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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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!


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.)

Friday, July 7, 2017

Worthwhile Movie #17 - Denial

My husband and I rarely go to the movie theater since modern films are too crass for our tastes. But when WORLD magazine reviews an exceptionally good film, we  stand up and take notice. That's how we recently watched and (surprise!) thoroughly enjoyed Hidden FiguresQueen of Katwe, and Denial. Since the two first two films are more well-known, I'll be focusing on the last one.

Interestingly, Denial was the least entertaining of the three. The subject was heavy and the characters were not necessarily endearing. BUT the theme of the movie is an important one for our times. Though the characters smoke and drink, and although there are two outbursts of strong profanity, I highly recommend this film.

Storyline: Deborah Lipstadt is professor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies at Emory University. In her book, Denying the Holocaust, she calls out David Irving as a false historian and liar for teaching that the holocaust never happened. He sues her for libel. In cases of libel in England the accused is guilty until proven innocent, so Lipstadt has to go to England to defend herself.

My thoughts: The theme of rewriting history to fit one's own personal views couldn't be more relevant to our times since reality is more and more defined by feelings rather than facts. Lipstadt wasn't so much on trial as was the historicity of the extermination of 6 million Jews during WWII. How was her legal team to prove that it really happened? The answer seems obvious to simple-minded mortals like myself (What about all those books that were written by eye-witnesses?), but you have only to hear the wiley arguments of David Irving to see that it wasn't going to be quite that simple.

This is a court room drama with a great script and good acting. Tom Wilkinson does a wonderful job as Lipstadt's lawyer. Only one thing rankled me about the film. Near the end Lipstadt recites a list of undeniable historial facts, and slips in a reference to a specific scientific theory as though it were equally irrefutable, which seemed a little shoddy in light of the rest of the film.

I guess it only adds to the discussion of truth and how to defend it.


Thursday, July 6, 2017

July E-Fiction Deals at Amazon

I always enjoy combing through the monthly deals at Amazon; this month there is a lot of marked down fiction for summer reading.

Vintage Fiction: The White Cottage Mystery by Margery Allingham, The Yellow Room by Mary Roberts Rinehart (mixed reviews)

Seven by Wendell Berry (some non-fiction): Jayber Crow, A Place on Earth, New Collected Poems, Nathan Coulter, Memory of Old Jack, Our Only World, What are People For?

Three by Arthur C. Clarke: Childhood's End, History Lesson (collected short stories #1) and The Sentinel (collected short stories #2)

Christian authors (who I am not familiar with) have several titles each: Ted Dekker (Three, Adam), Terri Blackstock (Last Light, Distortion, If I Run), and Robert Whitlow (Life Everlasting, Higher Hope, The Living Room) I read a sample of Whitlow's writing that was quite good, but these plots sound far-fetched.

The Blue Sword - McKinley (Newberry Honor, YA Fantasy)

Cold Sassy Tree by Olivia Ann Burns


Friday, June 30, 2017

Thrush Green by Miss Read

A few weeks back I posted a review of the second of the Thrush Green books, Winter in Thrush Green. When I saw that I could read the first book via a Kindle Unlimited free trial, I jumped at the chance. I'm so glad I got to read the lovely introduction to the series.

The title might as well have been "The Fair at Thrush Green" because many of the events are connected to the magical day in May when Mrs. Curdle's fair comes to town. First we see it through the eyes of a little boy:

He lay there for a minute, beneath his tumbled bedclothes, savoring the excitement. His mind's eye saw again, with the sharp clarity of a six-year-old, the battered galloping horses with flaring nostrils, the glittering brass posts, twisted like giant sugar sticks, the dizzying red and yellow swing boats and the snakes of black rope that coiled across the bruised grass of Thrush Green waiting to ensnare the feet of the bedazzled. (p. 3)

Then we see it through the eyes of  the aging fair owner, the town physician, a pair of young lovers, a cantankerous spinster, and a lonely girl. Miss Read (née Dora Jessie Saint, 1913-2012) wonderfully describes human emotions without sentimentality. Even the way she writes about the lovers is fresh and light (none of the sweaty palms and goose bumps of most romantic Christian fiction.)

He knew, with a deep sense of wonder and inner comfort that was to remain with him all his life, that the girl before him was his forever, to be as essential to him, as much part of him, as his hand or eye. (p. 115)

Though people drink, smoke and swear on occasion, this is an utterly charming community that you will learn to love. Many of the characters face their trials bravely, cheerfully, and with an eye to serving others that I find absolutely refreshing in comparison to the self-absorbed characters in much modern fiction.

There are witticisms such as the food poisoning inflicted by the eccentric Dotty Harmer. Her neighbors are so used to it that they affectionately call it "Dolly's Collywobbles." The writing is gently lyrical: A gray squirrel darted up a tree with breath-taking ease, and the young man watched it leaping from bough to bough, as light and airy as a puff of gray smoke. (p.91)

Blessed are those who have access to these books. I will not be paying $10 each for the Kindle versions, so hope to find some of them when I'm in the U.S. next year. One of the commenters from the original post said she's been collecting all of them to read in order. A splendid idea!


Friday, June 23, 2017

81 Famous Poems

I love poetry anthologies, but am often dismayed by the inclusion of modern stuff that can barely be called poetic. (See my review of The Poet's Corner, for one example.) What a treat to find this audio compilation via my library's digital services.

No fluff here. The poems are all bona fide classics ranging from Milton’s “On His Blindness” to Blake’s “Little Lamb Who Made Thee?” to Robert Burn’s “To a Mouse.” If you want an education on the best-of-the-best, you need go no further. Alexander Scourby, Nancy Wickwire, and Bramwell Fletcher are all exceptional narrators. (A sample of Scourby reading "Elegy in a Country Churchyard" is here.)

I remember needing my college professor to explain “My Last Duchess,” but if I had heard this audio version, I would have had NO DOUBT as to Browning’s subtle meanings. This is probably the most powerful poem in the bunch because of the outstanding narration.

My enjoyment of the readings was enhanced by the fact that I was already acquainted with most of them. (If you are not familiar with them, it would take several listens to get their gist.) A particular favorite is Tennyson’s “The Eagle:”

He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
Close to the sun in lonely lands,
Ring’d with the azure world, he stands.
The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
He watches from his mountain walls,
And like a thunderbolt he falls.

Apparently there is no book form of this compilation. It’s a supplement to the larger Norton Anthology of Poetry, third edition. The version I listened to said it was put out by BBC audio, which may explain why it is so top-notch. If you already love good poetry, or would like to become more knowledgeable, this is a lovely opportunity to plunge in. Highly recommended.


Friday, June 16, 2017

Winter in Thrush Green by Miss Read

After reading four dreadful books in a row, I was desperate for something light and uplifting. Winter in Thrush Green was just the ticket.

This is my third Miss Read novel and my favorite so far. It takes place in the fictional village of Thrush Green in the 1950s. It’s very British and cozy in that there is no huge plotline. It recounts the ups and downs of the townfolk and avoids sentimentality by showing people’s faults. The characters are summed up in a few eloquent phrases that enable the reader to picture them perfectly:

Winnie Bailey had watched her neighbors, grow from children to men and women, and followed their fortunes with an interest which was both shrewd and warm-hearted.

. . . The rector of Thrush Green bore a striking resemblance to the cherubs which decorated his church and his disposition was as child-like and innocent as theirs. He was a man blessed with true humility and warm with charity. From the top of his shining bald head to the tips of his small black shoes he radiated a happiness that disarmed all comers.

My only complaint is that the author highlights so many different characters that it's hard to feel like you "know" any one person. Maybe you need to read all the Thrush Green books for that.

Miss Read was the pseudonym for British writer Dora Saint (1913-2012). She wrote novels of English rural life in two villages, Fairacre and Thrush Green. They are still so popular that they run about ten dollars for Kindle, so I was happy to pick up this title when it was marked down to $2. Some of her titles are free if you have Kindle Unlimited.


Monday, June 12, 2017

Literary Fiction Deals in E-books for June

Most of Amazon's monthly deals are fluffy pop culture titles, so I was delighted to see some heftier titles for sale this month.

The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club by Dorothy Sayers (Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries Book 5)
This Day: Collected and New Sabbath Poems by Wendell Berry
A Place in Time by Wendell Berry (20 Port William Stories)
Poems by C.S. Lewis
3 James Herriot classics

Rumer Godden is a non-typical author whose books I enjoy, but I rarely see them available for Kindle. So I was intrigued to find The Battle of the Villa Fiorita for $1.99. I have not read this, but reviewers at Amazon write: "This is a thought-provoking novel that explores marriage, divorce, and family life with wit and sensitivity." And "It's well-written, witty and charming, but it's also heartbreakingly sensitive." I'll be giving it a try.

P.S. If your library has Hoopla digital services, you can read most of these titles for free.


Friday, June 9, 2017

On Stories by C.S. Lewis

I've read and appreciated The Chronicles of Narnia and half a dozen other C.S. Lewis titles, but one of my favorites is his lesser known An Experiment in Criticism (which I reviewed in 2009). On Stories is a book of essays that continues with the same theme of literary taste, what it means and how it is formed.

I thoroughly enjoyed Lewis' thoughts on fairy tales, Tolkien, Dorothy Sayers and children's lit because those are subjects dear to my heart. (This is the book with the famous quote, "A children's story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children's story.") He makes a valiant effort to define good art vs. bad art in his essay, "Different Tastes in Literature." The other essays (on authors and topics that were unknown to me) required perseverance. This is a perfect book for reading in short spurts, giving yourself time to mull over and digest its ideas.

Lewis had a wide range of reading tastes and mentions many authors who were popular during his lifetime but who have since dropped off the scene. The third essay was a tribute to new-to-me author E.R. Eddison. The day after I read that chapter, I saw Eddison listed on Nick Senger's list of 50 classics. (It's #22 - The Worm Ouroboros.) I love making reading connections!

Other authors mentioned by Lewis that sent me scurrying for more information were Tobias Smollet, Mervyn Weakes, John Collier and Alfred Mee. Lewis compliments Henry Rider Haggard for the first lines of the book She and H.G. Wells for When The Sleeper Awakes. He has high praise for James Stephens' Deirdre (published in 1923) and calls David Lindsay's Voyage to Arcturus a "shattering, intolerable, and irresistible work."  His referral to Edwin Abbott's Flatland and George William Russell's poetry also added to my "books to investigate" list. Lewis admits that some of these authors have more imagination than writing skill, but that their stories are compelling nonetheless. Happily, most are free for Kindle so it won't be an expensive to explore them.


Monday, June 5, 2017

June Non-fiction E-book Deals at Amazon

There are so many good deals this month I'm breaking them into two posts. First, I'll highlight the non-fiction deals.

Cherish by Gary Smalley ($2.99)
The Mingling of Souls by Matt Chandler ($1.99)
Marriage Builder by Larry Crabb (one of my favorite marriage books, 99 cents)

Bible Study
These 21 commentaries by Warren Wiersbe are $1.99 (rather than the usual $10)

BEST DEAL: Commentaries on ALL of Paul's Letters (9 books for $2!)

Old Testament:
Genesis 1-11 (Be Basic), Judges (Be Available), Ruth & Esther (Be Committed), II Samuel & I Chronicles (Be Restored), Psalm 90-150 (Be Exultant), Proverbs (Be Skillful), Ezekiel (Be Reverent), Isaiah (Be Comforted), Minor Prophets - six books (Be Amazed) three others (Be Heroic)

New Testament:
John 13-21(Be Transformed), Romans (Be Right), I Corinthians (Be Wise), II Corinthians (Be Encouraged), Galatians (Be Free), Ephesians (Be Rich), James (Be Mature), 1 John (Be Real), I Peter (Be Hopeful), II Peter, II John, III John, Jude (Be Alert)

Other Topics
We Cannot be Silent: Speaking Truth to Our Culture by Albert Mohler Jr.
In Praise of Slowness: Challenging the Cult of Speed by Honoré (secular but helpful, I reviewed it here)

My next post will be on great deals in literary fiction.


Friday, June 2, 2017

Quotes from The Picture of Dorian Gray

Last week I reviewed The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. I wrote earlier that I was flabbergasted by the subtle poisonous theories that Lord Henry teaches Dorian. They sound clever and funny but within the context of the novel, they are deeply disturbing. Here are just a few examples.

The one charm of marriage is that it makes a life of deception absolutely necessary for both parties.

There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well-written, or badly written. That is all.

Conscience and cowardice are really the same things.

I like persons better than principles, and I like persons with no principles better than anything else in the world.

The people who love only once in their lives are really the shallow people. What they call loyalty and fidelity, I call lack of imagination.

The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it. Resist it, and your soul grows sick with longing for the things it is forbidden to have.

Youth is the one thing worth having... Be always searching for new sensations. Be afraid of nothing...

To be good is to be in harmony with one's self. Ones' own life - that is the important thing.

It is better to be beautiful than to be good.

The only horrible thing in the world is ennui. That is the one sin for which there is no forgiveness.

Most of Lord Henry's audience do not agree with these ideas, but he spouts them out with such offhand charm, that it's hard to argue against him. Gray swallows them unreservedly and it leads to his ruin. 


Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Books I read in May

Here's a recap of the books I read this month. Again, I'm putting them in order of enjoyment: most pleasant to least pleasant. Sadly, I read an unusual amount of duds this month.

On Stories by C.S. Lewis (review forthcoming)
French Women Don't Get Fat (a joyful, sensible look at food and dieting)
Winter in Thrush Green by Miss Read (a nice surprise after several disappointing books in a row, review forthcoming)
Take and Give by Amanda G. Stevens (book 3 in a heart-racing series)
Creed by Winfield Bevins (the basics of the Christian faith for a biblically illiterate generation)
Death by Living - Essays on life by N.D. Wilson (I liked this, but didn't love it)
Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (reviewed here)
Reservations for Two by Hillary Lodge (Foodie/Travel romance. The first in the series was better.)
By Still Waters - vintage poetry by George William Russell
Bookshop on Rosemary Lane by Ellen Berry (very modern love story, NOT the cozy read implied by the cover)
The Real Adventure by H.K. Webster (100 year old vintage novel that helped plant the seeds of radical feminism in our culture, reviewed here.)


Friday, May 26, 2017

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

My knowledge of Oscar Wilde was limited to his epigrams, and his fairy tales (The Selfish Giant, The Happy Prince, etc.) I had a vague idea that he'd lived a profligate life, but that didn't keep me from wanting to read The Picture of Dorian Gray. Maybe it should have.

The novel opens with Gray being painted by artist Basil Hallward. He is in the bud of youth and serves as a muse for Hallward, causing him to paint his best portrait yet. Hallward's friend, Lord Henry Wotton, wanders into the studio one day and meets Gray, enchanted by this perfect specimen of unspoiled manhood. He wonders how easy it would be to mold his character and begins to plant all sorts of half truths and sordid thoughts into the young man's mind.

It was at this point that I had to switch from the audiobook to the print version. Wotton's silver tongue and the honeyed voice of the book's narrator were too overwhelmingly convincing. I was hearing so many outright (yet wonderfully agreeable) lies that I was having difficulty dividing truth from fiction.

You have only a few years in which to live really, perfectly, and fully.  When your youth goes, your beauty will go with it, and then you will discover that there are no triumphs left for you. . . . Don't squander the gold of your days, listening to the tedious, trying to improve the hopeless failure, or giving away your life to the ignorant, the common, and the vulgar. These are sickly aims, the false ideals of our age. (p. 17)

It was easy to see how the impressionable young Gray became intoxicated with Hallward's hedonistic philosophy and plunged into a pursuit of worldly pleasures. His downward spiral was rather horrifying. Near the end of the novel, a few Bible verses were thrown in about reaping what you sow, but it was too little too late. I'm glad I can cross this off my Back to the Classics Reading Challenge once and for all. Not sure if I would recommend it. Wilde's writing is very, very good, but I felt emotionally and spiritually depleted after reading this title.

Next week, I'll be highlighting specific quotes from the book.


Friday, May 19, 2017

The Young Clementina by D.E. Stevenson

Misleading Cover
I've written before that I enjoy D.E. Stevenson's novels for their good writing, friendly conversation and emphasis on comfortable romance (as opposed to goose bumps, sweaty palms and racing hearts). I picked up The Young Clementina because I was in need of a light-hearted diversion. The cover led me to believe it was written in the same vein as the Miss Buncle books, but I was quite mistaken.

The Young Clementina caught me off guard because 1) It is not light-hearted. Most of the characters have been broken by war, sin or loneliness. 2) The title is completely wrong. Young Clementina plays a part in the story, but is not its main focus. 3) It has a lot more drama than I'm used to in Stevenson's books.

Accurate Cover
The book opens with Charlotte Dean, a lonely spinster, who works in a stuffy London library. She is on the verge of making a huge life decision. Should she give up her quiet, orderly life and raise her motherless god child, Clementina? Since she has no one to talk to (all her friends and family are either dead or estranged,) she pours out her heart (in writing) to a stranger she met on a bus. She doesn't even know the stranger's name, but hopes that expressing her thoughts to a "friend" will help clarify her thinking. A pitiful scenario.

I dislike spoilers very much, so I will finish by saying that Miss Dean comes through her trials a stronger, better person. If I had known that this was Stevenson's attempt at a more serious novel, my expectations would have been different, and I probably would have enjoyed it a lot more.


Friday, May 12, 2017

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Many classics can be read with delight, but The Scarlet Letter is not one of them. Yet even though it is not beautifully written, it is a compelling and powerful novel.

Most people are familiar with the story. Hester Prynne is punished for adultery by being forced to wear an embroidered letter "A" on her clothing, "to be a living sermon against sin." She refuses to divulge the name of her lover to the governing body of the Puritan community and alone suffers public humiliation and ostracization for her iniquity. The unrevealed lover suffers his own private agony because of unconfessed sin.

Even though I read it in college, I could not remember why it was considered the great American novel. So I was glad to find a study guide from my library to remind me. The guide helped a little, but emphasized the book's ambiguity more than anything.

What struck me most was that Hester calmly and coldly accepted her punishment, but never really seemed to repent. In fact, the book emphasizes that the more she withdrew from society, the more she "wandered, without rule or guidance, in a moral wilderness." The scarlet letter was her passport into regions where other women dared not tread. Shame, Despair, Solitude! These had been her teachers - stern and wild ones - and they had made her strong, but taught her much amiss. (111) This leaves the reader to wonder if it was Hester's fault or the community's. If they had embraced her instead of shunned her, could she have been redeemed?

Here comes the ambiguity. In all her shame and loneliness, Hester visits the sick and the poor. The scarlet letter had the effect of the cross on the nun's bosom. It imparted to the wearer a kind of sacredness... (p. 91) She is even compared to the Madonna and child as she stands with her baby outside the prison.

How I wished I could go back in time and listen to my professor at Asbury explain this book to me. Freedom vs. authority, the wages of sin, and the role of community in regulating morality are just a few of the themes which Hawthorne offers as fascinating fodder for thought.


Monday, May 8, 2017

May E-book Deals at Amazon - Cozy Mysteries

Not a whole lot to recommend on Amazon's e-book deals this month. There are quite a few cozy mysteries for $1.99. But beware. Sometimes they are so cozy, that they are silly. I've only read (and liked) one of these authors (Deering). I suggest downloading a free sample of the book before buying it. And be sure to check with your library. I saw that both Deering titles are now available as free digital downloads through Hoopla from my Michigan branch.

Tea with Milk and Murder by H.Y. Hanna
Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder by Joanna Fluke
Twisted Threads by Lea Wait
Moving is Murder by Sara Rosett
Murder on the Moor by Julianna Deering
Meet Your Baker by Ellie Alexander
Dressed for Death by Julianna Deering
Annabel Lee by Mike Nappa (much grittier than the others on the list, but I read a good review of it in WORLD magazine)
Shipshewana Amish Mystery Collection by Vanetta Chapman
Murder in an Irish Village by Carlene O'Connor

Ann Cleeves has six mystery titles on sale. She's British which is in her favor, but I don't know how clean she is.

Also, I've read mostly good reviews of The Secret of Humming Cake, which is only $1.99, but I'm put off by a couple of reviewers' comments such as, "it's an easy read" and "it had a few good life lessons." Is it typical Christian drivel?