Friday, August 11, 2017

The Oxford Book of Christian Verse by Lord David Cecil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings,

Friday, August 4, 2017

Books I Read in July and Thoughts on Kindle Unlimited

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

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

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

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

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

 Blessings,

Friday, July 28, 2017

The Drumberly Series by D.E. Stevenson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings,

Friday, July 21, 2017

Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings,

Monday, July 17, 2017

July Non-fiction Deals at Amazon

Amazon's list of summer e-book deals continues with non-fiction options: (Fiction deals were highlighted earlier this month.)

Christian: Devotions for a Deeper Life by Oswald Chambers, The Bible Among the Myths by John Oswalt, 3-in-1 by Max Lucado, Walking from East to West by Ravi Zacharias, Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality by Wesley Hill

WWII: Vatican Pimpernel, Auschwitz: A Doctor's Eyewitness Account, A Man Called Intrepid

Other: Call the Nurse, Man's Search for Meaning, The Story of the Jewish People by Martin Gilbert, Notes from a Tilt-a-Whirl by N.D. Wilson, Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury, Honey for a Teen's Heart by Gladys Hunt

Blessings,

Friday, July 14, 2017

The Magic Apple Tree by Susan Hill

Some books can be devoured in a couple of sittings and others are meant to be savored slowly. The Magic Apple Tree by mystery writer Susan Hill falls into the latter category. In it she recounts a year of living in the English countryside. It was a perfect follow-up to the two Thrush Green books I had just read.

She begins with winter, introducing the tree (The trunk is knobbly and each branch and twig twists and turns back upon itself, like old, arthritic hands), Moon cottage, and her daily routines.

In winter, I often spend all day in the kitchen, it is in winter that I love it best, and it is then that I most enjoy my own particular sort of cooking best, too, for one of the richest pleasures of domestic life is, and has always been, filling the house with the smells of food, of baking breads and cakes, bubbling casseroles and simmering soups, of vegetables fresh from the garden and quickly steamed, of the roasting of meat, of new-ground coffee and pounded spices and chopped herbs, of hot marmalade and jam and jelly.

I am not a gardener, but I enjoyed her anthropomorphic descriptions of plants: I always grow a lot of leeks, those entirely easy-going creatures, pleasing to behold as soldiers in the ground, resistant to all diseases and pests, tolerant of any soil, long-lasting, reliable.

Most French beans are low-growing. But I find them horribly neurotic; they hate the cold, in the air or in the soil, refuse to germinate for the slightest of reasons, then refuse to flower, or crop sparsely, or wilt suddenly, when six inches high, for no discernible reason, or collapse on to the ground after heavy rain.

In the spring section she writes more about her gardening techniques, eschewing all the gardening books by “experts” because of her non-typical garden (high winds, clay soil, etc.) I enjoyed reading how she adapted her expectations to fit her reality. Plenty of good life lessons there.

The cadence of the writing and of the seasons is gentle and soothing. As Hill finds sanctuary, so do we.

Spring so often promises what in the end it never pays, spring can cheat and lie and disappoint. You can sit in the window and wait for spring many a weary day. But I have never been let down by autumn. To me it is always beautiful, always rich, it always gives in heaping measure, and sometimes it can stretch on into November, fading, but so gently, so slowly, like a very old person whose dying is protracted but peacefully, in calmness.

At the end of this day [of berry picking and canning], I am stung, scratched, sore and stained, and the kitchen smells marvelous. There are rows of glowing jars on the dresser shelves, like so many jewels, deep red, orange, burgundy, pale pink, pale green, purple-black. I label them, before carrying them upstairs to the store cupboard.... When I have lined them up, I gaze in deep satisfaction. I feel as if we shall indeed be ‘preserved’ against the ravages of the coming winter, and go off to a long, hot, soothing bath.

A delightful book!

Blessings,

Monday, July 10, 2017

Books I Read in June

I'm slogging through a couple of dense books (Christian Theology by Alistar McGrath and The Living God by Thomas Oden) so I've been escaping into light stuff in between. From worst to best...

Regarding the spoiler alerts... Apparently if I like a book I'm content to give you a light overview and let you discover the story for yourself, but if I DISLIKE a book I rant and rave and give the whole story away.

Charity's Cross by Tyndall (reviewed here, spoiler alert)
Mrs. Budley Falls from Grace by Marion Chesney (reviewed here, spoiler alert)
O Little Town by Don Reid (reviewed here, spoiler alert)
The Hollow Needle (reviewed here, spoiler alert)
Life of Mrs. Humphry Ward by J.P. Trevelyan (reviewed here, spoiler alert)
Rainbow Valley by L.M. Montgomery (reviewed here)
81 Famous Poems (audiobook, reviewed here)
Thrush Green by Miss Read (reviewed here)

(Titles in yellow are free for Kindle.)