The Chronicles of Narnia

 The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis

I read this series long ago, but had forgotten most of the plots. I've been reading them again over the past few months and waited till I was finished the series before posting. Just finished the last one so here they are...

#1 The Magician's Nephew

This book was published midway through the series, but because it tells the story of how Narnia came to be, I decided to read it first this time. Digory and his friend Polly, using his uncle's magic rings, take themselves to a decaying world where they inadvertently wake up the evil Queen Jadis from her long sleep. They try to get home using the rings again, but find themselves in another world, one just becoming Narnia where we meet Aslan for the first time. Jadis becomes The White Witch of Narnia in later books, and Digory becomes the elderly professor of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.

#2 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe

Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy, like many other English children during WWII, are sent to live in the country when London is bombed. Their host, an elderly professor now, is Digory from Book #1. Lucy is the first to discover that an old wardrobe in an otherwise empty room is a passageway to the land of Narnia, but the others won't believe her when she tells them of her adventure there. Edmund follows her the next time and he meets the White Witch, the one responsible for Narnia being "always winter, never Christmas" who bribes him to bring his siblings to her. When the other children back on our world are looking for a place to hide from the housekeeper and guests, they hide themselves in that same wardrobe. It is full of coats but pushing toward the back Peter and Susan are surprised to find the coats are behind them and they are walking through trees in snow. 

They meet Aslan the Lion, the creator of Narnia, who is going to fight the witch and restore Narnia to the beautiful, peaceful world it is meant to be. But unknown to the children, things are going to get (or appear to get) much worse before they get better.  

#3 The Horse and His Boy

Shasta lives with the old fisherman he calls father until a Tarkaan arrives and demands to purchase him for a servant. The Tarkaan's horse, Bree, a talking horse from the land of Narnia and also a captive, suggests they run away together and so they set out for Narnia.

Soon they meet a young girl, Aravis, who is running away from a marriage, arranged by her hateful stepmother, to a much older, evil man. Accompanying her is her horse, Hwin, whom they soon discover is, like Bree, a talking horse from Narnia.

Their journey is full of adventures and danger, and some surprises. Shasta learns he's not the fisherman's son, but rather the son of King Lune of Archenland and twin brother to a young prince. 

Although Shasta and Aravis are the central figures in this story, Aslan the Lion and the four children from the previous book, Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy, now royalty in Narnia, appear throughout this book, tying it in with the larger story.

#4 Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia

Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy are on their way back to boarding school after the holidays when they are suddenly pulled out of their world and back into Narnia, where their help is needed to fight the evil King, Miraz. 

The King's nephew, Prince Caspian, was meant to inherit the throne, but Miraz now wants his own infant son to follow him as King and so he must get rid of the Prince. Caspian makes his escape and soon finds himself in a land of talking animals, with the King and his armies fast bearing down on them. 

When the four children arrive and are recognized as the Kings and Queens they are in Narnia, they take council with the animals and realize there is no way to avoid war with the King. They prepare to fight, knowing that unless Aslan himself comes to help, they could very well lose this battle.   

#5 The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Edmund and Lucy are at their Aunt and Uncle's for the summer when they and their rather nasty cousin, Eustace, are pulled into a painting of a boat on open water. They find themselves, dripping wet, aboard the Dawn Treader with Prince Caspian and his crew on a quest to find seven missing Narnians. The seven had set out to find the End of the World and had never been heard from again.

Their adventures include: being taken prisoner in The Lone Islands, Eustace becoming a dragon (after which experience he becomes a less-nasty boy), fighting off a Sea Serpent, finding a lake that turns whatever touches it to gold, a visit to the Island of Voices where the inhabitants are under an invisibility spell that only Lucy can reverse, and stopping at an island called "The World's End". 

Beyond that there is only "The End of the World". Ship and crew set sail to find it and when they do, Aslan meets them and sends Edmund, Lucy, and Eustace home where they find themselves back in the room with the painting that started it all. 

The journey is successful in that they are able to account for all seven of the missing Narnians though not all of them have survived. It ends on a wistful note as Aslan gives the children some news they are sad to hear. 

#6 The Silver Chair

Jill and Eustace leave school and visit Narnia, where Aslan gives them an assignment. They are to find Prince Caspian's son, Rilian, who 10 years ago left to seek vengence on his mother's murderer and never came back. Aslan gives them four 
signs to obey but Jill forgets three of them, causing all sorts of trouble.

They meet a giant owl called Master Glimfellow and attend a Parliament of Owls. A marsh-wiggle named Puddleglum becomes their guide as they set out on their quest. Arriving in the Ruined City tired and hungry, giants tell them about Harfang and encourage them to go there for the Autumn Feast. When they finally reach that city they are warmly welcomed by the evil Queen who intends to serve them up as a tasty dish at said feast.

In the end they escape all the dangers and Prince Rilian is re-united with his father, King Caspian, now a very old man. Jill and Eustace find themselves back at school, but not before a very special stopover in Aslan's country.  

#7 The Last Battle

As Naria's days are winding down, an ape (Shift) and a donkey (Puzzle) find a lion's skin that Shift insists Puzzle wear. Shift will tell everyone that Puzzle is Aslan and Shift is his spokesman, telling the people what Aslan now requires of them. 

Meanwhile Tirian, the last king of Narnia, learns of the trouble and sets out with his unicorn friend, Jewel, to set things right. Captured and in need of help, Aslan sends Jill and Eustace to his aid. Fierce battles are fought, but just when it seems all is lost they are rescued by the sudden appearance of seven Kings and Queens. Among them are King Peter, Queen Lucy, King Edmund, Lord Digory, Lady Polly and other characters from the previous books. 

Though sad to see Naria come to an end, they are overjoyed to find themselves in Aslan's country with all the old compaions they'd thought were lost to them forever. Here, reunited with their parents, they find that what they thought was the end is only the beginning of the best possible happily-ever-after there could be.

The Constant Companion

 The Constant Companion by M.C. Beaton

A light novel of the Regency Romance genre. Not sure why I keep reading these as I haven't much liked any of the ones I've tried. I seem to keep hoping one will come along to change my mind but that has not happened.

I have to say 'spoiler alert' as the ending will be mentioned, though these novels (at least the ones I've read) all have the same ending. As for characters there is the usual assortment of handsome lords and fashionable ladies, with the main character being an impoverished young girl who comes to the city to be a lady's companion. She, Constance, is badly treated by her evil mistress and then rescued by one of the handsome lords. Her change of situation seems to be accompanied by a corresponding and rather inexplicable change in her personality, but maybe that impression came from the change in tone of the narrator on the audio recording. It might have been less apparent, or not there at all, if I'd been reading it. 

Constance and her lord, Phillip, can't decide if they love or hate one another, but when she is kidnapped and her life threatened by a conniving group of servants, they come to their senses and the requisite happy ending ensues.   

So that's it. I tried not to sound too snarky (I failed, you say?), but I find these stories so over-the-top as to be almost outrageous. I can hear all the regency romance fans out there loundly thinking Then don't read them

Well, allright then, I won't. 

The Dutch House

 The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

Danny, who is telling the story, and his older sister, Maeve, are left motherless when she walks away one day and doesn't come back. When their father marries Andrea, a woman with two children of her own, the new children take precedence, to the point of Maeve being moved to the attic so Andrea's daughter can have the nicer "window seat" room. A few years later their father dies leaving everything to Andrea, and she kicks Danny, still in school, out of the house. Maeve, who has a tiny apartment of her own at this point, takes Danny in, and with no one to offer either help or support they lean on each other and get on with their lives. Alone in the world, they develop a dependence on each other that will affect every other relationship they have for the remainder of their lives. 

It was a good story with fresh and interesting plot lines, but it felt sad on every page. I don't know if that was the tone of the book or just Tom Hank's narration. He read it in a flippant, almost disdainful tone that made Danny seem like a jerk. And maybe he was; he certainly seemed to put himself first most of the time. 

He marries his girlfried, Celeste, but never seems all that attached to her or their children. It's no wonder she eventually gets tired of him. Maeve never marries, maybe because she feels she needs to take care of Danny. We never learn much about her inner life - her desires, hopes, dreams - or even about her work life and those relationships. She was the more likeable character so I'd have liked to know more about her. 

When Maeve is in the hospital recovering from a diabetic incident, their missing mother returns. She is welcomed and accepted immediately by Maeve, but Danny, who never really knew her, is resentful and shows it until Maeve insists he stop. The mother remains somewhat distant as a character so we don't get to know her very well, certainly not well enough to understand why she left her children. 

Andrea, the second wife, is heartless, the kind of woman - and a mother at that - who deprives her husband's children of the only home they've ever known, and then lets them struggle to make ends meet while she lives in relative luxury. There's nothing warm and fuzzy about motherhood in this novel.

It's called The Dutch House, but most of the story takes place after they leave the house. I'm drawn to any novel with 'House' in the title - houses and our attachment to them fascinate me - but for me there wasn't enough about the house in this one. It wasn't something they loved and wanted back, it simply served as a symbol for the life and lifestyle they'd lost. 

So, did I like it? I think so. Yes, I did, though it left me feeling sad for every character in the story, their lives being mostly about regret and things missed out on. Now that I've finished it, I find there's something about it that I miss. Maeve was a comforting character, and Tom Hanks' voice has an element of that in it as well, but at the same time his jaded tone grated on me. I'm not sure I'd want to listen to another one narrated by him. 

A Glass of Blessings

 A Glass of Blessings by Barbara Pym

Wilmet Forsythe is an attractive, still fairly young woman, married, and well provided for by a satisfactory husband. She has everything she needs and wants, but finds the good life just a little dull. When her best friend Rowena's husband, Henry, begins to pay her special attention, she accepts it as harmless flirtation. But when Rowena's brother, Piers, also shows an interest in spending time with Wilmet, she develops a fondness for him that suggests something more.  She enjoys their attentions; they make her feel good and that seems to be the important thing to our charming, if slightly entitled, heroine. 
She does, thankfully, come to appreciate just how good she's got it before any real damage is done.

Looking for something to occupy her time, she becomes involved in the life of the local church, its members and its three priests. There are lunches, teas, dinners, and church events to attend and various problematic situations to be discussed and resolved.  Her tendency to dismiss those who are "unsuitable" becomes a bit tedious, but most of the time she means well.  

This book isn't the absolute treasure that Excellent Woman was, with it's more likeable and interesting  main character, Mildred Lathbury - but, oh, the writing! Pym's prose is delicious; I found myself stopping often to re-read the concise, graceful phrasing. That alone will keep me coming back to her books whether the characters are sometimes tedious or not. They are simply too good to miss. 

A Nefarious Plot

 A Nefarious Plot by Steve Deace

A demon in hell mocks Americans for being blind to Satan's destruction of western society. Deace uses the gloating, evil voice of the demon to make us aware of the dangers we all face if society keeps going in its current direction. There's truth in what he says, but problems with how he says it.

One problem is that he doesn't stay in character. He plays the part for awhile, then we clearly hear the voice of the author, then back to the character. At times we're being mocked by the demon, at times we're being lectured by the author. Sometimes we're being encouraged to believe in God, but a demon wouldn't be caught dead (so to speak) telling us about God's great love for us, so we must be back to the author again.    

There are other problems, which I'm sure in light of the message he's trying to get across - that we are in real danger and need to start paying attention - will seem irrelevant to some readers. But since I'm talking about the book itself and not its politics or ideologies, they are relevant here. He takes cheap shots at individuals, implies that right-wing thinkers are God's people and left-wing thinkers work for the other side, makes fun of anyone who went to public school, and dismisses seminary students as being part of the problem - all clearly in the author's own voice. If you get frustrated enough with his attitude to consider not finishing the book, he says it's because of your failure to grasp the urgency of the matter, taking no responsibility for his own failure to make his material credible. He makes sensational statements to get some points across - saying a single mother in America can get up to $80,000 a year in government assistance (like most single mothers get anywhere near that...), and that family dysfunction was basically non-existent until 50 years ago (I'm telling you as someone who was there, there was lots of it around before that) - and he backs up few of his claims with any research.   

The result of all this is that it's hard to take him seriously, and that's the tragedy of this book. There is truth in what he says, truth that needs to get out there and be heard, but mixed up as it is with his personal vitriol, I think it's going to turn a lot of people off. He's shot himself in the foot by not showing some restraint.    

I understand the importance and the urgency of what he's saying, but I think he could have  - I wish he had - found a more effective way of saying it.

Rules of the Road

 Rules of the Road by Ciara Geraghty

Caution: Spoiler alert

I didn't love this one but I did keep going to see how it ended. It was fairly clear what the ending would be, but I was interested to see how the author would treat this sensitive subject and bring it to a conclusion.

It's about two middle-aged women, best friends Terry and Iris, the latter of whom is diagnosed with a degenerative, fatal illness. When Iris goes missing, Terry rushes to her house looking for clues to her whereabouts and finds a letter she wasn't meant to read until much later. The letter says Iris is taking her last road trip, heading for an assisted-suicide facility where she will end her life.

Terry sets out from Ireland to find her and, not too far from home, she does, but realizes the only hope she has of convincing her to change her mind is to travel with her the rest of the way. The clinic is in Zurich, and along the way they will find themselves in places and circumstances they could never have imagined. Complicating things is the fact that Terry's father, a dementia patient, is with her because the residence he lives in has shut down for two weeks to be fumigated.

The adventures they have along the way are sometimes funny but the shadow of what is coming hangs over Terry - and the reader - constantly. In the end they are all changed by their experiences and I think the intention is for us to see that as a positive outcome despite the ending. There are some laughs, yes, but I struggle with the issue of assisted suicide and so for me it's too sad, too tragic, to find much positive in it.