Book Review: Anna Karenina

I had no interest in reading Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy for years. I knew it was about a woman who committed adultery, and I figured it would be pretty soap-opera-ish and probably a bit racy.

But Tolstoy did not seem given to raciness in any of his other books that I’d read. Then Carol’s review made me think perhaps there might be more to the story than I’d thought. So I decided to give it a try for my Classic in Translation choice for the Back to the Classics challenge.

The novel has one of literature’s most famous opening lines: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

Anna doesn’t actually show up until several chapters in. The book opens with her brother, Stepan (also called by his nickname, Stiva, or his last name, Oblonsky, or his full name. All the characters have three polysyllabic Russian names plus nicknames, so it’s a little hard to sort them out at first. But once we get to know them, it’s easier.) Stiva has cheated on his wife, Dolly, who has found out. Stiva doesn’t think adultery is wrong and doesn’t see himself at fault, but he’s sorry he has hurt Dolly. His sister, Anna, is on her way to try to reconcile her brother and his wife.

Anna is described as beautiful, bright, charming, and eager. She doesn’t gloss over Stiva’s behavior, but she asks Dolly is she loves him enough to forgive him. Dolly had been contemplating leaving, but decides to forgive Stiva and stay.

Dolly’s sister, Kitty, has two suitors. Levin is the better man, but he’s socially awkward and lives in the country (and the society people can’t fathom what on earth one does in the country. Later, visitors seem to view time in the country as a holiday, while Levin works almost nonstop.) Count Vronsky is handsome, dashing, well-off, and in the highest society, so Kitty is swept away with him and refuses Levin’s proposal.

But Vronsky has no desire to marry, ever. He has enjoyed Kitty’s affections, but he’s had a string of romantic attachments, thinks marriage and husbands are stupid, and has no plans to settle down—until he meets Anna.

They meet at the train when Vronsky’s mother is coming in on the same train with Anna when she comes to see Stiva and Dolly. Anna and Vronsky are instantly attracted to each other, so much so that at a ball when they dance, Kitty knows Vronsky is lost to her.

Anna resists the attraction at first. Her situation is almost an anatomy of falling into temptation. She was not truly happy in her marriage, but as far as we know, she wasn’t entertaining thoughts of adultery until she met Vronsky. She’s disturbed by the strange attraction and knows it’s not right. When she gets home, some of the sheen is rubbed of the joy she had anticipated in getting back to her son, and all her husband’s faults stand out. Vronsky follows her. She has three groups of friends, and instead of avoiding Vronsky (“making no provision for the flesh“), she hangs out with the group he’s likely to be part of. Eventually, she succumbs. Though she’s ashamed and guilty, she continues to the point of leaving her family to be with Vronsky. Gradually her heart and conscience harden, but her thinking and personality become unstable.

Despite the lack of morals in her set of friends (almost everyone in the society group has an affair going or someone knowingly kept on the side), Anna is an outcast. One source said it was because her affair was out in the open while others kept theirs hidden. There’s also some inequity in that Vronsky can go out in society, but Anna is snubbed.

There are several major characters, but Levin’s story takes up as much of the novel as Anna’s—maybe more. His story runs in the opposite trajectory. He’s said to be based on some extent on Tolstoy. He had faith as a child, but lost it in college and now does not acknowledge himself to be a believer. He’s a landowner and tries to do his best by the people who work for him and who are dependent on him. But he gets frustrated when the peasants won’t agree to new methods or equipment. Though he thinks deeply, he gets lost in the intellectual arguments of his brothers and others. He eventually marries, but doesn’t find home life the bliss he thought it would be. He and his wife argue a lot. But they talk things out and work through them. His lack of faith begins to bother him after his brother dies, and his spiritual journey is a major part of the book. As Anna moves away from stability and happiness, Levin moves toward them.

There are so many layers in this book, it’s hard to sort through what to share. There are multiple discussions about marriage and family, society and city life vs. rural life, affected, hypocritical religion vs. true change of heart, the politics of the day.

Tolstoy does a masterful job painting his characters and helping us understand them. There are so many interesting little insights into people’s motivations and actions. For instance, Anna’s husband, Karenin, is a public official known for Christian values. Yet he fails to do the most Christian thing required of a husband: love his wife as Christ loved the church. His first notice that something is wrong is when Anna is not as attentive to him as she used to be. He only asks that she not bring Vronsky to the house and that she maintain decorum. He may think that he’s being magnanimous by yielding to her desires, but he shows he only cares about appearances. Early on, Anna says things like, “If only he’d fight for me.” His most profound religious moment comes at a crisis when he realizes he needs to forgive her. Yet even then he struggles between what he feels led to do and the “force” that drives him, the opinion of society.

One source I consulted said Anna is a pioneer feminist fulfilling her self-determination. But I don’t think Tolstoy writes her that way. He’s not saying, “Poor girl, society is being so mean to you for making your own choices.” Though he points out the foibles and hypocrisies of society, he portrays Anna as genuinely wrong and self-destructing because of it.

For all the free-thinking society talk of immorality, thankfully there are no sex scenes, and nothing explicit is said or shown.

I’ll warn you that if you look for information about this book, Anna’s end is spoiled rather ruthlessly. That was frustrating to me because I had no idea how she ended and hated finding out when I had barely started the book. After that I tried to steer clear of looking at other sources until I finished reading the book.

I primarily listened to the audiobook nicely read by Maggie Gyllenhaal, but I also read parts of the Kindle version. I wish I had known earlier that the Kindle version translated the frequent French phrases. I lost a bit in the audio by not knowing what was said in those moments. But Maggie brought a lot of emotion and thoughtfulness to the narrative, so I am glad I experienced that.

I’ve seen in several places that Anna Karenina is a major contender for best novel ever written. I don’t think I’d put it on that level. But it’s a rich book that gives one much to ponder.

Advertisements

Book Review on Grandparenting

As I mother, I felt compelled to read every Christian book on parenting I could find. I was the chief babysitter for my five younger siblings (my youngest sister was born when I was 17), so I wasn’t inexperienced with children. But the responsibility of having my own weighed on me heavily. I didn’t feel I knew what I was doing, and I didn’t want to ruin them for life.

I haven’t felt quite as compelled as a grandparent. Perhaps having a supporting rather than a major role relieves some of the pressure. Maybe I’ve grown in the Lord and in following His guidance enough now that, even though I haven’t arrived and am not perfect in any category, I don’t feel I need to find a book for every issue (though I do still read a lot). And much of grandparenting seems common sense on top of the same love and courtesy shown to one’s own children.

The first two books I did read by grandparents to grandparents were major disappointments—not the grandparenting advice, but the theological basis of the authors.

But Michele‘s review of There’s a Reason They Call It GRANDparenting by Michele Howe encouraged me to get this book.

Howe’s premise is that there’s a difference between everyday grandparents and grandparents:

Becoming a grandparent is living with eternity in mind—all the time. It means going the extra mile (or more, many more) for the sake of your grandchildren. It will entail sacrifice of every sort. Time. Money. Energy. Sleep. But every sort of giving up and giving away the best of what we have and are is all good . . . in the light of eternity.

Grandparenting is all about bending the knee before our Lord Jesus Christ and asking him for our marching orders. Then we get up from our knees and get busy loving our grandchildren in ways they will remember, value, and appreciate (p. 2).

Grace upon grace. Unconditional love. Total acceptance. Open arms. These are only a few of the attitudes and actions that make grandparents so different from folks who assume a casual role as a grandparent. Which would you rather be: a seemingly insignificant bystander who shows up now and then with a gift but with two closed fists that demand affection from the grandchildren before letting go of the goods; or someone who views every opportunity to interact with grandchildren as having potential eternal impact and takes their love as it comes, without offense? (p. 45).

Howe reminds us that our empty nest years are not about finally having “me time.” We never retire from being a godly influence, especially to our own family.

She highlights the primary roles of prayer, seeking guidance from God, and following the parents’ lead and preferences.

She shares numerous tips and truths. Just a few:

  • Hospitality is not just something we exercise towards those outside our families. We make time and place for our adult children and their families as well.
  • Grandparenting is not about spoiling or over-indulging.
  • We can provide a safe haven when parents fail, as in cases of drug addiction and abuse. Grandparents provide tough love and step in to call authorities in these cases if need be.
  • We need to remember each child is unique.
  • We can make special memories and teaching opportunities out of everyday occasions and tasks.
  • Though sometimes we need to exercise authority, “I never need to yell, demean, or demand. Rather, I can use gentle but firm words to steer them toward making good choices” (p. 29).

Each chapter is only about four pages long and ends with a “take-away action thought,” a prayer, and a few “grand ideas” for how to implement the concepts from that chapter. The thirty chapters could be read one a day over a month, but they’re short enough to read more if desired. I generally read two in one sitting.

To be totally honest, the grandparenting vs. grandparenting repetition became a little wearing after a while. On the other hand, that was probably the most succinct way to make the distinction between casual, aloof, or insensitive grandparents and involved, attentive, spiritually-minded grandparents.

Though I don’t think I learned anything earth-shatteringly new from this book, the gentle nudges, thoughtful reminders, and spiritual focus were all helpful. I’d recommend this book for any stage of grandparenting, perhaps even as a gift to new or upcoming grandparents.

(Sharing with Booknificent, Faith ‘n Friends, Literary Musing Monday)

Two Book Reviews: Rachel’s Prayer and Sarah’s Promise

Leisha Kelly’s books about the Wortham family take them from the Depression through WWII. Since I finished the last two within a couple of days of each other, I decided to review them together.

In Rachel’s Prayer, WWII is in full force. Several from the Worthams’ Southern Illinois area enlisted, including Robert, the Worthams’ only son, and three of the next-door Hammond boys. Frank Hammond desperately wanted to, but his limp and inability to read kept him out of the service.

The Hammond’s father, George, handles his sons’ leaving like he handles everything else: by not handling it and withdrawing. He has not handled life well since the first books, but he took a downward turn when his wife died, leaving him with ten children. Throughout this book the family begins to think it’s not just drinking and laziness that affect George. There’s something fundamentally wrong with his thinking. He would probably be diagnosed with depression today.

Rachel is Robert’s girlfriend, and his sister and parents are getting used to the idea that he’s grown up and will probably propose once he gets back home.

With that many young men going off to war, it’s inevitable that some won’t come back and some will come back changed. The folks at home deal with uncertainty and sorrow not only across the sea, but in their own neighborhoods.

But even though there are sad parts to this book, God works through the sadness to strengthen and draw people closer to Himself. Ultimately Sarah finds it good to “to let my future, my heart, and his, rest where he said they belonged: in the hands of God. No other hands could be so capable. None could be more generous, more able to give peace in trials, strength in despair, and understanding in the midst of a confusing world.”

In Sarah’s Promise, Sarah Wortham and Franky Hammond are engaged. Frank is about to leave on a 200-mile journey to help his brother move. Folks are worried because Frank can’t read and the winter weather is iffy. But Frank has a good memory, and his brother has drawn a map and told him the succession of towns he’ll need to pass through.

Everyone assumes Frank will continue on doing wordwork with Sarah’s father. Sarah would like nothing better than to live nearby to the only home she’s ever known. But Frank wants to prove himself. All his life he’s dealt with not only being unable to read, despite desperately wanting to, but also with being thought “different.” Frank tends to think deeply to the point that he’s unaware of what’s going on around him, causing his siblings and especially his father to accuse him of being addle-brained and unable to function without supervision. Frank would love the opportunity to work on his own and provide for Sarah without the safety net of their families, which scares Sarah to death.

While Frank is away, he and Sarah both have praying to do, trials to undergo; lessons to learn. One of the most beautiful parts of the book I can’t share much about without spoiling the climax, but my heart was so touched by a pastor’s ministry to Frank when he was at his lowest, when all his father’s verbal abuse made him think he couldn’t accomplish anything.

I dearly loved all of these books. Leisha had such a skill in bringing us right into the characters’ circumstances and emotions and weaving spiritual truth into the fabric of her stories. I was sad to learn, as I mentioned in a previous review, that she and her teenage son had passed away a few years ago in a car accident. I’m sad for her family but also for readers.

I wanted to list the first four books as well, linked back to my reviews:

  1. Julia’s Hope introduces us to the Worthams, a family at their lowest point that has lost everything in the Depression. They come to an abandoned house and offer to fix it up in exchange for living there, eventually allowing the elderly owner to come back home as well.
  2. Emma’s Gift. Emma, the elderly lady from the first book, dies, as does her neighbor, Mrs. Hammond, mother of ten. The Hammonds and Worthams are not only devastated, but uncertain of their future, as Emma owned the property they all live on.
  3. Katie’s Dream. Sam Wortham’s ne-er-do-well brother brings a young girl and a convincing story that she belongs to Sam. But Sam has never been unfaithful. Why is his brother doing this? Will the town, and most importantly, his wife, believe him? And what do they do about the little girl?
  4. Rorey’s Secret. Rorey, the oldest Hammond daughter, has gotten in with a bad crowd. When a fire starts in the family’s barn, causing serious damage and injuring Mr. Wortham and Bert Hammond, Frank is blamed. He’s innocent but won’t cast the blame on anyone else. Rorey knows the truth, but will she share it?

The last three books are technically the Country Road Chronicles, but they timeline continues through all six. Each could be read as a stand-alone book, but I’d recommend reading them all in order. There’s a Christmas story in the series as well that I haven’t read yet: I’ll save it for December.

I’m going to sorely miss the Worthams and Leisha.

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

Book Review: Kill Order

In Adam Blumer‘s new novel, Kill Order, Landon Jeffers is an award-winning pianist diagnosed with brain cancer. After his doctors removed as much of the tumor as they could, they inserted an implant into his brain to continue to fight the remaining cancer.

But that’s not all they inserted.

Landon is recovering from surgery at his mother’s house when he starts having vivid partial memories of a couple of incidents in his childhood. As he tries to unravel what really happened, he also starts having strange dreams. In one, he stole an item from his mother’s neighbor. When he wakes up, he finds evidence that he really did commit the crime.

Then he wakes up one morning with blood on his clothes. As he turns himself in to the police, he learns he can’t be sure whom to trust. He has to find a way to escape whoever’s controlling him.

Adam keeps readers on the edge of their seats. Bits of humor are sprinkled throughout at just the right moments. Landon is not a Christian, but his mother and childhood friend both are, so there is some tension along those lines as well.

Adam had pledged to his readers that he will keep his novels clean. There are no swear words or sexual scenes here.

Adam also makes his books distinctively Christian. I’ve read too many books that are “Christian lite” or that are Christian in name only. I like to see Christian people doing Christian things in Christian fiction, seeking God’s will as they wrestle with issues. I loved how Adam’s characters developed spiritually.

Kill Order is a highly enjoyable, highly recommended book.

I interviewed Adam last week about what sparked the idea behind Kill Order, how he got started writing, and other topics here.

There are a few days left in the contest for to win a signed paperback copy of Kill Order here. Or you can find Adam’s book on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas. At the time of this writing, the Kindle version is only $2.99.

Here is a trailer for the book:

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

Interview with Adam Blumer, Author of Kill Order

Adam Blumer writes page-turning “meaningful suspense” novels. I loved his first two: Fatal Illusions and The Tenth Plague (linked to my reviews). His third novel, Kill Order, just released a few days ago. Here is the summary:

When he sleeps, the forgotten terrors of the past come alive.

Grammy-winning pianist Landon Jeffers’s brain cancer has given him only a few years to live. But when he sleeps, the forgotten terrors of his past torment him. When he wakes, shameful memories come rushing back. Desperate for answers, Jeffers discovers that a brain implant intended to treat his cancer is really a device to control him, forcing him to commit terrible crimes. Now he’s being manipulated by an evil crime syndicate and a crooked cop.

What if free will isn’t? What if your every move is predestined? If you kill, are you guilty of murder?

Intriguing, isn’t it? I’ve read the book and will be reviewing it next week, and I can assure you, it’s excellent! At the end of this post, I’ll let you know how you can enter to win a signed copy of the book.

Today I am welcoming Adam to Stray Thoughts to share a little about about himself, Kill Order, and writing.

First, a little background information:

Adam Blumer fixes other people’s books to pay the bills. He writes his own to explore creepy lighthouses and crime scenes. He is the author of three Christian suspense novels: Fatal Illusions (Meaningful Suspense Press); its sequel, The Tenth Plague (Kirkdale Press); and Kill Order (Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas).

A print journalism major in college, he works full-time from home as a book editor after serving in editorial roles for more than twenty years. He lives in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula with his wife, Kim, and his daughters, Laura and Julia. When he’s not working on his next thriller, he’s hiking in the woods, playing Minecraft with his daughters, or learning new chords on his guitar. He is committed to writing clean suspense that is free of profanity, vulgarity, and sexual content. He is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW), the Christian Editor Network, and The Christian PEN. He works with literary agent Cyle Young of Hartline Literary Agency.

What gave you the inspiration to write Kill Order?

My dad, Larry, passed away from brain cancer in 2011, and several aspects of his cancer journey kicked off the initial story idea. One key detail involved a medical procedure; the doctors agreed to remove as much of my dad’s brain tumor as possible and replace it with medicinal wafers intended to fight the existing cancer. My mind began playing the what-if game. What if the doctor implanted something else, something that could monitor or even control my dad’s life? The story’s premise grew from there.

I noticed that your branding on your website is for “meaningful suspense.” What inspired you to write these kinds of thrillers and suspense novels? Also, could you please tell us what inspired your “clean fiction guarantee”?

I began reading Christian novels in junior high and soon gravitated to suspense. Back in the day, an inspirational thread was a staple in Christian fiction, and I believe a Christian novel can do more than simply entertain. These days many authors are leaning toward writing clean, moral stories but avoiding overt Christian content. I’m a believer that the inspirational content should stay (hence “meaningful suspense”). Books can encourage and even challenge readers’ thinking while taking them on a roller coaster of a ride. The “clean fiction guarantee” came about due to the rise of objectionable content in some Christian fiction. My fans were expressing disappointment to me due to content issues when they tried books by some Christian authors. I felt it was time to declare where I stood, and many readers have appreciated my guarantee.

When did you realize your calling to create words on paper to share with the world?

When I was a child, I began writing wildly imaginative pirate and fantasy stories. My first handwritten story was a fantastical tale about Captain Kidd’s spyglass. In high school, I also wrote and finished an unpublished novel called Down with the Ship. It’s such an Agatha Christie copycat that I laugh whenever I peruse it, but emulation is how a lot of authors get to be where they are today. Those were the early projects that inspired me to take novel writing seriously. When I won a high school award for creative writing, I wondered if God wanted to do more with my love for fiction. In college I won more writing awards, and though I studied journalism, I took as many creative writing courses as possible. God opened doors from there, and I’ve never lost my love for fiction writing.

If you could go back in time and give advice to your younger self, what would that be?

Writing the story is only half of the project. The other half is finding out what readers like to read, crafting the story for them by following publishing standards, and writing the story to the best of your ability. Then remember that publishers can take a very long time to decide whether they want your work. Don’t get discouraged. Just keep going and waiting.

Name your three biggest frustrations about the writing business.

  1. The amount of time each book requires from start to finish. Included in this is the long wait time from publishers.
  2. The continually changing rules in writing and publishing. Just when you think you know what publishers are looking for, your agent tells you something else.
  3. Book marketing. One cannot guarantee sales. I wish a book release was like the movie Field of Dreams. “Build it, and they will come.” If only it were that easy. There is almost an equal amount of work in just promoting the book.

On the flip side, what excites you the most about the creative process?

I get most excited about the creative process when a plot development I never saw coming unexpectedly presents itself, taking the story in a new but stronger direction. This epiphany has happened to me several times.

Where is your favorite place to write?

I have been blessed with a wonderful home office. Though I often like to write in other locations, this is by far my favorite place. I can close the door, shut out life’s distractions, pray, and become immersed in my story. Now and then, if I need a break, I can glance out the window and delight in God’s creation.

What are you reading at the moment, and who are a few of your favorite authors and why?

I’m currently enjoying Mind Games by Nancy Mehl. I especially enjoy a good thriller, whether Christian or secular. Some of my favorite authors are Steven James, Terri Blackstock, Frank Peretti, Ted Dekker, and Brandilyn Collins. I like how they weave story threads together and craft their scenes in ways that keeps the plot moving forward. Their books are great examples of what works in suspense writing. I learn so much simply by reading their novels.

What is the best part of your author’s life?

I love hearing from readers who went to work tired because they stayed up too late finishing one of my novels. If I kept them immersed in my story and entertained, that’s a score in my book.

Do you have any new writing projects on the horizon?

I’m almost finished with the first draft of the sequel to Kill Order and hope to have something ready for my agent sometime this fall.

Adam, thank you for stopping by and for giving us another great book. I am looking forward to the next one. Thank you, especially, for producing books that are not only well-written, but clean and meaningful.

Thank you for the opportunity to talk about my writing life at your blog.

Where Readers Can Buy a Copy of Kill Order

Paperback:

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1645261867/
Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/kill-order-adam-blumer/1132572349?ean=9781645261865
Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas: https://www.shoplpc.com/product/kill-order/

Kindle E-book: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07VRSPGMN/

How to Connect with Adam

Website: http://www.adamblumerbooks.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AdamBlumerNovelist
Twitter: https://twitter.com/adamblumer
Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Adam-Blumer/e/B001PYV33I/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/2315682.Adam_Blumer
Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/adamblumer/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/adamblumer/

Kill Order Paperback Giveaway:

You can enter for the opportunity to win a signed paperback copy of Kill Order here.

(Sharing with Grace and Truth, Happy Now, Hearth and Soul, Tea and Word, Booknificent)

Book Review: 84, Charing Cross Road

 84, Charing Cross Road is made up of a series of letters between Helene Hanff and Marks & Co., a used-book shop in London, from 1949-1969. Helene’s main correspondent was Frank Doel.

Helene first contacted Marks & Co. from a magazine advertising their out-of-print and antiquarian books. Helene was looking for a list of such books which she couldn’t find at a decent price here. Someone signing himself FPD answered her queries and sent what he could find.

As Helene asked for more books and commented on the ones she received, eventually the correspondence became less formal. She and Frank called each other by their first names. When an English neighbor told Helene that Londoners were under rations (“2 ounces of meat per family per week and one egg per person per month”) she was “simply appalled” and sent them a small Christmas parcel (p. 7). That led to numerous packages being sent to the Marks & Co. store and divided up among the employees. Some of them even wrote Helene back personally.

The relationship between Helene and Frank was purely platonic: Frank’s wife even wrote to Helene sometimes.

Helene occasionally came across as somewhat brash and even a bit curmudgeonly, but Frank and the rest took her in good humor.

“Frank Doel, what are you DOING over there, you are not doing ANYthing, you are just sitting AROUND. Where is [a list of books she had asked for]. NOTHING do you send me. you leave me sitting here writing long margin notes in library books that don’t belong to me, some day they’ll find out i did it and take my library card away” (p. 10).

Some of her writing is just like that–iffy capitalization, etc.

She had plans to visit England sometime, but finances and circumstances never worked out (at least during the timing of this book: I read elsewhere that she did go years later after Frank had passed away and the store went out of business. She wrote of this trip in The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street and did get to meet Frank’s wife and daughter).

My thoughts:

When I first heard of this book, I thought it was fiction and set longer ago than it was. I was expecting it to be “charming.” Once I put my expectations aside, I was able to enjoy the book for what it was. It was nice to watch the friendship unfold over the years. I am amazed that Helene could buy books and send food and nylons overseas at reasonable prices.

I enjoyed some of Helene’s observations:

“I do love secondhand books that open to the page some previous owner read oftenest. The day Hazlitt came he opened to ‘I hate to read new books,’ and I hollered ‘Comrade!’ to whoever owned it before me” (p. 7).

“I wish you hadn’t been so over-courteous about putting the inscription on a card instead of on the flyleaf. It’s the bookseller coming out in you all, you were afraid you’d decrease its value. You would have increased it for the present owner. (And possibly for the future owner. I love inscriptions on flyleaves and notes in margins, I like the comradely sense of turning pages someone else turned, and reading passages someone long gone has called my attention to)” (p. 27).

For those who would want to know, there are a few “damns” and “hells” and a couple of crude expressions.

Helene had started out writing plays and scripts and eventually wrote articles and books. Wikipedia says she’s most well-known for this book, her first. A later book, Q’s Legacy, tells the background of how she started looking for the particular books which led her to write Marks & Co.

A 1987 film based on this book starred Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins (whom I can just picture as Frank). Part of me would like to see it; part of me is afraid too much stuff would be added in to flesh out the story. This book is only 97 pages, but perhaps they added in details from Helene’s other books.

Although the book wasn’t “charming” in the way I originally thought it would be, it does have a charm all its own. I’d love to read the other books some day.

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

 

Book Review: Sweet Mercy

In the novel Sweet Mercy by Ann Tatlock, seventeen-year-old Eve Marryat is glad her family has to leave St. Paul, Minnesota in 1931. The city had become a haven for gangsters and crime: Eve had even witnessed a man being killed.

Her father, newly laid-off from the Ford Motor Company, is taking the family back to where he grew up in Mercy, Ohio. His family owns the Marryat Island Ballroom and Lodge right on the beach, and Eve and her parents will help out in various capacities. Eve has idyllic memories of her family’s previous visits to the hotel and beach.

Before long, Eve learns that things and people aren’t always what they seem. She learns she has an albino cousin she never knew of before. At first he seems curmudgeonly, she assumes because of what he looks like and how other treat him. She soon finds out he harbors deep pain. She’s surprised to find that a bum who comes for an occasional handout meal has attended college and has ambitions. A boy she meets and starts a relationship with seems good and kind, until she finds out he’s a part of a crime network. And then she learns of nefarious goings-on right there in her uncle’s hotel.

Eve has a hard time with everyone else’s wrongdoing until she’s put into a position she has to cover up.

All I knew for sure was there wasn’t a place in the world that matched my dreams. For as long as I lived I would never stop pining for Paradise, but the gates had been shut and bolted long before I was born. I knew that now. The heartsickness of life outside of Eden was everyone’s lot, including mine

Her guilt and need for mercy open her eyes to her judgmentalness and everyone else’s need for mercy as well.

When I first read the description of this book, I thought the gangster side of it an odd topic. But I loved the way Ann showed us Eve’s character and opened her eyes as well as ours. I enjoyed Ann’s creative phrasing, like “A small steel bridge, humped like the back of a frightened cat” and “The day hobbled along on wounded feet.” I loved the many layers of the title’s meaning. This is another winner.

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

Book Review: Rorey’s Secret

Rorey’s Secret is the fourth of Leisha Kelly’s series about the Wortham family, set during  and just after the Depression. The fourth through sixth books are called the Country Road Chronicles and take place a few years after the first three, when the Wortham children are teenagers.

This book begins with mom Julia Wortham in the kitchen preparing a birthday dinner for one of their neighbor boys. The Hammond family lost their mother at the beginning of the second book. Their father, George, had not coped well at first, but seemed stable now. Several of the Hammond’s ten children are over visiting the Worthams at any given time. The youngest is trying to help Julia fry chicken, and making a mess. Just as another Hammond child tries to bring newborn kittens in the house, the oldest drives up with his wife in labor and very active toddler diving in Julia’s cabinets because he likes the bang all the pans make as they fall out. As Julia’s husband and son come in from working, Julia sends them off for the doctor.

But the doctor can’t be reached, and Julia reluctantly plays midwife. Somehow after several hours, the baby is born, everyone’s fed, and several of the Hammond family go home.

As Julia and her husband, Samuel, prepare to drop into bed, they notice a strange glow in the distance: a fire over at the Hammonds’. Sam and his son and daughter drive over to help: Julia stays behind because the new mother and baby are still at her house for the night.

Sarah, the Wortham’s daughter, tries to keep the younger Hammond children safely away from the barn’s flames, but ten-year-old Bertie dashes away into the barn out of concern for the calves. Sarah alerts her father, who runs after Bertie to bring him out. Then the roof caves in.

Both Bertie and Sam are pulled to safety, but both are injured, Sam seriously. His son takes both of them back to the Wortham’s house and goes to try to find the doctor again. Julia, worried sick, tries to help them the best she can.

Inexplicably, several of the Hammonds blame middle son Franky for the fire. In the previous books there has been a subplot involving him. He seems to have a learning disability: he can’t learn to read no matter how much he wants to. He can do math in his head, but not on paper. Of course, not much was known about such then, and his schoolmates and even his father think he’s stupid. Franky is also the most dreamy, sensitive, and spiritual of the bunch. If he had started the fire, he’d be the first to own up to it. There also seems to be some tension between Franky and his teenage sister, Rorey, but neither will open up about it.

Rorey, for her part, is being cagey and aloof. The bulk of the book focuses on the tension between Rorey, Franky, and the rest of the two families as the cope with the aftermath of the fire. When Rorey tells a part of her secret to Sarah, then Sarah’s in a quandary as to whether to keep her promise not to tell.

The point of view rotates from chapter to chapter between Julia, Sarah, and Franky. I could identify a lot with Julia, worrying about her husband, feeling overwhelmed with all the people and issues, wanting to set things straight between Franky and his father. She struggles to trust God and seek wisdom. But she makes a good point here:

Somewhere I’d heard that the first time a young person does something really bad, a significant bit of their future and the choices they make rest upon the kind of response they get. I prayed our response to Rorey would be what she needed (p. 229).

I loved the first couple of books in the series. All the chaos in the beginning of this one nearly made my head spin. Still, life is like that sometimes, and that’s one of the hardest times to maintain trust in the Lord. I liked the way this one worked out in the end and what everyone learned along the way.

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

Book Review: Suffering Is Never for Nothing

Suffering Is Never for Nothing by Elisabeth Elliot is “a very slight adaptation” of a series of talks Elisabeth gave at a conference. Someone had given a set of the conference CDs to Jennifer Lyell. She was so blessed, she gave copies to others. Finally she met and befriended Elisabeth and her husband, Lars, when Elisabeth could no longer speak. Later she obtained permission to transcribe the talks and have them published.

Though this volume wasn’t published in Elisabeth’s lifetime, if you’ve read her books, listened to her radio program, or heard her speak, you’ll hear familiar themes.

Just a bit of background for those who might not be familiar with Elisabeth: she and her husband were missionaries to an Indian tribe in Ecuador when several of the missionary couples were burdened to try to reach a tribe then known as Aucas ( later it was discovered they called themselves Waorani). The Aucas were thought to be a savage tribe: their every encounter with any from outside their world ended badly. After several seemingly friendly encounters, the men thought the time had come to try to meet the tribe in person. The first visit went well, but then the Aucas speared all five of the men to death. A few years later Elisabeth, her young daughter, Valerie, and Rachel Saint, sister to another of the men, Nate Saint, went to live with the Auca/Waorani. Elisabeth shared that story in Through Gates of Splendor. In later years, Elisabeth remarried, but her second husband died of cancer. Before that marriage, Elisabeth lost almost the entire body of the translation work she had painstakingly labored over in the jungle. Along with these major losses in her life, she’s dealt with the everyday ones we all face.

I don’t know if Elisabeth intended to start a writing career when she published her first book: she was still a missionary in the jungle at the time. But God led her to write several more. I was one of many who considered her a mentor from afar, appreciating her no-nonsense, straightforward style and firm foundation on the Word of God.

To come back to this book, after naming several examples of suffering, Elisabeth boiled it down to this definition: “Suffering is having what you don’t want or wanting what you don’t have” (p. 9). That’s well and good, but what do we do about it? Elisabeth says, “I’m convinced that there are a good many things in this life that we really can’t do anything about, but that God wants us to do something with” (p. 8).

Probably our biggest struggle concerning suffering is wondering where God is in it and why He allows it. Verse after verse assures us that God is right there with us in suffering. And some passages give us a few ideas of why He might allow it. Elisabeth says, “The deepest things that I have learned in my own life have come from the deepest suffering. And out of the deepest waters and hottest fires have come the deepest things I know about God . . . The greatest gifts of my life have also entailed the greatest suffering” (p. 9).

Still, “There would be no intellectual satisfaction on this side of Heaven to that age-old question, why. Although I have not found intellectual satisfaction, I have found peace. The answer I say to you is not an explanation but a person, Jesus Christ, my Lord and my God” (p. 12). She shares that when she first heard the news that her first husband was missing, she didn’t hear anything more about his condition or whereabouts for five days. God brought to her mind Isaiah 43:2-3: “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee. For I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour.” She realized God wasn’t promising anything about her husband, but He promised to be with her.

“The questions remains, is God paying attention? If so, why doesn’t He do something? I say He has, He did, He is doing something, and He will do something” (p. 13).

She discusses the perspective of the cross and the two different kingdoms, the one on this world and the kingdom of God.

It’s He who was the Word before the foundation of the world, suffering as a lamb slain. And He has a lot up His sleeve that you and I haven’t the slightest idea about now. He’s told us enough so that we know suffering is never for nothing (p. 16).

We are not adrift in chaos. To me that is the most fortifying, the most stabilizing, the most peace-giving thing that I know about anything in the universe. Every time that things have seemingly fallen apart in my life, I have gone back to those things that do not change. Nothing in the universe can ever change those facts. He loves me. I am not at the mercy of chance (p. 43).

Faith is not a feeling. Faith is willed obedience in action (p. 45).

She then discusses our response: acceptance, gratitude, offering whatever it is back to God, and the transfiguration He works in us, with a chapter devoted to each of those.

Now if I had had a faith that was determined God had to give me a particular kind of answer to my particular prayers, that faith would have disintegrated. But my faith had to be founded on the character of God Himself. And so, what looked like a contradiction in terms: God loves me; God lets this awful thing happen to me. What looked like a contradiction in terms, I had to leave in God’s hands and say okay, Lord. I don’t understand it. I don’t like it. But I only had two choices. He is either God or He’s not. I am either held in the Everlasting Arms or I’m at the mercy of chance and I have to trust Him or deny Him. Is there any middle ground? I don’t think so (pp. 26-27).

Many years ago I read a different book by Elisabeth on this topic, A Path Through Suffering. At first I thought this was a republication of that book by a different name. It’s not, though. Some of the information probably overlaps, but they are two different books, both worthy to be read and extremely helpful.

I enjoyed reading this book over the last few weeks with the True Woman Summer Book Club and looking through the comments and study questions there.

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

Laudable Linkage

Here are some of the thought-provoking reads I’ve discovered in the last couple of weeks:

How Can a Survivor Thrive After Sexual Abuse? HT to Challies. “Jenn Greenberg is one of those stories. She was abused by her church-going father. Yet she has retained her faith. She has recently written a courageous, compelling book that reflects on how God brought life and hope in the darkest of situations. Greenberg shows how the gospel enables survivors to navigate issues of guilt, forgiveness, love, and value. And she challenges church leaders to protect the vulnerable among their congregations.”

Seek the Giver, Not the Gift? HT to Challies. “The idea that we should seek the giver, not the gift, has truth behind it, but it can be misleading.”

Without Apology, HT to Challies. “When my children see me admit wrong and ask forgiveness, it is a powerful example. When my children see me struggle, yet choose right, it is even better. It teaches them victory over sin is possible with Jesus’ strength.”

Love Through the Awkward, HT to Challies. “It shouldn’t surprise us that the key to surviving awkward moments is really the key to the rest of Christian living: forgetting personal comfort and choosing selfless service.”

Do You Like Yourself?

For My Angry Friends. Thoughts about a biblical perspective on governmental authorities.

In Defense of Owning Too Many Books. “The volumes of books I continue to bring home are not reminders of guilt or inadequacy, but rather invitations to the vast world of ideas and stories worth exploring.”

8 Ways to Take Care of You. Self care is a hot topic these days, but this is the most rightly focused and balanced list I have seen.

The Life-Changing Magic of Making Do, HT to The Story Warren. “Making do is a deeply pragmatic philosophy. It means asking of our things the only question we should ever ask of them: ‘Can you fulfill your intended use for me?’ The answer – if we can be honest, and resist a moment of discomfort, inconvenience or boredom – is, extraordinarily often, yes. Making do is about taming the reflex to discard, replace or upgrade; it’s about using things well, and using them until they are used up.”

A to Z Activities for Kids and Parents, HT to Story Warren.

Seen on Pinterest, though I couldn’t find the original source:

Have a great weekend!