Book Review: Canteen Dreams

 Canteen Dreams is a novel based on author Cara Putman’s own grandparents. It was her first book, released eleven years ago. But Cara wanted to fine-tune and re-release it. This edition came out on 2017.

The story opens December 6, 1941. Audrey Stone attends a dance in her home town of North Platte, Nebraska, and is asked to dance by local rancher’s son, Willard Johnson. Willard is interested and wants to get to know Audrey better.

Then Sunday morning, the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor, and everything changes.

Willard’s brother, Andrew, was in the Navy. While the family waits to hear about Andrew, Willard would like nothing better than to enlist immediately.

But Willard’s father won’t let him. Farming and ranching are exempted occupations, since the country needs their work. Willard’s father feels he needs Willard’s help more than the military needs him.

Since North Platte is a railroad hub, and lots of troops come through on their way to service, someone gets the idea to offer the boys food and coffee during their brief stop. The young men are so encouraged and appreciative of the effort that the train stop refreshments grow into a canteen, with a nearby building, music, sandwiches, and a friendly atmosphere.

Audrey throws herself into working the canteen, on top of her full-time job as a teacher. She has little time for anyone or anything else, which doesn’t help her budding relationship with Willard.

Willard’s dissatisfaction with not being able to enlist grows into resentment and jealousy of the young soldiers at the canteen, which further impacts things with Audrey.

Both Willard and Audrey are believers and struggle with seeking God’s will for their lives. I liked their pastor’s counsel, especially these bits:

Let the sure hope we have in Christ build a bedrock of faith in your life. It’s the only way to survive a storm like the one your family has entered.

He is the vine, and we are the branches. We cannot expect to have the strength to lay down our lives, our rights, for others until we are firmly growing in a deep relationship with Christ. A superficial relationship is not sufficient. Without more, we will fail every time in our attempts to die, because we attempt to do it without the strength and love God gives.

This was a sweet story in itself, but knowing it was based on a real couple made it even more enjoyable.

Book Review: Jessie’s Hope

 In Jennifer Hallmark’s debut novel, Jessie’s Hope, Jessie is a young woman who lives with her grandparents. An accident that claimed her mother’s life left Jessie in a wheelchair since childhood. Jessie’s father abandoned the family.

Jessie is engaged to Matt and looks forward to their marriage. But she wrestles with several issues. Does Matt really love her, or does he just feel sorry for her? Though she longs to be independent, she worries that she won’t be able to be the wife Matt needs. And she wonders about her father and whether she should try to look him up.

Jessie’s grandfather, Homer, wants to provide Jessie with a beautiful wedding, but funds are limited. He goes to a ritzy wedding shop to see what can be done, but can feel their scorn towards a poor farmer in overalls who couldn’t possibly afford anything in their shop.

The course to a perfect wedding never did run smooth (apologies to Shakespeare), and a variety of problems crop up before the big day.

A secondary story line involves Angeline. She works at the ritzy wedding shop and had a crush on Matt, but he rebuffed her. She’s jealous of Jessie and feels Jessie views her as an enemy. But then they are thrown together in unexpected ways.

This is a sweet story with a number of underlying themes: the difficulty and necessity of forgiveness, the need to yield to God’s control instead of our own and to walk with Him by faith, the need to help others.

I love the strong sense of place Jennifer created. The contemporary Southern setting is distinct without being overly romanticized. The dialogue is just what I grew up with:

“What can I do you for?’

“If it tweren’t one thing, it was another.”

The cover is lovely and fits in well with the story.

My only quibble is that when Jessie us talking with another girl about becoming a Christian, the conversation revolves around accepting God as one’s Father. I think probably the author put it that way because both girls had father issues, and even though earthy fathers fail and forsake us, our heavenly Father never will. However, there are people who call on God as Father who do not trust Christ as Savior. Jesus and his death on the cross isn’t even mentioned in the conversation. Perhaps the author felt this character had been exposed to other aspects of the gospel in earlier encounters with Christianity. But I wish this had been a little more clear.

Otherwise, this is an excellent book. At the moment it’s on sale for the Kindle app for $3.99. You can learn more about Jennifer at Alabama Inspired Fiction.

 

 

Laudable Linkage

This is my latest collection of thought-provoking online reads:

Is the God of the Bible a Genocidal Maniac? HT to Challies. No, but some have made that accusation. Here is a thoughtful response.

When Joy Feels Far Away, HT to True Woman. “What do you do when you have tried everything, but joy still feels far away?”

How to Study the Bible. I have not had a chance to watch these videos yet, and I normally wouldn’t post something I haven’t checked out for myself first. But Jen Wilkin’s Women of the Word is one of my favorite books. An updated version has just been released, and Jen published a series of videos showing how to use the Bible study method she writes about.

A Stack of Bibles. “The power of the Reformation was the power of the Word of God in the hands of normal people.”

How to Hope in God When a Door Closes.

My Love Cannot Save You, HT to Challies. As deep and wide and strong as a mother’s love is, we’re still limited in how much we can protect our children. “I can’t prevent her pain or her tears, but I know the One who wraps his arms around her and catches every tear in a bottle, present and attentive to each one.”

How TO (and how NOT to) Raise a Monstrous Son, HT to Lou Ann. “For his own good, and for the good of all the women he will encounter in life, he needs you to stand up to him when he crosses the line, especially in regard to using his physical strength to harm others.”

Four Things the Princess Culture Gets Wrong, HT to True Woman. “Rather than jumping on the bandwagon of the mommy wars—to princess or not to princess—I’ve opted to reframe the concept according to biblical truth.”

Why NO ONE Should Object to Clean Teen Fiction. Believe it or not, some do! These are good reasons they shouldn’t.

I don’t follow many comics online, but xkcd is one. Here are a couple of recent entries:

Happy Saturday!

Book Review: The Printed Letter Bookshop

The Printed Letter Bookshop is the name of a book store as well as the title of Katherine Reay’s novel.

Madeline’s aunt Maddie, for whom she was named, has just died. Madeline has fond memories of staying with her aunt and uncle years ago and helping out in their bookshop. But some altercation came up between Madeline’s father and his sister. In loyalty to her dad, Madeline has kept her distance from Maddie.

Madeline thought she was going to make partner in her law firm, but she doesn’t. At a crossroads, she learns that Maddie has left her store, home, car, everything to Madeline. Madeline figures she will probably sell everything in a few months. For now she goes to check things out.

Janet was one of Maddie’s employees, the one who stayed with her in the last weeks of her illness. Janet has a kind heart but a crusty exterior, at least at first. Her base-level emotion is anger. Her marriage split up recenty, and her children, blaming her, want little to do with her.

Claire, Maddie’s other main employee, is a wife and mom. Her husband is a busy, successful consultant. Her children are constantly busy with friends, school, and activities. Her once close relationship with her daughter has cooled. Claire feels invisible.

Janet and Claire feel uneasy about Madeline, especially with her distance from her aunt and the uncertainty of her future plans for the shop. For them, the shop is their refuge, the place where they find purpose. But in working together and getting to know each other, the three women eventually form new relationships and gain new insights into themselves and each other.

The chapters rotate between the different womens’ points of view. I thought it odd that Madeline’s and Janet’s chapters were written in the first person and Claire’s in the third until near the end. But as Claire’s story unfolds, the reason for the difference in the story’s points of view becomes clear.

Katherine’s books all contain a wealth of literary references, usually to classics. With this story revolving about a bookshop and stories, literary references flow delightfully freely. Her list of classic and modern works referred to at the end covers three and a third kindle-sized pages.

A couple of my favorite quotes from the book:

That’s what books do, Maddie used to say; they are a conversation, and introduce us to ourselves and others.

You could lose yourself in a book and, paradoxically, find yourself as well.

I am from a different faith community than the main spiritual spokesperson in the book. I have dear friends within that community, but we know there are significant areas where we disagree. While I wish a couple of spiritual aspects were clearer, I felt the book did bring out some good spiritual truths.

I enjoyed the literary references and each woman’s unfolding journey individually and together. And I loved the book cover!

(Sharing with Carole’s Books You Loved, Booknificent)

Book Review: Moby Dick

According to Wikipedia, Herman Melville wrote to his publisher that he was working on “a romance of adventure, founded upon certain wild legends in the Southern Sperm Whale Fisheries, and illustrated by the author’s own personal experience, of two years & more, as a harpooneer.” That book was Moby Dick, based on a real whale named Mocha Dick.

Unfortunately, the book did not do well during Melville’s life time. Interest in it was renewed at the centennial of his birth, with many then praising it.

One of literature’s most famous opening lines, “Call me Ishmael,” may indicate that Ismael is not his real name. On the other hand, most of the characters go by one name, first or last, so maybe Ishmael sets the precedent right off the bat. Ishmael is not a full-time seaman. He is a schoolmaster who gets a hankering to go out to sea sometimes when land life gets too much for him. He’s a loquacious narrator, telling minute details of the story, giving several examples of a concept, and going into teacher mode to describe whaling practices, features of the whale, whales depicted in art and why the artists get them wrong, etc. etc.

Ishmael starts off making his way to Nantucket to look for a sailing vessel. He explains that instead of going to sea as a passenger who has to pay, he goes as sailor who gets paid for the voyage. The inns are crowded, so he has to share not only a room, but a bed with a stranger. He’s mortified to discover in the middle of the night that his bedmate is a cannibal, Queequeg. But eventually the two become fast friends.

They are hired for the Pequod, a whaling vessel, by the owners. They don’t meet the captain yet, as he is recovering from an illness.

Even before they set sail, foreshadowings abound that something dire might happen. The preacher in Nantucket gives a sermon about Jonah and a strange man calling himself Elijah gives cryptic warnings.

The sailors meet the three mates with vastly different personalities. Starbuck, the first mate, is 30, thin, serious, pious, a bit superstitious, courageous but not foolish. The second mate, Stubb, was “happy-go-lucky; neither craven nor valiant; taking perils as they came with an indifferent air; and while engaged in the most imminent crisis of the chase, toiling away, calm and collected as a journeyman joiner engaged for the year. Good-humored, easy, and careless, he presided over his whale-boat as if the most deadly encounter were but a dinner, and his crew all invited guests.” It was quite funny to hear how Stubb both scolded and encouraged his crewmen when they were in the thick of capturing a whale. The third mate, Flask, was “short, stout, ruddy young fellow, very pugnacious concerning whales, who somehow seemed to think that the great leviathans had personally and hereditarily affronted him; and therefore it was a sort of point of honor with him, to destroy them whenever encountered.”

We don’t see Captain Ahab until chapter 28. He’s described as grim with grey hair and a scar down one side of his face. He had lost one leg and replaced it with a prosthesis made of whale bone. Later he tells the crew that he had lost his leg in a battle with a legendary white whale named Moby Dick, and his main mission is finding and exacting his revenge on the whale.

As the Pequod meets up with other boats (which meetings are called gams), Ahab has no interest in chatting with the other captains about anything except whether they’ve seen Moby Dick.

If you’re at all familiar with the story, you know the voyage doesn’t end well.

Ahab’s mission is more of an obsession. Though Starbuck tries to talk Ahab out of his vengeance, Ahab won’t listen.

When Melville is telling the story, it’s as exciting, riveting, and hard to put down as anything I’ve ever read. But interspersed between story incidents are detailed explanations and Ismael’s thoughts about everything that could possibly be connected with whales and whaling. Wikipedia cites various theories about the reasons behind the book’s layout. Some of these side excursions are interesting, some boring. With some, you wonder if the narrator is writing tongue in cheek, like when he posits that perhaps St. George’s dragon was actually a whale. He wonders what the stuff the whale spouts is made up of and muses:

He is both ponderous and profound. And I am convinced that from the heads of all ponderous profound beings, such as Plato, Pyrrho, the Devil, Jupiter, Dante, and so on, there always goes up a certain semi-visible steam, while in the act of thinking deep thoughts. While composing a little treatise on Eternity, I had the curiosity to place a mirror before me; and ere long saw reflected there, a curious involved worming and undulation in the atmosphere over my head. The invariable moisture of my hair, while plunged in deep thought, after six cups of hot tea in my thin shingled attic, of an August noon; this seems an additional argument for the above supposition.

When he comments that pirates think themselves above whalers:

I should like to know whether that profession of theirs has any peculiar glory about it. It sometimes ends in uncommon elevation, indeed; but only at the gallows. And besides, when a man is elevated in that odd fashion, he has no proper foundation for his superior altitude. Hence, I conclude, that in boasting himself to be high lifted above a whaleman, in that assertion the pirate has no solid basis to stand on.

Ishmael comments on his own storytelling:

So far as what there may be of a narrative in this book; and, indeed, as indirectly touching one or two very interesting and curious particulars in the habits of sperm whales, the foregoing chapter, in its earlier part, is as important a one as will be found in this volume; but the leading matter of it requires to be still further and more familiarly enlarged upon, in order to be adequately understood, and moreover to take away any incredulity which a profound ignorance of the entire subject may induce in some minds, as to the natural verity of the main points of this affair.

Like a lot of older books, this one has some Christian overtones. But I wouldn’t call it a Christian book. Ismael calls himself a Presbyterian, but I disagreed with Ishmael when he felt that joining in with Queequeg’s worship of a little idol he carried around with him was doing unto his neighbor as he would want his neighbor to do to him—not with all that the Bible says about idols. Starbuck is probably the closest to a genuine Christian. Ahab is full-out blasphemous.

I listened to the audiobook superbly read by Frank Muller. When the narration first started, I was disappointed Muller didn’t give Ishmael and craggy old sea-dog kind of a voice. But then I quickly realized that voice would not have been right for Ishmael as an educated man who was not a full-time sailor. Muller does give that kind of voice to Ahab, though, to great effect. Muller did all the voices and inflections well, and I am thankful I experienced the book with this narration.  I also read some parts online via Project Gutenberg here.

I read (or listened to) Moby Dick for the Back to the Classics Challenge category of a “Classic From Africa, Asia, or Oceania (includes Australia).” Moby Dick covers a lot of territory—in fact a beautifully illustrated map is here. But a great chunk of the plot takes place in the waters between those continents.

(Sharing with Carole’s Books You Loved, Booknificent)

Book Review: Like a Flower in Bloom

 In the novel Like a Flower in Bloom by Siri Mitchell, Charlotte Withersby’s father is a botanist in Chesire, England, in the 1850s. Her mother was a botanist as well, and Charlotte loves to study and illustrate plants. Since her mother died, Charlotte has been her father’s assistant, secretary, and all around right-hand person.

But Charlotte is now 22, and her uncle, the Admiral, thinks it’s high time for her to go into society and find a husband. Charlotte has no interest in either society or matrimony. She loves her work, and she doesn’t think her father can possibly do without her.

But then a long-time correspondent, a Mr. Edward Trimble from New Zealand, shows up on the Withersby’s doorstep. He seems the ideal solution: he can assist Charlotte’s father so the Admiral can introduce Charlotte to society.

Besides Charlotte’s lack of interest, being presented to society is fraught with another  major problem. Charlotte’s father has never had any interest in society. He has always been the somewhat eccentric absent-minded professor type. With only her father as her main companion for life, Charlotte doesn’t know how to dress or act. Fortunately she finds a friend in Miss Templeton, who likes Charlotte’s quirky ways. Miss Templeton is younger but also tasked with finding a husband, something she dislikes as much as Charlotte, but for different reasons.

Charlotte hatches a plan. Since she can’t seem to escape her fate, she’ll go after a husband just to make her father realize that he can’t do without her. Then he’ll call off this nonsense.

But Mr. Trimble proves himself an able assistant, so that her father seems to be able to get along without her very well. And her plan to attract suitors, assisted by Miss Templeton, succeeds only too well.

I’m afraid I didn’t like Charlotte at first. Even the person who came to love her called her “the most maddening, most vexing, most exasperating woman I have ever met.” I didn’t mind the fact that she didn’t know how to fit in society, and I even agreed with her that some conventions seemed silly. But at first she seemed to see only her own viewpoint. Yet, as I got to know her, and as she broadened her horizons and learned a little humility, she grew on me.

One of my favorite quotes from the book:

Conversation, my dear Miss Withersby, is a very fragile creature. You must nourish it if you would have it survive. Its favorite food is a question.

Siri Mitchell’s books are far more than romances. I loved her note at the end of the novel where she explained the different influences that went into this story: women who contributed to the study of botany but could not be published under their own names, the conflicting views of botany between scientists and religious people, the eccentricity of botanists, the unusual collections and plant projects of the times, the Opium wars between Britain and China, the nature of introverts, the concept of a helper in the Bible, Victorian gender roles and expectations. She wove all of these together seamlessly, with warmth and humor. Above all the book illustrates the main theme of being who God created you to be.

(Sharing with Literary Musing Monday, Carole’s Books You Loved, Booknificent)

 

Book Review: Loving People

I’ve mentioned several times here that I struggle with my own selfishness and with not being more loving (not thinking of romantic love necessarily, but generally loving others) . Recently I was discussing with a friend that overcoming selfishness is not a once-and-done effort. It requires an every day yielding to God instead of ourselves.

So when Loving People: How to Love and Be Loved by John Townsend came through on a Kindle sale, I got it. I had heard of Townsend but never read him before.

Early in the book, Townsend says:

You may have noticed that the title of this book has a double meaning. Loving can be both a verb (the action of demonstrating love) and an adjective (the description of someone who demonstrates love). The intent here is to bring attention to the reality that both meanings are necessary for each other to exist. If you want to be a loving person, you must actively show love to people. And if you want to love people, you are to be a person characterized by loving.

A few more of his introductory comments about love:

Care and love aren’t the same thing. Almost any of us could say that we truly care about some people. We can freely admit that, and we are glad these people are in our lives. We want what’s best for them. But the reality is often that we don’t know how to treat those we care about in the most loving way. We want to be the best for those people, but we don’t know how to love them in the way that is best. That is, we would like to be close to them, to be a positive influence for them, and to bring them to intimacy and a better life. But there is a disconnect between our care for those we love and how we address or approach them.

Love is much more than good feelings or intentions. It has direction, movement, and purpose. But while we may feel love, we may not be doing love. Most of us don’t know how to experience and become competent in the art form of love.

We cannot force ourselves to feel anything. Feelings are the result of changes inside us. They aren’t a cause; they are an effect. Trying to will ourselves to feel love doesn’t work. Yet when we say that love is only a feeling, we reduce it to something less than what it truly is. As I said earlier, love encompasses and experiences feelings, but love is not limited to feelings. It is much more—genuine love involves the heart, soul, and mind.

In this book, I define love simply as “seeking and doing the best for another.” When we love someone, we bend our heart, mind, and energies toward the betterment of someone else. That is what loving people do. It involves the whole person. It is ongoing and intentional.

As the architect of love, God lives out this definition. He is constantly seeking and doing what is for our best, things that help us connect, grow, and heal. He is actively doing whatever it takes for us to be the people he designed us to be. The ultimate example of his love is, and always will be, in the sacrifice of Jesus for an alienated and broken creation: “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”

He proposes that love is made up of the following components:

  • Connecting—making an emotional bond
  • Truth-Telling—honesty that serves the other person
  • Healing—repairing brokenness
  • Letting Go—giving up what should be surrendered
  • Romancing—the unique love of being a couple

He spends more than a fourth of the book on connecting, which he defines as “a heart-to-heart attachment that goes beyond knowing about someone to actually knowing that person.” He gives multiple examples: one involved a wife who shared problems and frustrations about her day, and her husband, thinking he was being helpful, suggested possible solutions. But she didn’t want solutions, at least, not yet. She wanted the connection: she wanted to know she was truly heard and understood. By contrast, disconnection isn’t just missing someone who is away for a few days, but rather “the inability to feel and experience the warmth of connection over time. It is the absence of the security of being attached. It is the lack of bonding inside.”

I thought truth-telling was an odd inclusion, because of course you don’t lie to people you love. But Townsend means truth-telling as more than just not lying: it means confronting the other person in a kind and loving way when they need to be confronted. “If your loved one’s life is going down the drain, someone needs to say something. Be that person.” “People who are truly loving will confront, limit, and quarantine people who consistently make wrong choices. So keep that distinction in mind: love seeks the best, but it does not enable bad behavior.”

Under healing, he says: “Loving people are the primary agents of restoration.”

About letting go: “Sometimes love means knowing when it is time to let someone go or to let him do something he is going to do. When you accept reality and give up efforts to control someone’s life or change who he is, you are being loving . . . Letting go is the ability to surrender and to allow what is real to exist. By letting go, I mean giving up efforts to control, manipulate, or force someone to do something different.”

About romance: “Romance is a wonderful aspect of love, but it is not as broad or as deep as love itself. Romance must fit into and serve love. Love can never serve romance.”

He discusses the components of each of these aspects and gives numerous examples, illustrations, and balancing considerations.

This book is not a Bible study, so it reads differently from one. Surprisingly absent from a book by a Christian about love was any discussion about the classic biblical passage on love, 1 Corinthians 13 (except for verses 1 and 13). But Townsend provides a biblical basis for most of his points. In the chapter on connection, for instance, I thought, “This is all well and good, but where do you get this from the Bible?” Well, from the One who made the greatest effort to connect with people who were not only uninterested in Him, but opposed to Him. “Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:17-18).

The last chapter, “Putting It All Together,” didn’t really put it all together for me. I had hoped it would recap the main points. Instead, it contained instructions to “assemble your team” and “measure and evaluate your process of growth.”

I got a lot of helpful points and thoughts from the book, but I can’t say, “Aha! Now I’ve got it!” Townsend brought up aspects of love that I had not heard or read in other pieces on this subject, but he also did not address other aspects that are usually considered.

While Townsend had a lot of good things to say, his style just didn’t gel with me. Not to say there is anything wrong with his style: he is a best-selling author, after all. But many of the conversations he described in the book are just not the kind I can imagine anyone I know having. Real people did have them, but I guess they were very different personalities from mine and my family and friends.

The best advice I’ve heard about love came from a book I have not been able to recall or find again. But the writer said that for years she berated herself for not being more loving. She was a missionary in a difficult area, and she found herself too often irritated with unloving thoughts towards others. The more she tried to become more loving, the more frustrated she became. But then she started to think about God’s love for her, gracious and undeserved. And without even being aware of it at first, resting in His love overflowed into her own heart and actions.

That’s not to say we can’t learn from books like this. I was particularly convicted about connecting, truly listening and empathizing instead of just offering my two cents to fix the other person’s problems.

I’ve heard similar definitions of love before, that’s it’s a self-sacrificing desire to meet the needs of the loved person. And I’ve heard that it’s not just a feeling. Yet I struggle with doing the right thing, but with resentment. That’s part of having a sin nature, I guess, and we’ll never have it down perfectly while here on earth. Maybe in some ways love is doing your best for another despite resentment. But that’s not how God loves. And I want to love more like Him.

What helps you to be a more loving person?

(Sharing with Carole’s Books You Loved, Booknificent)

Book Review: A Constant Heart

 A Constant Heart by Siri Mitchell takes place towards the end of Queen Elisabeth’s reign. The Earl of Lytham, a nobleman who was one of Elisabeth’s courtiers, needed to advance himself in her favor so as so as to earn a pension, knighthood, or something to increase his own fortune. To garner money to finish and maintain his homes, he found a knight paying a good dowry to marry off his daughter. Lytham did not really care about the girl, and was, in fact dismayed that she was beautiful. His first wife had been beautiful—and traitorous and unfaithful.

The earl’s new bride, Margret, had been trained since she was five only to please her future husband. Since it was obvious she could not please the earl personally, she sought to advance his interests at court. But she was an outsider, and a beautiful outsider at that. No one must outshine the queen. Marget’s life as a courtier fell flat until Lady de Winter took her in hand and advised her to do what every other female courtier did: shave her eyebrows, paint her face white with ceruse (a white lead mixed with vinegar), and dye her hair red to look like the queen’s.

The longer Margret stayed at court, the more she discovered the futility of life there. “It was a way of life that seemed to produce nothing of worth and yet consume everything of value.” And she came to understand that few there could be trusted. But she seemed to have no choice but to continually turn herself into what she was not.

And then the most dangerous development occurred. Lytham and Margret came to actually love each other. But no courtier was to love anyone more than his queen.

My thoughts:

I loved the depths of historical research deftly layered into this book. Siri states in a note to readers that the main characters were fictitious, but the circumstances were real. Elisabeth wore the ceruse paint to cover up both signs of aging and the smallpox she had endured. People didn’t realize the negative effects of lead paint until later. I had hoped Siri would also talk about some of the other details of the story in her note, but she didn’t. I did some reading about being a courtier in Elisabeth’s time, and many of the details Siri brought out were mentioned. Siri didn’t go into any of Elisabeth’s many accomplishments: perhaps all or most of those occurred before this last decade of her reign.

Some would want to know that sex is referred to often in the book. Since one method some used to curry favor involved sexual advances, that kind of thing could not help but be mentioned. But nothing is explicit.

I enjoyed Margret’s and Lytham’s journey toward learning to truly love each other and wrestling with just who the sovereign was in their lives. Grace was contrasted with the consuming machinations to court the favor of a capricious monarch. The integrity of a faithful heart was shown to have great value in all eras.

(Sharing with Carole’s Books You Loved, Booknificent Thursday)

Book Review: The Magnificent Ambersons

Booth Tarkington won a Pulitzer prize for The Magnificent Ambersons, set in Indiana in the late nineteenth to early twentieth centuries.

One one level, the story focuses on Georgie Amberson Minifer, only grandchild of the great Major Amberson. “His grandfather had been the most striking figure of success in the town: ‘As rich as Major Amberson!’ they used to say.” The town was proud of the Major, and his mansion was the big finale when people took visitors on a tour. But Georgie was considered a “princely terror” who felt his entitlement even as a child. Many people looked forward to the day when Georgie would “get his comeuppance.”

As a reader, I began to look forward to the same thing and wondered how it would come about. I also wondered if it would be the ruin of him or the making of him. Even though Georgie is not a likeable character at first, one does feel sorry for him during his “comeuppance.”

On another level, the book masterfully conveyed the changes of the times: the advent of the automobile, which many considered just a fad at first; the growth of the little town into a big city with the problems that kind of growth can bring; the decline of “old families” and their pedigrees and the rise of industrialism and entrepreneurship.

But automobiles have come, and they bring a greater change in our life than most of us suspect. They are here, and almost all outward things are going to be different because of what they bring. They are going to alter war, and they are going to alter peace. I think men’s minds are going to be changed in subtle ways because of automobiles; just how, though, I could hardly guess. But you can’t have the immense outward changes that they will cause without some inward ones, and it may be that George is right, and that the spiritual alteration will be bad for us.

The city was so big, now, that people disappeared into it unnoticed, and the disappearance of Fanny and her nephew was not exceptional. People no longer knew their neighbours as a matter of course; one lived for years next door to strangers—that sharpest of all the changes since the old days—and a friend would lose sight of a friend for a year, and not know it

A big part of the first chapter describes the various ways the rich distinguished themselves in fashion, facial hair, architecture, and such. It was an enjoyable observation of changing styles. I found it interesting that the term “hand-me-downs” came not from getting clothes that had belonged to someone else, but from getting them “off the shelf” rather than specially made from a tailor: “Trousers with a crease were considered plebeian; the crease proved that the garment had lain upon a shelf, and hence was ‘ready-made’; these betraying trousers were called ‘hand-me-downs,’ in allusion to the shelf.”

It took me just a bit to get into the story, as it begins with a heap of description. One thing I most appreciated about Tarkington’s writing was his skill in conveying things to the reader through Georgie’s eyes that Georgie himself missed. For instance, various people comment on his father not looking well, but Georgie thinks he looks just as he always did—and then Georgie is surprised to find out his father really is ill. Georgie’s fairly young throughout the book, so he’s forgiven for a bit of immaturity. But his lack of understanding other people or situations comes more from his exalted view of his own opinion.

Gossip can be a problem for anyone, but it’s a partuclar bane for the rich and famous. I found the advice Georgie’s uncle George gave him worth consideration:

In this town, naturally, anything about any Amberson has always been a stone dropped into the centre of a pond, and a lie would send the ripples as far as a truth would.

“Gossip is never fatal, Georgie,” he said, “until it is denied. Gossip goes on about every human being alive and about all the dead that are alive enough to be remembered, and yet almost never does any harm until some defender makes a controversy. Gossip’s a nasty thing, but it’s sickly, and if people of good intentions will let it entirely alone, it will die, ninety-nine times out of a hundred.”

People who have repeated a slander either get ashamed or forget it, if they’re let alone. Challenge them, and in self-defense they believe everything they’ve said: they’d rather believe you a sinner than believe themselves liars, naturally. Submit to gossip and you kill it; fight it and you make it strong. People will forget almost any slander except one that’s been fought.

Nobody has a good name in a bad mouth. Nobody has a good name in a silly mouth, either.

I also found especially interesting the Major’s thoughts when he knows his time is coming near:

The Major was engaged in the profoundest thinking of his life. No business plans which had ever absorbed him could compare in momentousness with the plans that absorbed him now, for he had to plan how to enter the unknown country where he was not even sure of being recognized as an Amberson—not sure of anything, except that Isabel would help him if she could. His absorption produced the outward effect of reverie, but of course it was not. The Major was occupied with the first really important matter that had taken his attention since he came home invalided, after the Gettysburg campaign, and went into business; and he realized that everything which had worried him or delighted him during this lifetime between then and to-day—all his buying and building and trading and banking—that it all was trifling and waste beside what concerned him now.

For those who would want to know, the book has a few objectionable elements: a smattering of bad words and taking the Lord’s name in vain, the condescending view of “darkeys” and a couple of uses of the “n” word, and one character visiting a medium. That character (not Georgie) said he wasn’t superstitious, only believed what the medium said for about ten minutes, and realized he had inadvertently supplied her with information enough for what she told him. But the incident was a major turning point in his attitude, and I was disappointed Tarkington used it to bring that about.

Wikipedia says, “In the 1910s and 1920s, Tarkington was regarded as the great American novelist, as important as Mark Twain.” I’m nor sure why he’s not read as much today. I’m thankful I chose this book for the Classics from the Americas category of the Back to the Classics challenge. I enjoyed Tarkington’s story and insights very much.

I mostly listened to the audiobook read by Peter Berkrot, but I read the last few chapters in the free Kindle version because I can read faster than the narrator does, and I wanted to finish it. It’s also online free through Project Gutenberg. There are a couple of movie versions of the book, but I haven’t seen any of them.

(Sharing with Carole’s Books You Loved, Booknificent Thursday)

Book Review: A Promise in Pieces

In A Promise in Pieces by Emily T. Wierenga, Clara Kirkpatrick and her best friend, Eva, just finished nursing school during WWII. Clara’s father was a pacifist preacher. “Daddy didn’t know the truth about the war . . . he just stood at his pulpit and spouted about peace while men died to make it happen.” Clara and Eva ran away to enlist as nurses.

Clara’s heart was broken many times over caring for soldiers in various states of health in the worst physical settings. On a particularly bad night, she had a patient named Gareth who was dying but singing hymns. He had been a preacher, but he and his wife, Mattie, felt he should go fight to defend people against the evils of Hitler. Gareth’s faith and example rekindled Clara’s. Gareth asked her to take a letter to his wife as soon as she could after the war.

Clara fulfilled Gareth’s wish and went to see Mattie and deliver Gareth’s letter. “Mattie’s home reached out like an old friend, with its shutters around the windows and its welcome mat and white lace at the windows.” Mattie wanted to talk extensively with the last person to see Gareth. The two became friends, and Mattie gave Clara a baby quilt she had made. Since Mattie’s own dream of having a family was now gone, the quilt was too painful to keep.

After the war, Clara became a midwife. When she delivered a baby, she loaned the blanket to the new mother and then embroidered his or her name on the quilt along with a word of blessing. She didn’t think she’d ever marry: she had seen so much loss and devastation, she didn’t want to love someone only to lose them.

But life took Clara and the quilt in surprising directions. She faced more than one tragedy and struggled with the search for significance. “I somehow missed the war, in a mournful, sadistic kind of way. I missed knowing I was needed. I missed fighting for something. I felt a little lost, not having a clear, defined purpose.”

The story is told by Clara as a grandmother sharing the details with her grandson on a family trip. Some parts of it are shared as flashback chapters. Then the last third or so of the book catches up with the family in real time. and continues from there.

Though sad in parts, the story shares Clara’s growth in faith and her finding her purpose. There are sweet and poignant moments throughout.

But there were also a couple of odd places. In one passage she tells her children:

“God is kind of like sugar. He dissolves inside our hearts. So he’s there, and he’s making us sweeter, so to speak, but he isn’t visible.” There was quiet as they ate, and I thought about the love of Oliver and these children and the friendship of Mattie and the dream of the women at the tables, and I thought, in fact, God is so very visible. We just have to have eyes to see him.”

I think she’s just trying to make the point that God works on us invisibly, from the inside out. But I have trouble with the analogy of God “dissolving” in our hearts.

In another place, she speaks of “How we are all God-in-flesh, born to die to ourselves, so others might be saved.” I think she’s just saying that God calls us to lay down our lives for others as He did. But even though He indwells believers, I wouldn’t call us “God-in-flesh” in the same way Jesus was.

I tried to look the author up online, but links to her website, Facebook page, and Twitter accounts all led to error pages or “Page Removed” messages. I found a few articles of hers online but not enough to really know where she’s coming from. Her other books are nonfiction.

This book is part of a “Quilts of Love” series, but from what I can tell, the books are individual stories unconnected to each other except with the quilting theme.

Except for the couple of odd places I mentioned, this was a good story.

(Sharing with Carole’s Books You Loved, Booknificent Thursday)