Tuesday, May 23, 2017

'Anne with an E' - Imagination is Crucial

Rewind back to 1985. I was a fifteen-year-old waiting one night, with my hot drink, rug and pillow, for the new Anne of Green Gables mini series to begin. And was it fun! We all loved watching Megan Follows, Jonathan Crombie and Co do what they did best, and bring nineteenth century Prince Edward Island to life. I sensed a lot of curiosity, and also quite a bit of scepticism and fear, that the new Netflix production could never live up to it. So I sat down with a hot drink, rug and pillow again, with my own teenage daughter beside me. I'd decided to go in with an open mind. And what I saw blew me away.

It's definitely an edgier and darker re-telling of the classic, including flashbacks to Anne's unhappy past with the Hammonds, who treated her cruelly and made her do drudge work. Her inevitable PTSD is featured in flashbacks. It's made clear that she lived her earliest childhood years with no loving care or input from sympathetic adults. It's quite natural that Anne would have no concept of polite social mores, blurting out her observations about adult themes which landed her in a spot of trouble. Other messy aspects of life are put forward too. Anne deals with the shock of her first period, Matthew sinks into depression and considers suicide at one point when he feels rock bottom, Marilla is given more space to regret her lost love, and we even get a glimpse of a paedophile hanging out in a railway station.

I do understand why some true Anne traditionalists believe that we don't need all these extra bits. Let Anne remain an innocent and beautiful icon of our childhood, they argue. There's no need to drag the more sordid and adult facts of life into everything. Some things deserve to remain pure and sweet. Let Lucy Maud Montgomery's world stay an oasis we can escape to, where flower beds and wild fruit are everywhere. We expect sweetness and light, and shouldn't have to fear knocking into rougher aspects. Isn't there enough of that in our own daily grind? And don't our kids deserve not to grow up too soon? Being an escapist reader from way back, I do understand that line of thought. But I don't agree with it. Rather than sullying our beloved Anne stories, this series has enriched them for me, by bringing out multi-layers of hidden depth. And it  proves Anne to be an even more poignant and admirable character than she seemed before.

Her powerful imagination was always one of her trademarks. This new series shows why it was so vital to her. It was her rock and her source of strength. After all she'd been through, Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert still met a generous, sweet-spirited girl whose heart responded to the beautiful and good. I'm convinced that she might have been completely different without the aid of that wonderful imagination. Anne had plenty of practice using it. Her ability to phase out of a dramatic or sordid scene to visit a place of her own wishful invention was a healthy coping tool. It wasn't denial, living in a fairy tale world or other dismissive things people say. Nor was it just a fun, quirky character trait, as we may assume if we never see beyond Anne as a sweet kids' story. Her imagination was her life-preserver, which enabled her personality to remain intact when it might otherwise have been completely broken.

The young Anne probably didn't consciously realise what a wonderful gift she possessed. When she said that she used her imagination to improve upon reality, she probably had no clue that she was speaking great wisdom. I believe she knew intuitively, since she dismissed Marilla's apparently sound advice that it's pointless to imagine that things are different to how they are. Although decades younger than Marilla, she'd already figured out through experience that the older lady's advice was limited.

People with imagination can transform what's around them, so they are actually living a more positive existence than people who refuse to see beyond what's right in front of them. Do you remember what she said about her first experience of Green Gables? 'This is the first time I've never had to imagine that things are better.' Remarks like this are one reason why Anne Shirley is on of my most admired female characters in literature.

Perhaps this series is designed to appeal to a younger generation, which is a good thing. And our younger generation strike me as a wise, insightful crowd who don't appreciate efforts to keep the world sterile anyway. My daughter laughed when she saw people refer to the 'darkness' as she considers it one of the least dark series she's watched for ages. 'Move over Game of Thrones, here's Anne with an E.' But rather than letting her finish with the last word, I'll give that honour to the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland, who summed up Anne's philosophy when he said, 'Imagination is the only weapon in the war against reality.' Hear hear.

There are also many other things I found to love in the new series. The authenticity of the time period and characterisation are spot-on. The new actress, Amybeth McNulty, seemed tailor made to fit L.M. Montgomery's century old description. Geraldine James nailed the matter-of-fact, but warm hearted character of Marilla, and Corrine Koslo gave Mrs Rachel Lynde a lovable face. And young Lucas Jade Zumann was an awesome Gilbert Blythe, with that timeless quality of fitting into the role as well as appealing to modern viewers. I know I'm really opening myself up here, but after watching it all through, I even prefer this version to Megan and Jonathan. Bring on Season 2. 

You might like this post where I road test our own Gilbert against Jane Austen's Mr Darcy. Read it here.

Or this one, where I discuss my favourite L.M. Montgomery hero.

If you've seen both TV series, which do you prefer? Or if you haven't seen this new one, do you intend to?

Monday, May 22, 2017

'The Hound of the Baskervilles' by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Holmes and Watson are faced with their most terrifying case yet. The legend of the devil-beast that haunts the moors around the Baskerville family's home warns the descendants of that ancient clan never to venture out in those dark hours when the power of evil is exalted. Now, the most recent Baskerville, Sir Charles, is dead and the footprints of a giant hound have been found near his body. Will the new heir meet the same fate?

I've chosen this title for my classic about an animal category in the 2017 Back to the Classics challenge. It can either have the name of animal in the title, or include an animal in the actual story. This one has both, and a very fierce, nasty beast it is. It's one of the longest and most famous Sherlock Holmes adventures. Many of them are short stories, but this one is novel length, and is also a movie.

The Baskerville family is rumoured to be cursed on their own turf. For generations, they've supposedly been stalked by the ghost of a huge, black, fire-breathing dog, and several of them have suffered sudden, violent deaths. The latest victim, Sir Charles Baskerville, has been discovered dead on the grounds of his estate, near a huge paw print.

Henry Baskerville is the young baronet next in line to inherit the Hall. He's been living abroad for several years and isn't up-to-date with the family legend. They've congratulated him for his good fortune, but neglected to tell him that it might turn out to be bad fortune. His friend, Dr James Mortimer, consults Holmes and Watson on Henry's behalf, just in case there are any grounds to believe the old superstition or suspect foul play in Sir Charles' death.

The story is rife with clues that there's far more to the mystery than meets the eye. Weird warning letters, inexplicable footwear theft, people being trailed, servants behaving suspiciously and women crying. The melancholic Dartmoor setting stirs up the creepy atmosphere. There's plenty of fog and gloom, and miry bog holes with the potential to suck men and beasts to their death. And every so often, the spooky hound gives a mournful howl, just to remind people that he's around.

The locals all appear friendly, but is anyone hiding anything? There's Mr Frankland, an elderly political agitator, Stapleton, the young naturalist, and his beautiful, but troubled sister. And just to add to the tension, a desperate criminal who's escaped from prison is also believed to be roaming the moors.

Sherlock Holmes has to be one of the smuggest know-it-all's in literature. All his compliments to poor Watson tend to be back-handed ones. For example, he tells him that although he's clueless, he has a happy knack of stimulating Holmes' own genius. And he never communicates his full plans to anyone until he decides the moment is right, just in case the lesser mortals stuff it up. This includes Watson, who says, 'It's very trying to those acting as his agents and assistants.' In fairness to Holmes though, Watson, who narrates the whole story, does seem to have a bull in a china shop approach to solving mysteries.

But whoa, for such a genius, Sherlock Holmes almost blows everything himself. Talk about saving the day in the nick of time! 'You'll be completely safe,' he warns somebody at one point, but what happens isn't what I'd call keeping his promise. His 'completely safe' is definitely different to my 'completely safe.' I found the plot stretched my belief at times, including the fact that the crook is able to get away with hiding some pretty big evidence.

It's a fairly easy read, and if you like it, the other Sherlock Holmes stories are much the same. They aren't what you'd call deep. I get the feeling they were the sorts of popular stories written to please the demands of an audience who knew exactly what style of dramatic twists and special effects they wanted. It's a pretty formulaic detective story, overall, and I'm sure Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would have agreed, 'Yeah, isn't that great?' After all, he helped create the formula, and would have laughed all the way to the bank.

3 stars

I've mentioned more about the Holmes/Watson relationship in this post about great bromances.

Friday, May 19, 2017

'Unnoticed' by Amanda Deed

Plain Jane O'Reilly is good at being unnoticed. Detested by her stepmother and teased by her stepsisters, Jane has learned the art of avoiding attention. That is until Price Moreland, an American with big dreams, arrives in her small town.

Does she dare to hope someone might notice her?

However, Price Moreland may not be the prince that the whole town thinks him to be. Was his desire to be a missionary a God-given call, or just a good excuse to run from his past?

Complete with an evil stepmother, a missing shoe and a grand ball, Unnoticed takes the time-old Cinderella fairy tale and gives it an Australian twist.

The author is one of my friends and co-authors of a novel I worked on, The Greenfield Legacy, so I was keen to start this new story.

I saved it to read as a treat, because that's what fairy tale adaptations are. Not many authors have attempted to set them in colonial Australia (well, as far as I know), but it's the perfect spot to see a familiar plot play out. Poor Miss Jane O'Reilly has lost her mother. She is shy and retiring, partly because her stepmother and stepsisters boss her around and pay her out, but mostly because she truly feels herself to be inferior. I'm sure you can guess the tale from that description.

There are all sorts of role reversals to make us smile. The 'ugly sisters' are actually quite pretty, while the poor heroine knows very well that her own nickname is 'Plain Jane.' She has such a fixed opinion about her own deficiencies, it never occurs to her that fresh eyes might regard her differently. My favourite detail is her embarrassingly huge feet, since the real Cinderella's always sounded ridiculously tiny. This version seems far more down to earth and real.

Price Moreland is the handsome American newcomer, who has set himself up as the town barber and dentist. It's reasonable that he'd attract the single women, but instead of taking the town's opinions on board, he has his own standards of what makes a girl beautiful. I'm glad he was a decent guy, because someone in his position needs lots of good character. He doesn't realise the depth of what he's taking on, since the person he falls for has such messy hang-ups after the way she's always been treated, yet it's all new to him.

In other words, Jane has baggage, and Price needs the maturity to understand and help her find a different way of seeing herself, all at the tender age of 26 (I figured out how old he was from clues in the story). Since traditional handsome princes don't always come across as sensitive, and willing to take someone else's load upon their shoulders I liked the depth it added to this story. He's more than just a dazzling smile and handsome face.

There's also some personal background of his own, since he left America to escape the racial tension of the Civil War, but finds out that it's everywhere, even on the Hay Plains. And he reflects himself on the impossible choice that faces him to either change his deepest principles or lose what he loves the most. The serious undercurrent this gives the novel seems to suit the Cinderella story.

It is quite lighthearted overall though, and I admit I sometimes begin adaptations of well known stories with a bit of trepidation. They can lose their suspense since we know what's coming. In this case though, I was interested to see how all elements could possibly come together, including the shoe, the fairy godmother, and the animal entourage. Jane's pets are actually quite a highlight of this story, headed by Moses the sulfur crested cockatoo. It's full of anticipation rather than predictability, and I'm sure anyone who appreciates the romance of fairy tales will love how it all comes together.

Finally, it's interesting to see what a visit to the dentist was like in colonial times, since I had a toothache of my own recently.

Thanks to Rhiza Press and NetGalley for my review copy.

4 stars

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Famous Grouchy Tourists

Since my marriage, one thing I missed about life with my parents was the occasional opportunity to travel to faraway places. We did a European bus tour when I was 15, taking in destinations around France, Switzerland, Germany and Italy. And I was able to travel around Britain with Mum and Dad in a hired campervan the year I turned 20. I still consider it a highlight of my life. How I'd love the chance to immerse myself in castles, cathedrals and fairy tale palaces again.

When she hears me say such things, my daughter tells me off. 'At least you did some overseas travel when you were our age. The boys and I have never even had that. You can't complain.'

I give her a similar response to the one Jerry gave Elaine on an episode of Seinfeld. During a packed and stuffy economy flight, one of the gang was given the chance to move up into first class. Elaine thought it should be her, since she'd never flown first class before. But Jerry nabbed the seat instead. His reasoning went something like this. 'It'd be worse for me to stay stuck in economy, because I've had a taste of what first class is like. Since you don't know what you're missing, economy is all the same to you.' When I tell my daughter it's the same for her regarding staying in Australia, she's not impressed :)

Another way of getting around my frustrated wanderlust is to remind myself that travelling isn't a holy grail. It's not everything in the world! (Well, in a literal sense it is, but you know what I mean.) There are a number of men in history and literature who found that travelling didn't hit their sweet spot at all. If anything, it made them more gloomy and sour than they already were. They would return home with secret desperation, because rushing all around the world hadn't been the magical elixir to help them escape their cranky selves. You know there's a saying, 'Wherever you go, there you are.' Well, here are my examples.

The Secret Garden1) Archibald Craven (from The Secret Garden)
He'd lost his beloved pregnant wife in a freak accident and believed their son to be an incurable invalid. Craven couldn't stomach his Yorkshire mansion where it all took place, so left his young son with the servants and spent a fortune travelling abroad. Nobody looked forward to seeing his cantankerous face during brief visits home, which shows his attempt was unsuccessful. It seems no amount of pretty sights can change a self-focused and self-pitying attitude. It was the unexpected wisdom of three kids at home which finally achieved that. My review is here.

Jane Eyre2) Edward Fairfax Rochester (from Jane Eyre)
The hero of this masterpiece had a similar scenario playing out in his head. Why would he want to stay home at Thornfield Hall, when it was full of bad old family memories and housed his feral, deranged wife? He spent lots of time across the Channel, where he dabbled in liaisons with foreign women. But indulging in wine, women and song didn't change his cynical outlook. A fateful return home did that, when he set eyes on the fresh, intriguing face of his new governess, whose serene manner stirred something in his heart. Then he couldn't get enough of being home. Here is my review.

3) Dean Priest (from Emily of New Moon, Emily Climbs and Emily's Quest)
He was a hunchback with a poor reputation among his own clan, which made him resentful and miserable, so he took off around the world. Young Emily loved receiving his exotic gifts from faraway locations. She thought Dean had everything a person could desire, but it turns out all he wanted was her. Denied the love of a young girl in his home town, all the travel meant nothing to him.

4) Laurie Lawrence (from Little Women)
Here's another lovesick gentleman who travel didn't really cure. He was pining his heart out because Jo March declined his romantic advances, so his grandfather offered to send him on a trip to Europe. Laurie knew he'd be silly to refuse such a generous offer, but Amy's sharp pencil proved that exotic places weren't the medicine the old man had intended for the boy. Her sketches showed that Laurie was still miserable over Jo. Amy's presence turned out to be what he needed, which he could have got at home. Reviews are  here and here.
The Accidental Tourist
5) Macon Leary (from The Accidental Tourist)
This Anne Tyler novel was later made into a movie, and I enjoyed both. Macon hates his job writing travel guides, even though they're tailored specifically for grouches like himself who hate travelling. But his family life has disintegrated, since he lost his teenage son and separated from his wife, so he knows he must fill his days doing something. His introduction to a quirky young woman named Muriel, who looks after his dog, provides the boost of new life he needs.

Around the World in Eighty Days (Extraordinary Voyages, #11)6) Phileas Fogg (from Around the World in 80 Days)
He deserves his place on this list because even though he set out on a lavish trip around the world, it wasn't with an excited, curious sense of wonder. He wasn't remotely interested in what it had to offer. His terse focus was entirely on winning a bet that he could circle the globe within eighty days. Sightseeing was a distraction he couldn't be bothered with, so he often closed the blinds of whatever conveyance he was in and played cards to wile away the time. My review is here.

7) Lorens Lowenhielm (from Babette's Feast)
This decorated and celebrated hero was one of the guests at a local dinner. He felt depressed and empty precisely because he'd travelled the world and nothing it offered had lifted his low spirits. Lorens thought everyone was just humouring his hostesses' maid, who was throwing the big feast. The shock and surprise of her bountiful generosity, when he realised her identity, achieved what no voyage had managed to do. It helped him understand that there was still grace and beauty in the world. And once again, it was geographically close to his starting point. Here is my review.

8) King Solomon
He was perhaps the ultimate discontented wanderer, and spilled his disillusionment out in the Book of Proverbs. It took sampling all the world's bounty to prove that it couldn't fill an empty spot deep inside. Only one thing could, which he came to see was available to anyone, anywhere. And people have been quoting his discovery for centuries.

So there we have them. In one sense, you may feel like shaking some gratitude into their heads and saying, 'Give me the opportunity to be where you've been instead!' But they're refreshing in their own way, because through them, we understand that we really don't have to travel far from home for what matters most. And that's wonderful news for those of us who can't afford to travel far from home. Perhaps they can help shake gratitude into our heads. You could read their stories in a marathon 'grouchy tourist' session, if you can stand their morose company for that long.

While I compiled this list, I also noticed the opposite side of the coin, Contented Prisoners. They are the people who are trapped in a very small location and can't go anywhere, but haven't let it hurt their good spirits. Look out for it soon. Taken both together, I've found the characters have a lot to teach us.

Monday, May 15, 2017

'The Spirituality of Jane Austen' by Paula Hollingsworth

Best known for her novels Pride and PrejudiceSense and SensibilityMansfield Park, and Emma, published anonymously, Jane Austen commented, critiqued, and illuminated the life of the British gentry at the end of the 18th century. But did Jane’s writings highlight anything about her own spirituality?  In this celebratory book, Paula Hollingsworth explores Jane Austen's gentle but strong faith and the effect it had both on her life and her writing.

This book delves into the personal faith of one of the world's most beloved British novelists, drawing from her own correspondence and personal writing. It also examines the deeper mindsets and attitudes of characters in her novels for clues of what their creator really felt.

Jane's own faith is an interesting question, considering her cheeky portrayal of clergymen in her novels, such as the pompous, servile Mr Collins, and the snobby, social climbing Mr Elton. We can't help wondering whether they were proof that she deplored the Christian faith, or if she simply considered that they represented a different brand of Christianity to hers.

Jane Austen's fondness for reading printed sermons, and some of her own written prayers indicate that she was a devout believer in her own quiet way. So do the guiding principles of her main characters. For example, I love the idea that the retiring Fanny Price actually serves the role of Old Testament prophet or seer in the novel 'Mansfield Park.'

It's revealed in these pages that Jane didn't appreciate the evangelical movement or the behaviour of its spearheads, such as John and Charles Wesley. It seems she objected to their emphasis on dramatic conversion experiences, and the sense of superiority it seemed to suggest. For Jane Austen, matters of faith should be strictly between the individual and God. She didn't think highly of the evangelical novelists of her day. In her opinion the Christianity they presented in their stories was too showy and in-your-face, although she used less modern expressions. It's all very interesting, and makes me pretty sure that if she'd been born in our time, she'd probably choose to write for the secular market, just as she did in her own.

I like the glimpse of the popular novels of her Regency time period. They tended to be either Gothic or Romantic Sentimental, neither of which was approved reading for young ladies. They were regarded as frivolous and even dangerous, but the Reverend George Austen gave his daughters uncensored access to his personal library of over 500 volumes, which did include recent hyped-up best sellers.

These days, Austen fans tend to think of him as a good dad, but back then, the majority might have thought differently. I couldn't help comparing his situation to a current question I've seen often going around, of whether conscientious parents should put filters on their kids' internet, or even forbid it altogether. I've come across parents who do either one or the other, although we never did either in our household. It makes me think we were following in the footsteps of the Austens. I love how they were self-proclaimed, unashamed novel readers, in their day and age. Jane has her 'Northanger Abbey' hero Henry Tilney declare, 'The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel must be intolerably stupid.'

Altogether, if you don't mind a fair bit of her plots being re-told, this is a good read with some interesting detail for any fan. Not only does it give another good glimpse into Jane Austen's family life, but gets us reconsidering our own attitudes alongside those of Jane and her family.

Thanks to NetGalley and Lion Hudson for my review copy.

4 stars

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Mothers - The Secret Weapon in Harry Potter

It's always fun to honour beloved fictional or historical characters in the lead-up to Mother's Day. This year I've decided to go no further than some of the mothers featured in the Harry Potter series, because their love is shown to be an underestimated force that packs a powerful punch. I'd go so far as to call it the unintentional secret weapon in the war against Voldemort. It's awesome, because this trio of ladies never put their heads together and made a plan of action. They were each acting spontaneously at a particular moment, with nothing but love for their children as their motivation. The fact that Voldemort's cause suffered fatal blows was just a wonderful bonus.

Lily Potter
We know the premise of the whole series. Not only did her immense love shield and protect her baby boy, but physically decimated Lord Voldemort and kept him out of action for several years. His struggle to restore some semblance of a body from which to operate was a long, drawn-out process. And it was all because of her willingness to slip in front of her son and take the Avada Kedavra that was meant for him. When Voldemort did kill Lily and turned to finish off the innocent baby next, he got what was coming to him! It was such poetic justice, since the force that rebounded on him was the one thing he had no understanding of, so didn't think to factor in to his game plan. The strength of a mother's love! Do you think he learned his lesson?

Molly Weasley
She was Harry's wonderful surrogate mother, since his own mother died a hero's death saving him. Although Molly had seven children of her own, she had an endless reservoir of mother's love to draw from. It was powerful enough to be both her Achilles heel and super power. Do you remember what Molly's boggart was? The sight of Ron and the twins, lying helpless and bleeding to death. It would seem the simple 'Ridikulous' spell failed her at such a terrible sight. But before we deem her mother's love a weakness, don't forget it was the same power that later enabled her to slay one of Voldemort's greatest forces for evil.

Bellatrix Lestrange threatened Ginny, on the heels of murdering Fred. That was enough for this middle-aged housewife to take on an evil warrior woman in her prime. The loss of Bellatrix was a serious blow to the dark side. You only need to tally the number of deaths she'd inflicted just since her escape from Azkaban. Her blind adoration of old Voldy made her truly dangerous, but Molly got rid of her, spurred on by the power of her great love for her kids.

Narcissa Malfoy

This is such terrific irony, showing how dense Voldemort was, to make the same crucial mistake twice. He didn't have a clue! Who did he choose from his own ranks to check that Harry Potter, his nemesis, was truly dead?  Another anxious and loving mother, who automatically made the safety of her child priority one. Her mother's heart came way ahead of her supposed allegiance to her 'team'. She took the enormous risk of betraying the Dark Lord by telling him a bold faced lie, for at this stage, she'd do anything to get to her son. If that includes lying so you can get to Hogwarts as part of the vanquishing army when it isn't strictly true, then that's what needs to be done. Narcissa wasn't the nicest person, but she was a great mum. And the answer to my earlier question, (did Voldemort learn his lesson?), turns out to be no. I love it! He fought his way back to power, and a mother's love got him again. It was more indirect this time, but definitely part of the lead up to his final demise.

So Mum power helps beat the Dark Lord and his supporters time and again! And they aren't showy about it either. A true mother's love is  a simple, true and elemental thing. With three short lines from these three loving mothers, the death knells for Voldemort's cause are struck.

'No, please not Harry!'
'Not my daughter, you bitch!'
'Is Draco still alive?'

Happy Mother's Day for Sunday, everyone. The Harry Potter mums are grand, but I believe they only echo the sentiments and feelings of millions of mums everywhere. Because if you'd been in Lily's, Molly's or Narcissa's positions, wouldn't you have done the exact same thing? As far as I can see it, they made tough calls, but really had no choice. 

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

'A Piece of the World' by Christina Baker Kline

To Christina Olson, the entire world was her family’s remote farm in the small coastal town of Cushing, Maine. Born in the home her family had lived in for generations, and increasingly incapacitated by illness, Christina seemed destined for a small life. Instead, for more than twenty years, she was host and inspiration for the artist Andrew Wyeth, and became the subject of one of the best known American paintings of the twentieth century.

As she did in her beloved smash bestseller Orphan Train, Christina Baker Kline interweaves fact and fiction in a powerful novel that illuminates a little-known part of America’s history. Bringing into focus the flesh-and-blood woman behind the portrait, she vividly imagines the life of a woman with a complicated relationship to her family and her past, and a special bond with one of our greatest modern artists.

I loved this book. It's a fictionalised account of the life of Christina Olson, the subject of Andrew Wyeth's famous American painting 'Christina's World.' I'd seen images of this for years before I realised the subject suffered from a degenerative muscle condition which prevented her from walking properly. This story rings so true, I was willing to be drawn into its authenticity.

It weaves back and forth between the two world wars. There are flashbacks from Christina's youth in World War One, along with middle aged moments from the 1940s when she was friends with Andy Wyeth.

On the surface, the characters are nobody special. Just a family of battlers living a tough farming life in a cold climate, under fairly primitive conditions. But the young artist Wyeth recognised the austere beauty they embodied, and devoted a lot of time to bringing it forth in his canvases. I anticipated that the magic he saw would flow from the pages, and it sure did.

Christina's own voice, always in present tense, tells of the childhood illness her body never recovered from, her one experience of falling deeply in love, and her attitude toward her family and home. I like the snippy approach she uses with her brothers, although she loved them dearly. I found her so inspirational, because she never had aspirations to be famous or make a name for herself. Christina's idea of success was simply forcing her painful body to do what needed to be done around the house. The rare occasions when she allowed herself to dream other dreams (a teaching career and marriage) ended in disappointment. Yet still she carried on, noticing joy in small moments, shrugging off pity and doing her best with what she had. It's refreshing to have this sort of heroine, who simply reminds us to appreciate the basic goodness in our lives.

Her whole family is so vividly written, I could imagine them clearly. Although the stoic Christina was my inspiration, she wasn't quite my favourite character. That was her brother Alvaro, whose part of the story takes being taken for granted to a whole new level! He had such a warm heart, and just gave and gave. He was forced to relinquish dreams as much as his sister. Even more in a way, since he had the sound body to have followed his seafaring heart, if only he'd been free to do so. I'd recommend all ladies to read this book, to remind ourselves that there really are guys like him around. I wanted the best for him all the way through.

Christina comes across a bit prickly and cynical at times, but that's got to be a coping tool. She makes frequent wry observations that their whole lifestyle is one of privation and hardship. There's the fact that the whole family bathes on the 3rd Monday of each month, in the same water in the kitchen! Whoa, these guys sure didn't live sedentary lives, so you must've smelled them coming, even though the climate was chilly. She observes that when you live on a farm, everyone is uncomfortable for much of the time, and as for her own condition, 'The pain has become part of me. Just something I live with.'

I always jot down quotes that strike me as worth recording, and this book had several contenders for best.
Andy: Interesting, isn't it, what the mind is capable of? How the body can adapt if your mind refuses to be bowed.
Mamey (her grandmother): People have maladies of all kinds, and if they have any sense, they don't waste time whining about them.
Christina: No matter how long I hold a stick with fluttering rags above my head, no trawlers in the distance will be coming to my rescue.

But the winner is the good teacher, Mrs Crowley, who had this to say when Christina was forced to refuse her offer of further education.
Mrs Crowley: Your mind, your curiosity, will be your comfort.
I love that, because it's a good line for any one of us readers too.  

Thanks to NetGalley and Harper Collins Australia for my review copy.

5 stars.