Friday, October 13, 2017

Literary Quotes on Simple Pleasures


There’s nothing like a fresh page of a new book, a first date, or a patch of turned-over earth in the garden. All the possibilities! – from Small Kindnesses by Satya Robyn

No yoga exercise, no meditation in a chapel filled with music will rid you of your blues better than the humble task of making your own bread. - from M.F.K. Fisher's The Art of Eating

Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace. - May Sarton

Households that have lost the soul of cooking from their routines may not know what they are missing: the song of a stir-fry sizzle, the small talk of clinking measuring spoons, the yeasty scent of rising dough, the painting of flavors onto a pizza before it slides into the oven. - Barbara Kingsolver.



 
Blessings,

Friday, October 6, 2017

Mission at Nuremberg by Tim Townsend

Can thoroughly evil men be redeemed? That was the key question for the administrators and lawyers connected with the trials of Nazi war criminals after WWII. Did they deserve spiritual help? Would they even want it?

Some wanted to exterminate them without a trial since their guilt was so obvious. But others felt a trial was important because it distinguished between revenge and punishment. Gordon Dean (press spokesperson for the chief prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials) wrote, "The concept that guilt should be fairly ascertained is so embedded in the charters of civilized countries that we cannot afford to abandon it here simply because the guilt is great."

Based on the religious rights clause of the Geneva Convention, Henry Gerecke, a Lutheran pastor from St. Louis, was called to minister to the Germans on death row. He felt that God was the ultimate Judge and that the earthly guilt of his "congregation" was of no significance as far as he was concerned. His only duty was the care of souls. He asked God to preserve him from any prejudice against those who spiritual care had been committed to his charge.  Some wondered how he could comfort these Nazis who had caused the world so much heartache? How could he minister to the leaders of a movement that had taken millions of lives? He was even criticized for shaking their hands on their first encounter. But he was operating on the principle, "If your enemies are hungry, give them bread to eat; and if they are thirsty, give them water."

What follows is a fascinating story of 22 men during their last weeks on earth. Thirteen of them attended Gerecke's daily services. Four attended Catholic mass and five refused all spiritual counsel. Some repented and some went to their deaths declaring themselves innocent of all wrong-doing.

Although the facts behind this book were gripping, the prose was often lacking.  (I have found this to be true with most WWII non-fiction.) Because the recorded spiritual conversations between Gerecke and the prisoners fill only about 6 percent of the book's 300 pages, Townsend had to put in A LOT of filler. He gives 150 pages of background (including the grades the chaplains got in college) before Gerecke actually meets his prison congregants. In Chapter 9 he meanders through his odd understanding of the Old Testament. In another chapter he writes extensively about the Lord's Supper.

Still, I'm glad I gave this book a chance. I was impressed that these men were given a fair trial in spite of the overwhelming proof of their guilt. I was touched by Gerecke's life and that he took the eternal destiny of these men seriously enough to dedicate himself to their care. Most of all I was amazed at the miracle that God did in the hearts of some of the men.

P.S. Exceptions to dry WWII non-fiction are Lauren Hillenbrand's Unbroken, Robert Edsel's The Monuments Men, Robert Leckie's Helmet for My Pillow, and anything by Ernie Pyle.)

Blessings,

Friday, September 29, 2017

How Scout Learned to Read (from To Kill A Mockingbird)

To Kill a Mockingbird is in the top ten of my favorite novels. I especially enjoyed this quote on reading that comes early in the book. On Scout's first day in school the teacher asks her to read. Scout has been reading anything and everything as long as she can remember.

When she discovered I was literate, she looked at me with more than faint distaste. Miss Caroline told me to tell my father not to teach me any more, it would interfere with my reading.

"Teach me?" I said in surprise. "He hasn't taught me anything, Miss Caroline. Atticus ain't got time to teach me anything," I added, when Miss Caroline smiled and shook her head. "Why he's so tired at night he just sits in the living room and reads."

"If he didn't teach you, who did?"  Miss Caroline asked good naturedly. "Somebody did. You weren't born reading The Mobile Register. . . Now you tell your father not to teach you any more. It's best to begin reading with a fresh mind. You tell him I'll take over from here and try to undo the damage."

I mumbled that I was sorry and retired, meditating upon my crime. I never deliberately learned to read, but somehow I had been wallowing illicitly in the daily papers. In the long hours of church - was it then I learned? I could not remember not being able to read hymns. Now that I was compelled to think about it, reading was something that just came to me. . . I never loved to read. One does not love breathing. (p. 17-18)

Blessings,

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Books I Read in September

To be honest, I didn't really enjoy any of the books I read this month (except for the last two). Here's the list:

The Made From Scratch Life by Norris (introduction to homesteading with Bible verses thrown in)
I Will Repay by Baroness Orczy (part of the Scarlet Pimpernel series with, sadly, very little Sir Percy)
The American Heiress by Dorothy Eden (light fiction, reviewed here)
Murder at the Lighthouse by Frances Evesham (light mystery)
The Incomparable Christ by Sanders (I'm embarrassed that I didn't enjoy this classic; much of the excellent content was hidden amid syrupy poetry and suppositions about Christ's life.)
A Singular and Whimsical Problem by R. McMillan (A mystery that read like a teenage diary with one scripture verse thrown in for good measure.)
Mission at Nuremberg by Townsend (WWII non-fiction, the story of the American chaplain sent to minister to the Nazi war criminals, review forthcoming.)
The Church Planting Wife: Help and Hope for her Heart by Christine Hoover (a helpful re-read)

Last chance book deals this month:
Free audiobook from Christian Audio: Steven Curtis Chapman's Between Heaven and the Real World
Two vintage e-book mysteries: Lord Peter Views the Body (Lord Peter Wimsey #4) by Dorothy Sayers, and A Going Concern by Catherine Aird
Several Wiersbe commentaries: Be Counted (Numbers), Be Comforted (Isaiah) Be Responsible (1 Kings), Be Rich (Ephesians), and Be Complete (Colossians)
Two C.S. Lewis titles: The Great Divorce ($1.99) and The Discarded Image (99 cents)

Blessings,

Friday, September 22, 2017

A Bride Goes West by Nannie T. Alderson

The title of Nannie Alderson's biography sounds like a romance novel, but it's anything but romantic. A Bride Goes West is about her life as a Montana rancher's wife in the 1880s and 90s and although she's upbeat, she doesn't gloss over the hardships.

I went with romantic ideas of being a helpmeet to a man in a new country, but I was sadly ill-equipped when it came to carrying them out. Before I left West Virginia a dear old lady had taught me how to make hot rolls, but except for that one accomplishment I knew no more of cooking than I did of Greek. Hot rolls, plus a vague understanding that petticoats ought to be plain, were my whole equipment for conquering the West. (p. 19)

Since there were so few women nearby, Nannie learned to cook and keep house from the men who worked for her husband. She was amazed at how much they knew! At first it was all a big adventure, but as the years wore on (with the children arriving and with various financial failures), the glamour wore off.  The remoteness of their lives, the constant work and stresses made her worry more and more: I don't think I was naturally of a nervous disposition. I think I was overworked. I had four children to care for with practically no help; I had gotten up too soon and had done too much work after the last two of them were born; I was worn out, and once more took to feeling sorry for myself.

In spite of the difficulties and occasional bouts of self-pity, Nannie's perseverance and hopefulness shine throughout the book. My husband enjoyed the book as much as I did, pronouncing it a "nourishing" read. Nannie writes about the ups and downs of marriage. She tells of the elusiveness of riches and how they had to carve joy out of simple things. She never sugar-coats her life, but there is a sense of fierce determination to make things work out that is inspiring.

Elisabeth Grace Foley lists this book among 10 exceptional western memoirs here.


Blessings,

Friday, September 15, 2017

Surprisingly Short Classics

I recently downloaded Lady Susan by Jane Austen and was astounded to see it is only 82 pages long. The next day I began The Jungle Book and was surprised at its modest length. Naturally, I felt compelled to make a list of works by classic authors that are about 100 pages or less. I linked to Kindle Free titles whenever possible, so without further ado, here is the list. . . .

A Child's Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson (77 pages)
Aesop's Fables (this version is 104 pages)
The Call of the Wild by Jack London (68 pages)
The Dead by James Joyce (80)
The Death of Ivan Ilych by Leo Tolstoy (54)
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (61)
Elements of Style by E.B. White (the only non-fiction title here, 93 pages)
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (94)
The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle (117)
Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling (89)
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving (74)
The Man Who Knew Too Much by G.K. Chesterton (87)
Metamorphosis by Kafka (50)
Of Mice and Men by Steinbeck (73)
O Pioneers (101 pages)
Rikki Tikki Tavi by Rudyard Kipling (73)
Rip Van Winkle by Washington Irving (25 pages)
The Time Machine by H.G. Wells (90)
The Turn of the Screw by Henry James (103)

Also, each Shakespeare play can be read in 2 to 3 hours.

Abe Books has a similar list here.

Did I miss any? Please feel free to make suggestions in the comments.

Blessings,

Friday, September 8, 2017

The Things of Earth by Joe Rigney

How should Christians view the pleasures this world? Is it really true that “the things of earth grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace?”  Not according to Joe Rigney. He sets out to prove that Christians, more than anyone else, experience joy in this life because they recognize each blessing as a gift from God.

Rigney spends the first eight chapters establishing a theological basis for understanding the goodness of God. Only then does he specifically address the topic of “Christian hedonism” (a phrase he borrows from John Piper) vs. biblical self-denial. I happen to like theology and stuck with Rigney till then, but I can see how many people could wish he’d just get to the point.  
He talks A LOT about the trinity in this book, which at first seems off-topic, but I eventually warmed up to the oft-repeated theme. Rigney describes the giggles of his young son while being tickled. This tickle fight is high theology – a parable of a glory that existed before the world did. Fatherly delight is at the heart of reality. (“This is my beloved Son.”) My one year old will forget it, but in a sense it’s the most spiritual thing I can do for him. My delight and pleasure in him can leave a mark on him that will outlive the sun.
Because the Father loves to give good gifts to His children, we are free to enjoy and relish His goodness. Pleasures become sinful when we go beyond delighting in them to putting our hope in them. In this way even good things like family, sex, vocation, etc. can become idols. Christians are world-affirming at the same time as they are world denying. They know that their ultimate hope is in Christ, but that does not keep them from savoring His goodness in this life. Christians celebrate creation because it was made by God, but they treat it lightly because it’s NOT God.

A very thought-provoking book.
P.S. While Piper defends his use of the term "Christian hedonism" here, I still struggle with its negative and self-centered connotations.

Blessings,

Friday, September 1, 2017

Books I Read In August

I had another good month of reading. I worked hard to finish up several long audiobooks, but it was worth it. From least favorite to best here are the titles:

Thrive by Arianna Huffington, self-help book, reviewed here
Blue Fairy Book by Lang (audio), children's lit, reviewed here
Lady Susan by Jane Austen, reviewed here
Island Refuge - better than average CF, reviewed here
Far and Near - suspenseful CF, book four in a series, reviewed here
The Power of Praying for Your Adult Children, reviewed here
The Loveliness of Christ by Samuel Rutherford, reviewed here
The Things of Earth by Joe Rigney (audio), non-fiction, review forthcoming
Climbing by Rosalind Goforth, missionary bio, reviewed here
The Jungle Book: Mowgli's Story by R.L. Stevenson, reviewed here
Oxford Book of Christian Verse, classic poetry, reviewed here
The Religious Body by Catherine Aird, excellent cozy mystery, written in 1966
A Bride Goes West, fascinating memoir of Nannie Alderson in the 1890's, review forthcoming
Watership Down (audio) realistic fantasy by Richard Adams, reviewed here

Blessings,

Friday, August 25, 2017

Watership Down by Richard Adams

I can understand why Adams initially had a hard time finding a publisher for this book. The protagonists (rabbits) seem too infantile for grownups, but the subjects (war, totalitarianism, threat of extinction, etc.) are too heavy for children. But I'm glad he persisted.

I confess that I have tried to read Watership Down a number of times and have given up, but when I saw it available as an audiobook via my library, I decided to give it another try. Ralph Cosham's outstanding narration was what I needed to help me persevere.

Fiver is a gentle rabbit with a sixth sense. He warns the other rabbits of upcoming danger to the warren, but only a few believe him. He, his brother Hazel, and a few others make their escape before it's too late. The novel shows the many challenges they face in finding a new warren.

Intermixed with the drama is plenty of humor, gentle wisdom, small kindnesses and lovely writing. The cherry on the cake is that each chapter begins with an appropriate literary quote.

The rabbits have their own language (a tractor/car is a "rudado") and their own mythology (their world was created by a being called Frith.) The characters are well-drawn, especially Fiver who reminds me of Frodo as a reluctant hero. Big Wig is a large, tough rabbit who softens as the story goes along. He is the only rabbit who takes Frith's name in vain, which might offend some, but I found it hilarious.

And what's not to love about animals who enjoy a good story? The main character in their tales is El-ahrairah, a Robin Hood of sorts. These stories within a story were exceptionally entertaining.

P.S. As I was writing this review I popped over to Wikipedia to make sure I had all my names straight. I was flabbergasted to read that feminists hate this book because the female rabbits are basically breeding factories. It never entered my mind to be offended by this book. (In fact the females are so important to the future of the warren that all the males risk their lives for them.)

Blessings,

Friday, August 18, 2017

The Power of Praying for Your Adult Children by Stormie Omartian

Fifteen years ago, while raising four young sons, I read The Power of a Praying Parent. It challenged me to pray specifically for the Lord’s help to overcome their weaknesses and for the Lord to be glorified in their strengths. I adapted a few of Omartian’s prayers for each boy and have used them off and on through the years (in between extemporaneous prayers.)

Now that my children are grown, I was feeling the need to update those written prayers. So I was pleased to find The Power of Praying for Your Adult Children when I was on furlough. While I don’t agree with every bit of Omartian’s theology, I greatly appreciate her encouragement to keep praying and believing for God’s best for our kids.

She begins the book with a chapter on parental guilt as an impediment to faith-filled praying, which I really needed to hear. Assuming that you and I have done the best we knew how at the time we raised our children, and knowing that we were not perfect parents, we can trust that our children can still be taught by the Lord today and for the rest of their lives. They can learn the things we didn’t teach them – or didn’t teach them as well as we should have – and they can unlearn things we taught them that were wrong. . . . Whatever wasn’t perfect about the way we taught our children, God can redeem. But we need to pray for that to happen.

The following chapters deal with prayer concerns such as growth in wisdom, financial stability, sexual purity, health, marriage, and child-rearing. After this book had been out for several years, Omartian saw that many young people who had grown up in Christian homes had wandered from the faith without really seeing the danger. So she added a new chapter on prayers to help your adult children to see their need for God.

I guarantee that anyone who doesn’t recognize their need for the Lord is trying to fulfill their needs in some way that is empty. And they are becoming hooked on it and obsessed with it to the point of idolizing it to numb them to the voice of God speaking to their heart. They are missing all that God has for them. . . . One of the greatest gifts we can give our adult children is to pray they will have the understanding that they need God and that without Him they can do nothing great or lasting. . . . Being an intercessor for your adult children’s lives helps them to have a great ability to not only hear from God, but to respond to God as well. (pp. 231-233)

A good quote: Prayer is not telling God what to do. Prayer is partnering with God to see that His will is done. The confidence we have in approaching God is that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, then we know that we will have what we asked of Him. (1 Jn 5:14-15)

Omartian’s words encouraged me to be faithful and specific in my prayers. A very helpful book.

Blessings,

Friday, August 11, 2017

The Oxford Book of Christian Verse by Lord David Cecil

If I had two lives, I would have a separate blog highlighting classic poetry. (In 2013 I even had a contest to choose a name for a poetry section of this blog that never materialized.) The thing about good poetry books is that they take a long time to read and savor. So they don't lend themselves to my book-a-week book blog format. Maybe there is a poem-a-week in my imaginary future...

I've been reading the The Oxford Book of Christian Verse for over a year and have enjoyed the rich theology and beautiful language. My copy was printed in 1941 so it mercifully avoids any modern rubbish. (Not all modern poets are bad, but that's a subject for another post.) It starts with Chaucer, works through 600 years, and ends with T.S. Eliot.

I underlined many a delightful turn of phrase (George Herbert calling prayer "the soul in paraphrase" and John Milton calling the Magi "star-led wizards" for example). Andrew Marvell describes how affliction turns us back to God by writing that we are "shipwrecked into health again."

I loved the astounding economy of language used by Richard Crashaw as he described Christ's birth:

Welcome, all wonders in one sight!
Eternity shut in a span.
Summer in winter. Day in night.
Heaven in earth, and God in man.
Great little one! whose all-embracing birth
Lifts earth to heaven, stoops heav'n to earth.

Christian poetry tends to be sentimental and this anthology was collected with the distinct purpose of avoiding such fluff, which means that it must be read slowly and carefully. Occasionally I had to visit an online poetry site to clarify an author's meaning.

This is a lovely book, but it cannot be appreciated by those who want a "quick poetry fix." These devotional selections are meant to make you pause, think, and even pray. As such, they can't be read in a hurry.

Blessings,

Friday, August 4, 2017

Books I Read in July and Thoughts on Kindle Unlimited

In spite of a stressful and busy month, I read quite a bit in July. It was partly because I needed an escape between big events, and partly because I decided to take the plunge on a free trial for Kindle Unlimited. Although it was free, I felt I "had to get my money's worth" by reading as many books as possible within the 30-day period. (Weird, I know!)

From least favorite to best here's the list: (The freebies are marked KU.)

Pax by Sara Pennypacker - politically correct children's book (reviewed here)
The Living Room - CF novel by Robert Whitlow (only 100 pages)
Christian Theology - textbook by A. McGrath (200 pages only, review here)
Miracle Morning - self-help by Hal Elrod (reviewed here) KU
Small Kindnesses - novel by Satya Robyn (reviewed here) KU
Divine Design - non-fiction by John MacArthur (reviewed here)
The Cozy Life non-fiction by Edberg (reviewed here) KU
The Same Stuff as Stars - kid's lit by Katherine Paterson (reviewed here) KU
Katherine, When She Smiled - romance by Harmon (reviewed here) KU
Shoulder the Sky - light fiction by D.E. Stevenson (reviewed here) KU
The Magic Apple Tree - non-fiction by Susan Hill (reviewed here) KU
Vittoria Cottage - light fiction by D.E. Stevenson (review here) KU
Music in the Hills - light fiction by D.E. Stevenson (review here) KU

I got halfway through two audiobooks (Things of Earth - non-fiction by Joe Rigney and The Blue Fairy Book by Andrew Lang), but I'm not really enjoying either of them so it's been a slog.

I'm glad I did the free trial for Kindle Unlimited because now I know IT'S NOT WORTH $10 a month. Yes, I was able to read half a dozen titles on my TBR list, but almost all the other available titles are fluff. Amazon is not dumb. They are going to make you pay for anything that's worth reading.

 Blessings,

Friday, July 28, 2017

The Drumberly Series by D.E. Stevenson

Years ago I read Shoulder the Sky by D. E. Stevenson. It was third in a series but was easily read as a stand-alone. This summer I decided to read the whole trilogy and I'm so glad I did.

In the first book, Vittoria Cottage, we are introduced to Caroline, a widow with three grown children. WWII has been over for a number of years, but food shortages are still in effect all over Britain. Robert Shepperton is a veteran who lost everything in the war and comes to Drumberly looking for healing. Their friendship makes up the bulk of the story, but there are several delightful secondary characters. In spite of heart aches and misunderstandings, there is an underlying kindliness and humility in the protagonists that makes them endearing literary companions.

In book two, Music in the Hills, Caroline's sister Mamie and her husband Jock take the stage.
Caroline's son James returns from the war with a desire to learn farming from his Uncle Jock. Mamie is considered the least intelligent of the four sisters, but it is soon clear that she is wonderfully perceptive in things that matter. James is a wonderfully drawn young man: sometimes brave, sometimes insecure, but always kind and manly. Several women are after his heart, but who will get it?

Book three, Shoulder the Sky, begins with James and his wife settling into Boscath Farm House. Darling Mamie and Jock are nearby. Minor characters from the previous books take on larger roles. There is more drama in the third installment with snow storms, uncovered secrets, dastardly property owners, etc. and if you read my original review, you know that the necessity of a divorce bugged me. Although this is my least favorite of the three books, I enjoyed the trilogy very much.

As with Stevenson's other novels there are delightful descriptions of people and places. Some of her regular themes appear: houses with personalities of their own, friendly lovers, and deep appreciation of the land. Literary allusions abound to Shakespeare, Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, Hercule Poirot, Edith Nesbit, and poets such as Browning, Tennyson, A.A. Milne and A.E. Housman.

Gentle humor, fine writing and clever vocabulary were the icing on the cake. My favorite new words were: emoluments (profit/payment), exiguous (scanty), pawky (having a sly sense of humor), ichor (fluid that flows like blood in the veins of the gods), sedulous (diligence), cynosure ("the center of attention"), soignée (elegant), and glumphy.

P.S. I read these for free with my Kindle Unlimited trial, but they are the least expensive of Stevenson's e-titles at $3.99 each.

Blessings,

Friday, July 21, 2017

Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod

 
Miracle Morning can be summed up in Elrod's own words: "Don't wait to be great!"

The miracle morning involves getting up one hour earlier than usual in order to take responsibility for a successful future. Elrod says that when you sleep until the last minute and drag yourself off to school or to work, you are being controlled by life’s circumstances. When you get up earlier and attack your goals, you become master of your circumstances.

He walks the reader through six areas (Life S.A.V.E.R.S), each of which will aid in personal development. “Your level of success is always going to parallel your level of personal development.” The secret, he says, to overcoming the mediocre life is to live a life of purpose. His definition of purpose is “to become the best version of yourself.”

Basically, his book has been a tremendous success because it has given thousands of people a reason to get up in the morning. First, because of the focused attention on their souls (meditation/prayer, etc.), their bodies (1/2 hour of exercise) and their goals. In this crazy, digitalized, break-neck-paced world, who wouldn’t benefit from such an hour? Second, because they actually visualize their goals and read books to help them achieve them, they no longer feel trapped. This is not rocket science, just a good kick in the pants that most people need.

Since I am a Christian, I differ with the author’s view of success. Happiness does not come from achieving all of your life goals. If those goals are not in line with what God has planned for you, they could leave you empty and miserable. Many of Elrod’s ideas come from the book The Secret that teaches the “law of attraction”. It instructs you to think positive thoughts (and affirm them verbally to the universe) in order to reap countless blessings. I’m all for cutting out negative and defeatist self-talk, but I don’t believe that an impersonal universe has my best interests at heart. Only a loving God does.

Finally, “You can do anything if you set your mind to it is,” a very American concept. But, sadly, it
has led talentless teens to try out for American Idol, and people who can’t write to self-publish awful books. There is a limit to what you can do in certain areas if you have no talent in those areas.

Ironically, I read The Cozy Life: Rediscover the Joy of Simple Things just after Elrod’s book. It also recommends meditation, yoga, and books, but Edberg’s premise is that personal development isn't part of the plan. It is the plan. In her mind, personal contentment (rather than success) is the key to happiness. Again, her world view, as a non-Christian, falls short of what I would consider a fulfilled life: knowing, loving and serving the true and living God.

Blessings,

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!

Blessings,

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.

Blessings,

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!

Blessings,

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.

Blessings,

Friday, June 16, 2017

Winter in Thrush Green by Miss Read

After reading four dreadful books in a row, I was desperate for something light and uplifting. Winter in Thrush Green was just the ticket.

This is my third Miss Read novel and my favorite so far. It takes place in the fictional village of Thrush Green in the 1950s. It’s very British and cozy in that there is no huge plotline. It recounts the ups and downs of the townfolk and avoids sentimentality by showing people’s faults. The characters are summed up in a few eloquent phrases that enable the reader to picture them perfectly:

Winnie Bailey had watched her neighbors, grow from children to men and women, and followed their fortunes with an interest which was both shrewd and warm-hearted.

. . . The rector of Thrush Green bore a striking resemblance to the cherubs which decorated his church and his disposition was as child-like and innocent as theirs. He was a man blessed with true humility and warm with charity. From the top of his shining bald head to the tips of his small black shoes he radiated a happiness that disarmed all comers.

My only complaint is that the author highlights so many different characters that it's hard to feel like you "know" any one person. Maybe you need to read all the Thrush Green books for that.

Miss Read was the pseudonym for British writer Dora Saint (1913-2012). She wrote novels of English rural life in two villages, Fairacre and Thrush Green. They are still so popular that they run about ten dollars for Kindle, so I was happy to pick up this title when it was marked down to $2. Some of her titles are free if you have Kindle Unlimited.

Blessings,

Monday, June 12, 2017

Literary Fiction Deals in E-books for June

Most of Amazon's monthly deals are fluffy pop culture titles, so I was delighted to see some heftier titles for sale this month.

The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club by Dorothy Sayers (Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries Book 5)
This Day: Collected and New Sabbath Poems by Wendell Berry
A Place in Time by Wendell Berry (20 Port William Stories)
Poems by C.S. Lewis
3 James Herriot classics

Rumer Godden is a non-typical author whose books I enjoy, but I rarely see them available for Kindle. So I was intrigued to find The Battle of the Villa Fiorita for $1.99. I have not read this, but reviewers at Amazon write: "This is a thought-provoking novel that explores marriage, divorce, and family life with wit and sensitivity." And "It's well-written, witty and charming, but it's also heartbreakingly sensitive." I'll be giving it a try.

P.S. If your library has Hoopla digital services, you can read most of these titles for free.

Blessings,

Friday, June 9, 2017

On Stories by C.S. Lewis

I've read and appreciated The Chronicles of Narnia and half a dozen other C.S. Lewis titles, but one of my favorites is his lesser known An Experiment in Criticism (which I reviewed in 2009). On Stories is a book of essays that continues with the same theme of literary taste, what it means and how it is formed.

I thoroughly enjoyed Lewis' thoughts on fairy tales, Tolkien, Dorothy Sayers and children's lit because those are subjects dear to my heart. (This is the book with the famous quote, "A children's story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children's story.") He makes a valiant effort to define good art vs. bad art in his essay, "Different Tastes in Literature." The other essays (on authors and topics that were unknown to me) required perseverance. This is a perfect book for reading in short spurts, giving yourself time to mull over and digest its ideas.

Lewis had a wide range of reading tastes and mentions many authors who were popular during his lifetime but who have since dropped off the scene. The third essay was a tribute to new-to-me author E.R. Eddison. The day after I read that chapter, I saw Eddison listed on Nick Senger's list of 50 classics. (It's #22 - The Worm Ouroboros.) I love making reading connections!

Other authors mentioned by Lewis that sent me scurrying for more information were Tobias Smollet, Mervyn Weakes, John Collier and Alfred Mee. Lewis compliments Henry Rider Haggard for the first lines of the book She and H.G. Wells for When The Sleeper Awakes. He has high praise for James Stephens' Deirdre (published in 1923) and calls David Lindsay's Voyage to Arcturus a "shattering, intolerable, and irresistible work."  His referral to Edwin Abbott's Flatland and George William Russell's poetry also added to my "books to investigate" list. Lewis admits that some of these authors have more imagination than writing skill, but that their stories are compelling nonetheless. Happily, most are free for Kindle so it won't be an expensive to explore them.

Blessings,

Monday, June 5, 2017

June Non-fiction E-book Deals at Amazon

There are so many good deals this month I'm breaking them into two posts. First, I'll highlight the non-fiction deals.

Marriage
Cherish by Gary Smalley ($2.99)
The Mingling of Souls by Matt Chandler ($1.99)
Marriage Builder by Larry Crabb (one of my favorite marriage books, 99 cents)

Bible Study
These 21 commentaries by Warren Wiersbe are $1.99 (rather than the usual $10)

BEST DEAL: Commentaries on ALL of Paul's Letters (9 books for $2!)

Old Testament:
Genesis 1-11 (Be Basic), Judges (Be Available), Ruth & Esther (Be Committed), II Samuel & I Chronicles (Be Restored), Psalm 90-150 (Be Exultant), Proverbs (Be Skillful), Ezekiel (Be Reverent), Isaiah (Be Comforted), Minor Prophets - six books (Be Amazed) three others (Be Heroic)

New Testament:
John 13-21(Be Transformed), Romans (Be Right), I Corinthians (Be Wise), II Corinthians (Be Encouraged), Galatians (Be Free), Ephesians (Be Rich), James (Be Mature), 1 John (Be Real), I Peter (Be Hopeful), II Peter, II John, III John, Jude (Be Alert)

Other Topics
We Cannot be Silent: Speaking Truth to Our Culture by Albert Mohler Jr.
In Praise of Slowness: Challenging the Cult of Speed by Honoré (secular but helpful, I reviewed it here)

My next post will be on great deals in literary fiction.

Blessings,