Saturday, January 27, 2018

Book Review: Sir Gibbie by George MacDonald

Sir Gibbie Cover Unedited, unabridged version

Sir Gibbie (Sir Gibbie #1) by George MacDonald

Reading Level: Classic Children's Book
Release Date: May 12, 2012
Length: 361 pages
Publisher: Public Domain
Source: Purchase
Reviewed By: Kate McMurry

Years ago I had a very hard time collecting children's books by the 19th Century Scottish author, George MacDonald, because I had to track them down as rare, hardcover editions. Yes, from time to time children's publishers, such as Dutton and Scribner's, have brought them back into print, but "Sir Gibbie," in particular, has often gone out of print. I used to own the version edited by Newberry Medal winner, Elizabeth Yates (Dutton, New York, 1963, reprinted Schocken Books, New York, 1979), but some time back, in a move, I lost it. Interestingly, I didn't realized until recently that the version that Ms. Yates edited is abridged to a considerably shorter length than this, the original version. She also removed entirely or rewrote most of the Scottish dialogue. Michael Phillips states that the Yates 1963 edition of this book served as a model and inspiration for his own edited and abridged versions of many of MacDonald’s children's novels, including "Sir Gibbie." The version of this book that Phillips edited is titled, "Wee Sir Gibbie of the Highlands, George MacDonald Classics for Young Readers," (Bethany House Publishers, October 1, 1990). Another edited and abridged version of this book is: "Sir Gibbie, Classics for Young Readers Edition," edited by Kathryn Lindskoog, (P & R Publishing, 2001).

George MacDonald (December 10, 1824 - September 18, 1905) was a Christian (Congregationalist sect) minister, poet, and most famously, the author of children's books, many of them fantasies, though not this particular children's book. In regard to MacDonald's fantasy novels, he inspired fellow fantasy authors Lewis Carroll, C. S. Lewis, and Madeleine L'Engle. C. S. Lewis in particular stated that he regarded MacDonald as his "master."

To adult readers, Gibbie may seem to be, quite heavy-handedly, a Christ figure in this novel, and the novel may seem quite "preachy." However, taken in his own right, as the protagonist of a children's book (to the modern reader it can be read that way, though in 1879, when it was first published, it was novel read by all ages), Gibbie is one of the most sympathetic protagonists I have ever experienced. I loved reading this book as a child, again as a teenager, and multiple other times as an adult. The unabridged, unedited version of this novel may be hard to wade through for some modern readers who dislike transliteration of dialect, because this book is set in Scotland, and is filled with 19th century Scottish brogue. I personally enjoy that and can hear it in my head as I read it and am happy to finally read this book in its original form.

As for this particular edition, it was translated to digital format by a community of volunteers and, as such, is not an elaborate edition with fancy layout. But it is adequate and easily read, and certainly the price is right--it is free.

I rate this story as follows:

Overall: 5

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Book Review: Miss Tonks Turns to Crime by M.C. Beaton AKA Marion Chesney

Miss Tonks Turns to Crime Cover Book 2 of the Poor Relations Series

Miss Tonks Turns to Crime (The Poor Relation Series #2) by M.C. Beaton AKA Marion Chesney

Reading Level: Adult Historical
Release Date: January 14, 2014
Publisher: RosettaBooks
Length: 216 pages
Source: Purchase
Reviewed By: Kate McMurry

This is the second book of the Poor Relation Series. It is recommended to read the books in order, as they feed into each other. Book 1 lets us know how six impoverished "poor relations" of wealthy, aristocratic families find each other and, together, attempt to alleviate the near starvation conditions under which they had been living, on their own, as they strove to keep up appearances among their social peers while living in genteel poverty. In the first book these six friends established the Poor Relation hotel, which became quite successful, but by the time that this book begins, their improvident money management has brought them to the point of being in danger of losing the hotel and being plunged back into extreme poverty.

In the first book, two members of their group, Lady Fortescue and Sir Philip, had stolen valuable items from their rich relations, which Sir Philip pawned. In this book, it is decided that someone else must take a turn filching from rich relatives, and by the drawing of straws, timid, elderly spinster, Miss Letitia Tonks, is nominated to rob her rich sister in order to replenish the depleted coffers of herself and her friends.

While visiting her selfish snob of a sister, the intrepid Miss Tonks is inspired to dress up as a highwayman and steal her sister's massive, diamond necklace and matching tiara. But as she bravely attempts the daring deed, she mistakenly holds up the carriage of handsome Lord Eston. Fortunately, he not only takes pity on her, he gallantly dons her highwayman mask, successfully pilfers the diamonds for her, and on impulse, claims a kiss from Miss Tonks's lovely, young niece, Cassandra Blessop.

Thus begins the madcap adventures of Miss Tonks and Cassandra, who opts to flee to London with her aunt to escape the callous cruelty of her grasping mother.

This Regency-era, six-book series reminds me very much of another six-book Regency series, A House for the Season, by M. C. Beaton, both of which were originally published under the pseudonym, Marion Chesney. Each book in both of these series has an overarching "comedy of errors" plot and a secondary romance plot between a young set of lovers who are not part of the main ensemble cast, who appear in each book of these series. The romance subplot in these books, including this one, is always enjoyable, but inevitably rather perfunctory and rushed, because relatively little page time is allotted to develop it. This is not necessarily a bad thing, especially if one enjoys Georgette Heyer's Regency romps with a similar formula, primary emphasis placed on a comedy of errors and secondary focus on a romance.

Chesney has a very unique voice in her books, which provides a slightly macabre window onto the often brutal demands of daily life in the Regency period, a coarse reality that historical romance novels normally tend to gloss over.

All in all, this book, like many other Chesney Regencies, has quite a few humorous moments, and her strong suit in achieving that goal is her quirky ensemble cast. Of all of these main characters in this particular series, in my view, Sir Philip absolutely steals the show. His incessant ability to come up with outrageously amoral plots in support of his adopted family of fellow poor relations is a frequent source of outright belly laughs. In this book in particular, the hair-raising things he does to the villain of the book, the dastardly Monsieur Bonnard, are well deserved and outright hilarious.

I rate this book as follows:

Heroine Miss Tonks: 4

Ensemble Cast: 4

Romantic Subcharacters: 4

Historical Setting: 4

Comedy: 4

Writing: 4

Overall: 4