My Year in Books: 2014

31 December 2014


“Without the high and noble the simple and vulgar is utterly mean; and without the simple and ordinary the noble and heroic is meaningless.”
j.r.r. tolkien

Coming into 2014 twelve too-short months ago, I had the sensation of girding myself for battle. In some ways, that sentiment did not prove false as the year progressed. Our family faced numerous financial setbacks. The present state of our nation grew bleaker. My sister and I traveled alone for the first time and came face to face with the grittiness of sin at one o' clock in the morning. In Flannery's words, though, “I can, with one eye squinted, take it all as a blessing.” It seems too trivial to capture the Lord's mercies in mere faltering words, but I must, for they have been great. In the space of a year, we have not lacked for food, shelter, or company. We've made the simplest, silliest, and most wonderful memories that I will take with me as mementos when I move away. I've trundled through the end of my junior year, begun my senior year, and come to grips with the reality of living several hundred miles from the people I love best next year. Relationships have been shaken, reformed, and built together once more. The thrum of it all comes back to this: great is His faithfulness.

I couldn't manage to effectively sum up an entire year in one post: for that purpose, there are blog archives (sparse though they may be). Still, I wanted to make an acknowledgment of this year's passing with a bit of reminiscence, and that seemed as good a reason as any for some list-making. (Bring on the bullet points!) 

top five domestic posts

These were the posts that received the most interaction on Literary Lane this year. Thank you for taking the time to share your hearts and participate in discussions: you make my life richer.

On Christian Sincerity. Is it a denial of Christ to avoid that cliche conversion scene?
March Chatterbox: You Were the One Next to Me. "We're held to the only standard the world can see. It doesn't mean there isn't more."
Sweeter Than Wine. When writing romance, can you achieve authenticity without compromising your conscience?
You Were Meant to Be Right Here All Along. The world is bent on discovering itself: I want to know my Lord.
September Chatterbox: Willa-My-WillaShe was the beam of light that slanted across his life, but she brought shadows with her.

top five international posts

These were the words that shook me, challenged me, and pushed me ever further up and further in. "As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend."

Troubling Stories by Anna Graham.
How to Balance Your Literary Diet by Suzannah Rowntree.
Success With a Third-Grade Diploma by Rachel Heffington.

read in 2014
* indicates a favorite

Of books, there were plenty. The titles I read this year are listed en masse below. 2014 was a rewarding year for the bookcase, and I savored the variety of literature that I was able to sample. In American literature I discovered new favorites such as My Antonia and Our Town. The second half of the list grows decidedly British: blame it on the happy overlapping of my assigned and personal reading lists. English literature is truly a wonderful thing.

my antonia* - willa cather
till we have faces* - c.s. lewis
the great gatsby - f. scott fitzgerald
fly away home - rachel heffington
anon, sir, anon - rachel heffington
the sound and the fury - william faulkner
of mice and men - john steinbeck
the eagle of the ninth- rosemary sutcliff
the letterbook of eliza lucas pinckney
the glass menagerie - tennessee williams
death of a salesman - arthur miller
our town* - thornton wilder
farenheit 451 - ray bradbury
shadow hand - anne elisabeth stengl
starflower*- anne elisabeth stengl
the faith - charles w. colson
kingdoms in conflict* - charles w. colson
the fault in our stars - john green
a prayer journal* - flannery o'connor
the lamb of God - nancy guthrie
david copperfield- charles dickens
beowulf
hamlet* - william shakespeare
emma*- jane austen
jane eyre*- charlotte bronte
a christian manifesto - francis a. schaeffer
plenilune* - jennifer freitag

My top three favorites from 2014 — one would be too cruel — in no particular order are David Copperfield, Plenilune, and Jane Eyre. (I may or may not rank books based on how much they tangle with my emotions.) Assigned reading quickly dominated pleasure reading, as is its wont, so it was rewarding to check off some Dickens, Sutcliff, Lewis, and two more Tales of Goldstone Wood in addition to the bleaker Fitzgerald and Steinbeck. In the nonfiction category, I discovered Charles Colson, particularly his Kingdoms in Conflict, which has inspired me to pick up more of his books in 2015. (If you have the chance to read his personal testimony, do so: it's riveting.) The Sound and the Fury and Beowulf, though short in length, were probably the most daunting of this year's haul. (Beowulf was ultimately more enjoyable — the kennings!). I finally finished Emma after years of dabbling in the first few chapters, which was fun, if not terribly surprising; perhaps next year I'll take on Mansfield Park or Persuasion

to read in 2015
[among others]

the fellowship of the ring - j.r.r. tolkien
winter's tale - mark helprin
anna karenina - leo tolstoy (do I dare?)
the complete stories - flannery o'connor
the space trilogy - c.s. lewis
the importance of being earnest - oscar wilde (not to be read with muffins unless desirous of buttered cuffs)
several lord peter wimsey mysteries - dorothy sayers
mansfield park - jane austen
orthodoxy, the ballad of the white horse, and the man who was thursday - g.k. chesterton

what did you read in 2014?

Plenilune: An Elemental Landscape of Justice and Mercy

29 December 2014

click to purchase the book on amazon!
Though Flannery O'Connor and Jennifer Freitag are polar opposites when it comes to writing style and subject matter, I'd like to begin with the former's words from her collection of essays on the art of writing, Mystery and Manners. "Art," O'Connor says, "never responds to the wish to make it democratic; it is not for everybody; it is only for those who are willing to undergo the effort needed to understand it." She might as well have been speaking of Plenilune. I'm going to say this up front: this is not a story for everyone. At its heart, Plenilune is a fiery tangle of history and fantasy, an epic that only supports its own weight because it balances on the traditional framework of the great masters that have come before it. Not everyone is apt to find its bold, tongue-in-cheek, fire-and-spice nature to his liking.

Those who do, however, are in for an adventure.

The fate of Plenilune hangs on the election of the Overlord, for which Rupert de la Mare and his brother are the only contenders, but when Rupert's unwilling bride-to-be uncovers his plot to murder his brother, the conflict explodes into civil war.

To assure the minds of the lord-electors of Plenilune that he has some capacity for humanity, Rupert de la Mare has been asked to woo and win a lady before he can become the Overlord, and he will do it—even if he has to kidnap her.

En route to Naples to catch a suitor, Margaret Coventry was not expecting a suitor to catch her.

We meet Margaret Coventry, Englishwoman to the core, on the train station platform, and like her, we're prepared for a trip. What we get, however, is a journey that nearly rivals Frodo Baggins' for length, peril, and awe. Plenilune reaches out and plucks you from your comfortable chair into a world of high beauty and splendor, where men walk as gods and wield their magic at will. It's a story to heighten the senses through its lavish setting and plot filled with light and thunder. It may delight you, it may shock you, it may even frighten you, but one thing's for certain: you'll be invested.

"Why did all the silences of this place sound like the silence before a scream? Why did the stillness of this house feel like the stillness before a storm?"

When you first open Plenilune, the description envelops you with its energy. Freitag suffuses her image-driven prose with a singularly arresting beauty. It's thick. It's warm. It's alive. The reader learns to see common things in brighter shades; in some respects, this novel opens the eyes with its rich narrative. Does it have a tendency to grow so ornate as to distract from the forward progression of the plot? In places, yes. It would be dishonest to say there were not instances where certain details could have been slimmed down in the narrative. The overall tone, however, never wanes in its appeal. Not for nothing has Freitag been called a penslayer.

"How peacefully I am killed by you, she told the landscape. How quietly you break me into pieces."

You will love these characters. Firm and wild, fierce and gentle, they are so large that they squeeze the breath from one's chest. Freitag draws each detail of their natures with striking precision, and from Orzelon-gang to Dondonné and back again, each is threaded so deeply into his world that they are practically one and the same. You will be swiftly acquainted with the great kindness of Skander Rime, the rough warmth of Lord Gro FitzDraco, the tragedy of Kinloss, the grace of Romage, the mystery of the White Ones, and the wit and brilliance of the fox himself. Together they and the other lords are the blooming flower of Plenilune, and standing at their blood-red heart is Margaret, the English rose who slowly learns to take on the crown and scepter of a strange world she has come to call her own.

"With their thin skins, quick to take offence and to defend their bantam plumage, these were men who lived among danger and swords and blood and put a great price on honour. They had not turned their world into a nursery. They loved their world fiercely and their world loved them still more fiercely back."

The true joy of Plenilune does not come in analyzing its various literary merits, however. I finished the novel Saturday evening, and I am still not fully rid of its lingering effects. I've re-read certain scenes multiple times; for that matter, I've re-read certain lines until they are stamped on my mind. ("Nay, sirrah," she spoke low, huskily. "Do not look to us for mercy. Our hearts are iron-clad.") I never want to forget the sensation of boldness and bravery and beauty that's been washing over me in waves since I first opened Plenilune many months ago. That is its strongest merit. Plenilune unlocks something in the soul and sends it soaring. You will touch the thrumming beat of a grace almost too overwhelming for comprehension, and you will step away changed.

In truth, there is really no shorter way in which to sum up the burning, elemental landscape of justice and mercy that is Plenilune than to fall back on O'Connor's wisdom once more and tell you to go read it for yourself. 

After all, couldn't your new year use a little fire and spice?

Purchase Plenilune on Amazon
Add Plenilune and see what reviewers are saying on Goodreads
Read more about Jennifer Freitag at The Penslayer

Homesick

24 December 2014

Do you feel the ache?

It comes when I stand quietly in the pew, surrounded by upturned faces, my eyes catching on the flickering candles. It comes with the old, old words of the old, old songs that I've sung since I was young and will continue to sing until I have no voice left.

No more let sins and sorrows grow
Nor thorns infest the ground
He comes to make
His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found
Far as the curse is found
Far as, far as the curse is found

But until that day, the curse is still here. I see it in everything; even when the world is lit up like a glimmering Christmas tree, the ugliness shows. Perhaps it shines in starker contrast. Beneath the sparkle and cheer, there's a faint flickering doubt: so what? My heart aches for the Beyond even as I wrap and fold the paper and struggle to get the bow just right. Things. Things. They're all just things. When will the material fade in light of the Immaterial?

So I fall on my knees in frustration, done with a shiny exterior that never satisfies. Done with the hurry and bustle and stress that seems headed in a bleak direction. There are times when I weary of the chance and honor and high surprise that normally delights. I long to lay my head on the home-shore and feel the pulse of a familiar land.

I think we feel the wildness of the world a little moreso at Christmastime than any other season of the year. Surely the shopping and festivity has a part in that, but I'm speaking of a longing for which there are few words. There's a certain magic in the air that we don't usually sense. Beautifully alien, deliciously homesick. Sehnsucht. It sends a craving rushing through me for a place I've never known, and all the sugar, sounds, and sights can't fill that gap.

In this season of watching and waiting, He welcomes us to Him for the home we so desire.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men."

'Tis the season for singing through our thirst and making bright our wanderings, because we know they will soon meet their end.

the house of christmas
g. k. chesterton

There fared a mother driven forth
Out of an inn to roam;
In the place where she was homeless
All men are at home.
The crazy stable close at hand,
With shaking timber and shifting sand,
Grew a stronger thing to abide and stand
Than the square stones of Rome.

For men are homesick in their homes,
And strangers under the sun,
And they lay their heads in a foreign land
Whenever the day is done.
Here we have battle and blazing eyes,
And chance and honor and high surprise,
But our homes are under miraculous skies
Where the yule tale was begun.

A Child in a foul stable,
Where the beasts feed and foam,
Only where He was homeless
Are you and I at home;
We have hands that fashion and heads that know,
But our hearts we lost — how long ago!
In a place no chart nor ship can show
Under the sky's dome.

This world is wild as an old wives' tale,
And strange the plain things are,
The earth is enough and the air is enough
For our wonder and our war;
But our rest is as far as the fire-drake swings
And our peace is put in impossible things
Where clashed and thundered unthinkable wings
Round an incredible star.

To an open house in the evening
Home shall men come,
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.

o come, o come.

Release Date Reveal: Pendragon's Heir by Suzannah Rowntree

20 December 2014


pendragon's heir
a new epic fantasy by suzannah rowntree

Blanche Pendragon enjoys her undemanding life as the ward of an eccentric nobleman in 1900 England. It's been years since she even wondered what happened to her long lost parents, but then a gift on the night of her eighteenth birthday reveals a heritage more dangerous and awe-inspiring than she ever dreamed of--or wanted. Soon Blanche is flung into a world of wayfaring immortals, daring knights, and deadly combats, with a murderous witch-queen on her trail and the future of a kingdom at stake. As the legendary King Arthur Pendragon and his warriors face enemies without and treachery within, Blanche discovers a secret that could destroy the whole realm of Logres. Even if the kingdom could be saved, is she the one to do it? Or is someone else the Pendragon's Heir?

coming your way on march 26, 2015!

In the meantime, add the book on Goodreads to stay posted and catch advanced reviews. And don't forget to spread the word!

all about the author

When Suzannah Rowntree isn’t travelling the world to help out friends in need, she lives in a big house in rural Australia with her awesome parents and siblings, trying to beat her previous number-of-books-read-in-a-year record. She blogs the results at www.vintagenovels.com and is the author of two non-fiction books, The Epic of Reformation: A Guide to the Faerie Queene and War Games: Classic Fiction for the Christian Life. Pendragon’s Heir, her debut novel, springs from her lifelong love of medieval literature.
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