Being Remiss…

I’ve been scrolling through my blogs this afternoon, making a small change here, adding an update there, and I’m sad to see how little I’ve written in the last year.  I always intend to write, am often writing book recommendations and blog entries in my head, but the time to actually sit and get all of the words and ideas from my head to the page has been nearly impossible over these last months.  In trying to keep my priorities straight, I find that these sweet little blogs often fall to the wayside.  Thank you for bearing with me, for continuing to check in every now and again!

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Tales of the Revolution

The era of the Revolutionary War has always been one of my favorites to study.  It is very intriguing to learn about the people and places that defined this great nation once upon a time.  As most of us realize upon growing older, there are two sides to every story.  This great time in our history was no different.  As children, we were taught to think of the Red Coats as evil and the Blue Coats as good; everything that England stood for as wrong and the ideals of the Patriots as righteous.  None of us were there, of course, so there are many details that we will neither know nor understand.  However, I love delving deeper, discovering that there were real villains and genuine heroes on BOTH sides; that there were uncouth political practices and outstanding principles on BOTH sides.  Now before you accuse me of being unpatriotic, understand that though I’ve gathered information from different viewpoints, my heart has always been behind the Rebels, what they stood for, all they accomplished to be victorious, and the heroism displayed by men and women who should never have won such a feat.  That stated, there were Patriots who were not heroes, and Red Coats who were not villains.  One of the things that has made an impression on me is the realization that all of these people lived together in the Colonies.  The Brits and Americans were at one time the same people.  They were intermarried, parent and child, friends, brothers, merchants and customers.  This hostility was as much brother against brother as the Civil War, but I don’t think a lot of us realize that.  When I ponder that fact, it makes this age all the more heartbreaking.  I find thinking about these tangled relational lines very challenging and stimulating and they make me want to write a book of my own.  Here are some reading suggestions I hope you’ll enjoy:

 

The Real Benedict Arnold by Jim Murphy (nonfiction):  Whether you know the story of this man or not, I’m pretty sure we all think “traitor” at the mention of his name.  To be called a Benedict Arnold is certainly not a compliment, even if you never really knew what he did.

I originally picked up this book for Nathaniel, but couldn’t help reading it myself.  This biography was so thought-provoking to me that I’ve continued to think about it long after turning the last page.

Did you know that Arnold was not only a Patriot, but a very fervent one?  Were you aware of all that he did for our country way before he ever turned sides?  I had never heard how highly George Washington thought of him before reading this.  What on earth could turn such a passionate, stalwart young Revolutionary against his country, his people, his leaders?  I am absolutely not going to tell you, but I think you’ll find his story something worth mulling over :).

The Frontiersman’s Daughter & Courting Morrow Little by Laura Frantz:  Mrs. Frantz is a new author and let me tell you, picking up her books was one of the best things I did last year.  Her characters have a depth nearly unequaled, woven together with a story you can experience with all of your senses.  What I loved most about these books was that these were women that I could relate with, their everyday struggles and joys resonated in my own life, challenging me to go deeper into my heart and further in my walk with Christ.  Though the backdrop of these stories is the Revolution, you’ll really enjoy the more sideline focus.  I loved living away from the war, so to speak, and out on the frontier with people surviving during this time, but not completely enmeshed in all of the history we’ve heard and read about.  My perspective and beliefs about this time period were stretched and tested as I had the opportunity to view the Revolution from different eyes than I’d been taught to see through.  You do NOT want to miss these incredible stories and if they are the only two books you read this summer, your time will be well-spent!

The American Patriot Series (Daughter of Liberty, Native Son, and Wind of the Spirit) by J.M. Hochstetler:  If you like front-line history, edgy, suspenseful, romantic, and informative, take a dive into this series by Hochstetler.  The first three books are published already, but two more are on the horizon.  You’ll find yourself taken with the trials and triumphs of Jon and Elizabeth and wish more than once that you were there to help them out!  However, you’ll also find yourself thinking about some of these British officers in a different light, hating the ethical quandries they were put in as well.  I was particularly intrigued by the plight of the Indians during this time.  Unfortunately, it is not an issue we think of often enough and in all honesty, I’m mostly ashamed at our mistreatment of this noble people over the centuries.

The Wind Dancer by Jamie Carie:  You’ll love reading about Isabelle Renoir, a spirited young woman who lives with astounding courage and passion, seems to fear nothing, dances in the wild, and lives to tell about it!  Carie is also a newer author who entered the publishing world with a bang and manages to create an even stronger novel every time she writes.  You’ll love Isabelle, especially because you’re never quite sure what she’s going to do next.   Particularly of interest to me was the character, George Rogers Clark.  If you’ve heard his name, it is probably due to the fact that his younger brother was William Clark of Lewis and Clark fame.  There seems to be a dichotomy of character in George Clark as here he is painted a hero, but in Laura Frantz’s books, we receive a different viewpoint.  I’ll let you decide on your own what to make of this enigma :).

Washington’s Lady by Nancy Moser:  You can read my review of this wonderful book by checking out the Ladies of History series.

The Scarlet-Stockinged Spy by Trinka Hakes Noble:  This is another beautiful book during this time period that you’ll definitely want to check out.  You can take a peek at my previous review HERE.

 

So, if you’re looking for some good historical reads to curl up with this summer, these are definitely a good place to start!

Beowulf

In my senior year of high school, I was subjected to the torture of reading Beowulf.  Not only was the poetic story grisly, but I found myself  desperately trying to make sense of the Old English words, but my brain could not seem to untangle them efficiently enough for me to receive any enjoyment from the tale.  Well, much to my pleasure, several months ago I noted that the story of Beowulf was going to be included in this year’s history and as I am the history teacher not only for my own kiddos, but my friend’s children as well, I knew it was time to once again sit down and wrestle with Beowulf so that I would have something to teach (that is important, you know).

In my quest for a good translation, I came across the edition by Seamus Heaney.  With skepticism, I began to flip through the pages, glancing at the pictures and as I did, I felt my interest piquing.  So, I sat down and read the tale in its entirety and was shocked to discover that I could hardly put it down!  This was NOT the Beowulf I remembered!

Heaney does a beautiful job with this aging epic, breathes new life into this poem, and certainly won me as a fan.  As I read, I was enraptured by this true hero, a man of integrity, who fought against evil for the good of all man.  Beowulf was definitely a Superhero of old and for greater reasons than his strength, integrity, and determination to destroy the evil monsters (Grendel, Grendel’s mother, and the dragon).  The greatest attribute held by this hero, in my humble opinion, is his reverence for God, the King of Glory.  The entire book is infused with dedicated belief in the sovereignty of our Creator, His majesty and kingship, and the fact that He is the one to whom our adoration and worship belong.  I had no recollection of these beautiful facets from my reading of the story in high school and I can assure you it was a mind-blowing, wonderful surprise.

In a nutshell, the people in King Hrothgar’s kingdom are being terrorized by a revolting creature, Grendel.  This monster steals into their Hall in the dark of night and makes bloody meals of the warriors sleeping therein.  Though grisly in essence, it does not picture like a Stephen King horror flick, but like a descriptive poem.  Clearly, this kingdom needs a hero, and Beowulf the Geat arrives on their shores when he hears their distress.  They did not know, of course, what a unique warrior had come to their rescue.  Beowulf insists on fighting the wicked Grendel without any weapons…say what?  Only bare hands and brute strength for this hero!  Who doesn’t love a tale like that?  In reading our history lesson, we also discovered that perhaps Beowulf is more than just a heroic tale.  There is some historical evidence linked with story that shows it could be more than a fairytale.  It just might even join the ranks of some of the greatest legends of all time like King Arthur and Robin Hood.  Gotta love it!

The bonus for this edition is the accompanying artwork.  Paintings and photographs appear on nearly every page and make this book even more of a gem.

The battle with Grendel is only the first of three and at the risk of spoiling anything, I’ll say no more.  Suffice to say, if you’ve seen the movie Beowulf, starring Angelina Jolie as Grendel’s mother, then you’ve seen the WRONG Beowulf.  Skip the movie, devour the book.  We are in need of honorable heroes and might I be bold enough to say we’re getting tired of the sort of heroes that Hollywood finds amusing?

Tales of King Arthur

I’ve always enjoyed the legends of King Arthur and his knights of the round table.  Who doesn’t love stories of valor, intrigue, drama, and even a little magic?  And to know that these legends swirl from history and have been magnified over many years makes the tales even more fascinating.

The kids and I recently discovered a picture book series that we really enjoyed!  Even little Michael has been enthralled with these magical tales and their exquisite illustrations.

Hudson Talbott both authors and illustrates his series, Tales of King Arthur, and if you’re looking for a fun way to bring legend and history home, you definitely need to check these ones out.  In King Arthur: The Sword and the Stone, you’ll meet the young Arthur and join his greatest adventure, discovering that he is the rightful king!  You’ll find his adopted father and brother to be far more supportive and caring then the Disney rendition of the same story.  King Arthur and the Round Table shares the origin of the round table, which I found fun since I’d not heard that one before.  It also tells of his love for Guinevere (pre the Lancelot fiasco, of course).  The final installment, Excalibur, is Arthur’s coming of age story, his journey passing from the wiles of youth to the seriousness of manhood and the job he has been given.

As I already mentioned, the illustrations are wonderfully captivating and are definitely the creme de la creme of these well-written books.  Though they are picture books, I would advise you to page through them first and decide for yourself whether or not they are appropriate for your kids.  There are some battle scenes with blood that while not too gory, could still be disturbing to little ones.

All in all, Tales of King Arthur, gets a thumbs-up!

Note:  Lancelot too has his own tale in this series, but as our library carry it, I have yet to read it. 

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Wings of Glory Series

Discovering new authors is a favorite pastime.  Perhaps it is because I hope to someday be that new author, and every up and coming deserves a chance =).  Sometimes when picking up a novel by someone just starting out, I find myself disappointed.  At other times, I am hopeful because I’ve unearthed an artist with great potential, and I can’t wait to see how they will mature and develop.  And every now and again, I’m thrilled to pieces to uncover a treasure that has no resemblance to a debut work, but can stand on its own among some of the best.  This third scenario was my experience when I picked up, A Distant Melody, the first book in the Wings of Glory Series.

You will fall in love with Walt and Allie in the first pages of this story because they are so REAL.  Sarah Sundin breathed life into each and every one of her characters, giving the reader three-dimensional people whom we can readily relate to, imperfections and all.  I found these people, their quirks, personalities, and attributes to be so endearing that I’m waiting with bated breath for book two.

Lt. Walter Novak and Allie Miller have both grown up feeling awkward and out-of-place, never quite matching up to the expectations their families have of them.  Imagine the common bond then that these two have when meeting for the first time while they are both attending the same wedding.  Warm chemistry flows, witty dialogue ensues, and I found myself turning the pages quickly to figure out just what would happen next.

If this sounds like a simple, heartwarming tale, think again.  Sundin’s narrative is filled to overflowing with superb internal and relational conflict as the friendship between Walt and Allie tries to survive the angst of war (WWII), and the tangled webs each of them have woven.  I was impressed by Mrs. Sundin’s knowledge of Walt’s B-17 plane and the ease with which she was able to paint air fights.  Let me tell you, some of those battle scenes had me glued to the book, on the edge of my seat, and rooting for Walt and his team, heart pounding all the time!

If you are looking for an exceptional author, a tale that will grip you, and people whom you will wish could be your real-life friends, take a chance with Sarah Sundin’s, A Distant Melody.  This is one new writer who will not disappoint!

DRACULA: Seduction or Salvation?

I doubt that when Bram Stoker first scrawled his vampire story in the late 1890s that he had any idea how vastly popular it would become.  Movies, other vampire tales, comic books, Halloween costumes, phrases, even a Sesame Street character!    Stoker definitely started something larger than his own imagination could have envisioned.  I never really thought about the Dracula story until after I read the Twilight Saga (yes, I’m a fan!), but reading about the Cullens definitely got me curious as to where our fascination with otherworldly monsters began.

The idea of vampires, or the undead that feed off of the blood of living souls, goes back much further than Stoker’s tale, but it was definitely his account that really began stirring our blood…no pun intended.  The impression that Dracula was a provactive story was most likely what kept me from ever being drawn to it in the first place, but as the idea of these blood-sucking monsters really began attracting my interest, I decided to get to the bottom of it and figure out what Dracula was really all about.

When Jonathan Harker, a young lawyer, is prevailed upon to travel to Transylvania to take care of some business matters for the mysterious Count Dracula, he has not an inkling of what awaits him.  Unease begins  to surround him the closer he gets to The Castle.  Common citizens cross themselves with looks of fear when they discover his destination, others plead with him to discontinue his journey and return home.  Though disconcerted by these strange behaviors, Harker has been hired to do a job, and completing it is of utmost importance.

At first, the young Harker is intrigued by the Count.  His unusual appearance, his distinguished manners, and yes the deep impression that something is slightly “off.”  During his stay at the castle, Harker’s senses grow more aware, deeply troubled, and filled with fear.  To his horror, he discovers that he has become a prisoner of the disconcerting Count and as unbelievable occurrences begin to happen and he starts putting together some of the pieces to this vastly confusing puzzle, his dread and terror grow.  Harker’s character is so winsome, so believable that the reader cannot help encouraging him to be brave and to stand strong as the intensity of his situation and his alarm escalate.

Just when we are sure Harker is a dead man, the scene switches to the points of view of other cast members and we are left hanging by our nails onto the edge of a cliff.  Each character is three-dimensional, authentic, and either endearing or loathsome depending on their role.  Through the story, the players must all come together first before the ultimate evil can be captured and destroyed.  Van Helsing was by far my favorite, though he is the only main character whose point of view we never visit.  He is not the wildly dashing, handsome Van Helsing played by Hugh Jackman.  You will find no Hollywood movie stars here, only incredible characters with hearts of gold.

Through the nighmarish happenings, your spine will definitely tingle as will your skin crawl.  This is a gothic horror story, but it cannot be compared with contemporary horror by any stretch of the imagination.  There is such beauty in this tale, and a great lack of the grisly, that I was immediately drawn in and dare I say, God spoke to me through this story?

I did not find a chronicle of enticing seduction, or provocative allure.  Were there any metaphorical accounts of sexual encounters or situations that lent themselves to suggestive symbolism?  Unfortunately, Bram Stoker is not here to explain, but I cannot side with those supposed literary experts.  I find a very different heart in the pages of this book than what I’ve always been led to believe.  I invite you to delve in and decide for yourself (don’t bother with the introduction…it’ll ruin the story.  Save it for afterwards if you really feel you must read it).

Here is really what arrested my attention…there was a spirituality in this book that I never anticipated.  Van Helsing was a man of deep and Godly convictions and I was continually surprised at how his faith defined what took place in Dracula.  Many times, he articulates how God is good and all wickedness comes from God’s enemy and it is our job to help do away with evil, never be enticed by it, and do whatever we can to protect those around us from being destroyed.  I find that to be a pretty strong and applicable message.  The further I got into this book, the clearer the powerful themes of redemption and salvation became.

I loved this book.  Loved the way it made me think, was surprised by how it challenged my thinking about good versus evil, and was amazed to see such impressionable pictures of God’s grace and salvation through a “horror” novel.

I leave you with this quote, spoken by Dr. Van Helsing:

“It may be that you may have to bear that mark till God himself see fit, as He most surely shall on the Judgment Day to redress all wrongs of the earth and of His children that He has placed thereon.  And oh, Madam Mina, my dear, my dear, may we who love you be there to see, when that red scar, the sign of God’s knowledge of what has been, shall pass away and leave your forehead as pure as the heart we know.  For so surely as we live, that scar shall pass away when God sees right to lift the burden that is hard upon us.  Till then we bear our Cross, as His Son did in obedience to His will.  It may be that we are chosen instruments of His good pleasure, and that we ascend to His bidding as that other through stripes and shame; through tears and blood, through doubts and fears, and all that makes the difference between God and man.”

Classic Reads for Girls

A common comment I’ve heard from other parents is that their kids read so much and so quickly that they can hardly keep up with them and no longer have time to preview everything their kids want to read.  Truth be told, I face the same challenge.  Though I love to read and always make time for it, this season of my life does not allow for hours a day spent within the pages of a book (though I’d love nothing more!).  During our weekly trip to the library, I do spend time combing through the juvenile book section searching for treasures, trying to skip the rubbish, and wading through all of the stuff in between.

A little tip I’ve picked up over the years is that a books content is usually okay if it was written before 1960, but even better if it was penned prior to 1940.  I usually feel pretty good about picking up “old” books and handing them to the kids if I don’t have time to do a thorough check.

So, for those of you parents whose daughters are reading way too fast, here is a short list of classic reads that will delight your female offspring (note:  my son has actually read and loved most of these as well and yours might too.  However, I would not classify them as “boy” books, but don’t tell them that!). 

~Louisa May Alcott~

Read aloud age:  8 and older (not due to content, just comprehension.  Some younger children with longer attention spans might enjoy them as well.)

Read alone age:  12 and older

Miss Alcott is of course best known for authoring the wondrous tale, Little Women, but it is most definitely not her only masterpiece and personally not my favorite of her many works.  You will find high values and morals in all of her books, endearing characters, and a vivid portrayal of life in America once upon a time.  In the volumes where characters are in their teens, there is romance, but only of the sweet and chaste kind.  You will never find racy seduction here.  Here is what I would recommend:

An Old Fashioned Girl:  Polly Milton is invited to spend a couple of months with some rich city friends.  The Shaws go about life in a very different way than Polly is accustomed to.  Will they change this pretty little flower….or will she change them?

Eight Cousins:  When Rose Campbell’s father dies, leaving her an orphan, she is sent to live on the Aunt Hill where she is suddenly thrust into the company of seven rowdy, but gentlemanly cousins!  She can hardly believe her horrifying misfortune to be stuck with so many males!

Rose in Bloom (sequel to Eight Cousins):  Rose has grown up and life on the Aunt Hill is changing.  A tender story of growing up and facing joy as well as pain…and falling in love.

Under the Lilacs:  When sisters, Bab and Betty Moss, throw a tea party for their dolls, they did not at all expect a rambunctious dog to join their party and steal their goodies!  What follows is a tale of friendship and adventure in unlikely places.

  

~Lois Lenski~

Read aloud age:  6 and older

Read alone age:  8 and older (again depending on their reading efficiency, but they are not very difficult)

Though Ms. Lenski’s books are written for older elementary students, I strongly believe that your young teens will still be thrilled with them.  She takes a different spin on what appears to be historical fiction, but is actually considered regional fiction.  In most of her books, she chooses an American location, places fictional characters there, and then weaves a story filled with local history.  In other words, she does not use any famous historical characters, only a famous place.  Her characters are heartwarming, and the stories themselves are wonderful and educational.  (Note:  Depending on where you live and how well-stocked your library is or isn’t, Lenski’s books can be hard to get a hold of, but they’re worth the challenge!).  My recommendations are:

Strawberry Girl, Boomtown Boy, Bayou Suzette, Cotton in My Sack, Indian Captive (this one is historical and based on a true story)

 

~Maud Hart Lovelace~

The Betsy-Tacy Series is one of my all-time favorites.  The series starts when the heroine, Betsy, is only five-years-old and continues through the first year of her marriage.  I loved growing up with her and having my own children do the same.  Though the stories are appropriate for young ages, parental discretion is advised.  Betsy and her friends, while always trying to be obedient, end up in some hilarious scrapes that wouldn’t be so hilarious if your daughters did them (such as cutting off one side of their hair).  You know best when your younger daughters are ready to hear these stories =).  Because these books aren’t as “old” as Alcott’s tales, I’ve not let my kids read all of them yet.  They are still very clean in the romance department, but the girls in the story talk quite a bit about boys they like (when they are in their teens) and I’d rather not plunge my kids into thinking about those things because they aren’t at that point right now.  The characters though, are wonderful young people and one of the things I love is the relationships between siblings and between parents and their kids.  It sends a good message about the family unit and that is always a big plus! 

In the series listing below, you’ll notice two numbers in parenthesis after each book title.  The first number denotes the read aloud age, the second number is the read alone age.

Betsy-Tacy (5, 8), Betsy-Tacy and Tib (5, 8), Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hill (6-7, 8-10) Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown (8, 10-12), Heaven to Betsy* (10, 12 & up), Betsy in Spite of Herself (12, 12 & up), Betsy Was a Junior (12, 12 & up), Betsy and Joe (14 & up), Betsy and the Great World (14 & up), Betsy’s Wedding (14 & up)

*Note:  Betsy uses a Ouija board in this book.  Upon reading the novel, you’ll discover that at that time, wholesome families had this game and no one thought anything of it.  Much to my childhood surprise, even my own mom had one growing up.  It is more recent that Christians have been recognizing the Ouija as associated with the occult.  You might want to page through this book first and decide if this is something you are comfortable with.  My kids haven’t read that one yet, but when they do, I believe that God will use it to stir up appropriate conversation and be another stepping stone to understanding the importance of what we believe as Christians and why.

 

~Sydney Taylor~

Ms. Taylor was born into a large Jewish family in 1904.  Is it any wonder that her life inspired the writing of these fabulous books?  Being brought up to love Jewish tradition and culture, these stories filled my sister and I with wonder and giggles as we longed to be friends with these fun little girls.  We wanted to dust for pennies, eat crackers in our bed at night, taste the delectable foods Mama made for her family, and of course, visit the Library Lady.  The number system in parenthesis is the same system as the Betsy-Tacy Series.   

All-of-a-Kind Family (6, 10), More All-of-a-Kind Family (6, 10), All-of-a-Kind Family Uptown (8, 12), All-of-a-Kind Family Downtown (8, 12), Ella of All-of-a-Kind Family (12 & up)

This is definitely not an all-inclusive list of my favorite classic reads for girls, but I hope it will get you and your daughters started!!

Keep your eyes peeled for upcoming posts:

  • Classic Reads for Boys
  • Contemporary Reads for Girls
  • Contemporary Reads for Boys

Truckery Rhymes

As the mother of a 3 1/2 year- old boy, I am always on the lookout for truck books.  In our weekly trips to the library, we’ve unearthed piles of fiction and nonfiction books on the subject, but Truckery Rhymes is definitely one of the greatest.  The illustrations are bright and colorful, very appealing for those young readers; the text is witty, funny, and amusing for us adults as well as the kiddos.

Jon Scieszka, the author, has ingeniously rewritten many of the best-loved rhymes with truck-like lyrics, using characters from his popular Trucktown series.  The whole family will chuckle and guffaw their way through these pages and enjoy it over and over!  Scieszka’s books are readily available at the local library.

AN EXCERPT FROM TRUCKERY RHYMES:

Peter Peter Payload Eater

Hit a rock and blew his heater.

He roared into the lake and fell.

And there he cooled off very well.

 

Note:  Scieszka has written a truckload of picture books as well as fiction suitable for juveniles.  If you decide to check out his works for older children, you’ll want to jog through them first to make sure the subject matter and his perspective is what you are comfortable with.  He does not write from a Christian viewpoint.

Grace Livingston Hill

I love so many of the new Christian novels that have been coming out in the last decade or two, but I must admit that I’m a sucker for a lot of “oldies”.  Novels written fifty or a hundred years ago or even more carry a special and unique charm that nothing contemporary can quite compare to.

Grace Livingston Hill is an author my mom introduced me to when I was a young teen.  Perhaps she had glimpsed a Harlequin novel peeking out of my backpack (a little something I’d unfortunately picked up from the school library), and hoped to direct my attention to romance stories filled with beauty and wholesomeness.  Whatever the reason, Ms. Hill’s books found their way into my hands and I skeptically took my first peek.  What followed was a love affair that has lasted nearly two decades.

I have not read every book Hill has written -they are numerous!- but every now and again, I am in the mood for a book filled with tenderness and chivalry, fresh-faced and charming, and it is then that I turn to these romances of old and smile my way through the delightful tales.

Hill’s novels are full of vibrant characters: loathsome villains, an enchanting supporting cast, gallant heroes, and yes, quite often, damsel-like heroines.  For me, the characters embody a culture we really know nothing about, and yet is very alive in our imaginations.  Is every scenario realistic?  Is every character someone I can identify with?  No, not really, and yet the superb quality of these books cannot be denied and has called to me over and over through the years.

If you are ready to take a break from our rat race, in your face civilization, check out your local library for a book by Hill, sit back and relax, and journey into the past.  Prepare to be touched, thrilled, and entertained.  And, if you’re like me, you may hear these fictional voices from the past calling to you long after turning the last pages.

For more information on Ms. Hill and a complete list of her books, please visit her website.  

Ladies of History Series

Writers of historical fiction indeed face a daunting task. Studying a time period and then placing four-dimensional characters from the past into it is not a job for the faint of heart. I believe one of the greatest challenges in authoring historical fiction is the creating of characters who maintain genre consistency, but whom we, as modern era women, can also readily identify with. The temptation is to craft a woman who thinks, feels, and believes as we do and then stuff her into a past era where many of our modernizations were nonexistent. This, unfortunately, does not work and instead of a richly written novel, brings forth one which gives the author the appearance of miseducation or noneducation, neither option very flattering. Alright, I’ll hop off my little soapbox now =).

This dance between the past and present requires extensive research and respectful delicacy, arts that I believe Nancy Moser has definitely gotten a handle on. Several years ago, Ms. Moser began a project entitled Ladies of History. Each installment brings the reader face to face with a woman, like us in so many ways, yet very different due to whatever constraints or expectations were placed on her by society, family, and yes, era.

My interest was piqued when I saw Ms. Moser’s first book in this series, Mozart’s Sister. Mozart has long been one of my favorite composers and having heard fragments of the life of his sister, Nannerl, I had always wondered about her; the talented older sister who forever remained in her brother’s shadow.

Moser does not disappoint. Her extensive study is obvious as she paints a very full picture of Nannerl, her love of music, her adoration of her mischievous little brother, her reverence for a brilliant, but hard father, her faith in a God whose ways she does not always understand.

The second volume in this series, Just Jane, is an excellently done commemoration of the beloved Jane Austen. Being a huge Austen fan (by that I mean that I’ve actually read all of her novels and not just sat in on the movies =) ), I love finding out more about her, but honestly have been quite disappointed in some of the books or movies that have been put together about her life. With skillful sensitivity and grace, Ms. Moser quite perfectly (in my opinion =) ) grasps that delicate balance between past and present as she puts a beating heart and sharp mind into a lady long gone from this earth.

In Washington’s Lady, we receive the pleasure of way more than just a sneak peek into the life of our first President’s wife.  Though many of us are familiar with various facts from Martha’s life, I was delighted at the way Moser took the facts and breathed heart into them.  I had never really been aware of Martha’s spoiled son, Jacky, or her sickly daughter, Patsy.  I’d only heard vaporous rumors of an illicit relationship between the President and a dear family friend, Sally Fairfax, but loved entering Martha’s point of view to see how she might have dealt with those same rumors.  And what an inspiration to meet such a strong woman, who stood behind her husband, supporting him through a devastating war, though she so often would have struggled with desiring him to be at Mount Vernon, making a life with her and the children.

The most recent saga in this series (though I sincerely hope not the last!) is How Do I Love Thee?.  I was completely entranced by the story of Elizabeth Barrett Browning.  Of the four, this was my favorite.  Conceptualizing the life of a recluse is not an easy task because reclusiveness is something that is highly misunderstood.  I found Moser’s account to be balanced and intriguing all at the same time.  Browning is a character I can empathize with, as far as the reclusiveness is concerned anyway, and for me this true story touched places in my heart that the other three didn’t.  Drama, love, suspense, misunderstandings…How Do I Love Thee? contains all the elements of a grand story, most of which were a surprise to me.  The family dynamics were particularly interesting, and the way in which our heroine finally meets and connects with Robert Browning definitely had all of my attention!

Ladies of History Series
by Nancy Moser
1. Mozart’s Sister (Nannerl Mozart)
2. Just Jane (Jane Austen)
3. Washington’s Lady (Martha Washington)
4. How Do I Love Thee? (Elizabeth Barrett Browning)

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