My Dark Spooky Castle Addiction

Last year I set up a new reading nook and created a plan to reduce the number of books I own (you can read about it here).

Progress was slow at first; then I gained a bit of momentum as I went through my old Mills and Boon nurse romances. Every single one of them made it into the “donate” pile.

Next I tackled my collection of Heartsong Presents romances. In the 1990s they were some of the first Christian romances I read, including this early novel by Lauraine Snelling:

Dakota December, a 1996 novel by Lauraine Snelling.

I remember how happy I was to find these books. I think they were among the first romances I found that included an element of faith woven into the story; and the best part was the publisher distributed the books by mail order. Every month four new Heartsong Christian romances magically appeared in my mail box! Woo-hoo!

Another genre I read a lot was romantic suspense; and because my older sister bought just about every Victoria Holt gothic adventure novel ever published and passed them along to me, I developed quite a passion for them.

The cover of The Legend of the Seventh Virgin by Victoria Holt.

Each of Holt’s novels followed a pattern: A beautiful/lovely young woman—alone in the world—inherits/takes a job/goes to live in a legend-haunted castle/chateau/mansion.

Cover of The King of the Castle by Victoria Holt.

Soon after her arrival, the heroine either gets curious or inadvertently discovers a long-buried secret, thereby putting herself in danger. Usually that danger involved spooky specters, trap doors, and attempts to murder her in order to keep that dark family secret hidden from her prying eyes.

This epigraph in the front of Holt’s novel The King of the Castle helps set the tone for the spookiness about to ensue:

To me Holt’s heroines were a wonderful blend of Nancy Drew, Jane Eyre, and Lucy Pevensie. They were honest, brave, resourceful, and smart. And no matter what threats or dangers were thrown in their way, they never backed down. In the end, they were rewarded with everything they ever wanted: love and a place to belong.

When I was in my late teens and early twenties I devoured Victoria Holt’s books. Manfreya in the Morning was my favorite and I’ve read it many times over the years.  

The cover of Manfreya in the Morning by Victoria Holt

But my spooky castle novel addiction didn’t stop with Victoria Holt. Once I finished reading all of her books, I sampled gothic suspense novels by other authors.

The cover of A Finger to Her Lips by Evelyn Berckman

They were pretty good, too; but for me, Victoria Holt was the queen of romantic suspense.

Over the last few weeks I’ve re-read her wonderful novels. The stories are still great; but reading them also took me back to a time when they provided a much-needed escape from my humdrum world of school and work. And now that I’ve reread them all, I know it’s time to say goodbye to them.

It’s a tough decision to make, but into the donate box they go. Next week I’ll pick another genre of books from my collection to re-read and either donate or re-shelve. I wonder what books I’ll choose?

Is there a book or genre that takes you back and reminds you of “the old days” every time you read it?

Fool Me Once

I’m always on the hunt for stories by my favorite Christian authors. By now, you probably know who my top three are:

Isabella Alden (writing as Pansy)

Grace Livingston Hill

Marcia Livingston (writing as Mrs. C. L. Livingston)

I love finding a gem of a story that hasn’t seen the light of day in years, and making it available for others to read.

So you can imagine my excitement when I came across a book for sale that had not one—not two—but three novel-length stories by Isabella Alden!

The seller provided a helpful snapshot of the anthology’s table of contents:

I recognized the title of the first story; The Randolphs was one of the first Pansy books I ever read; but the other two Pansy titles were brand new to me. So, of course I hit the “buy now” button and claimed that book for my own!

The book arrived yesterday, and I could hardly wait to open it up and begin reading. I snuggled down in my favorite chair and turned to page 65 to read the story titled “A New Craft.”

Imagine my surprise when I saw this instead:

Image of the first page of the story with title "A New Graft on the Family Tree" at the top.

Argh! That’s not a new story, at least, not for me. I’ve had my very own hardback copy of A New Graft on the Family Tree on my bookshelf for years.

But I shook off my disappointment, remembering I still had a third story to read, Wise to Win. So I flipped to the appropriate page, took a sip of my favorite tea (to help get me back into reading mode), and dove into the story.

Image of the first page of the story with the title "Wise to Win" at the top.

I hadn’t read very far before I began to think the story sounded familiar. So I did a search of all my Pansy books and found it was word-for-word the same as One Commonplace Day, another book I already had.

Argh, again!

One Commonplace Day was originally published in 1886, so I’m not sure why it was reprinted in this 1903 anthology under a different title. I’ll confess, though, that this isn’t the first time I’ve been fooled like this. Over the years I’ve bought a few Pansy books, only to find out I already owned them under a different title:

Interrupted was republished at a later date under the title, Out in the World.

Ester Ried, Yet Speaking was republished as Following Heavenward.

And Six O’clock in the Evening was published under two different titles: Grandma’s Miracles and Stories Told at Six O’clock in the Evening.

Luckily, I caught myself before I bought Way Station, a reprint of Twenty Minutes Late.

I’m a little sad that my latest book-buying experience didn’t end the way I wanted. Still, there are a few of silver linings:

  • The remaining stories in the book are ones I haven’t read before, so I’m looking forward to enjoying them.
  • This one-hundred-and-eighteen-year-old book is in great shape! Once I’ve read it, I plan to donate it so someone else can enjoy the stories as much as I have.
  • It has illustrations! I may have already shared the stories before, but the illustrations of key moments in the Pansy stories are very nice and worth sharing in future blog posts.
Photo of open book showing one of the book's illustrations.

Will my latest book-buying experience deter me from buying other Pansy books? Absolutely not! I’ll continue to hunt for short stories and novels written by my favorite authors; and when I find them, you can bet I’ll share them on my Pansy blog.

If you haven’t visited my Isabella Alden blog yet, please follow this link. You’ll find lots of Christian books and stories to read for free. See you there!

My New Book Nook

It pains me to have to admit it, but I have come to the point in my life when I have to own up to the fact that I have too many books.

There. I said it.

Now the question is: What do I do about it?

Meme. Having too many books is not a problem. Not having enough shelving, that's a problem.

When I stand back and look at my bookcases full of the books I love and want to read again; and books I want to keep forever; and books just waiting to be read for the first time—I honestly wonder how I can ever part with any of them.

But I have to, because there just isn’t room in my home for any new books. So I’ve come up with a plan to help me make the tough decision about which books stay and which books go.

Now that the weather is nice, I set up a little reading nook on my screened porch, with a small bookcase and a comfy chair. The window blinds help shield me from passersby, but I can adjust them to let in the right amount of reading light. And the rug on the floor brings a bit of warmth to the cold concrete floor.

Photo of chair, side table with coffee mug, and short bookcase with books on each shelf.

On the shelves are a variety of books:

  • Some I have not yet read, but they’ve been sitting on the top of my To-Be-Read pile.
  • Some I have read, but I read them so long ago, I need to refresh my memory in order to decide if they’re still keepers.
Photo of book shelf showing spines of historical fiction novels in order by author last name.

Of course, I had to organize them by genre, then by author last name (don’t ask me why; I just had to).

Photo of book shelf showing spines of historical fiction boooks.

And I added this little lady to keep watch over the historical romance shelf:

Photo of porcelain figurine of woman dressed in 19th century gown.

Once I’ve worked my way through a re-read of these books, I’ll be able to make that crucial decision of which books to keep and which to donate or share with others. Then I’ll restock the book nook shelves with the next round of books to re-read.

I tried it out yesterday with a cup of tea and had a very nice hour of reading time. This may turn out to be a very good system. What do you think?

Jo March’s Writing Career

I mentioned in an earlier post that I recently purchased a lot of old newspapers and magazines. I know some people like to rip old newspapers apart in order to frame their advertisements, but I collect magazines and newspapers for the articles and stories.

A lovely wood-cut illustration from Gleasons’ Pictorial Drawing-Room Companion.

Somehow, mixed in with the newspaper issues I purchased, the seller had added a few issues of a periodical called Gleason’s Pictorial Drawing-Room Companion, all of which were dated in the 1850s.

I never heard of the magazine before. Flipping through the pages, I saw they were filled with poems, song lyrics, bits of news stories, brief biographies, and histories of all sorts.

But the best things were the stories. They have titles like:

The Pirate’s Dungeon

Rodolpho: The Mystery of Venice

The Clergyman’s Love

Conrado de Beltran: The Buccaneer of the Gulf. A Romantic story of the Sea and Shore

As soon as I saw the titles I thought immediately of Josephine March in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. Perhaps you’ve read Little Women, too.

In particular, I was reminded of the latter part of the novel, when Jo went to work as a governess to the children of a family friend, Mrs. Kirke, at a boarding house in New York. While there, she cared for Mrs. Kirke’s children by day, but at night she wrote sensational stories for a newspaper called The Weekly Volcano.

Her first story was a “thrilling tale;” and when the newspaper’s editor bought it for the princely sum of “twenty-five to thirty,” Jo saw a way to make some good money. She “rashly took a plunge into the frothy sea of sensational literature” and produced story after story.

Soon Jo’s “emaciated purse grew stout, and the little hoard she was making to take [her sister] Beth to the mountains next summer grew slowly but surely as the weeks passed.”

When I was young, the March sisters—Jo, in particular—were my favorite literary characters. But as I flipped through the pages of the old magazines I received, and saw the story titles, I realized it’s been decades since I last read Little Women.

In fact, my last read was so long ago, when I sat down to write this blog post, I couldn’t remember the titles of any of Jo’s sensational stories—or even if the titles were ever mentioned in the novel!

So, of course, there was only one way I could think of to answer that question: I had to drop everything and re-read Little Women to refresh my memory.

The Frontispiece from my poor battered, often-read copy of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.

Hours later, I’m still reading, unable to lay Little Women aside. I’d forgotten how well written and entertaining the novel is, and how much I care about Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy; and even Aunt March, Marmee, and Laurie. The last few hours of reading have reminded me of all the reasons I loved Little Women when I was young—and all the reasons this charming, entertaining novel deserves to be read much more often than once every twenty-plus years!

So, thank you to the book seller who tucked a few issues of Gleason’s Pictorial Drawing Room Companion into my recent order. You have given me many more hours of pleasure than I anticipated.

How about you? Is there a book you loved in your younger years that deserves a re-read?

A New Version of an Old Favorite

I’ve become a very picky TV watcher.

It wasn’t always that way. I used to watch a variety of programs in different genres, but over  the last several months I stopped watching programs I used to enjoy.

Dramas have become too gritty and upsetting; medical shows too intense; and comedies, for the most part, are just annoying and rarely make me laugh.

I don’t know when it happened, but the number of programs I watch—and especially the number of channels I’m willing to tune into—have really shrunk in number.

In a previous post I wrote about how much I enjoy Signed, Sealed Delivered, and you can bet I’ve watched the entire series as well as the films over the last few months. But old favorites only go so far.

So when I heard that Britain’s BBC had filmed a brand new adaptation of All Creatures Great and Small (the semi-autobiographical books by veterinarian James Herriot), and it was coming to American PBS stations in the new year, I was intrigued.

I was a big fan of James Herriot’s books when they first appeared in the U.S. in the mid-1970s. I read them all, and enjoyed them so much I read them again. They’ve been on my keeper shelf ever since.

Then the BBC adapted the books for TV in a delightful series that I watched and loved. It ticked all the boxes: quirky characters, entertaining anecdotes about animals, some drama and some laughs, and a sympathetic main character who was just your average guy trying to learn the ropes of a new job in a brand new city.

The original leads in the 1978 TV series.

One of the main reasons I loved the original books and TV series was how comforting they were. They made me nostalgic for a time I never knew but would like to: when life was simple, and people talked to each other face to face; when handshakes meant something, and neighbors helped neighbors.

A sweet moment in the new adaptation.

In fact, I loved the old show so much, I wondered if the new adaptation could possibly live up to my expectations. Would they try to modernize the story to make it “relevant” for the twenty-first century?

I am happy to report, they did not!

I’ve watched the first three episodes of the new version, and I like it very much. It’s a faithful adaptation of Herriot’s books. The characters are just as lovable, charming, and entertaining in the new version as they were in the old.

The cast of the 2020 adaptation.

Another thing I love about the new series is the pains they took to expand James Herriot’s world. It depicts Yorkshire—its villages and countryside—in all its glory, so I really get a sense of place, and how different those new surroundings must have been for James to get used to.

Actor Nicholas Ralph as James Herriot with the gorgeous Yorkshire countryside as a backdrop.

At last I found something new to watch on TV! And since PBS has aired only half the episodes, I now have a show I can look forward to watching for the next four Sunday evenings. How refreshing!

A charming Yorkshire village setting for the new TV series.

One good thing that has resulted from watching the new series is that it has inspired me to dust off my old copies of the original James Herriot books and reread them. It’s been several years since I even touched them, and I have to say it’s like getting reacquainted with an old friend.

As much as I enjoyed the 1970s TV show and like the new 2020 version, the original book is better. It just is.

Do you have a favorite television show you like to watch over and over?

In the crazy pandemic world we live in, is there a book, TV show, or movie that entertains and comforts you?

What a Year!

Like a lot of people, I had some big plans for 2020.

And as it did for a lot of people, COVID-19 changed each and every one of those plans. Changed them as in, none of my plans were accomplished. Not one.


In any other year, I would have beaten myself up for such poor performance, but not this year. With the box full of crazy uncertainty this year foisted on us all, I decided I would not fall into the trap of focusing on my shortcomings.

Run for your lives! It’s the attack of the year 2020!

Instead, I want to tell you about something good that happened—something from which we will all benefit.

If you know anything about me, you know I’m a fan of writer Isabella Alden. Her novels mean so much to me, and I admire her example of living a Christ-centered life. It’s been my joy to help spread the word about her stories on my other blog (www.IsabellaAlden.com/blog) and help new readers discover the beauty of her stories for themselves.

Because I post regularly on that blog (and on corresponding Facebook and Twitter accounts) with samples of her stories and news about her life, I’m always on the hunt for information I can share about Isabella.

A couple of months ago, I found a treasure trove of some of her short stories in a collection of magazines I purchased from an auction site. Each story is new to me with titles I’ve never heard of before.

A few of the stories are only one chapter long; some stories are as long as eight chapters; and one is a full-length novel! I feel as if I hit the Isabella Alden Jackpot!

If you’re like me, you probably need a good Isabella Alden story after the year we’ve had, and I’ve got the perfect one to share. Please  check with me here (or on Isabella’s blog) on January 12, when I’ll publish the first of the new stories, “For This.”

In the meantime, I wish you a bright and promising New Year! See you in January!

My Blog, My Way

It’s been so long since I last posted on my blog, I had to go back and review my previous posts, just to get my bearings a little. It was a good exercise, because looking at past posts helped me decide if I want to go in a new direction, or keep posting on the same topics I’ve dealt with in the past.

When I started this blog, my purpose was share my thoughts about, and my love for books. I think I’ll continue on in the same vein.

There are some bloggers who write book reviews, which I love to read. But I don’t want to write book reviews (although I sometimes leave reviews on book retailers’ sites).

There are some bloggers who participate in book promo tours, and kudos to them. I love reading about new titles from my favorite authors, as well as learning about authors who are new to me. But I prefer to leave book promotion to the professionals, so you probably won’t see any future blog posts from me on the subject.

What do I like to blog about? Books (which I love to read), Colorado (my home state; please visit, if you can), and stuff that happens in my life. And since that’s what I like, that’s what I’ll blog about—unless I run out of things to say, or stop reading books worth talking about. And, seriously, what are the chances of that happening?

 

A New Tracie Peterson Series!

I have been a fan of Tracie Peterson’s books since—Well, for as long as I can remember! Her first novels were published by Barbour’s Heartsong line in the 1990s. Each title was short (about 170 pages) and centered around a budding romance between a man and a woman who grow in faith by the story’s end.

In those days I was a Heartsong subscriber, so Tracie’s books automatically arrived my doorstep. She quickly became one of my favorite authors. I’ve been a constant reader of her stories ever since; in fact, six of her novels figure prominently on my keeper shelf.

Fast forward twenty years later, and I’m still an avid reader of Tracie’s books.

Her latest series is “Brookstone Brides,” about a traveling Wild West show comprised of all-female performers. I love the premise!

The first book in the series, When You are Near, released earlier this month, and automatically appeared on my Kindle (we’ve come a long way since the 90s!).

You can click on the cover to read the book description.

When You are Near had everything I’ve come to expect from a Tracie Peterson book: strong characters, a complex story, surprise twists, and an historical setting so well written you think you’re living the time period.

As soon as I finished reading it, I wanted more, and began searching for information about the next book in the series.

The good news is, I don’t have long to wait long to read it. Wherever You Go (Book 2) comes out in June.

It’s already available for pre-order on Amazon. Here’s a link, if you’d like to read the book description. 

Breaking News!

I just found out that Book 3 in the series, What Comes My Way, will release in October.

You can click on the cover to read the description.

By the way, aren’t the covers beautiful? They really capture all the little details that help make the time period come to life.

If you love reading about strong, determined women, the old west, and vulnerable hearts learning to trust God and His Will, then Tracie’s new series just might be for you! I hope you’ll check it out.

Enjoy!

To All the Men I’ve Loved Before

In the early 1980s singers Willie Nelson and Julio Iglesias recorded “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before,” a song that paid homage to the many, many women they loved and lost (or dumped) over the courses of their lives.

I’ll say straight up, I’m not a fan of the song; but for some reason, it’s been stuck in my head for the last 48 hours. So I decided, if I can’t get the song out of my mind, I might as well repurpose it in a way that makes sense to me.

So, I’m taking a page from Willie and Julio’s book, and presenting to you a list all the book heart-throbs I once loved.

My First Love was Bert Bobbsey, oldest of the two sets of twins in the Bobbsey family household.

 

Now that I think back on it, Bert was really more of an admired older brother than a crush, but I thoroughly hero-worshipped him until I found . . .

My second crush, Frank Hardy. Level-headed, smart, and brave, he was the hero of more than one thrilling book adventure in my grade-school years.

Plus, he was handsome and a sharp dresser. I’ve loved pull-over sweaters on men ever since.

Then, in more or less chronological order, there was:

Laurie from Little Women. Theodore “Laurie” Laurence set the standard for me when it came to the man I thought I’d like to fall in love with.

Laurie and Amy March in an illustration from my 1939 edition of Little Women.

He was smart, rich, playful, good at keeping secrets, and heart-throbbingly loyal. I was a little troubled to see how quickly he transferred his affections from Jo to Amy, but since everyone in the book ended up happy (with the sad exception of Beth, of course), I was willing to overlook Laurie’s change of allegiance.

Gilbert Blythe.
I have the full collection of Anne of Green Gables books, as well as the beautifully filmed mini-series by Sullivan Productions (I never get tired of watching it!). One reason I love the series so much is Gilbert Blythe.

Gilbert was introduced in the book as a . . .

Tall boy with curly brown hair, roguish hazel eyes and a mouth twisted into a teasing smile.

From the moment he first set eyes on Anne, and he winked at her, you knew he liked her. He really liked her.

For me, the entire Anne series is as much about Anne and Gilbert growing up together and recognizing their feelings for each other, as it is about Anne Shirley coming of age. Yes, she’s the main character in the books, but I still get misty-eyed when I read the scene where Gilbert—after receiving Anne’s rejections again and again—proposes marriage to her for a second time:

“I have a dream,” he said, slowly. “I persist in dreaming it, although it has often seemed to me that it could never come true. I dream of a home with a hearth-fire in it, a cat and dog, the footsteps of friends—and you!”

Anne wanted to speak but she could find no words. Happiness was breaking over her like a wave. It almost frightened her.

“I asked you a question over two years ago, Anne. If I ask it again today, will you give me a different answer?”

Merddyn Gryffydd.
Richard Llewellyn’s 1939 novel How Green was My Valley chronicled the life of Huw Morgan as he grew to manhood in a Welsh mining town. It’s been my all-time favorite novel since I first read it when I was 12. There are many memorable scenes in the book, but for me, some of the most poignant and beautifully written moments are between Huw’s older sister Angharad (pronounced an-HAR-ad) and the Reverend Mr. Gruffydd (pronounced Griffith).

It’s clear that Angharad is in love with him, but does he love her in return?

Mr. Gruffydd is a gentle, well-spoken, man of God, who daily demonstrates his high ideals. When he discovers that a rich young man has been courting Angharad, the woman he loves, he decides to put his own feelings aside so she can have a better life than the one he can offer:

“I am afraid that you will go threadbare all your life. That you and me will have to depend upon the charity of others for most of our good meals, and on my living for enough to exist. Do you think I want to see the white come into your hair twenty years before its time? Shall we see our children growing up in the cast-off clothing of others? Shall we thank God for parenthood in a house full of bits and presents that had outlived their use to the givers? No, Angharad. I am a man. I can bear with such a life for the sake of my work. But I think I would start to kill if I saw it having an effect on you.”

I loved Mr. Gruffydd for trying so hard to do the right thing by the woman he loved, yet getting it so wrong.

Those weren’t all my book boyfriends, but they were the ones that made impressions on me at a young age. As I grew older, I fell in love with Gabriel Oak (Far from the Madding Crowd), Sidney Carton (A Tale of Two Cities), and Fitzwilliam Darcy (Pride and Prejudice).

But Bert, Frank, Laurie, Gilbert and Mr. Gryffydd have a very special place in my heart.

How about you? Did you ever have a crush on a fictional character? I’d love to know who! 

It’s a Bad Thing in a Good Way

Silly me, I thought I was making significant progress in getting my To-Be-Read mountain whittled down to size of a decent hill. You see, I went on a reading binge in December, which I carried over into January. I knocked a couple dozen books off the top of my TBR pile, and was feeling pretty smug about, too.

But then it happened. On Friday I got an e-mail from American Christian Fiction Writers with a list of 24 new releases from their member authors.

Member authors whose books I love. Hallee Bridgeman, Kara Isaac, Michelle Griep. Need I say more? Of course, these are must-have books.

And this one caught my eye, too:

Sandra Ardoin is a new author to me, but I couldn’t resist pre-ordering her novella. We’re talking mail-order bride, Alaska gold-rush, and a hero with emotional baggage, which means it, too, qualifies as a must-have book.

Some of the books on the ACFW list haven’t released yet, and that’s good news! Good because I have some time to make further headway on reducing my TBR before I start adding to it again.

Have you seen the ACFW’s new release list? (You can view it here) I’d love to know what books caught your eye.