Book Review: Someday Home

Someday HomeIn the novel Someday Home by Lauraine Snelling, Lynn Lundberg is adjusting to widowhood. She loves that her home is the central gathering place for the children and grandchildren who all live nearby, but otherwise it’s too large for just one person. She reads about a concept called house sharing in which rooms are rented out to others and everyone shares responsibilities. After doing some research and convincing her children that the idea is a good one, she begins to seek two other ladies to share her home.

She finds one through her son’s friend. His mom, Angela, was blindsided by her husband’s request for a divorce. She had spent years remaking herself into the kind of wife he wanted, even weighing less than she did in high school – but all for naught since he found someone else. Needing a place to stay, heal, and figure out her next steps, she accepts Lynn’s offer.

A chance meeting leads to another tenant. Judith spent all of her adult life caring for her ailing father, setting aside college and other dreams. Upon his death, she learns he willed the family home not to her, but to the historical society to be made into a public venue. So she also needs a quiet place to stay and time to decide what to do next.

Naturally there are some bumps along the way. Lynn is used to being the family matriarch and has to learn that independent middle-aged women don’t appreciate being “mothered.” The other ladies have not had their own voice for years and have to learn how and when to use it. They all have anger issues and wrestle with the need to forgive those who have wronged them. But ultimately they learn to work together and appreciate each other’s differences.

This story caught my eye both because it was a Kindle sale, plus I had read some of this author’s historical fiction. I enjoyed the aspects of each of these women learning to live together and having to determine in their middle years what to do with the rest of their lives and in

But there are a number of awkward sentences, like this one:

Fighting back the tears—again, she stumbled through her morning routine—and after dressing (which took some serious self-talk; the bed had looked so inviting, or at least oblivion did), she made her way down the split-log stairs and into the kitchen, where the cat was sniffing the dog dish, water bowl, and then looking out the window to the deck.

Thankfully there are only a half-dozen or so, but they are a bit jarring. I don’t remember coming across that kind of thing in her other books, but then it has been a long time since I read them. I thought at first perhaps they were all connected with Lynn, who is in the throes of menopause: maybe this was supposed to reflect her scattered thinking. But they don’t seem to be limited to her scenes.

Other than that, and one minor theological quibble in one sentence, I thought the writing, the characters, and the story were all good.

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Book Review: Sisters, Ink Series

The Sisters, Ink series (also called the Scrapbooker’s series) by Rebeca Seitz is made up of four books focusing on four sisters of different ethnicities adopted by Jack and Marian Sinclair in the small town of Stars Hill, TN. The sisters are adults now and Marian passed away ten years ago. Their father, a pastor, is seeing a new lady named Zelda, but the sisters are having a hard time accepting her, not only because they don’t want their mother replaced, but Zelda is so unconventional and different from their mother. That subplot and others carry over each of the four books, but each focuses on one particular sister. The girls call a “scrapping night” in a room set up for that purpose in their father’s home when they need to talk and solve problems.

Sisters

 Sisters, Ink. spotlights Tandy, a lawyer living in FL. She had been adopted after spending her first eight years on the streets with a junkie parent. I read this book several years ago, but for whatever reason did not review it. But her story involved an extended leave at work, visiting TN, running into and clashing with an old flame. The sisters decide to turn their love of scrapbooking into an online business called Sisters, Ink.

 

 

 

Unglued Coming Unglued focuses on Kendra, an African-American woman who is an artist and sometimes jazz singer. She was also adopted at the age of 8 from a mother whose addiction was men. Because she has her mother’s genes and because some of those men molested her as a child, Kendra struggles with self-worth. She’s dating a great guy named Darin, but she feels that if he really knew her background, he’d drop her in  flash. When a married man at a jazz club is attracted to her, she struggles with knowing that relationship is not right, but feeling flattered by it and  wondering if that’s all she’s good for, if she has no right to rise higher.

On one hand I had a hard time being patient with Kendra as she kept deciding not to see the married guy yet kept being drawn back. But, then, we all do that with different things, don’t we? “I need to cut down on sugar” on Monday, and by Tuesday, “What can a couple of cookies hurt?” So we each struggle with our particular temptations. And people do wrestle with that mindset of being “damaged goods” and “not good enough.”

Scrapping Scrapping Plans features Chinese sister Joy. Joy was left on the door of an orphanage in China as a baby and doesn’t know anything of her family and background. She’s the ultimate hostess and most organized of the group, described as a Martha Stewart rival. She and her husband have been trying to have a baby for over a year with no success, and her husband is resistant to testing. She and her husband take a trip back to China to explore her roots.

I liked the play on words with the title, fitting into the scrapbooking theme yet also illustrating the need to realize that God’s plans might be different from ours. I also appreciated the facets of Joy’s experience in grieving over not conceiving, then becoming obsessed with the desire to have a child, and how that impacted her husband.

Perfect Piece brings the story back to Meg, the oldest, married the longest, with three kids. Meg was always the quiet but steady influence of the group. But she has been struggling with headaches through everyone else’s story. In this book, she is diagnosed with a brain tumor. Since the tumor is in an area of the brain that affects personality, everyone is warned that Meg may not be the same after surgery, whether the tumor is benign or malignant. Even knowing this, her husband, Jamison, has a hard time with the bitter, angry Meg that emerges on top of the stress of her illness, taking care of the house, dealing with the children, etc. A breakfast at a diner to get away by himself for a bit results in a pleasant conversation with a waitress which leads to regular meetings.

 I thought the sisters might have been a little too up in each other’s business. I have four sisters, and though we love each other and would do anything we could to help each other, I don’t think we’d confront each other like these did. But we’re different personalities and don’t live in the same town, so that makes a difference. I thought the girls were way too harsh concerning Zelda. I understand the issues involved in getting used to a new step-mom, but they all evidenced a lack of grace in dealing with her, until they came to an understanding in the end. Though there were no explicit scenes, there was a bit too much reference to some of the couples’ sexual lives for my tastes. I also didn’t like repeated references to older women in the church as “bluehairs.” It’s sad that there are rampant gossipers in the church and no one ever deals with that, but I doubt every older woman in one church would be gossipy. There seems to be a fundamental disrespect to older people in general except the girls’ parents.

But I liked several themes that emerged through the series: being there for each other, helping each other, adjusting lives and thinking to align with God’s Word. I liked several instances when seeing a situation from a different viewpoint, or understanding the circumstances instead of assuming them, diffused misunderstandings. So, all in all I enjoyed the series.

 

Book Review: Hidden Places

Hidden PlacesIn Lynn Austin’s novel Hidden Places, Eliza Wyatt is a young widow with three children in the 1930s. After her husband’s death she had stayed on with her intractable father-in-law at Wyatt Orchards. But now he has died as well. She’s not sure how she is going to manage, but she wants to keep the house and orchards, the only true home she has ever known. With the Depression, she couldn’t sell it, anyway.

One night while doing chores outside she is startled by a hobo. She’s not opposed to helping hobos, so she invites him in and feeds him. Then she discovers he has a nasty gash on his leg and ends up tending him through a nearly fatal infection. In the meantime, her husband’s Aunt Betty – usually called Aunt Batty because she seems to have some mental issues — ends up moving in with Eliza when Betty’s roof caves in during a heavy snowfall. But Aunt Batty turns out to be an able hand around the house, and Eliza soon relies on her help. The hobo, Gabe, offers to stay on and help to pay back what Eliza has done for him.

Gabe proves an able hand as well, but seems to have an uncanny familiarity with the farm and its needs. She is drawn to him, but afraid of the past he is not revealing to her. Yet she hides her own past, too: not even her husband knew her background.

It turns out Aunt Batty has a hidden past as well, and an unexpected underlying wisdom.

One theme or motif throughout the book is that of angels, from an opening admonition to “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Hebrew 13:2), to Aunt Batty’s prayer for God to send a guardian angel to Eliza, to other references. Harsh, self-willed fathers turn up in a number of families, and several characters have to learn to follow their dreams despite such fathers and other obstacles. “Hidden places” in each heart come to light eventually, and, by God’s grace, are healed.

A couple of favorite quotes:

“Why did God have to make our lives so fragile and so short?” Walter thought for a moment before answering. “Because life is very precious to Him. He treasures each life He created and He wants us to treasure it, too—like fine porcelain china. God knows what it’s like to live and die in a frail human body like ours. His Son suffered physical death, Betsy, so that you and I can face it without ever being afraid.”

“All these troubles you’ve been having aren’t a punishment from God. He wants to use them to draw you closer to himself.”

Lynn’s writing and characterizations here are stellar. I was drawn in to each character’s story and ached with them through their trials and rejoiced in their triumphs. Excellent book overall.

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books)

Book Review: Fly Away

Fly AwayIn the novel Fly Away by Lynn Austin, Wilhelmina Brewster faces forced retirement after teaching music at a Christian college all her adult life. She’s depressed and doesn’t know what to do with herself. She never married, never had any other hobbies or interests.

She volunteers playing piano at a cancer center sometimes, and one day there she runs into Mike Dolan – and they got off very much on the wrong foot.

Mike is a widower and a pilot who still flies for the business that he started and his son now runs. But Mike has just learned that he has cancer with a life expectancy of only three months. He doesn’t want to put his family through the same agony they experienced when his wife died, so he plans not to tell them. When the cancer gets too bad, he plans to fly – “and forget to land.”

Somehow he ends up telling Wilhelmina his plans, and she is horrified, especially when she learns he is not a Christian. But she has never witnessed to someone in her life. She talks to her pastor, but he feels like she should be the one to talk to Mike, since she knows him. She talks to her pastor brother, but he has someone over the evangelism department in his church and is not much help. She appeals to her professor brother, and he gives her several detailed arguments from Christian apologetics that she knows she won’t remember and doesn’t think Mike would respond to anyway. No one seems to know how to simply tell a dying man about the Savior and hope of heaven.

Wilhelmina tries to give Mike some tracts, but her efforts are thwarted. Somehow, though they keep finding reasons to see each other, and a tentative relationship begins. Mike feels sorry for her when he learns she has been retired against her will and tries to think of things to cheer up up – like a kite-flying contest with his grandchildren, something Wilhelmina never thought in a million years that she would do.

She learns that Mike isn’t just a project. And even though he’s dying, he knows how to enjoy life much more than she does.

My favorite line in the book comes from advice Wilhelmina’s father gives to a friend: “We have two choices, you and I; we can lose ourselves in despair or find ourselves in Christ” (p. 170).

My thoughts:

I loved this story. I could identify with Wilhelmina’s personality so much. There were so many comical moments, yet serious ones, too. The book blurb says one of them is “figuring out how to live, the other how to die.” Lynn’s notes in the book share that this was one of the first books she wrote. The story takes place in 1987, later than her many historical books, but too far back to be called contemporary. It was published in 1996 and went out of print, but has since been reprinted, keeping the 1987 references, which I enjoyed. I am so glad it was reprinted. I would have hated to miss this story.

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books, Literary Musing Monday)

Laudable Linkage

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Just a short list today:

Jerks for Jesus: Why the Temple Cleansing (etc.) Isn’t Your Permission to Always Be Fighting, HT to Challies. Yes and amen. I am so tired of reading people who defend their harsh and contentious attitude because of the OT prophets, Paul, and Jesus.

When You Have to Let Go of Your Dream, HT to Linda. “This is a wound, to be sure. But it’s not a mortal wound. This will not kill you. This is not the end. We are closing the chapter, not the book. We are sad and grieving and saying goodbye. And. We are moving on.”

On Direct-to-Consumer Genetic Testing, HT to Challies.

Care package ideas and printable tags to use with them.

The #LoveYourBookstore challenge runs Nov. 10-16, HT to Sarah. The idea is to encourage and draw attention to bookstores by visiting one, taking a picture of a book you are excited to gift, or a selfie with the book, and post it to Instagram or Twitter. And there are prizes!

And one last thought:

Have a good weekend!

Book Review: Alvin York: A New Biography of the Hero of the Argonne

Alvin York: A New Biography of the Hero of the Argonne by Douglas V. Mastriano is the newest biography of York and will, I am sure, be the definite resource on him for years to come.

Alvin York was the third of eleven children born to a farming family in Pall Mall, TN in the late 1800s. The children had very little education because they were needed to help at home. Alvin was the oldest child at home when his father died, so he took on the responsibility to care for the family. He was a hard worker, but he was prone to drinking and fighting even though he was a church-goer. In his late twenties he was saved at a revival service in his church, and his life turned around.

When Alvin was drafted at the age of 29, he tried to register as a conscientious objector. He believed, as did his church, that “Thou shalt not kill” included war. His application and an appeal were rejected because the church did not have an official policy against war. Once in the Army, Alvin kept his feelings quiet as long as he could because he knew the taunts and accusations of cowardice he would receive from the other men. Finally he told his superior officers, Captain Danforth and Major Buxton. He had proved himself as a hard worker and a steady character, so both officers felt he was in earnest. Both were Christians, and one suggested they talk it out not as private and officers, but as Christian brethren. In a thoroughly cordial conversation, Alvin brought up verses that seemed to oppose military action while the others brought up verses that support it. Alvin asked for a leave to think and pray and went home for ten days. After a considerable time at a particular mountain where he liked to go and pray, he went back to the Army at peace about being a soldier.

On October 8, 1918, Alvin, a corporal at this point, fought the Germans with his battalion in the Argonne forest in France.  They were fired at by a German machine gun. Of the seventeen Americans, six were killed and three were wounded. York was the ranking officer left standing. York, a crack shot from years of hunting, took out the machine gun operator, six Germans coming at him with bayonets, and ended up capturing 132 German soldiers as prisoners of war. Later he was promoted to sergeant and was awarded the Medal of Honor.

When York came home to fame and acclaim, he did not want to make a profit off his service. “This uniform ain’t for sale,” he would say.

York returned to his farm in TN and married the girl who had waited for him, Gracie. With his eyes opened from his travel and experience, York wanted to make improvements for his people. He advocated for paved roads into the area and built schools. He accepted invitations to encourage troops and the war effort and to talk about his faith, but he didn’t like to talk about his exploits, which was what most people wanted to hear. He only relented when doing so might help earn money for the schools he was building: he never profited from such money for himself. Jesse Lasky was a movie producer who pursued York for 23 years, trying to get the rights to his story to make a film. When events were steaming up before WWII, York was one of the advocates for the US entering the fray. He felt Hitler needed to be stopped, as soon as possible. Many Americans, including influential ones like Charles Lindbergh, felt that the US should stay out of the fighting. Lasky finally convinced York that a film about his life would not only help young men who faced some of the same struggles he had, but it would inspire patriotism that would help support the WWII effort. York agreed and used the proceeds to fund an interdenominational Bible school. The film Sergeant York was Lasky’s most successful film, earning Gary Cooper an Academy Award for his portrayal of York. I enjoyed reading some of the background information about the film and the differences between the film and real life.

Some of York’s most inspiring words were spoken at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, May 1941:

There are those in our country who ask me…”You fought to make the world safe for Democracy. What did it get you?” Let me answer them now. It got me twenty-three years of living in an America where humble citizens from the mountains of Tennessee can participate in the same ceremonies with the president of the United States. It got me twenty-three years of living in a country where liberty is stamped on men’s hearts. By our victory in the last war, we won a lease on liberty, not a deed to it. Now after 23 years, Adolf Hitler tells us that lease is expiring, and after the manner of all leases, we have the privilege of renewing it, or letting it go by default….we are standing at the crossroads of history. Important capitols of the world will either be Berlin and Moscow or Washington and London. I for one pref Congress and Parliament to Hitler’s Reichstag and Stalin’s Kremlin. And because we were for a time side by side, I know this unknown soldier does too. We owe it to him to renew that lease of liberty he helped us to get.

I’m surprised that the concept of having a lease on liberty, which has to be renewed from time to time, rather than a deed, has not been quoted more often.

Mastriano goes into detail concerning York’s early life in Pall Mall, his struggles, his service, and the events in his life after the war. Some stories in York’s time exaggerated his efforts, claiming that his victory was single-handed, or at least nearly so. Neither York nor the Army made these claims, and York credited the other soldiers for their efforts and ultimately God for His enabling and protection. But the attention on him caused pushback from others. Some thought he seemed too good to be true and suggested his exploits were created or exaggerated by the military for propaganda purposes. Mastriano, a military man himself, takes great care to detail and substantiate everything concerning York. His efforts even extended to traveling to France and making an extensive search over the area where York fought on October 8, 1918. Even though the location and details were substantiated before York’s Medal of Honor, some have argued that the lack of the known spot where York fought raised a question mark over the validity of the claims made in his behalf. A wrong map that was discredited yet still placed in the archives contributed further confusion. Mastriano spent twelve years and thousands of hours researching York, traveling, and even searching for artifacts in the Argonne. His findings were scientifically studied and authenticated, resulting in the Sergeant York Historic Trail and Monument.

Though I have never seen the Sergeant York film, I had heard of it and was aware of the barest details of York’s story. My interest was piqued by hearing a series on York on the Adventures in Odyssey radio program, which I like to listen to while doing dishes. When I searched for a biography, I was delighted to find this one. I listened to the audiobook, but if I had been thinking, I would have gotten the print version for the pictures and maps and such. Usually when you purchase a book from Audible, you can get the Kindle version at a lesser price, but the Kindle version of this book is the most expensive I have ever seen. I just now found it in our library system, so I’ll look for it next time I go there.

York’s is an inspiring story not just for his military victory, but for his character. I’m happy to have read and learned more about him.

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books, Literary Musing Monday, Carole’s Book’s You Loved)

What’s On Your Nightstand: October 2018

Nightstand82The folks at 5 Minutes For Books host What’s On Your Nightstand the last Tuesday of each month in which we can share about the books we have been reading and/or plan to read.

Here we are near the end of another month, and it’s time to look over my reading activity.

Since last time I have completed:

Emma’s Gift by Leisha Kelly, reviewed here. Two women in a close neighborhood pass away, and one women owns their property. The remaining families not only deal with their grief, but also the uncertainty of whether they’ll keep their homes. Very good.

The Lost Castle by Kristy Cambron, reviewed here. A moment of clarity for Ellie’s grandmother leads Ellie to a lost castle in France where she uncovers stories of strong women in two different timelines. Very good.

My Hands Came Away Red by Lisa McKay, reviewed here. A group of teens on a backpacking mission trip get caught up in village fighting and have to hike three weeks to safety. Excellent.

Borders of the Heart by Chris Fabry, reviewed here. A farmhand near the border of Arizona and Mexico comes across a dehydrated, injured woman and, instead of calling border patrol, decides to help her, leading them both into danger. Okay.

Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible With Both Our Hearts and Our Minds by Jen Wilkin, a reread, reviewed here. Loved it just as much as the first time through.

Classics of British Literature by John Sutherland was not a book, but a series of lectures about British literature. Reviewed here. Very informative.

Coming Unglued and Scrapping Plans by Rebeca Seitz. I’ll review them together with the last book in the series when I finish it.

I’m currently reading:

Reading the Bible for Life: Your Guide to Understanding and Living God’s Word by George Guthrie.

Alvin York: A New Biography of the Hero of the Argonne by Douglas V. Mastriano (audiobook)

The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E. B. White

Christian Publishing 101: by Ann Byle

Perfect Piece by Rebeca Seitz

Fly Away by Lynn Austin

Up Next:

There’s a Reason They Call It GRANDparenting by Michele Howe, recommended by Michele Morin.

Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery by Eric Metaxas

Close to Home by Deborah Raney

Katie’s Dream by Leisha Kelly

Are you reading anything good?

 

Classics of British Literature Lectures

When I think of lectures, I picture sitting in a large room with spiral notebook and pen in hand and that question uppermost on the minds of students: “Will this be on the test?”

So, although I actually enjoyed lectures in college, I wasn’t inclined use my precious audiobook time to listen to them. I tend to do better listening to stories while I do something else with my hands. If I am reading for instruction, I need to have pencils and sticky tabs to mark important places, and I need to be able to flip back a few pages to get a better grasp on a concept.

British classicsBut when Hope reviewed the Great Courses lectures on Classics of British Literature, I decided to get the series (which only cost one Audible credit). I’ve mentioned before that I was not exposed to many classics in my education, so I have made a deliberate point to read them as an adult. While I have enjoyed working through many of the obvious classics, I figured this series would bring more to my attention as well as enhancing my enjoyment of the ones I already knew.

John Sutherland is the lecturer, revealing a wide range of knowledge not only about British classics and authors, but the prevailing influences and philosophies of the times.

There are 48 lectures in the series, each lasting from 30-45 minutes. They begin with Beowulf and Chaucer, traveling over the years to Salman Rushdie, covering plays, poetry, and novels. Some lectures cover a person (some, like Shakespeare and Jane Austen, merit two lectures); some cover an segment of time (“The 1840s—Growth of the Realistic Novel”); some cover a group (“The Metaphysicals—Conceptual Daring,” “The Augustans—Order, Decorum, and Wit”). Some of the lectures cover one particular work (“The King James Bible,” “Frankenstein—A Gothic Masterpiece”). Others explore a particular genre (“Lyrical Ballads—Collaborative Creation,” “Voices of Victorian Poetry”).

Sutherland covers varying philosophies with the qualifier that we don’t have to agree with them, but understanding them helps us better understand the works in a particular time frame. He discusses some bawdy material with a fair amount of discretion, but I do wonder at the selection of those choices to share: however, I guess some of those are a part of the progression of literary history. Likewise, the tawdry content of some authors lives are shared for explanation, not titillation.

When covering several hundred years of literature, one can’t go into everything in depth. However, I was sad that Robert Burns, one of my favorites, received only 10-15 minutes, and his only work quoted was “Auld Lang Syne.” Oddly missing are C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien and their works (although mention is made that Tolkien was a Beowulf scholar).

However, Sutherland did cover an immense swath of ground in this series. Time and again he brought out what was going on in history, how that influenced literature, and how literature in turn influenced life. This series might be better titled the History and Development of British Literature. Thankfully a PDF copy of Sutherland’s notes is available for further perusal.

It would be impossible to share even a fraction of the information gained from these lectures here, but here are a few points of interest and quotes that stood out to me.

  • The first literature was oral and communal rather than written and solitary. (I wonder what people who don’t think listening to audiobooks is “real” reading would say about that. 🙂 )
  • “Great literature is timeless. That is one of the main connotations of the word classic.” (Introduction)
  • Churches were “the nation’s chroniclers” until the 11th century.
  • “Literature is a time machine. It can take us back and connect us
    with people who are no longer here. It is, in the best sense, a conversation with the dead. In fact, this is the reason we read and study literature and the
    reason that it lives for us. This living quality of literature—the fact that it is
    still animated over centuries—makes it worth our time and effort and makes
    a historical approach to literature valuable” (from Lecture 1: “Anglo-Saxon Roots: Pessimism and Comradeship”)
  • “Literature has many functions in society. That’s one of the things that makes it so interesting to read and to study and to reread. Literature, good and bad, can instruct; it can entertain; it can educate. In some circumstances, literature can even corrupt us. Given literature’s dramatic power to influence readers, it perhaps isn’t
    surprising that exactly which works of literature are corrupting has been much disputed throughout the centuries.” (Lecture 4: “Spenser: The Faerie Queen”)
  • “If literature can corrupt, it can also civilize or at least contribute to the civilizing process by articulating the elements that hold a society together. Literature defines the core values on which a civilization is founded.” (Lecture 4: “Spenser: The Faerie Queen”)
  • I was astonished that Robinson Crusoe was seen not as a classic prodigal son story, but “an allegory of English colonialism in the 18th and 19th centuries” and an example of capitalism. (Lecture 17: “Defoe–Crusoe and the Rise of Capitalism)
  • Sutherland demonstrates a broad understanding of Christianity expressed in literature, but I felt he missed the boat on the last sentence here (unless the philosophy is of the people he is quoting, in which case the misunderstanding is theirs): “It’s interesting to note that many thinkers, such as Marx, Max Weber, and R. H. Tawney, have argued that the rise of capitalism is intimately connected with Protestantism and Puritanism. Just as capitalism stresses the individual acquisition of wealth, so do Protestantism and Puritanism stress the individual’s private, personal relationship with, and responsibilities to, God. The individual has credit with his maker and must earn his salvation.” (Lecture 17: “Defoe–Crusoe and the Rise of Capitalism) Neither Puritanism nor Protestantism teach that we have any credit with God or that we can earn our salvation.
  • I wondered at the statement “The novel would not exist in the form that we have it if it were not for women readers, because the novel is a domestic form” (Lecture 18: “Behn–Emancipation in the Restoration”). Weren’t other types of books read in homes before novels were invented? Or perhaps women generally weren’t as interested in reading until the novel came along?
  • “Literature expresses or embodies the noblest aspirations, the finest articulations, of idealism which a culture or society has.”
  • In William Blake’s “The Lamb” and “The Tyger,” Sutherland brings out the innocence of the lamb and its symbolism. He says, “The answer Blake hints at is that without the destructive tiger—without crucifixion, to allegorize it in Christian terms—the innocence of the lamb would be nothing. It would be literally bloodless. And it is the blood of the lamb, not the innocence of the lamb, that the Christian William Blake believes will save us” (Lecture 24: Blake–Mythic Universes and Poetry). But Christians believe that the Lamb’s – Jesus’ – innocence is vital as well. If He were just any other human, He could not have saved us. And part of salvation is not just forgiveness, but that His righteousness goes on our account: He fulfilled all of God’s law in our place.
  • Sutherland considers Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Jane Austen the “greater than great,” the “giants” of English literature.
  • In discussing 20th century poetry, Sutherland pointed out that no one could support himself by writing poetry as a main profession any more. One reason, he felt, was that the energy and creativity that in an earlier era would have gone to lyric poetry now went to popular music.
  • “The story of [British] literature is a constant series of beginnings or breaks—sometimes violent breaks—with tradition, or revolutions and new starts. … Literature advances … by rejection, contradiction, and radical innovation.” (Lecture 48: New Theatre, New Literary Worlds)

I definitely learned a lot! Overall, I really enjoyed the series and may explore other Great Courses now.

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books, Carole’s Book’s You Loved)

Book Review: My Hands Came Away Red

HandsIn the novel My Hands Came Away Red by Lisa McKay, eighteen-year-old Cori decides to spend her summer on a backpacking mission trip in Indonesia. Though she has a vague desire to do good, to help people, to “spread the love of Jesus,” her main purpose for going is to get some time away from Scott, her boyfriend. Cori is a Christian, but her relationship with God isn’t as close as it once was. Scott is not a believer, but he wants to marry Cori. So Cori needs time away to think, to sort things out.

After meeting the mission leader and the five other teens who will be going on the trip, they spend several days in a grueling boot camp. Then they travel on to Indonesia where they will help build a church as well as performing puppet shows and such. They meet Mani, the son of the local pastor, whose English is best and who acts as an unofficial liaison between the mission group and the church folks.

The group learns there is a tenuous peace between the Christian and Muslim villages. The Muslims view those who convert from Islam to Christianity as traitors, and Mani’s father is such a convert. But, though they are advised to be careful, no serious trouble is expected.

After several weeks of work and getting to know each other in the process, when the thatched-roof church is nearly finished, the mission group leader’s wife falls suddenly and dangerously ill. As the leader, Gary, makes hasty plans to get the group ready to leave, the kids protest. They can finish the church in the next couple of days and catch the next boat to meet up with Gary. Reluctantly, Gary agrees.

When the church is finished, the teens decide it needs a cross on top, so they go into the woods to find a suitable log. Nearing the village on their return, they hear angry voices. Mani stops the group close enough to listen, but far away enough not to be seen. Men from a neighboring Muslim village are angry that Christians have attacked their village, and, grouping all Christians together, they call on this village to answer for it. Mani’s father tries to explain and calm, but tempers flare and fighting breaks out. Mani’s parents are killed before the group’s eyes. One of the teen guys rescues Mani’s younger sister, Tina, while Cori tries to help Mani’s father. But it’s too late. The horrified and shaken teens head back into the woods. Mani says it would be no use to try to go back to the village. Their best bet would be to hike through the mountains to a neighboring village and then to the airport.

Thus begins a harrowing three-week journey in which the teens are tested in almost every imaginable way.

My thoughts:

Though teens are the main characters, and this book would be good for teens to read, it’s not just teen or young-adult fare. I found the story riveting. First, from my own standpoint, I don’t think I could have survived what the teens went through. And secondly, as a parent of young people, I can imagine what the parents went through with news of fighting in the area and no word from their kids.

On top of the physical hardships and mental and emotional strain they all face, some of them, especially Cori, wrestle with their faith. Reading Bible passages about God’s protection seem hollow after what they witnessed. Yet, to whom else can they turn?

Before this summer those words [Romans 8:28] were part of whole set of trusty beliefs that defined my life. I knew they were true the same way I knew it really was good for me to eat my green vegetables. God is good, and everything works out for the best . . . and we all live happily ever after. I was so naïve. It’s not that I don’t want to trust those promises I’ve always believed in, but I just don’t understand

_____

If God didn’t see fit to save them, who’s to say that we weren’t all going to end up dead in this whole mess? And I hardly saw how that might produce a rich crop of faith, hope, and peace in my life. Unless it was in my heavenly life. Which, as much as I believed in heaven, was hardly a comforting thought.

In some ways I wish Cori’s faith struggles were more resolved by the end, but then I think part of the author’s point is that there are some things we can never resolve. One of the other teens tells Cori, after everything is over physically, but not mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, that sometimes you “just have to make a choice based on what you know about God. And relax and trust for the rest of what you don’t know” and “You know, life’s a journey…Some questions get answered later. You can’t stop traveling just because that’s not now.”

Besides the story itself, I loved the clearly-drawn characters. And I love the Jip and Kiki story game that started back in boot camp and helped distract the kids on their trek. One of the teens would start with, “Once there was a boy named Jip,” who loved chocolate and had a pet monkey named Kiki, and each one would add a few sentences, often based on what the kids themselves were going through.

In the author’s afterword, she shares that though the people in the story are fictitious, the circumstances, the fighting in the villages she named, were very real. The author’s own international and even inter-continental upbringing informs her writing, making it even more realistic.

I had heard this book highly recommended years ago and have had it on my TBR list since then. Somewhere recently I read that someone bought the rights to the book for a movie, and the book was being re-released. That brought it to the forefront of my attention again, so I decided now was a good time to read it. I am glad I did. I hope the film does it justice.

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books, Literary Musing Monday, Carole’s Book’s You Loved)

Book Review: The Lost Castle

Lost CastleIn The Lost Castle by Kristy Cambron, Ellie Carver’s Grandma Vi had raised her since her parents’ deaths when she was a child. Now her grandmother was in a care facility suffering the ravages of Alzheimer’s, often not even knowing who Ellie was.  But one particular day, her grandmother seemed especially agitated and could hardly keep herself from the window. While Ellie gently attempted distraction, her grandmother pulled out a book of The Sleeping Beauty in French. While wondering  why her grandmother had such a book in French and flipping through the pages, an old photo fell out. The picture was WWII-era vintage of a young woman sitting on a stone wall smilingly staring up at a young man who was definitely not Ellie’ grandfather. Ellie learned that there was a castle called The Sleeping Beauty in France, and Vi was supposed to have met this man at the castle to tell him whether or not she would marry him.

These revelations sent Ellie to the Loire Valley in France, uncovering a story that spanned hundreds of years.

In 1789, Aveline Sainte-Moreau was much more interested in the politics and current events of the day than a lady of her station should have been. Though she did not condone all the actions of the disenfranchised poor, she had compassion on them and helped as she could. To keep her in her place and divert her attention, her father arranged her marriage with a man she had never met. On the night of her debut and the official announcement of her engagement at her fiance’s home, the castle was attacked. While the castle crumbled and burned, Aveline was rescued, but not before being scarred by the flames. Her rescuers had to keep her hidden while she recovered: unrest had been fomenting into revolution, and the nobility in general was in danger.

In 1944, Viola Hart was a linguist caught in France, having escaped the Nazis. Taking refuge in a chapel, she was discovered by a neighboring vigneron, Julien, who secreted her to his family’s home. Eventually she learned he was part of the French Resistance, and her skills would be valuable. Having no way to safely get home, she stayed to help. In their preparations, they painted a large red V on the walls of a deserted castle.

When Ellie came to the Loire Valley, she wanted to search for the castle wall where her grandmother’s picture had been taken. She was distressed to learn that the castle grounds were closed to the public. Her host and tour guide, Quinn, was reluctant to push any further into the mystery, wanting to respect the castle owner’s wishes. But at Ellie’s  and his own grandfather Titus’s insistence, Quinn took Ellie where she needed to go and helped her unravel the clues. She learned that the castle’s nickname, The Sleeping Beauty, came from a legend of a member of the nobility hundreds of years before who seemed to disappear in the area. As Ellie uncovered more of her grandmother’s past, she unlocked more of her own story as well.

My thoughts:

I loved the three women’s stories and how Kristy wove them together. I loved the strength of each character in her circumstances. I enjoyed some of the touches in each timeline: the castle itself, a brooch passed down to each woman, a fox that lives in the woods and visits the castle grounds, the various shades of lavender and purple, from Aveline’s shawl and love of violets to Grandma Vi’s cardigan. The faith element is subtle but steady.

And isn’t that cover gorgeous?

One quote that encapsulates the book’s theme:

Titus says the land is a witness of the generations who have come before. That it stands resolute. It’s the same yesterday. Today. And who knows what tomorrow will look like. He likens it to God’s influence over creation. That He’s immovable. Steady. Watching from a distance, yet ever involved. A bit like your lost castle, hmm? (p. 244).

I’ve read many books with two timelines: this is the second in recent months that had three. It wasn’t confusing to keep up with them, as each setting with its characters was distinct. The only confusion within a timeline came when a new chapter opened at a time earlier than where we had last left those particular characters – a flashback within a given timeline. But it only took a few moments to get oriented.

With elements of mystery, the fairy-tale quality of Aveline’s story in particular, historical elements, and above all a lovely story and testimony of God’s faithfulness, Kristy has another winner here. So far I have never been disappointed with any of her books, and I hope she writes many more!

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books, Literary Musing Monday, Carole’s Book’s You Loved)