Here are just a few noteworthy reads discovered in the last week or so:
And I saw this on Facebook and could identify! (I don’t know anything about the site on the graphic):
It’s Friday, time to look back over the blessings of the week with Susanne at Living to Tell the Story and other friends.
Here are some highlights of the past week:
1. A pink hoodie! I don’t know why I have never gotten a hoodie before now. I got it partly to wear with gym clothes, but I am finding it perfect for in-between sweater and jacket temperatures.
2. An uninterrupted afternoon. I’ve mentioned before that, though I appreciate hospice’s services for my mother-in-law, one frustration for me is having so many people come in and out of my home. There is a bath aide two days a week, a nurse one day a week, a chaplain once every 10 days-2 weeks, a social worker once a month, and a doctor once every 3 or 4 months. Last week they all came in the same week (some without calling ahead…argh!), and I felt like my time was extremely fragmented. This week was starting out the same, but for different reasons, and this is the week I needed to finish the ladies’ booklet I compile for church. I didn’t get started on it til Wednesday – and I needed to have it ready to print by Friday. Usually I get started on it much earlier than that. I felt if I could get one good solid afternoon to work on it, I could make a good dent in it – and that finally happened Wednesday. With that time and a lot of prayer, I got most of it done then and finished up the rest Thursday except for something I am waiting on from someone else. Thank you, Lord! That afternoon felt so good.
3. The rowing machine at the fitness center is something I didn’t think I could do, between knee problems and not having much arm strength. But I tried it Saturday and love it!
4. Pink tulips. I had seen and almost got some at the store to bring some springiness into the house, but ended up not buying them. My son and daughter-in-law didn’t even know about that but surprised me with some pink tulips one day this week.
5. Sunshine! It was rainy and overcast earlier in the week, but it’s always heartening to see the sunshine again. Plus we got one day in the 60s, a nice preview of spring. It’s back to the 20s now with snow forecast for next week – but spring is coming!
In The Bronte Plot by Katherine Reay, Lucy Alling loves working in an antique store, specializing in the books section. But in order to make her beloved books more special and valuable to customers, she incorporates several questionable practices. Her boss has no idea and would not approve if he did know.
When a handsome customer, James, comes in the store to find a gift for his grandmother, they hit it off and begin dating. But he soon finds that Lucy often embellishes the truth. She explains that her father was a con man, and she grew up with his stories. He loved classic stories, but he also made up many of his own. She hasn’t seen him in years. She “promised never to be like him and now…I suddenly hear myself and I am like him,” and her stories don’t sound quite so good when she recounts them to James, yet she feels compelled to make up stories even for things like getting seated at a restaurant without a reservation or getting a needed item for the store. Later when he finds out that she “embellished” the book he had bought for his grandmother, he breaks up with Lucy.
Oddly, however, James’s grandmother, Helen, who was quite taken with Lucy, has decided, against her family’s wishes, to take a trip to London and asks Lucy to go with her as a consultant. Lucy is not excited about the idea but eventually agrees, especially when she realizes there is a possibility they might be traveling near the place where she believes her father is.
As Helen and Lucy travel and each share their stories, Lucy realizes Helen has secrets of her own and a wrong in her past that she is trying to make right. Part of their travel takes them to antique stores, part to places of literary value, like the Bronte sisters’ home, and part to take care of the issue Helen needs to deal with.
As Lucy searches for her father, it almost seems that she feels doomed to follow in his steps since she shares his genes. But she learns that she can make her choices despite what he does, and determines to make things right with her boss and customers as much as she can, despite the risk to her reputation and job.
Reay’s specialty in all her books so far is weaving a plethora of literary references into her stories. I’m sadly not as familiar with the Bronte’s works except for Jane Eyre (one of my favorites), but I enjoyed getting to know more of their background and plan to read more of them in the future. Reay also quotes Dickens, Austen, Gaskell, and Lewis here (and possibly others I am not remembering), but she doesn’t just quote them – she incorporates something of their stories into her heroine’s story. One of my favorite quotes from this book, referencing Jane Eyre, is:
Lucy reached in her bag and pulled out the book, knowing exactly where to search. “I thank my Maker, that, in the midst of judgment, he has remembered mercy. I humbly entreat my Redeemer to give me strength to lead henceforth a purer life than I have done hitherto.” There it was. Mercy. Grace. And just as she’d told James, fiction conveyed change and truth and was loved and digested again and again because it reflected the worst, the best, and all the moments in between of the human experience (p. 267).
A couple of other favorite quotes:
All real lives hold controversy, trials, mistakes, and regrets. What matters is what you do next.
All the books have it . . . That time when you don’t know where you’ll be, but you can’t stay as you are. In life or in literature, that time rarely feels good (p. 31).
I thought all the characters were richly drawn, even the secondary characters like Dillon, their driver in England or Sid, Lucy’s boss. Looking through a few reviews here and there, I saw that many said they didn’t like Lucy. I think that’s because, though all characters should be flawed because no one is perfect, we’re hit with hers right off the bat. But I did like her as a person and sympathized with her in her journey.
It’s kind of ironic that reviews by non-Christians criticized the Christian element and reviews by Christians criticized that there was not much of a faith element. At first I felt the faith element was lacking because I didn’t recall Lucy making changes due to anything like repentance or a regard for having sinned against God, but I had forgotten the quote above referring to mercy and grace. As I went back and looked it up, in context she’s pondering her actions and thinks of Rochester in Jane Eyre: “Rochester couldn’t move–could never move–forward because he hadn’t gone back. He hadn’t laid down his sin and accepted that there was an absolute right” (p. 267). Then comes the quote from Jane about mercy and grace. So I did feel it was there, though perhaps a little more subtle than much Christian fiction. As I’ve mentioned in The Gospel and Christian Fiction and Why Read Christian Fiction?, it’s understandable that the nature of some stories would require more nuance (after all, the book of Esther does not mention God at all, but alert readers will see His hand there). But my only criticism of this book was that I did feel it was a little light in this department.
Nevertheless, all in all I enjoyed it very much. To me one sign of a great book is when you keep thinking of it and uncovering things about it long after turning the last page, and I definitely experienced that with this book.
If you’ve got half an hour, this interview with Katherine Reay was fun to listen to. I really enjoyed it, especially hearing the symbolism behind a scene that I hadn’t caught when I read it and some of the background information behind each of her books.
(Sharing at Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books)
I read Emily’s Quest for Carrie’s Lucy Maud Montgomery Reading Challenge this month. It’s the third book in the Emily trilogy, the first two being Emily of New Moon and Emily Climbs (linked to my reviews).
Emily has been raised by a strict maiden aunt since her father died when she was fairly young. In this book, she’s 17, has just finished high school, has just turned down the offer of a position in New York for a magazine publisher, and plans to spend her days at New Moon writing, first for magazines and perhaps later a book.
Life holds a certain loneliness, however, as all of her close friends have gone on to other studies in other places. Those circumstances are expected to be only temporary, and therefore manageable, but as it turns out, they end up spending most of their time away from home for the next few years. She had thought she and Teddy had a basic understanding, but she doesn’t hear from him much as he pursues his career, and subsequent visits find him rather cool toward her.
She throws herself into her work despite her friend Dean’s dislike of it and the townsfolk’s’ misunderstanding and gossip about it and her. She completes a novel but receives nothing but rejection in trying to get it published. When she asks Dean’s opinion, it’s not very high, so she burns the manuscript and looses her desire to write. She has a serious fall and injury resulting in blood poisoning and a long recovery. She accepts the proposal of a close friend, feeling that, since Teddy seems lost to her, the best she can hope for is a close companionship of a marriage rather than one of love. But in some kind of a dream or vision when she rescues Teddy from danger, she realizes she only loves him and breaks off her engagement with her friend even though there is little hope of Teddy loving her in return. She can’t tell her family this, so they are exasperated when she turns down (a ridiculous number of) marriage proposals from “good matches.”
In many ways this is kind of a depressing book (until the ending), but it describes a passage I think many people go through, especially young people in the changes between high school or college and coming into their own stride as an adult. Friendships, jobs, locations change, things sometimes don’t work out as they plan, a potential marriage partner seems nowhere in sight, they don’t know what the future will hold, or the future doesn’t look promising. In Emily’s case, though she loves writing and the place where she lives, with her friends and one true love away, the aunt who has cared for her getting older, and talk of a relative who will inherit their house already planning changes that she doesn’t like, the future looks pretty bleak. But it’s also a maturing, settling time that prepares one for the rest of life.
I’ve mentioned before not liking Emily very much, especially in the last book where I felt she was willful and disrespectful to her relatives (they were at fault as well, but I still felt she responded in a wrong way). There aren’t as many open clashes in this book, but that seems mostly because they’ve learned she is going to do her own thing, so it’s not any use, which is not necessarily as good characteristic. (I’m thinking, from what little I know of LMM’s life, that this might be what she wished she could do, but was not able to). But I did end up liking her better toward the end of the book as she displays restraint for others’ good, kindness, compassion, and maturity.
I’m afraid I liked her friend Ilse even less, though. She had been left to “grow up wild” by a father who has not really in touch for a long time, but some of her behavior here is pretty outrageous. But I found it interesting in one place where Ilse almost marries the wrong guy, that her description of how she felt was similar to what this article says LMM wrote in a journal of her own marriage: “I wanted to be free! I felt like a prisoner—a hopeless prisoner. … But it was too late—and the realization that it was too late fell over me like a black cloud of wretchedness. I sat at that gay bridal feast, in my white veil and orange blossoms, beside the man that I had married—and I was as unhappy as I had ever been in my life.” I think perhaps this series as a whole was somewhat cathartic for her.
There were a couple of places I had trouble with in this book, one being the vision/dream thing, the other being where a former teacher says, “Somehow one needs a spice of evil in every personality. It’s the pinch of salt that brings out the flavor” (p. 23). He says this after commenting negatively on someone who was “a good soul – so good she bores me – no evil in her.” We all do have a pinch (or more) of evil in us, but that’s not what makes us likable!
But even though I’ll never love this series like I do Anne, I felt it came to a fitting end, and Emily became a well-rounded and balanced adult after all.
(Sharing at Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books)
Welcome to the fourth annual Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge! We hold it in February because her birthday (February 7, 1867) and the day of her death (February 10, 1957) both occurred in February, so this seemed a fitting time to commemorate her.
Many of us grew up reading the Little House books. I don’t know if there has ever been a time when there wasn’t interest in the Little House series since it first came out. They are enjoyable as children’s books, but they are enjoyable for adults as well. It’s fascinating to explore real pioneer roots and heartening to read of the family relationships and values.
For the reading challenge in February, you can read anything by, about, or relating to Laura. You can read alone or with your children or a friend. You can read just one book or several throughout the month — whatever works with your schedule. If you’d like to prepare some food or crafts somehow relating to Laura or her books, that would be really neat too.
If you’d like to read something other than the Little House books, I’ve listed a few others under Books Related to Laura Ingalls Wilder, but that list is by no means exhaustive.
Let us know in the comments whether you’ll be participating and what you think you’d like to read this month. That way we can peek in on each other through the month and see how it’s going (that’s half the fun of a reading challenge). On Feb. 29, I’ll have another post where you can share with us links to your posts or let us know what you read for the month. Of course if you want to post through the month as you read, that would be great. You don’t have to have a blog to participate: you can just leave your impressions in the comments if you like. And I just may have a prize at the end of the month for one participant. :)
My own plans are to read Little Town on the Prairie by Laura and Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography by Laura Ingalls Wilder and Pamela Smith Hill.
I’m looking forward to reading everyone’s plans and impressions! Feel free to grab the button for the challenge to use in your post:
It’s Friday, time to look back over the blessings of the week with Susanne at Living to Tell the Story and other friends.
It’s been quite the weather week: snow one day, rain another, freezing fog (I had never heard of that before) another, and cold throughout. Thankfully we did see sunshine a couple of afternoons – that is always uplifting this time of year.
Here are some highlights of the week:
1. Not getting a predicted snowfall. We’d gotten 4″ last week with another 3-4 forecast for Saturday, but thankfully only got maybe an inch or so that day.
2. A date at the fitness center. My husband and I tried out a nearby fitness center last Saturday. He had already joined and had a guest pass I’ve used a few times this week. I will probably be signing up this weekend. I never thought I’d do that – one thing I struggle with concerning exercise is making time, and to add on driving and changing time seemed too much when I could exercise in my own home. But another enemy of exercise is boredom, and the fitness center has a variety of machines and activities one can do. Jim likes doing laps in the pool. I enjoy their walking track and have tried out what I think is a sitting elliptical (like an exercise bike but also has the poles you moves back and forth with your hands) and another machine where you sit on a bench and rotate what looks like a bicycle wheel with your hands. My balance is a little too iffy for some of the standing machines, but it’s nice that there are others that you can really tell are working you out. Plus, as many of you know, with caring for my mother-in-law here, my husband and I just don’t get out much together. But we have someone with her in the mornings, and it was nice to walk and talk together. We’re talking about making it a regular Saturday event.
3. A cute pink gym bag. :)
4. Christmasy fabric with pink in it. My dishes have pink flowers on them, so it is hard to find Christmas table linens that won’t clash with them. I was in Wal-Mart this week passing by the fabric department and saw this. Perfect! I think it is probably too small for a tablecloth, but I might try to make a runner or something out of it.
It’s looking a little orangy in this photo, but in person it’s varying shades of pink.
5. Kids pitching in. My husband takes our garbage and recycling to a local center once a week, but it was closed this past week because of bad weather. He wouldn’t have another chance to do it through the week, and we were already over capacity and couldn’t let it go another week. So Jesse took care of it one morning this week. And Jason and Mittu made dinner and cleaned up the kitchen last Sunday. I appreciate their help greatly.
Hope you’re having a good week!