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Posts Tagged ‘Maud Hart Lovelace’

emily of deep valley mums gourd

Recently, I reread Emily of Deep Valley, a lesser-known book by Maud Hart Lovelace of Betsy-Tacy fame. I read it for the first time a few years ago, and fell in love with Emily’s sweet spirit. An orphan who lives with her grandfather, Emily struggles when her friends all go off to college and she’s left behind in Deep Valley. (While her grandfather is a kind man, this is 1912 and it’s never crossed his mind that she might want to go to college.)

I’ve loved Betsy Ray and her friends since I was a little girl, but I also found Emily a kindred spirit: she’s shy and introverted, but kind, intelligent, generous and deeply loyal. This time around, I related to her feelings of being left behind: when it seems everyone has a purpose to fill their days except you, it can be hard to keep going.

One Sunday morning, though, Emily hears a quote from Shakespeare that bolsters her up: “Muster your wits; stand in your own defense.”

While that line doesn’t erase her loneliness or her worries, it gives her a mantra to focus on, and helps her get up the courage to seek out some good things – dancing lessons, a book group, even a few dates – to fill her lonely winter. As I continue with the job hunt, I am reaching for Shakespeare’s words (and Emily’s example) frequently these days.

Mustering my wits sometimes looks like self-care: yoga in the morning, a chai latte at Darwin’s, long walks in the autumn sunshine, baking a batch of scones. It can also look like being brave: reaching out to a friend via text or email to schedule a lunch or coffee date. Quite often, it simply looks like doing what needs to be done: freelance work, job applications, church administrative work, laundry, dishes. Some of these tasks are their own reward, and some I’m just relieved to cross off the list. But all of them help me move forward, especially on the days when I seem to spend all my time fighting back the dark.

I’m lucky to have a supportive community: my husband, my family, an inner circle of dear friends. (I also deeply appreciate the support from this blog community, including the comments on this recent post.) But in the end, like Emily, I do have to stand in my own defense. It’s ultimately my responsibility to muster my wits, and get on with the hard work of finding a job and living my life while I’m searching.

Emily’s story has a happy ending on several levels: she finds a new purpose in her work with Deep Valley’s Syrian community, makes some new friends and falls in love with a good man. My story, of course, isn’t over yet; I’m living in the messy middle, in so many ways. But I am glad to have Emily (and Shakespeare) along on my journey, when I need the reminder to muster my wits.

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Emily of Deep Valley, Maud Hart Lovelace
I discovered Emily’s story – a lesser-known classic by the author of my beloved Betsy-Tacy books – a few years ago, and now I hanker for it every fall. Emily feels stuck in Deep Valley, caring for her grandfather while her friends go off to college. But she “musters her wits” – starting a Browning Club, taking dancing lessons, befriending a few Syrian families – and gains some much-needed self-confidence. She’s a winning, quietly strong, utterly relatable heroine. I adore her, and I love seeing all my favorite Deep Valley folks (Cab Edwards, Miss Fowler, Betsy Ray herself) again.

Thirty Days to Glory, Kathy Nickerson
Kathy (a dear blog-friend) sent me the e-version of her debut novel (out Oct. 25) for review. It’s a heartwarming holiday story about Catherine, an elderly widow who longs to do something important with her remaining days on earth, and Elmer, a down-on-his-luck drunk who needs something good to happen to him. Their stories intertwine in surprising ways. Bittersweet but hopeful.

The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, Dorothy L. Sayers
When an elderly general turns up dead in his easy chair at his favorite club, everyone supposes he simply died in his sleep. But Lord Peter Wimsey suspects foul play – especially since the distribution of a sizable inheritance depends on exactly when the general died. Wimsey is coming into his own as a detective (and Sayers as a writer) – this mystery was great fun, and satisfyingly plotted.

Emerald Green, Kerstin Gier
Since Gwyneth Shepherd found out she’s one of an elite circle of time travelers, everything has been going wrong – including her relationship with Gideon, a charming but cocky fellow time traveler. In this conclusion to the Ruby Red trilogy, Gwen and Gideon must hopscotch back and forth through time to avert a disaster and to find answers to some pressing questions. Witty, romantic and fast-paced – a fun conclusion to a wonderful trilogy. It had been a year since I read the second book, Sapphire Blue; I’d like to reread these books all in a row.

Still Writing: The Pleasures and Perils of a Creative Life, Dani Shapiro
I had the pleasure of meeting Dani when she read at Brookline Booksmith this month. Still Writing is a wise, quiet collection of musings, anecdotes and encouragement about the writing life. Divided into Beginnings, Middles and Ends, these short essays offer wisdom, guidance, humor and hope to those of us who return over and over again to the blank page. Lovely.

Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection, Debora Spar
I found an article by Spar via Lindsey’s blog and picked up her memoir-cum-dissection of feminism, its effects, and the relentless perfectionism under which many women still struggle. Spar is president of Barnard College and a former Harvard Business School professor; I appreciated her insights on the differences between male- and female-dominated workplaces. She explores the dizzying array of options (for careers, childbearing and relationships) available to women, but I wanted more practical ideas on how to balance them. Not quite as good as Lean In, but still thought-provoking.

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Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy, Ally Carter
After reading the first book in the Gallagher Girls series, I wanted more – this is such a fun concept (a boarding school that’s really a training ground for female spies!). The characters – narrator Cammie, her headmistress/spy mother, her spy-in-training best friends and their highly trained faculty members – are great, and the action is fast-paced and often quite funny. (And you can tell the author loves creating every detail of this world.)

Don’t Judge a Girl by Her Cover, Ally Carter
Gallagher Girl book #3 is a little darker and a lot more intense – though it still is a really fun story of how to navigate being both a spy and a teenage girl. (Neither role, as Cammie often points out, is easy.) The cliffhanger at the end left me scrambling for the fourth book (fortunately I’d bought the whole series at once).

Only the Good Spy Young, Ally Carter
Book four and our characters – well, some of them – are being pursued by an ancient, international terrorist organization – and nobody’s sure whom to trust. The writing gets better, the characters get deeper, the questions get bigger. (Now, of course, I have to wait until March, when book #5 comes out, to find out what happens.)

The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern
I had a wonderful time at the pre-release party for this book – so I was eager to dive into it. And it did not disappoint. A complex, multilayered story of a very unusual circus, a challenge between two magicians (who inconveniently fall in love, which of course complicates everything), and a boy named Bailey who loves the circus at first sight. So many fascinating characters, gorgeous descriptions and twisting plot points. Truly fantastic.

My Year with Eleanor, Noelle Hancock
I liked the premise of this book – a young woman, laid off from her job, takes her inspiration from Eleanor Roosevelt and decides to spend a year confronting her fears. But a lot of her activities seemed like stunts (shark cage diving?) and she spent a lot of time whining about her own issues rather than taking the initiative to make them better. I eventually got bored and put it down.

The Best American Travel Writing 2011, ed. Sloane Crosley
An odd but compelling mix of travel essays – most of them about places I’d never choose to go (Kurdistan, South Beach in Miami, Russian Tel Aviv, Saudi Arabia, a commune in Copenhagen). Not always pleasant, but fascinating – and there are some beautiful moments amid all the cynicism and guns. To review for the Shelf.

The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove, Susan Gregg Gilmore
A story of racism, forbidden love and family issues in 1960s Nashville. Our heroine, though pleasant, is naive and self-absorbed – she never stops to consider the effect her actions will have on other people. And the ending felt like the author had simply run out of things to say. The Help and Saving CeeCee Honeycutt touch on this same territory, and do it better.

Emily of Deep Valley, Maud Hart Lovelace
I’ve loved Betsy Ray for a long time, but only met Emily Webster last fall. She struggles with loneliness, despair and boredom when her classmates go off to college – but, in delightful fashion, she learns to “muster her wits” – founding a Browning Club, teaching English to Syrian immigrants, taking piano and dancing lessons, and even falling in love. Wonderful, and a good reminder to muster my own wits when life feels a little blah.

The Story of Charlotte’s Web, Michael Sims
I love E.B. White’s writing, but had never read a biography of him – and this one proved fascinating. Packed with detail about his family life, his years in New York, his work at the New Yorker and his relationship with his wife, and his enduring love of farm animals. Wonderfully written and so well done – it also sent me scrambling to the library and the bookshop for White’s essays and letters.

The Last Letter From Your Lover, Jojo Moyes
A tale of star-crossed lovers, jumbled memories and (honestly) the most atrocious timing possible – frustrating at times, but compelling. Two parallel love stories, which each involve an affair between a married person and his/her single lover. Oddly, I felt more compassion for the 1960s married woman with the awful husband (Jennifer) than I did for the modern-day single woman dating a married man (Ellie). Perhaps I felt like Ellie had more options, or that her married man was a jerk (he was)? I don’t know. Anyway, this is still a well-written, powerful story about love and choices and second chances.

Eating Mud Crabs in Kandahar: Stories of Food during Wartime by the World’s Leading Correspondents, ed. Matt McAllester
A collection of travel essays set in the war zones of our time: Israel/Palestine, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Haiti, Bosnia. These writers are used to bribes and gunshots, to long days and sleepless nights, to poverty everywhere they look. But they have wonderfully vivid memories of meals shared with refugees, with soldiers, with friends made in unlikely places, even (in one case) with captors. The last essay, set in Bethlehem, brought me to tears. To review for the Shelf.

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Carney’s House Party, Maud Hart Lovelace
This is a perfect summer book – who wouldn’t want to spend a summer in Deep Valley, going to parties and drives and dances with the Crowd? Carney is so appealing – honest and frank and funny and kind, and so many other beloved characters from the Betsy-Tacy books make appearances. I was quite envious of the nights spent on the sleeping porch and, as always, the beautiful dresses.

Heaven to Betsy, Maud Hart Lovelace
Finishing Carney’s story sent me scrambling back to the bookcase for the tales of Betsy’s high school years. I love Betsy’s laughter, her zest for life, her wide circle of friends, her flights of fancy. I also love that she’s such a real character – as insecure as most high school girls, though she’s funny and pretty and kind. Such a fun beginning to their years in high school.

Betsy in Spite of Herself, Maud Hart Lovelace
Betsy starts to learn the meaning of “To thine own self be true” – while dealing with a cranky English teacher, a jealous boyfriend, and the usual round of Crowd parties and Sunday night lunches. I love her Christmas visit to Tib in Milwaukee, and her gradual realization that she can’t be dramatic, mysterious Betsye – she’s just plain Betsy, and everyone loves her better for it.

Betsy Was a Junior, Maud Hart Lovelace
This book makes me squirm a little, because of the obsession with sororities (and the way it takes Betsy and her friends a long time to figure out that they aren’t a good idea). But there are some great moments here – barn dances, high school pranks, the Junior-Senior Banquet, and high jinks with Tib (who is finally back in Deep Valley). The ending is bittersweet, but I do love Betsy’s quiet reflections on growing up.

Betsy and Joe, Maud Hart Lovelace
Betsy has a brilliant senior year – though it has its share of trials and romantic trouble. But she settles down to work, at writing, at the piano and at school, and still enjoys the usual excitements of parties, dances and fun with the Crowd. I love the way her relationship with Joe develops here – slowly but steadily, with some grand moments – and the book finishes with a flourish amid the glories of Commencement.

Season to Taste: How I Lost My Sense of Smell and Found My Way, Molly Birnbaum
Birnbaum was on her way to becoming a chef when she was injured in a car accident and lost her sense of smell – and thus most of her sense of taste. This is a beautifully written memoir of loss and recovery, packed with fascinating information about smell. Birnbaum’s writing is clear and evocative (and I love that every chapter is named after a pair of scents). Lovely, and so hopeful (she can smell almost everything again).

Betsy and the Great World, Maud Hart Lovelace
I love Betsy’s adventures in Europe – though this time I was more anxious than usual for her to get back to Joe. But she meets so many fascinating people, and spends time wandering and soaking it in and writing – just as I did during my year in Oxford. She visits places I’ve been (London and Paris) and spends time in places I’ve yet to see (Munich, Oberammergau, Venice). And this time, I noticed and delighted in her brief pre-trip stop in Boston.

Betsy’s Wedding, Maud Hart Lovelace
Betsy’s back in Minneapolis – and newlywed life offers just as many (though different) adventures as traveling in Europe. I love all the sweet stories of home, and the dedication she and Joe show to their writing, and all the familiar characters who people Betsy’s life again. I found myself wanting to linger here after I’d read the final scene.

Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading, Nina Sankovitch
I love books about reading, but this one had a poignant twist: the author decided to spend a year reading (and reviewing) a book a day, to help her find some peace after her sister’s death. She weaves in the story of her family’s history, as well as thoughtful, wise meditations on family, grief, love and why we read. (Bonus: a long list of great books to check out.)

Sesame Street: 40 Years – A Celebration of Life on the Street, Louise Gikow
I grew up watching Big Bird, Grover, Cookie Monster and the gang – so I loved this coffee-table book, packed with information about the history of Sesame Street, and full of great photos. I learned so much about the people behind Sesame, the educational aims of the program, its worldwide reach – so much I didn’t know. (And, of course, I spent some time with all my favorite monsters.) Fabulous.

Gift from the Sea, Anne Morrow Lindbergh
I first read this a few years ago, and picked it back up after seeing it mentioned on Lindsey’s blog. Written in the fifties, its meditations on silence, solitude, relationships and family life are still strikingly relevant today. (I’m sure this will be even truer for me after I have kids.) So thoughtful and wise and lovely.

A Caribbean Mystery, Agatha Christie
Miss Marple travels to the West Indies – and, of course, ends up catching a killer while she’s there. I’m continually amazed at Christie’s gift for confounding readers until the very end, when it all comes clear. And I love how the characters in every book are astonished by Miss Marple’s sleuthing skills. Nicely done.

What Happened on Fox Street, Tricia Springstubb
Mo Wren loves living on Fox Street – it may be a little scruffy, but it’s her home. And she’s not at all thrilled when a big development company threatens to destroy the street and force the tenants to move out. A simple story with enjoyable characters, and some beautifully written passages. I’m planning to read the sequel, out next month.

I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You, Ally Carter
I read about this young adult series on Rachelle’s blog, and was curious to try them out. A top-secret boarding school that trains teenage girls to be spies? Such a fun concept – and the writing is pretty good. I enjoyed following the adventures of Cammie (the Chameleon) and her spy-girl pals. I’ll be reading the rest of the series when I need something light and fun.

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In Boston, she had made a patriotic pilgrimage…Faneuil Hall, the Cradle of Liberty, the State House, and the Old South Church.

“If I lived in Boston I’d wear red, white, and blue costumes and eagle headdresses,” she wrote her family.

She went through the Public Library and inspected the Art Museum. She marveled at the narrow twisting streets and walked elatedly across the Common.

Betsy and the Great World, Maud Hart Lovelace

Betsy Ray’s day in Boston was just a brief prelude to her adventures in Europe. But I like to think of her walking around my stomping grounds downtown, taking in everything with those bright, inquisitive hazel eyes of hers, and saving it all up to put into a story later.

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Betsy turned and led the way to the far end of the store.

There on a long table Christmas tree ornaments were set out for sale. There were boxes and boxes full of them, their colors mingling in bewildering iridescence. There were large fragile balls of vivid hues, there were gold and silver balls; there were tinsel angels, shining harps and trumpets, gleaming stars.

‘Here,’ said Betsy, ‘here we buy.’

She looked at Winona, bright-eyed, and Winona looked from her to the resplendent table.

‘Nothing,’ Tacy tried to explain, ‘is so much like Christmas as a Christmas-tree ornament.’

‘You get a lot for ten cents,’ said Tib.

They gave themselves then with abandon to the sweet delight of choosing. It was almost pain to choose. Each fragile bauble was gayer, more enchanting than the last. And now they were not only choosing, they were buying. What each one chose she would take home; she would see it on the Christmas tree; she would see it year after year, if she were lucky and it did not break.

They walked around and around the table, touching softly with mittened hands.

Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown, Maud Hart Lovelace

As someone who loves Christmas, Christmas-tree ornaments, and everything about Betsy-Tacy, this quote is, well, just perfect.

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