Listen to the Child, Spin, Galore, Little Lord Fauntleroy

Listen to the Child by Elizabeth Howard
Good reviews convinced me to read this, but I'm afraid I didn't find it well written at all. The characters were one dimensional, it seemed bitterly biased against Christians, and the ending came so suddenly I was sure it was a mistake; it wasn't. It left many of the story lines unfinished, and included at least one that seemed to have no purpose other than to add to the overall sadness and misery. The one thing nobody in this book ever did is "Listen to the Child". It's based on an actual situation, in which desperately poor children were taken from the London slums, usually with the parents permission but not always, and shipped off to Canada where life was supposed to be glorious for all. Most of the kids were put in homes where they were nothing more than unpaid servants to mean, abusive people. They were starved, beaten, and left out in the cold to sleep. Promises to check up on them were not kept. 

It could have been a good "historical fiction" book. The basic plot is there, but the writing just wasn't up to it.

Spin by Robert Charles Wilson
It's been a long time since I read a science fiction novel, mostly because those I had read left me quite disappointed. I want a good story, believable characters, decent writing, and some interesting science in my science fiction. Something in the write-ups I read made me think I might find at least some of that in Spin, so I gave sci-fi another chance.

And it was amazing, so good I couldn't stop reading because every page left me needing to know what would happen on the next one. I forgot to do laundry and meals were late. I devoured this book. The story gripped me immediately, the characters were believable and well fleshed out, the writing was excellent, and the science, oh the science. It was exciting and terrifying and beautiful. It stretched the imagination but was not so out there as to make you shake your head and dismiss it as too far-fetched. It was just fetched far enough. A scientist might disagree, but I'm a reader, not a scientist, and I was mesmerized. 

It begins with 3 childhood friends who sneak outside after dark just in time to see the stars disappear. They were there, then they weren't, like someone just turned them off.  Thus begins the tale of how these three grow up in a changed and now dangerous world. There's some terra-forming of another planet, a human being who is not from earth, and government secrets galore - no shortage of interesting plot lines.

This was so good I think I'll try another sci-fi. Any recommendations? 

Galore by Michael Crummey
Vivid, gritty, and well written; all the things I love about Michael Crummey's novels. There's a feeling of honesty about them, sometimes painfully so, but that's what pulls me in and holds me there. I loved Sweetland, found River Thieves more brutal than I could handle, and would place Galore somewhere in between.

This story covers several generations of two families in a small area of Newfoundland beginning in the late 18th century and on into the early 20th. All the harsh realities of life on the rock and the ups and downs of a fishing village dependent on nature are described for you here. Described doesn't even say it really. It's more like he breathes it out and you breathe it in. You live there while you're reading the book and it takes a bit of re-acclimatizing when you've finished.

The characters are intensely human, quirky, unpretentious, some downright weird, usually one or two with eerie overtones. There's always something about their stories to give you pause, and maybe make you think about things you had not before considered. There's not much cheer in these books, but I'm fine with that, having been a Thomas Hardy fan for too many years to need happy endings anymore.

Crummey's books are total immersion experiences, which can leave you holding your breath at times and will profoundly engage all your senses as you are absorbed into a time and place not your own. 

Little Lord Fauntleroy by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Written for children, this is the sweet story of Cedric, a little boy who lives in happy, if straitened, circumstances with his gentle, adoring mother in America, until it is discovered that he is the sole surviving heir of his cantankerous old grandfather in England. He is to be a Lord and inherit a grand estate, which his grandfather is not happy about but it's the law so he has no choice. He expects to find Cedric dull witted and uncouth, but is in for a surprise and even his hard heart will not be able to resist Cedric's kindness, sincerity, and beauty. He begins to love his grandson, and that brings about a softening of his own heart, to the great relief of all who know him.

It's a lovely story for children, if a bit hard to swallow for older readers. Nobody on earth is as perfect a specimen of humanity as Cedric. He always feels, says and does the right thing. He loves everybody and everybody loves him in return. His mother, too, is without flaw; graceful, beautiful, kind, gentle, etc. In another novel this wouldn't work at all, but this is for children and it sets a good example. And besides, the ending is very satisfying and makes you glad you read it. I think I liked this better than The Secret Garden, though I don't expect that to be a popular opinion.  


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