Heidi by Johanna Spyri Review

Heidi by Johanna Spyri
Heidi by Johanna Spyri, ISBN 9780147514028, Puffin in Bloom edition

The classic children’s book Heidi by Johanna Spyri is a delightful story which I re-read recently. I was given this gorgeous Puffin in Bloom edition for Christmas (see picture). I couldn’t remember anything about Heidi as I had last read it more than twenty years ago. So it was great to revisit this story as an adult.

If you’re not familiar with this classic, it’s a simple story about a little girl named Heidi who goes to live with her grandfather, Uncle Alp, in the Swiss Alps. There she lives a peaceful existence, frolicking around the mountainside with Peter the goat-herd and all the goats. Then her Aunt comes and takes Heidi to go and be a companion to a sick girl named Clara in a town far away and Heidi must endure life away from her beloved mountains.

Here are some thoughts I had when re-reading Heidi:

  • Gosh, I would like a pet goat.
  • They sure do drink a lot of milk and eat a lot of cheese in this book.
  • I really want to go to the Swiss Alps, cavort around like Heidi and pick flowers.
  • This is such a sweet book.
  • I’m not sure I could sleep on a bed of hay like Heidi with all my allergies.
  • Peter is such a cranky boy with a lot of anger management issues.
  • Mountain air, milk and cheese appear to be the cure for everything.
  • How would anyone with lactose intolerance survive in this book?
  • I don’t think anyone ate any vegetables in this story.
  • I feel like drinking some milk.

It was fun to read this classic again and be drawn into a simpler time.

Verdict: A sweet book about a sweet girl set in a beautiful place.

Have you read any children’s classics recently?


North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell Review

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell is one of my all-time favourite classics. I also love the BBC period drama from a while ago starring the dreamy Richard Armitage. I don’t think I have told you before how much I love these BBC adaptations of classics. Anyway… Set around 1851, North and South has often been referred to as Pride and Prejudice with a social conscience. It is a love story at its core but also explores the differences between the agricultural South of England and the industrialised North and the lives of factory workers.

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell, penguin classic

North and South tells the story of Margaret Hale, the daughter of a parson, who enjoyed a genteel upbringing in the southern England countryside. When her father leaves the Church over a crisis of conscience, the family moves to the northern mill town of Milton in the north. A place far different from the rural South. Milton is a town in the throes of the industrial revolution.

At first Margaret hates the ugliness and dirtiness of Milton. But over time she sees the suffering and poverty of the cotton mill workers and becomes passionately involved in their struggles.

She meets John Thornton, the owner of Marlborough Mills and a student of her father’s. He is a newly made man who Margaret first looks down on and then opposes due to his treatment of his workers. Despite their clashes and differences, there is also a spark of another kind between the two. Continue reading

Longbourn by Jo Baker – Pride and Prejudice gets down to earth

Longbourn by Jo Baker, (kindle edition), Published August 15th 2013 by Transworld Digital
Longbourn by Jo Baker, (kindle edition), Published August 15th 2013 by Transworld Digital

Ah, Pride and Prejudice … it is the classic book that keeps on proving to be fertile ground for other writers to grow their own stories. I’ve read many a P&P spin-off. Some good. Some downright terrible. But never have I read a book quite as clever as this. It’s such a good idea, I wish I had of thought of it.

In Longbourn by Jo Baker, the characters we know and love from Pride and Prejudice take a backseat. This is the tale of the servants who wait on their every whim. The servants who scrub the mud off Elizabeth Bennett’s shoes after she goes traipsing through the fields. The servants who deliver all the letters for the family, clean the undergarments of five young ladies, worry about their future after Mr Bennett dies and Mr Collins takes over the house, and put up with the moods of a very passionate family.

I guess you could call in a cross between P&P and Downton Abbey, but I don’t believe it is trying to be a gimmick. It is simply a very good, very clever story.

Much of the book is told from the point-of-view of Sarah, a maid who was rescued from the poor house by Mrs Hill, the housekeeper, and brought up to see to the needs of the household. There’s also a young girl called Polly and the old Mr Hill working in Longbourn. Sarah’s whole world is Longbourn and unlike the privileged girls upstairs, she wonders if she will ever get to experience anything in her life.

And then along comes James Smith – a young man with a mysterious past and someone who Sarah doesn’t like or trust on sight. Although he is a hard worker, she wonders where he came from and what he is hiding. With the arrival of Mr Bingley and the opening up of Netherfield, Sarah meets an exotic footman of Mr Bingley’s who may offer her the escape from drudgery she has been searching for.

As Sarah and James’s stories are laid out, in the background the story of P&P unfolds – but not entirely as we know it. Such as …

  • What does Mr Collins arrival mean to the Longbourn servants? And how does Elizabeth’s refusal jeopardise them?
  • We all know what a cad Mr Wickham was and how he favoured young girls. What happens when he visits Longbourn?
  • Why is Mrs Bennett the way she is and does Mr Bennett have a reason to feel guilty?
  • Whilst the girls go off to balls, how is a household run during this time – especially on a budget. Taking care of the laundry of five young women is no easy task!
  • Lydia and Kitty love the militia but P&P mentions little about the war that is being fought at this time. Longbourn tells the reader more about the realities of this time for those in the army and those less privileged.

I found this book rich in its characters and content. It is part ode to P&P, part history lesson in the realities of the time, part suspense and also a love story. Though I love Mr Darcy, here he is no more than a stern, slightly terrifying stranger in the parlour.

I was a bit sceptical picking this up as it reeked of gimmick, but I’m glad I did.

Give it a read and let me know what you think.

Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell (Penguin Classic, 251 pages, published 1948)
Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell (Penguin Classic, 251 pages, published 1949)

Big Brother is watching you. He sees what you are doing. He listens to your conversations. He can even read your thoughts. So you better toe the party line and conform with the rest of society  – or you’re dead.

This is pretty much the premise of George Orwell’s classic novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. Published back in 1949, it is a dystopian novel set in a totalitarian society called Oceania which is in a state of constant warfare. Or are they? The government controls everything: what people read, who they should hate, where they work, who they marry (if they are allowed to marry at all), what they watch on TV and do in their spare time, and even how they think. The people are under constant surveillance with cameras and microphones hidden everywhere. People never know when they are being watched or listened to so learn to control everything they say and do. The government even encourages children to spy and tell on their parents.

Winston Smith is one of many faceless people toiling away for the Party. His job is to “correct” documents such as newspaper articles that have already been printed – effectively rewriting the past – to fit in with the current agenda of the Party. He also writes out of history people who have been killed by the Party, making it so that they never ever existed.

Then Winston starts to question the work he is doing. Especially when Oceania goes from fighting with one enemy nation to being their ally against another enemy – something that the general public doesn’t even notice. He starts writing down all his negative thoughts about Big Brother in a notebook in the corner of his apartment that gives him privacy from the telescreen. By this action he has signed his own death warrant should the thought police catch him.

Then two things happen: 1) He meets Julia – a rebellious young woman who he thought was a party devotee, but  it turns out she is in love with him  2) He starts to suspect that a colleague called O’Brien may be a member of the resistance movement. If so, Winston wants to join the fight. Once Winston starts down this path, nothing will ever be the same again.

Nineteen Eighty-Four is thought-provoking and downright scary. At times it lost me as it went off on a bit of an ideological rant (probably why I was given this book to study in high school) but I kept on reading hoping for there to be a happy ending to this bleak story. You will have to read the book for yourself if you want to find that out.

Love in a Cold Climate: A Review

Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford (ISBN: 9780141037448, pages 249, pub 1949)

I picked up Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford for $10 as part of the Penguin classics range, knowing little about it. I was therefore pleasantly surprised by how funny this book was. Really funny. This biting look at English upper-class society reminded me of Jane Austen’s clever observations of people in books like Pride and Prejudice.

The story is told from the point-of-view of Fanny, a young woman born into privilege but who is an observer of those around her rather than a key player. Although she goes from a green girl with a keen eye for the silliness of upper-class society to a wife and mother during the course of the book, her story barely causes a wrinkle in the story’s fabric. This is very much the story of Lady Montdore and her beautiful daughter, Polly.

Lady Montdore is a larger-than-life character who dominates every scene she is in. She despairs about her daughter Polly (Leopoldina), a beautiful young woman who should be “destined for an exceptional marriage” given her beauty and breeding but who seems to have no interest in any man her mother puts in front of her.

Our narrator Fanny has an eccentric upper-class family full of neurotic aunts and uncles. Her mother is known as “the bolter” for running from numerous love affairs and has left Fanny to grow up between her aunts and uncles. Her Uncle Matthew calls people he dislikes “sewers” and has a superstition that if he writes the name of somebody he dislikes on pieces of paper and puts it in a drawer that the person will die in a year. The drawers in his house are overflowing with bits of paper.

The reader is introduced to different players in the story and then the great big scandal involving Polly drops into the middle of it all. Not a whole lot of action happens in this book. It is very much an enjoyable character-based romp through the grand halls of the English aristocracy in the time between the two world wars. It was definitely worth the read.