don't come together quite as we hoped, it's no big deal to just shrug it off and get on with something else. We consider we have time enough to spare.

But how about those of us who others refer to as middle aged? Our kids are becoming young adults, we assume our careers 'should' hopefully be well underway, because people are depending on us, and we're showing some signs of age. What about us? We may feel we haven't really lived long enough to earn the right to say, 'Look what I've done with my life' yet. There are still many years ahead of us to be filled. It's like a manuscript that's only halfway through. Yet if it looks a bit average and trite so far, we feel we've gone too far now to scrap this project and start from scratch. We reach a stage when we ask ourselves what would be the point anyway?

We're told that 90 years seems to be a good innings for a person, and know full well we've clocked 45 or so already. If we were on a boat, we've lost sight of the horizon behind us, but the land ahead still seems hazy. In terms of writing a book, we've passed the point of no return, and if it's looking a bit random and dog-eared, that's sort of terrifying. Sometimes I feel as if I'm arriving at the same stage in my life that I've so often found myself in my book plans. The middle of anything is like a present tense sort of place in the most nerve-wracking sense of the word, when it's only guesswork whether or not things are happening exactly as we hope for.

For anyone who feels you are nearing the halfway point of anything, I think we need to remember to draw on faith and trust here more than ever before. We shouldn't lose sight of the impetus that drove us forward in the first place, even when it seems ages ago. And even though we may begin to doubt that it'll look exactly the way we imagined by the time we get to the end, we can encourage ourselves with the thought that surprises are one of the spices of life, and in retrospect, what we're stressing over now may look even better than we imagined.

Perhaps the middle stage of anything should be the time when we need the most encouragement to keep moving, because we're doing a great job, yet those at the beginning and end sometimes seem to be the ones who get the most accolades, support and congratulations. Anyone who's just plodding along in the middle has been at it for so long, we may get overlooked. But hey, I want to tell you to keep your chins up, and remind you that anything worthwhile needs your dedication for as long as it takes.   

Image Courtesy of Pixabay

Monday, July 4, 2016

Four books about managing our diet

I'm obviously no expert on this subject, and there are plenty of times when I'd rather not give a whole lot of thought about the food I put in my mouth. For that very reason, maybe a list of books on this topic could come over better from a novice like me, who admits I'm clueless, if you feel you can relate to me. 

I'm limiting this list to four because it's so handy to avoid the complication created by the glut of advice out there about what and how we should eat. Rather than delving into any specific regime, these four focus on common sense principles and allow us to craft our own culinary lifestyles. It's confusing for a novice to try and weigh up the pros and cons of the Paleo diet, the Dukan diet, the blood type diet, the Atkins diet, the Hallelujah diet, and the claims of hundreds of others which are laid out step by step. Especially when they all get their fair share of negative exposure, making us wonder what's really going on. I'd rather shy away from the word 'diet' completely because that single word carries ideas of judgement, temporary measures and limitation. I prefer sensible tools that enable us to help ourselves for the long term, over strict formulas, weekly plans and recipes which will help us shape up and then leave us in the deep end.

The advice of an ancient Chinese proverb probably works here. I'm sure these aren't the exact words, but it was something like, Better to give a man a rod and teach him to fish for a lifetime, than feed him fish for a week. These books aim to do that.

1) Think and Eat Yourself Smart by Dr Caroline Leaf
Think and Eat Yourself Smart: A Neuroscientific Approach to a Sharper Mind and Healthier Life This is a well respected scientist's advice about shaping up your lifestyle where food choice is concerned, and empowering yourself with knowledge of what to avoid. Only recently published, it's already gone over well with many readers. I found it a bit technical at times, but that sort of information is right there for people who may appreciate it. My review is here.

2) Kale and Coffee by Kevin Gianni
Kale and Coffee: A Renegade’s Guide to Health, Happiness, and Longevity I got many laughs from this book. The author has a humorous way of expressing himself, and there were also plenty of interesting revelations that I'd never have worked out on my own. They are not just about the food we eat, but 'aha' moments about exercise, genetic make-up, emotions, and other things we may be overlooking. They were the sorts of things I wanted to discuss with others, and I also keep the tips in mind instead of automatically doing my old thing. My review is here.

3) Eat, Move, Sleep by Tom Rath
Eat Move Sleep: How Small Choices Lead to Big Changes This is a slap-in-the-face type of book which may make you say, 'Whoa, my diet and lifestyle really aren't all that healthy,' when you're going along merrily thinking that they're not too bad. I admit, it wasn't one of my favourites. Too brutally frank and overwhelming, perhaps. But Rath presents his advice in bite-sized nuggets which we may dig into whenever we feel we need a little shake up. There's no loophole for us to say, 'I didn't really get it.' My review is here.

4) The Slow Down Diet by Marc David
The Slow Down Diet: Eating for Pleasure, Energy, and Weight Loss This is my very favourite. The author has convinced me that incorporating good eating habits and loving our food is just part of what makes a beautiful life. It's like a poem at times. I never imagined I'd consider a book about diet to be a page turner, but Marc David managed to make it so. I couldn't wait to get to each new chapter. My review is here.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

'Distinctly You' by Cheryl Martin


Genre: Christian, non-fiction, personal development.
For Women Who Want More Than Comparing, Competing, and Coveting
All of creation is content to be what it was made to be except us. Fish flourish in water. Ants are not worried about their size. But we waste time on the three C's--comparing, competing, coveting. We aim at the bull's-eye on someone else's board, pursuing a race we weren't equipped to run.
Cheryl Martin shows women how to develop their God-given uniqueness rather than becoming fixated on what they are not or do not have. "Distinctly You" unveils the actions and attitudes that may be sabotaging women and explores ways women can engage and build up their unique talents, interests, and strengths. Readers will be inspired by examples in the Old and New Testaments of people who were exceptional for God's kingdom. As the author shares her ongoing quest to be distinct for his glory, readers see how God created them to thrive.
Includes end-of-chapter questions for individual or group use.

Being an Aussie, I wasn't familiar with Cheryl Martin, but found out she's a well-known American personality in journalism and media. Having read her book, I decided I'm not really the target audience, but younger ladies with a different life focus. Her many personal examples include tips on dating, job interviews and study habits, which may gel more with single millenial girls in their late teens and twenties, than Gen X mothers of young adults who consider themselves to be homebodies at heart. I might have got more out of a book like this if I'd read it in the early nineties.

Her book is quite heavy on giving Bible stories as examples. If these are new, or only vaguely familiar to you, you might find it hits the right spot. However if you've been around enough to hear them many times already, then it may come across as a lot of re-telling what you know so well. Cheryl Martin turns out to be one of those Christian authors who will write, 'God told me...' or some variation, without explaining how that looks to her. So if her intended readers are young or new Christians, she might have done well to explain the phrase with a bit more depth for those who would be inclined to ask, 'Huh, how does that work?'

Some of her main points include the following.
1) Just because you aren't the best, it doesn't mean that you don't have a right to be there or won't be a success. There are a variety of different skill levels in every profession.
2) God is never impressed by our accomplishments or discouraged by our weaknesses, so we assign far too much weight to these things.
3) God never uses somebody else's talents and abilities as a plumb line for our achievements. Getting distracted by what others are doing is pointless, whether or not we believe they are doing better or worse than we are.
4) The 3Cs lead to the 3Ds. Comparing, competing and coveting turn into depression, discouragement and discontentment before we know it.

Overall, I wouldn't want to mark this book down just because I'm not the target audience. I'd recommend reading the different reviews carefully before deciding whether or not this is something you may benefit from.

Thanks to Bethany House and NetGalley for my review copy.

3 stars