How precious are Your thoughts to me, O LORD ... how vast is the sum of them!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Book Review: Girl Sleuth

Perhaps you’re thinking what I’m thinking…another book review? Yes, I know, but it isn’t my fault the books I’ve been reading lately have been so fascinating they’re worthy of a blog post! (Or maybe it is my fault for picking such intriguing books…)

Anyway, I’ve just finished a book about Nancy Drew, the heroine of my favorite childhood series. And my, did it reinvigorate my interest in her! It made me nostalgic for what I loved to read in my pre-teen/early teen days…fast-paced, plot-based mysteries and adventures. In fact, I got this writerly thought in my head: Maybe I should reread a bunch of my Nancy Drew’s to give me an infusion of plot ideas…I feel weak on that in my own writing!


Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her by Melanie Rehak is a must-read for anyone who is or has been an ardent fan of Nancy Drew, original or revised. It clears up the mystery of her authorship, the identity of pseudonym Carolyn Keene, the wide appeal of Nancy, and the differences between her old and new versions and when exactly she changed. It goes into all things Nancy Drew in pop culture. Beyond that, it gives a fascinating peek into the history of children’s book publishing in America and into the lives of the people responsible for Nancy's creation: Edward Stratemeyer, Harriet Stratemeyer Adams, and Mildred Wirt Benson.

The Stratemeyer Syndicate is the principal “character” of this book. Its inner workings were quite intriguing. It turns out Edward Stratemeyer was the hero behind many of the classic dime-novel characters—Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, the Bobbsey Twins, Tom Swift, the Rover boys, and so on—and all these series were written under pseudonyms. Some reading this probably already knew that, but I wasn’t aware of these books’ origins.

The only thing I, personally, did not like about Girl Sleuth was the author’s feminist bias. Nancy Drew became an icon during the women’s lib movement of the 1960s and ’70s, even though the women who created her were conservative on that front (they were of the previous generation, after all). The author used Nancy Drew as a measuring rod and a jumping-off point to go into the history of feminism, though the character herself was never intended as such a symbol. But, the cultural tie-ins were interesting, because American women did live through these attitudes and events. I found myself agreeing with Harriet S. Adams, one of Nancy’s creators, who though not a women’s libber believed that women have brains, rather than the author, who counted stay-at-home motherhood as an unfortunate setback to women’s advancement.

So, it will make you think about the issue of feminism, but at the same time, I think you’ll be pleased with how Nancy is presented. (One warning: Toward the end, there are a couple of obscenities, because they are part of quotations.) (Disclaimer: I think most of my readers view feminism as I do, but if you do not, it is not my intention to open up a discussion about it. Thanks!)


Girl Sleuth makes me so glad I still have all my 56 revised Nancy Drew’s because I plan to reread them after this. I also have a facsimile edition of the very first, The Secret of the Old Clock, as it was in 1930, that I plan to reread first. I’m also reminded that I need to insert a reference to Nancy Drew somewhere in my 1930s novel…she was all the rage then, so why not capitalize on the opportunity to give a nod to one of my most beloved fictional heroines?

Have you read and liked the Nancy Drew mystery stories? I think part of their appeal is how many generations loved them. My mom never read them; surprisingly, as a child she did not like to read (boy, has that changed!). But I need to ask my grandmother, who grew up during the twenties and thirties, if she read any!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Books I Treasure

What reader doesn’t like making book lists? I’ve made several on this blog—including favorite fairy tales, funniest books, classics I’ve read, and top 15 reads of 2013 and 2014. But I’ve never done a list of straight-out favorite books. At least not here. On Goodreads, I have a “twenty favorite” shelf:

Kelsey's twenty-favorite book montage

Sense and Sensibility
Pride and Prejudice
Mansfield Park
Northanger Abbey
Wives and Daughters
North and South
Jane Eyre
Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc
The Complete Anne of Green Gables Boxed Set
The Count of Monte Cristo
The Lord of the Rings
The Chronicles of Narnia
The Pilgrim's Progress
Little Women
The Little House Collection
The Zion Chronicles Complete Set
The Wanderer: or, Female Difficulties

Kelsey Bryant's favorite books »

Now this is my as-of-2015 list. I don’t change it often, but be aware I may change it in the future, as is understandable—reading tastes evolve in everyone. I chose these books because I love the stories, the characters, the settings, the author’s writing style, and the messages more than any other books I’ve read. (Excluding, of course, the Bible! Wonderful book; have you read it lately? It trumps all others.) I wanted to add the two Elizabeth Goudge novels I just read, but these twenty books won’t budge quite yet…maybe re-reading everything will get something to move.

Okay. I’ve rambled enough about that list. Now for the mega-list.

The mega-list? Yes, the one hundred-plus books that I count among my favorites, the books I’d hold onto and re-read…that list. Notice it isn’t here, fortunately (or else this would be a really long post); it’s accessed via a tab at the top of this blog so you can browse it at your leisure. It used to be the top 100 best books I’ve read, but I thought my favorites would be more fun, and more measurable and easy to evaluate. For example, I don’t really like Wuthering Heights but I included it in the “100 best books” because it’s so well-written, but I can’t exactly gush over it. There are tons of other “best books” lists that anyone can make, but only I can make my favorites list.

I wish I had time and space to lovingly describe how each book arrived there…but that would take a book in itself. Somehow or another these beauties just thrilled me while I was reading them and kept me feeling warm long after I’d said goodbye.

I’m assuming you have a list of favorite books, too…have you ever made an “official” one? What are your top favorites and why?

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Book Review: The Dean's Watch

Last week I mentioned a wonderful book I was reading, The Dean’s Watch, by British novelist Elizabeth Goudge. Sadly, I have finished it. Or should I say happily, too, because I was anxious to see how everything came together in the end? No, I think it’s sadly. I miss those characters and the city and the cathedral and the world painted as exquisitely as a landscape in oils. Like The Scent of Water, the Goudge novel I read first, I could have gone on living in it for a good while yet.


Here is the synopsis on the back of my edition from Hendrickson Publishers:

In a remote mid-nineteenth-century English town, cathedral Dean Adam Ayscough holds a deep love for his parishioners and townspeople, though he is held captive by an irrational shyness and, ironically, an intimidating manner. Yet when an obscure watchmaker who does not think he and God have anything in common strikes up an unlikely friendship with the Dean, it leads to an unusual spiritual awakening in both men that eventually reaches out to the entire community.

It’s hard to know where to start on a review. Maybe I could list the many things that made the book for me?

Elizabeth Goudge’s writing style is rich and descriptive and bears a fairytale quality, yet tells stories of realistic settings and daily life. It brings out the beautiful in this world. She shows that, despite sadness and ugliness, there is much that is lovely that we should dwell upon.

It’s a tale of redeemed lives. I adore stories that show broken lives put back together by God’s love. She offers rich spiritual insights that you can apply to your own life. She puts you in adoration of the Holy One; her writing imparts reverence for Him.

It has characters whose souls sink into yours so that you wish you knew them. (Most of them, anyway. There are those who need a lot of improvement before they’d be halfway pleasant companions!) They are each unique and easy to distinguish from one another, which makes for a very enjoyable and realistic cast of characters. They are deep—Goudge delves into the innermost spirits of many of them. They transform, like real people. They are English Victorians and therefore lead interesting lives, vastly different from my own, but yet familiar and loveable because I know aspects of their world from classic literature.

The setting is a character in itself. The cathedral, the city (which is never named), the fen country (located in eastern England, north of London), the clockmaker’s shop—they are all portrayed in so much detail it’s as if you were there seeing them. Just like the human characters, you wish you could know this setting in person! 

Hereford Cathedral, but this is something like how I picture the cathedral in The Dean's Watch

She attaches importance and symbolism to objects (usually beautiful objects you want to feast your eyes upon). There are such scrumptious things in The Dean’s Watch as a celestial clock (clocks and watches galore, actually), cathedral carvings and stained glass, and three darling umbrellas. It makes the story tangible…our lives are full of physical objects that we ascribe importance to, and that come to symbolize to us significant events or people. I know I’m above-average sentimental, but all of us hold on to objects because of the people they remind us of, or the feelings they conjure.

The story was really well crafted. Even though some of the things that occur could be considered ordinary, they are anything but in the light of her pen. She makes life epic. At the end I almost felt the same sense of triumph against all odds that I got from the ending of Return of the King. It makes you look at your life in the same light—what will you allow God to accomplish in it?

In short, Elizabeth Goudge is the first author I’ve found who I’d wholly like to write like. I feel a kinship with her—she writes such soul-satisfying books!

Have you ever read anything by Elizabeth Goudge? What did you think?

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Compilation of Autumn Joy

Happy fall! I know this celebration is belated by a couple of weeks, but consider—I live in the south where it was near one hundred degrees most of September. October has finally ushered in the cooler, more golden air that encases fall and creates the aura we associate with it, and so I’m finally feeling festive. Beautiful weather has arrived! It’s pleasant to be outside! We can open the windows! Nature is so much more accessible when the temperatures make it comfortable for you to be out in it. Fall is my favorite season weather-wise (spring is my favorite for every other reason). 

As one of my favorite authors, Elizabeth Goudge, puts it in the book I’m currently reading, The Dean’s Watch:

“Winter, spring and summer did not accommodate themselves to one’s moods as autumn did. They lacked its gentleness.”

Speaking of that book, it’s absolutely lovely. I’ll be writing a review of it when I’m finished and encouraging every literary person to read it. I didn’t realize before, but it’s perfect to read in October, because the story spans the autumn.

I saw a brilliant sky early this morning, around 6:00am. The shining spheres looked so close as to be tangible. The moon was a perfect crescent and bright as an approaching headlight, and right beneath it and nearly as bright was Jupiter. Both Jupiter and Venus had planted themselves in the magnificent constellation Leo, the top of which curved like a giant sickle and the bottom formed a straight up and down staff, disappearing into the trees—it’s actually dramatic as far as constellations go. (What I saw was in a different position than what this picture shows.) Orion was right above my head, as clear and breathtaking as you please. It’s such a distinct shape it looks like a human figure even to the casual observer. The darkness was so transparent the Pleiades, a tight band of little stars (“The Seven Sisters”), also directly above, were each one distinguishable. And the air was cool, almost cold. I’m indebted to my mom for informing me about Leo this morning…I’d never seen it, or rather noticed it, in person before. It’s become one of the friends I’ll always search for in the proper season.

Closing on a practical note, I’m thankful to have found this site,, which is invaluable for historical fiction authors. It provides the date of origin for all English words. Now there’s a way to know whether or not your nineteenth-century character would exclaim “Bingo!”, or in my case, my 1930s secretary would undergo an “orientation” for her new job. Many thanks to John J. Horn on Word Painters for pointing out this resource!

How is your autumn so far?