Monday, July 17, 2017

July Non-fiction Deals at Amazon

Amazon's list of summer e-book deals continues with non-fiction options: (Fiction deals were highlighted earlier this month.)

Christian: Devotions for a Deeper Life by Oswald Chambers, The Bible Among the Myths by John Oswalt, 3-in-1 by Max Lucado, Walking from East to West by Ravi Zacharias, Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality by Wesley Hill

WWII: Vatican Pimpernel, Auschwitz: A Doctor's Eyewitness Account, A Man Called Intrepid

Other: Call the Nurse, Man's Search for Meaning, The Story of the Jewish People by Martin Gilbert, Notes from a Tilt-a-Whirl by N.D. Wilson, Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury, Honey for a Teen's Heart by Gladys Hunt


Friday, July 14, 2017

The Magic Apple Tree by Susan Hill

Some books can be devoured in a couple of sittings and others are meant to be savored slowly. The Magic Apple Tree by mystery writer Susan Hill falls into the latter category. In it she recounts a year of living in the English countryside. It was a perfect follow-up to the two Thrush Green books I had just read.

She begins with winter, introducing the tree (The trunk is knobbly and each branch and twig twists and turns back upon itself, like old, arthritic hands), Moon cottage, and her daily routines.

In winter, I often spend all day in the kitchen, it is in winter that I love it best, and it is then that I most enjoy my own particular sort of cooking best, too, for one of the richest pleasures of domestic life is, and has always been, filling the house with the smells of food, of baking breads and cakes, bubbling casseroles and simmering soups, of vegetables fresh from the garden and quickly steamed, of the roasting of meat, of new-ground coffee and pounded spices and chopped herbs, of hot marmalade and jam and jelly.

I am not a gardener, but I enjoyed her anthropomorphic descriptions of plants: I always grow a lot of leeks, those entirely easy-going creatures, pleasing to behold as soldiers in the ground, resistant to all diseases and pests, tolerant of any soil, long-lasting, reliable.

Most French beans are low-growing. But I find them horribly neurotic; they hate the cold, in the air or in the soil, refuse to germinate for the slightest of reasons, then refuse to flower, or crop sparsely, or wilt suddenly, when six inches high, for no discernible reason, or collapse on to the ground after heavy rain.

In the spring section she writes more about her gardening techniques, eschewing all the gardening books by “experts” because of her non-typical garden (high winds, clay soil, etc.) I enjoyed reading how she adapted her expectations to fit her reality. Plenty of good life lessons there.

The cadence of the writing and of the seasons is gentle and soothing. As Hill finds sanctuary, so do we.

Spring so often promises what in the end it never pays, spring can cheat and lie and disappoint. You can sit in the window and wait for spring many a weary day. But I have never been let down by autumn. To me it is always beautiful, always rich, it always gives in heaping measure, and sometimes it can stretch on into November, fading, but so gently, so slowly, like a very old person whose dying is protracted but peacefully, in calmness.

At the end of this day [of berry picking and canning], I am stung, scratched, sore and stained, and the kitchen smells marvelous. There are rows of glowing jars on the dresser shelves, like so many jewels, deep red, orange, burgundy, pale pink, pale green, purple-black. I label them, before carrying them upstairs to the store cupboard.... When I have lined them up, I gaze in deep satisfaction. I feel as if we shall indeed be ‘preserved’ against the ravages of the coming winter, and go off to a long, hot, soothing bath.

A delightful book!


Monday, July 10, 2017

Books I Read in June

I'm slogging through a couple of dense books (Christian Theology by Alistar McGrath and The Living God by Thomas Oden) so I've been escaping into light stuff in between. From worst to best...

Regarding the spoiler alerts... Apparently if I like a book I'm content to give you a light overview and let you discover the story for yourself, but if I DISLIKE a book I rant and rave and give the whole story away.

Charity's Cross by Tyndall (reviewed here, spoiler alert)
Mrs. Budley Falls from Grace by Marion Chesney (reviewed here, spoiler alert)
O Little Town by Don Reid (reviewed here, spoiler alert)
The Hollow Needle (reviewed here, spoiler alert)
Life of Mrs. Humphry Ward by J.P. Trevelyan (reviewed here, spoiler alert)
Rainbow Valley by L.M. Montgomery (reviewed here)
81 Famous Poems (audiobook, reviewed here)
Thrush Green by Miss Read (reviewed here)

(Titles in yellow are free for Kindle.)

Friday, July 7, 2017

Worthwhile Movie #17 - Denial

My husband and I rarely go to the movie theater since modern films are too crass for our tastes. But when WORLD magazine reviews an exceptionally good film, we  stand up and take notice. That's how we recently watched and (surprise!) thoroughly enjoyed Hidden FiguresQueen of Katwe, and Denial. Since the two first two films are more well-known, I'll be focusing on the last one.

Interestingly, Denial was the least entertaining of the three. The subject was heavy and the characters were not necessarily endearing. BUT the theme of the movie is an important one for our times. Though the characters smoke and drink, and although there are two outbursts of strong profanity, I highly recommend this film.

Storyline: Deborah Lipstadt is professor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies at Emory University. In her book, Denying the Holocaust, she calls out David Irving as a false historian and liar for teaching that the holocaust never happened. He sues her for libel. In cases of libel in England the accused is guilty until proven innocent, so Lipstadt has to go to England to defend herself.

My thoughts: The theme of rewriting history to fit one's own personal views couldn't be more relevant to our times since reality is more and more defined by feelings rather than facts. Lipstadt wasn't so much on trial as was the historicity of the extermination of 6 million Jews during WWII. How was her legal team to prove that it really happened? The answer seems obvious to simple-minded mortals like myself (What about all those books that were written by eye-witnesses?), but you have only to hear the wiley arguments of David Irving to see that it wasn't going to be quite that simple.

This is a court room drama with a great script and good acting. Tom Wilkinson does a wonderful job as Lipstadt's lawyer. Only one thing rankled me about the film. Near the end Lipstadt recites a list of undeniable historial facts, and slips in a reference to a specific scientific theory as though it were equally irrefutable, which seemed a little shoddy in light of the rest of the film.

I guess it only adds to the discussion of truth and how to defend it.


Thursday, July 6, 2017

July E-Fiction Deals at Amazon

I always enjoy combing through the monthly deals at Amazon; this month there is a lot of marked down fiction for summer reading.

Vintage Fiction: The White Cottage Mystery by Margery Allingham, The Yellow Room by Mary Roberts Rinehart (mixed reviews)

Seven by Wendell Berry (some non-fiction): Jayber Crow, A Place on Earth, New Collected Poems, Nathan Coulter, Memory of Old Jack, Our Only World, What are People For?

Three by Arthur C. Clarke: Childhood's End, History Lesson (collected short stories #1) and The Sentinel (collected short stories #2)

Christian authors (who I am not familiar with) have several titles each: Ted Dekker (Three, Adam), Terri Blackstock (Last Light, Distortion, If I Run), and Robert Whitlow (Life Everlasting, Higher Hope, The Living Room) I read a sample of Whitlow's writing that was quite good, but these plots sound far-fetched.

The Blue Sword - McKinley (Newberry Honor, YA Fantasy)

Cold Sassy Tree by Olivia Ann Burns


Friday, June 30, 2017

Thrush Green by Miss Read

A few weeks back I posted a review of the second of the Thrush Green books, Winter in Thrush Green. When I saw that I could read the first book via a Kindle Unlimited free trial, I jumped at the chance. I'm so glad I got to read the lovely introduction to the series.

The title might as well have been "The Fair at Thrush Green" because many of the events are connected to the magical day in May when Mrs. Curdle's fair comes to town. First we see it through the eyes of a little boy:

He lay there for a minute, beneath his tumbled bedclothes, savoring the excitement. His mind's eye saw again, with the sharp clarity of a six-year-old, the battered galloping horses with flaring nostrils, the glittering brass posts, twisted like giant sugar sticks, the dizzying red and yellow swing boats and the snakes of black rope that coiled across the bruised grass of Thrush Green waiting to ensnare the feet of the bedazzled. (p. 3)

Then we see it through the eyes of  the aging fair owner, the town physician, a pair of young lovers, a cantankerous spinster, and a lonely girl. Miss Read (née Dora Jessie Saint, 1913-2012) wonderfully describes human emotions without sentimentality. Even the way she writes about the lovers is fresh and light (none of the sweaty palms and goose bumps of most romantic Christian fiction.)

He knew, with a deep sense of wonder and inner comfort that was to remain with him all his life, that the girl before him was his forever, to be as essential to him, as much part of him, as his hand or eye. (p. 115)

Though people drink, smoke and swear on occasion, this is an utterly charming community that you will learn to love. Many of the characters face their trials bravely, cheerfully, and with an eye to serving others that I find absolutely refreshing in comparison to the self-absorbed characters in much modern fiction.

There are witticisms such as the food poisoning inflicted by the eccentric Dotty Harmer. Her neighbors are so used to it that they affectionately call it "Dolly's Collywobbles." The writing is gently lyrical: A gray squirrel darted up a tree with breath-taking ease, and the young man watched it leaping from bough to bough, as light and airy as a puff of gray smoke. (p.91)

Blessed are those who have access to these books. I will not be paying $10 each for the Kindle versions, so hope to find some of them when I'm in the U.S. next year. One of the commenters from the original post said she's been collecting all of them to read in order. A splendid idea!


Friday, June 23, 2017

81 Famous Poems

I love poetry anthologies, but am often dismayed by the inclusion of modern stuff that can barely be called poetic. (See my review of The Poet's Corner, for one example.) What a treat to find this audio compilation via my library's digital services.

No fluff here. The poems are all bona fide classics ranging from Milton’s “On His Blindness” to Blake’s “Little Lamb Who Made Thee?” to Robert Burn’s “To a Mouse.” If you want an education on the best-of-the-best, you need go no further. Alexander Scourby, Nancy Wickwire, and Bramwell Fletcher are all exceptional narrators. (A sample of Scourby reading "Elegy in a Country Churchyard" is here.)

I remember needing my college professor to explain “My Last Duchess,” but if I had heard this audio version, I would have had NO DOUBT as to Browning’s subtle meanings. This is probably the most powerful poem in the bunch because of the outstanding narration.

My enjoyment of the readings was enhanced by the fact that I was already acquainted with most of them. (If you are not familiar with them, it would take several listens to get their gist.) A particular favorite is Tennyson’s “The Eagle:”

He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
Close to the sun in lonely lands,
Ring’d with the azure world, he stands.
The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
He watches from his mountain walls,
And like a thunderbolt he falls.

Apparently there is no book form of this compilation. It’s a supplement to the larger Norton Anthology of Poetry, third edition. The version I listened to said it was put out by BBC audio, which may explain why it is so top-notch. If you already love good poetry, or would like to become more knowledgeable, this is a lovely opportunity to plunge in. Highly recommended.