Touching Base: 2016 Reading Plan

Hi There.¬† Yes, I’m still here ūüôā¬†.

I know that I’ve been pretty quiet¬†these last few weeks; December has definitely¬†been a slow reading month for me. I started a few books¬†that I never finished and then right around Christmas I picked up The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd which I am¬†really enjoying.

My plan right now¬†is to finish reading¬†The Secret Life of Bees, post my review of¬†it, and then launch into January by¬†reading The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck for the Women’s Classic Literature Event. Originally I¬†said that I would start January with a review of The Good Earth, but I think that I want to dig into¬†the book¬†a little more.¬† This will actually be a re-read for me and although¬†I remember enjoying the book the first time I read it, I also¬†thought it was sad. Life in pre-revolutionary China¬†was¬†very hard.

I also remember that there were quite a few ‘earth’ related themes that ran throughout the book: land, food, wealth. So I think I will blog through the book, digging in and exploring the different themes and hidden gems buried beneath the surface.

As I mentioned, I will also be participating in the Women’s Classic Literature Event and¬†I have created a new page listing the books I plan to read for that event. I also have a few other books I want to read in 2016:

My husband gave me this book for Christmas¬†and I can’t wait to start reading it!

Yes, I’m a Ken Follett fan and my sweet hubby also gave me this book for Christmas. I was unfamiliar with this book, so it was great fun opening it and discovering a ‘new’ Ken Follett book. I look forward to reading this in 2016 as well.

This book looks really good and I’m currently reading and enjoying ¬†The Secret Life of Bees, so why not?

I’ve had my eye on this book since summer! I almost borrowed it from the library, but then decided to read something I already had on my bookshelf. Well, I recently picked this up at a second hand bookstore, so now it IS on my bookshelf ūüôā !

I found out about this book from Jane’s review.

I heard about this one from Jillian at readingamericanleaves.wordpress.com, who is currently offline, it was on a few of her lists. I hope I can find it in 2016.

This list is by no means all inclusive, but I think its a great reading plan and should keep me busy and reading well in 2016.

 

Weekend poem to Consider: ‘A Visit from St. Nicholas’

An oldie but a goodie: “A visit from St. Nicholas”

This poem takes me back to my childhood. When I was in third grade and my brother was in second grade, he came home from school and told my parents that he had to memorize¬†this poem¬†for school. My first thoughts were “Wow, it’s long!”. My¬†parents helped him to memorize the poem, although I’m not sure if¬†my brother actually¬†memorized the whole thing, or just¬†the first part of it. It is¬†awfully long for a second grade student to memorize.

This poem also¬†takes me back to¬†the house we lived in at that time. It was small and we did not have central heating, instead our home was heated by woodstove. Yes¬†really, a Woodstove!¬†Thank God for electric blankets! ūüôā¬† There was a simplicity we had that I recall with fondness, although my parents may remember things differently from an adult’s perspective.

Looking back, I also remember that¬†we were surrounded by lots of extended family. Sadly, now many of those¬†family members have passed on and others now live far away. But when I hear this poem it takes me back to my childhood and reminds me of so much more than just my brother memorizing a poem;¬†it takes me back to a time and place that I will always remember with gratitude and smile. ūüôā

I wonder, does this poem¬†recall any childhood memories for anyone else?¬† Or, does the poem speak to you now¬†as you create¬†new memories with your own children?¬† Either way, I hope that reading this poem will at least make you smile. ūüôā

Merry Christmas!

A Visit from St. Nicholas

By Clement Clarke Moore
‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds;
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap,
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow,
Gave a lustre of midday to objects below,
When what to my wondering eyes did appear,
But a miniature sleigh and eight tiny rein-deer,
With a little old driver so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment he must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name:
“Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Donner and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!”
As leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
So up to the housetop the coursers they flew
With the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too‚ÄĒ
And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.
He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a pedler just opening his pack.
His eyes‚ÄĒhow they twinkled! his dimples, how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard on his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke, it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly
That shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight‚ÄĒ
‚ÄúHappy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!‚ÄĚ

 

‘The Wolves of Andover’ or ‘The Traitor’s Wife’: One and the same

This past weekend my husband and I went to a second hand bookstore and while browsing through the fiction section¬†I found two other novels by Kathleen Kent: The Traitor‚Äôs Wife and The Wolves of Andover. ¬†I¬†almost bought both books on the spot because I loved The Heretics Daughter, but because I’m already several books behind I decided to wait.

Both books seemed to be about a young Martha Allen, before she married Thomas Carrier, but the title The Traitor’s Wife drew me in immediately because it promised to be about Thomas Carrier and his mysterious past. In The Heretics Daughter, we know that he was a soldier, a Cromwell supporter and was quite possibly the executioner of King Charles! And I wanted to know more about him and his story.

It turns out that the book was originally released under the title The Wolves of Andover and the title was changed to The Traitor’s Wife when it was released on paperback. Who knew? I almost bought two copies the same book- just retitled!

Original Release

Retitled for paperback release

This promises to be a very¬†good book and the title change may be significant. It¬†tells the story of how it all began for Martha and Thomas- and how he saves her from a pack of wolves! There is actually more to the story than this;¬† I haven’t read¬†the book¬†yet but I know that¬†“wolves” may mean more than just¬†hungry animals in the woods…

Kent¬†also delves into the history¬†of the English Civil War and the part Thomas played in this event, which could be the¬†reason for the title change. Puritans, royalists and politics…¬†It sounds great!¬†She is a¬†wonderful writer and storyteller and I‚Äôm looking forward to reading this prequel to The Heretics Daughter in 2016. That’s right, I’m going back to the bookstore to pick up a copy.

I’m not sure why they changed the title, but I actually like the title The Traitor’s Wife better. What do you think?

What other books had a title change when released on paperback? Did the title change make a difference to you?

Tell me in the comments below.

Weekend Poem to Consider: ‘Christmas Trees’ by Robert Frost

A man comes from the city to buy Christmas trees from a country farmer so the city-folk can have¬†them for Christmas.¬† The farmer doesn’t think of his trees as Christmas trees, they are “his woods”, and¬†he doesn’t wish to¬†sell them and leave that place “all bare”.¬† But there is more to this¬†because he¬†wouldn’t ¬†want the trees to know if he was thinking of selling them. These trees¬†mean something to him; they have value.¬†¬†The price offered: Thirty dollars for a thousand trees. Really? They are more valuable than that! Not only to him, but to¬†the city-folk as well who¬†would pay dollars for what he is offered cents for. However, “his woods” have now become ‘Christmas Trees’ and although¬†he has no desire to sell his trees at such a price, he is willing¬†to give one away¬†freely in wishing Merry Christmas!

So sweet; I love this poem!¬† This was written in 1916 in his¬†third collection of poetry titled¬†Mountain Interval . Frost was well on his way to earning his first Pulitzer, but not quite yet, that will come with his next book.¬†This poem¬†was written as a “Christmas circular letter” most likely for friends and fans.¬† Enjoy!

Christmas Trees

by Robert Frost

(A Christmas Circular Letter)

The city had withdrawn into itself
And left at last the country to the country;
When between whirls of snow not come to lie
And whirls of foliage not yet laid, there drove
A stranger to our yard, who looked the city,
Yet did in country fashion in that there
He sat and waited till he drew us out
A-buttoning coats to ask him who he was.
He proved to be the city come again
To look for something it had left behind
And could not do without and keep its Christmas.
He asked if I would sell my Christmas trees;
My woods‚ÄĒthe young fir balsams like a place
Where houses all are churches and have spires.
I hadn’t thought of them as Christmas Trees.
I doubt if I was tempted for a moment
To sell them off their feet to go in cars
And leave the slope behind the house all bare,
Where the sun shines now no warmer than the moon.
I’d hate to have them know it if I was.
Yet more I’d hate to hold my trees except
As others hold theirs or refuse for them,
Beyond the time of profitable growth,
The trial by market everything must come to.
I dallied so much with the thought of selling.
Then whether from mistaken courtesy
And fear of seeming short of speech, or whether
From hope of hearing good of what was mine, I said,
‚ÄúThere aren‚Äôt enough to be worth while.‚ÄĚ
“I could soon tell how many they would cut,
You let me look them over.‚ÄĚ
                                                     “You could look.
But don‚Äôt expect I‚Äôm going to let you have them.‚ÄĚ
Pasture they spring in, some in clumps too close
That lop each other of boughs, but not a few
Quite solitary and having equal boughs
All round and round. The latter he nodded ‚ÄúYes‚ÄĚ to,
Or paused to say beneath some lovelier one,
With a buyer‚Äôs moderation, ‚ÄúThat would do.‚ÄĚ
I thought so too, but wasn’t there to say so.
We climbed the pasture on the south, crossed over,
And came down on the north. He said, ‚ÄúA thousand.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúA thousand Christmas trees!‚ÄĒat what apiece?‚ÄĚ
He felt some need of softening that to me:
‚ÄúA thousand trees would come to thirty dollars.‚ÄĚ
Then I was certain I had never meant
To let him have them. Never show surprise!
But thirty dollars seemed so small beside
The extent of pasture I should strip, three cents
(For that was all they figured out apiece),
Three cents so small beside the dollar friends
I should be writing to within the hour
Would pay in cities for good trees like those,
Regular vestry-trees whole Sunday Schools
Could hang enough on to pick off enough.
A thousand Christmas trees I didn’t know I had!
Worth three cents more to give away than sell,
As may be shown by a simple calculation.
Too bad I couldn’t lay one in a letter.
I can’t help wishing I could send you one,
In wishing you herewith a Merry Christmas.

 

A Review of The Heretic’s daughter by Kathleen Kent

I recently finished reading The Heretic’s Daughter by Kathleen Kent and it left me angry and shaking my head in disbelief.  How could this have happened? What was going on in colonial Massachusetts in 1692 that allowed a community to turn on each other? In the fear and emotion that gripped that community, families were torn apart, children were imprisoned and at least 20 innocent people died, and all for the express purpose of defeating the Devil.

The Heretic’s Daughter is one woman’s story about what happened, how it affected her family and the part she played in that horrible chapter of our history: The Salem Witchcraft Trials.

It is the story of Martha Carrier who was one of¬†several women executed for witchcraft. The story is told from the point of view of her 9 year old daughter Sarah, and describes the events which led up to her mother being accused of witchcraft, sentenced and executed for this ‚Äėcrime‚Äô.

Summary:

The story begins with an elderly, Sarah Carrier Chapman, writing to her granddaughter about what happened during the Salem Witchcraft trials and her involvement in those events. In sharing her story she hopes to ‚Äú‚Ķsweep away the terror and the sadness and to have my heart made pure again by God‚Äôs grace‚Ķ‚ÄĚ The narration then shifts to the point of view of a 9 year old, Sarah Carrier, as she and her family move from Billerica to Andover Massachusetts due to a smallpox outbreak.¬† Unknowingly, they carry the smallpox virus with them to Andover and Sarah and her younger sister Hannah are sent to live with her aunt and uncle until the quarantine is over. The girls thrive in this new supportive environment and Sarah develops a close relationship with her cousin, Margaret. When the smallpox outbreak is over, Sarah‚Äôs father comes to take them home where the family atmosphere is more rigid and discipline is frequent. Sarah‚Äôs mother, Martha Carrier, is a strong willed and sharp tongued woman who refuses to conform to her society’s expectations. She is intelligent, direct and unsubmissive and because of her non-conforming nature she seen as an outsider.

During this time the family hires an indentured servant named Mercy Williams to help around the house, but things don’t work out well. Mercy has a heated and tense confrontation with Martha and parts with the family on bad terms.

The rest of the story illustrates how the accusations which begin as whispers become progressively louder and louder. In time, others hear these accusations and repeat those words; words which have the power of life and death in them.

¬†I enjoyed this novel because¬†the author brought the story of Martha Carrier to life in such a vivid way. I had never heard of her before so it was nice to hear the story of someone who not only wasn’t a well known figure at the time but who was also an individual and a non conformist in her own right.
At first I really didn’t like her. She seemed austere and harsh. We are told that “… She had a tongue, the sharpness of which would gut a man as quick as a Gloucester fisherman could clean a lamprey eel.” And she seemed too eager to discipline her daughter Sarah by using a slotted spoon the “children named Iron Bessie”¬†with regularity and determination¬†on her. I knew what this story was about so I knew that later she would be accused of witchcraft and this introduction to Martha Carrier left me with little doubt as to why. She was harsh, unapproachable, and mean; it’s no wonder they thought she was a witch! But there was much more both to Martha Carrier and to the accusations of witchcraft.

One thing I liked about Martha’s sharp tongue was how she handled those who tried to shame her into submission using scripture. They would quote scripture that pointed out her failure to submit and she would just as quickly quote another scripture that exposed their insincerity and hypocrisy. The person left having failed at bringing her under proper authority. The reason I liked this was because it showed that she was not only quick and intelligent, but also willing to stand up for herself. She was unwilling to ‘go along to get along’ and although this probably made her life hard, she was living her life according to her own principles. She was more than a sharp tongue and abrasive personality though. She thoughtfully preserved her husband’s history respecting the blood spilled and lives given in the process. She nursed her mother and son in sickness and did what was necessary to take care of her family; all the while being true to her own ideals. She was a complex individual.

A glimpse of her Community:

Not only do you get a good sense of who Martha Carrier was through this novel, but you also get a good picture of the town and it’s people.

Accusations and Torture

Kent¬†illustrated¬†the vindictiveness behind¬†these witchcraft accusations by showing the reader¬†that¬†people were mainly¬†accusing¬†those they held past grievances against. Those who accused Martha of witchcraft used her words against her by deliberately taking them out of context and her accusers all had something ‘against’ her.

Others who were accused simply confessed or implicated¬†neighbors and townsfolk¬†because they were tortured.¬† A truly horrible fact that left me¬†asking ‘What in the world is happening?’ Why were Christians torturing people for confessions of witchcraft? Something is wrong with this picture.

Leaders

Another sad fact¬†was that the judges and¬†leaders were clearly not doing their jobs in upholding the law¬†or protecting the citizens.¬† In the courtroom the judges¬†should have¬†made the hysterical girls leave, which they never did,¬†and the use of ‘spectral evidence’ should have been banned. Instead they allowed their “fits” to be an influence in the proceedings and as a result,¬†justice was not¬†served.¬†There was nothing legal, logical, orderly or even godly¬†about these trials.¬† The fact that they sent¬†men and women to their deaths based on¬†nothing more than delusion¬†and hysteria is shameful and unconscionable.

However, at the heart of this novel is the story of¬†a family trying to stay¬†strong and united¬†as best they could under terrible circumstances. After she is accused we see the tenderness that existed in private between Martha and her husband Thomas. These were two people who lived¬†their lives united by their ideals. Also, Martha and her daughter Sarah finally start to connect around this time. It was so sad that they were at odds for so long and just when they were starting to connect with each other ‘this’ happens.

In many ways this is also a coming of age story for our young narrator, Sarah. And this whole story is told from her point of view. She is also a strong person who stands up for herself and her family. She defends her sick brother while in prison and was held in jail on charges of witchcraft because she was her mother’s daughter: strong, direct and uncompromising. Although she lived the rest of her life with the memory of how she answered the judges about her own involvement in witchcraft, the truth is that she also made enemies and was accused by her peers of witchcraft because of past grievances they had against her as well. It was an ugly and vicious circle.

In many respects 17th century Salem, Massachusetts was a picture of a theocracy where to be different was to be suspect. They lived at a time when fears like smallpox and Indian raids were a very real threat. And with so much fear and uncertainty in their lives, they must have felt that hunting and persecuting alleged witches gave them a sense of control, a way to fight the evil in their land and to bring health and peace to their town.

 

In the end I think Martha Carrier was a strong woman, made bitter by adversity and loss. I’m not even sure if she was a Christian. She didn’t seem to be a woman of faith, and I didn’t sense any anger at God for her hardships. Instead she seemed to see the hypocrisy of the clergy and church members and refused to play along. She was guilty of not meeting cultural and societal expectations and she was willing to pay the price to be true to herself and her values.

There really is so much to explore and delve into with this book; I have only just scratched the surface in this review.¬† Fears and emotions won’t ever go away, but we can learn to control both and let logic rule with compassion.
I really enjoyed this book! So much so that now I want to sink my teeth into a good history book on the subject.  Does anyone have any good suggestions?

I’m interested in your thoughts now. What do you think about Martha Carrier and/or the Salem Witchcraft Trials? Tell me in the comments below.