Netherwood by Jane Sanderson



Netherwood was a side read to space out my 2019 Classic Novel Challenge. Like The Lady and the Gent, it is historical fiction. Though they share a genre, these novels are delightful in their own ways.

Netherwood is more sober than The Lady and the Gent. It’s the story of a widow named Eve and her struggle to survive following the death of her husband at a coal mine. Urged to make a living doing what she’s good at, she starts baking and selling pies from her own home.

Eve’s business soon becomes so popular that there are too many customers for her to manage. Wanting to help this remarkable widow, the Earl of Netherwood gives her a building to transform into a bakery. Soon she is called to bake her pies for parties at aristocratic houses. Her work even delights the king.

The story is told from multiple points of view. We see Eve’s world through the eyes of love interests, enemies, friends and her children, giving the story layers. Each character is strong because they are flawed; each has a lesson to learn, and we feel sympathy for them.

In my opinion, Netherwood’s strength is that it’s a story about a woman surviving on her own. Unlike Margaret in The Lady and the Gent, Eve is not thinking about love. She is too busy keeping customers happy in order to feed her children. Though she does fall in love towards the end, it isn’t because she needs someone. It’s because she finally found a person who could made her smile.

Jane Sanderson’s writing style is a delight. She crafts whole characters, dialect and all, and knows how to describe emotion in a way that tugs at my heart. Setting, dialogue, character—these things are what win me over, and Netherwood excelled in them. I hope one day I can spin a story with that much skill!

What have you been reading?

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Russian Magic Tales from Pushkin to Platonov by Robert Chandler


My third book in this year’s classic novel challenge, Russian Magic Tales, was a delight. I wandered dark forests, met evil stepmothers, learned riddles, and—happily—found the Russian mermaid, who draws travelers to death with her weeping.

More interesting than the stories were the biographies of each featured author. Many lived dank lives, suffering illness and imprisonment. During those stretches of despair, they worked on collecting stories.

One man finished his collection while quarantined for tuberculosis; another was banished to Siberia and, in what is perhaps the coldest town in the world, interviewed locals for their tales. He wrote them during his stay in order to keep sane.

What does this tell us about fiction? Just because a story is “made up” does not mean it’s worth less than a biography. A story based on truth can strengthen the human spirit—and where is truth stronger?

The fairy tales in this collection often seemed overwhelming; many did not make sense. Tell me, when does the human spirit make sense? Have we not all wished to speak with animals? When angered, are we tempted to get revenge? Everyone has a witch in their interior forest.

You were a child; you knew times when the imagination went where it wanted. Fairy tales, fiction novels, things the world thinks ridiculous, are reflections of our nature—part of our nature that we’re prone to deny, embarrassed by how illogical it can be.

Fiction helped one man survive the coldest town in the world. Today it gives comfort when monsters and witches appear in our lives. It helps where worldly logic does us no good; sometimes we just have to talk to the birds and chipmunks. They might help us out of trouble, for a favor.

Do not be hasty to write off fiction. You never know when you might need it. Caught in our blank offices, sooner or later we all need magic to help us keep going.

My next read for the challenge is going to be The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens, and I’m very eager to read one of his books again. Considering its length and the beauty of his writing, I am sure it will be worth two or three blog posts here.

I’ve also managed to read some novels on the side by authors who are not yet dead—a historical romance and a YA sci-fi. I will be posting reviews for those books, too, when I write them.

I hope the month has treated you well! What are you reading?

The 2019 Reading List


In this post, I spoke about my New Year’s Resolution: to read 30 classic novels—or at least attempt to read them—in order to work through my bookshelf. Collecting books is a beautiful thing, but that’s only half the fun; the magic is in reading them!

I said I would post my reading list when it was assembled, however there has been a change.

The original plan was to read 30. While planning my reading list, I took into account the length of some of these books and the time I will have available. I also reminded myself that, following the death of my grandmother, I’ve been having problems sitting down to focus on a book.

The number has therefore been lowered to 25, and I’m not going to beat myself up over it if I can’t read them all. The point is to be trying.

I have already finished the first book on the list—it was The Mayor of Casterbridge, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. A post about the novel will follow. I took copious notes of the first chapters but stopped halfway through, when the book became too gripping to jot my thoughts every ten pages.

Here, then, is the list. The books are to be read in no particular order, and I have chosen these titles on the basis of owning them; there is no theme, even though you can tell classic literature is my favorite category. Also, some of these books are novellas or anthologies; they are thick books I haven’t gotten through yet.

  • The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy
  • Middlemarch by George Eliot
  • Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
  • Dubliners by James Joyce
  • Heart of Darkness & Other Stories by Joseph Conrad
  • Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
  • The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
  • The Sagas of Icelanders (anthology of folklore)
  • Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne
  • The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
  • Emma by Jane Austen
  • Complete Short Stories of Franz Kafka
  • Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
  • Tess of the d’Ubervilles by Thomas Hardy
  • Russian Fairy Stories (anthology of folklore)
  • The Story of King Arthur and His Knights
  • The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope
  • Sons and Daughters by D.H. Lawrence
  • Adam Bede by George Eliot
  • My Antonia by Willa Cather
  • The Man in the Iron Mask by Alexandre Dumas
  • Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
  • TBA

I have left one spot empty because I know myself, and I know a classic will pop up sometime in July or September that should be in this list.

I am not limiting this year’s reading to the books listed above. I’m positive there are other lighter works that will provide modern respite. The point of this challenge, in the end, is to make progress, know literary history, and develop my vocabulary. Most of all, I look forward to doing something I enjoy. Reading old books has always been a favorite pastime of mine.

Have you set any goals this year? What are they?

In Grief


The day the grand piano was tuned, no one remained to play it. When the carpets were cleaned, not a soul walked the halls.

The lonesome house was being scrubbed to make space for new life—but wasn’t ready to let go. One could feel in the air a note from a lullaby never finished; it sought attention from anyone who would listen.

Empty were the chairs round the table and nothing baked in the oven. The curtains, once open to admit light of the sun, remained shut like a barrier to keep out the New.

Who, now, would rush down the stairs to greet the postman? Would anyone sit at the balcony again?

The house remembered, and was loathe to let go. It longed for the sound of children laughing and the cheer of the lamps. No one walked its halls, and it wondered why no one considered the pain of spaces where memories were made.

The house was not an empty shell; in silence, it mourned with the family.

l’automne


Your bookshelves are empty.
Outside, the leaves fall.
We’re waiting through
The saddest autumn of all.

Your piano is sleeping—
Too great for my hands.
Still, I will play
‘Til my heart understands.

I took home your paper
To sketch out your face,
But you have a smile
That art can’t replace.

The trees out your window
Have all become bare.
So I search my heart:
You will always be there.

I’m thankful to have this beautiful woman for a grandmother. And I’m thankful to have her for another Thanksgiving.