The Borrowers Afloat (The Borrowers #3) by Mary Norton

The Borrowers Afloat (The Borrowers #3)

Mary Norton (J Fantasy)

It all began when Mrs. May told Kate the story of the Borrowers: Pod, Homily, and Arrietty Clock. The story of how these little people lived happily under the kitchen floorboards at Firbank until being smoked out; how they survived hunger, weather, and a sinister gypsy with the help of a human being and a loner Borrower; and how all of this ended with an unexpected reunion with Uncle Hendreary and Aunt Lupy. But, as we’ve learned, things with the Borrowers are never easy and with bad news from the human boy Tom, our three friends are off on yet another adventure, except this time they’re aided by a most resourceful and trustworthy ally, Spiller.

The Borrowers Afloat is the third installment in The Borrowers series and it’s just as thrilling and enchanting as its predecessors. Norton continues to use each book to give readers a greater insight into the world of these resourceful and brave beings. In this book, we see how Uncle Hendreary and Aunt Lupy live and understand the partnership they’ve formed with Spiller. Also, Spiller has been promoted from a supporting role to a main character as he plays an instrumental part in saving the Clocks (quite a few times by now), as well as assisting them in securing permanent housing.

Of all the characters so far, Spiller is perhaps the most underrated and gracious as he gives up his home, time, and resources to assist the Clocks on more than one occasion. Although he works through barter, the kindnesses extended Pod and Homily seem to go largely unreciprocated and unappreciated except for Arrietty who holds a genuine like and concern for this ragamuffin drifter. Lastly, Norton continues to develop our soft, pampered, and opinionated matriarch, Homily, and allows her to slowly let go of her prejudices to begin appreciating and valuing Spiller and his contributions to her family.

So far, the series continues to delight with an exciting and fun ride while this book leaves readers with the most suspenseful cliffhanger yet as Mild Eye the gypsy is hot on their heels and the return of the nasty Mrs. Driver and Crampfurl reminds us that our friends’ journey is far from over. But, as Pod was reassuring Homily after another near escape by saying, “As I see it, in life as we live it—come this thing or that thing—there’s always some way to manage. Always has been and, like as not, always will be,” andI have no doubt that Pod, Homily, and Arrietty will continue to find some way to manage as long as they’re together.

Rating: 5/5

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Howards End by E. M. Forster

Howards End

E. M. Forster (Adult Classic Fiction)

Considered by many to be Forster’s masterpiece, Howards End is the story of three families in early 20th century England: the Wilcoxes—wealthy, classist, and materialistic capitalists who bear no responsibility for their wrongful actions; the Schlegels—well-intentioned, learned, middle-class siblings who believe in personal accountability and are willing to defy societal protocols to do what is right; and the Basts—lower-class and poor, they seek a better way of life that always seems to be just out of reach.

Just shy of 250 pages, this book took me an inordinate amount of time to finish. The reason is probably best summed up by American economist Herbert A. Simon when he said, “…a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.”

For me, one of the trickiest things about writing book reviews is that I try to take into account when the book was written, as well as its audience and intent. I refuse to be THAT reviewer who reads a children’s book and then writes that a talking dog is utterly unrealistic. However, I take into equal account how the book made ME feel. Did I connect with the story and characters? Did it leave an impression? Most importantly, is it a story that I would read again?

There is no doubt that Forster accurately depicts the political, social, and philosophical landscape of post-Victorian England and that his elaborate descriptions and attention to detail were the ultimate, exotic passport for his readers when it was published in 1910; however, the deluge of details are simply overwhelming and drowned out, what I felt, was the overall message of the story. Near the very end of the book, when asked about the health of her husband, eldest sibling Margaret Schlegel said to her sister Helen, “Not ill. Eternally tired. He has worked very hard all his life, and noticed nothing.” Both the Wilcoxes and the Basts were so blinded by trying to be better versions of themselves, that they failed to see the bigger picture—Henry Wilcox denying a dying wish to maintain control or Leonard Bast refusing an act of benevolence to maintain an ideology.

The one saving grace of this book is Margaret Schlegel—the matriarch of her little family. Her resistance to yield to patriarchal and societal rules and demands is her greatest virtue and an ever-present point of contention in her marriage. She is loyal, direct, tactful, and resolute and although she longs for equality, she understands well enough why some women “prefer influence to rights”.

Howards End is indeed a beautiful book and worthy of critical praise. Unfortunately, I agree with Aesop in that It is possible to have too much of a good thing. Less is more sometimes.

Rating: 3/5

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A Dog’s Way Home by Bobbie Pyron (J Fiction)

A Dog’s Way Home

Bobbie Pyron (J Fiction)

Eleven-year-old Abby Whistler and her Shetland sheepdog, Tam, are inseparable. Not only is Tam an agility champion, he is Abby’s world…and she is his. But an unexpected detour leads to a terrible accident that tears Tam from Abby. As the days turn into weeks and fall gives way to the harshness of winter, can Tam find his way from Virginia back to North Carolina where home and his girl is?

Pyron checks all the boxes with this book. A Dog’s Way Home is non-stop action and suspense with whole lot of heart. Short chapters and alternating points of views—between Abby and third-person POV for Tam—ensure that readers stay engaged and fully committed to these characters and their individual struggles as one fights to survive in the harsh wilderness while the other navigates foreign situations in a big city.

There are a couple of things that really made this an exceptional read for young readers. First is that Pyron chose NOT to write down to her audience by having Tam be the narrator of his own story. Having the scene described by an arbitrary third party lends a starkness and cold reality to Tam’s situation, which only heightens the drama and urgency of his predicament. Second is the cruel reality of Tam’s situation. He is an animal suddenly faced with either starvation or survival and as his natural instincts kick in, so does the necessity to eat, and in order to eat one must kill.

Anyone who has ever cared for a dog will feel their heart being twisted and squeezed within their chest as Tam battles everything from the weather to wild animals and ruthless humans. Side note: a lot of well-meaning men who are protecting their loved ones or just doing their jobs really get the short end of the stick in this book and ultimately come across as villains. I expect that by the end of this book, many young readers will despise just about every adult in this book…except Meemaw, Abby’s grandmother.

Part Lassie Come-Home and part The Incredible Journey, A Dog’s Way Home will engross readers from beginning to end with messages of hope, perseverance, acceptance, and love. Most of all, it will challenge readers to reassess what’s truly important since material trappings never hold their shimmer for very long. As Meemaw said to Abby, “Sometimes the thing you think is the most important isn’t that big a deal, once you have it.”    

Rating: 5/5

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