Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The Story Keeper

What's up? The summer is speeding past, but I'm trying to slow down and act like it's summer. We went hiking on Sunday at a national park, and we've gone to the pool several times in the past couple of weeks. We are going to college orientations, signing up for classes, getting paperwork finished, etc. We're waiting expectantly for our first grandchild. What are you doing?

Also, last week we watched the BBC mini-series of Middlemarch. I couldn't resist after reading the book. I will say that this is not nearly as good a production as North and South--but then who can beat Richard Armitage? However, this is a solid production and very true to the book. So, I would recommend it.

I finished reading The Story Keeper by Lisa Wingate for my book club. This is not my normal fare in books, but I do like to read a few Christian fiction books each year.

The story is about Jenn, an editor in a NYC Publishing House. Mysteriously, a partial, old manuscript appears on her desk one morning. She reads it and is captivated by the story; however, there is no name or return address on the manuscript from the 1990's. As she searches out the history of the manuscript, she returns to her home town and the drama she left behind. Jenn has to deal with family drama while she is trying to find out the author and background of the manuscript.

In the process of the story we also get into a history of some of the Appalachian people and the Melungeon. This was an interesting cultural element to the book.

Apparently Jenn escaped from a cult-like church from the mountains. I wish the author had used the word cult when dealing with this brutal church (they practiced caning) to distinguish it from the average church. In my mind, she didn't do enough to distance it from other churches. Using the term "Brethren" in the title of the church did more to confuse because of the other denominations with that name.

The story was interesting and fast-paced, especially the parts with Appalachian history. I read it in one day!

This is over 400 pages so I'm counting it for The Big Book Summer Challenge!

What are you reading?

Monday, July 4, 2016


Happy 4th of July! I finished my first Big Book of the summer for the Big Book Summer Challenge! And it was amazing. Seriously, I wish every 20 something would read this book before they got married.

What a masterpiece! This is a 5 star read--one of the best books I've ever read. It will go on my all-time-favorites list. Middlemarch is the story of a provincial town in England, with an amazing cast of characters, during the backdrop of political upheaval with the reform bill. I'm at a loss with how to describe the tremendous writing and nuanced character development throughout this 838 page tome--wrapped with a tremendous amount of whit.

The reason I want every 20 something to read this is because it shows friendships and romance and how relationships fall apart and how they strengthen over time. It shows the messiness of marriage (and sometimes the despair) and the joys of a strong marriage--it's so true to life and very realistic. It is very instructive to watch a man of low character turn himself around, to watch a marriage disintegrate, to watch a strong marriage continue to thrive.

You can never get to know a person fully through a few months of courtship.

One of the themes of this book is that a person's character is nuanced with good qualities and bad qualities. The decisions we make and the things we do can change a person's character for the better or for the worse.

When describing the character of Lydgate Eliot says, Character too is a process and an unfolding. The man was still in the making. . .and there were both virtues and faults capable of shrinking or expanding.

Towards the end of the book she says, Character is not cut in marble--it is not something solid and unalterable. It is something living and changing, and may become diseased as our bodies do.

One of the things I like to say to my adult kids is--the decisions you make in this decade of your life will affect the next decade of your life. And that doesn't go for just 20 somethings--it also applies to 40 and 50 somethings.

Read this one.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Summer and Challenges

We have had a very grievous week with the Orlando tragedies, haven't we?  I'm so sorry for the loss these families are suffering. I'm sorry for the loss to Orlando and the entire country. Everything else just seems so trite. Including this post.

My youngest daughter graduated from our home school a few short hours before the shooting. In the midst of the nation's tragedy, we've had a big party and fun times. Oh the ironies of life. This is also my last graduate--so I'm officially retired from home schooling after 23 years.

It's the first day of summer and the perfect day to sign up for the Big Book Summer Challenge. I have done this challenge in past summers. Last year I signed up and read Truman. But, I didn't do a follow up post.

This year, I'm going to dig into Middlemarch by George Eliot. I started it this week and already I love her writing style. It promises to be a great one. At 838 pages it certainly qualifies as a big book. It'll also count towards my Classics Challenge. I also have a beautiful clothbound edition to enjoy from Penguin Classics.

You only need to read one book over 400 pages to meet the challenge, however, you can read as many big books as you want. The challenge runs from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Hop over to Book by Book to sign up.

What are you reading this week?

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Robinson Crusoe

I was very surprised by this book. First published in 1719, this is the first shipwrecked story, a prototype for those that followed. I had just finished reading The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket by Edgar Allan Poe, and I did not enjoy that seafaring adventure. So, I wasn't looking forward to this one either. My bookclub meeting is coming....

However, I was pleasantly surprised. The story is much more complex than I guessed. Where do I begin? Well, the themes are complex. Robinson Crusoe muses on God's providence, His deliverance, His omniscience, His omnipotence and many other difficult topics.

You may know the flow of the story already, but basically a young man goes to sea against the sound advice and council of his parents. He is captured as a slave, runs away, starts a sugar plantation, and then is shipwrecked on a deserted island. All of his shipmates drown, and he alone is saved. His survival story is fascinating and interspersed with Robinson's philosophical musings and his emotional grappling of the situation. Why was he saved when everyone else perished? How come he is in this desolate situation? As in this quote:

I was very pensive upon the subject of my present condition, when reason as it were expostulated with me t'other way, thus: Well, you are in a desolate condition, 'tis true, but pray remember, Where are the ten? Why were not they sav'd and you lost? Why were you singled out? Is it better to be here or there, and then I pointed to the sea? All evils are to be consider'd with the good that is in them, and with what worse attends them.

He thinks long and hard about repentance and what it means, and we see a Christian conversion story right in the middle of his darkest moments. Robinson Crusoe was able to make a raft and swim to the shipwrecked boat to get supplies. He finds a Bible and reads it daily. He thanks God and works to build up a food supply.

More than halfway through the book, he finds out that a nearby cannibalistic tribe travels to "his" island to murder and eat people. Here's where things get a little uncomfortable for us in the 21st century. Imperialism rears its head. Robinson Crusoe believes the island is his and he is the king.

My island was now peopled, and I thought myself very rich in subjects; and it was a merry reflection which I frequently made, how like a king I look'd. First of all, the whole country was my own meer property; so that I had an undoubted right of dominion. Secondly, my people were perfectly subjected: I was absolute lord and law-giver.

He also treats his subjects as inferiors and makes them swear to be his subjects/slaves. Slavery is no where questioned which seems odd given that Robinson Crusoe was a slave at the beginning of the book.

The study of this novel could go fascinatingly deep. There is a large list of suggested further reading in my introduction. One book from University of Chicago Press discusses Robinson Crusoe as part of Puritan tradition through Bunyan and Milton; another has a discussion of Robinson Crusoe and European imperialism. Both of those topics would be an excellent study.

Friday, June 3, 2016

It's June! What's Up?

We are furiously getting ready for our youngest child's graduation from our homeschool. She is working on finishing up her PreCalculus class; we have her graduation ceremony on the 11th and her party on the 18th. Once that is finished, I'm crashing.

We also hosted a large baby shower for my older daughter who is expecting this summer.

We've had graduations, graduation parties, end of the year parties, final exams, picnics, and college son who lives at home had semester finals and the beginning of his summer class, new work schedules, and elderly caregiving for weeks along with a visit from my Dad. 

What about reading? I finished Dead Wake earlier in the month, but I just finished:

I must say--this one is a strange one. When I first started reading it, I was thinking how beautiful Edgar Allan Poe's writing style was. But, the story is a slog at times. Sorry. It took me a month to read this short tale. The middle drags with too many longitude and latitude references and descriptions of bizarre animals.

And Edgar Allan Poe--although he is a literary genius--don't you just feel sorry for the guy? He had to be weird beyond measure. He is preoccupied with the human body, birds eating dead humans and people murdering and eating people. What is it with him and human flesh? (I'm thinking of the Telltale Heart, too, murdering and cutting up a body in small pieces and stuffing it under the floorboards.) Yuck.

He also has this pronounced paranoia. You always wonder if he is just freaking out or if he's really in danger. (I'm thinking of The Raven, too.) Paranoia abounds in this work too. He has a preoccupation with being buried alive. He has a preoccupation with black and white. I really should read it again and look for all the references of black and white--they abound. One really needs to look at race relations through this novella, since it was written in 1838.

So, why did I read it? I'm reading a series of 5 novellas from American authors to get a feel for the American writer and the development of American Literature. I've read Benito Cereno by Melville, Parnassus on Wheels by Morley, A Sleep and a Forgetting by Howells, and now The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket by Poe. Next up, Cather and Fitzgerald. Apparently, this little novel influenced American literature in a great way, including Melville and Lovecraft, and Jules Verne even wrote a sequel.

This is a story of a young boy who runs away to the sea, and it is a classic shipwreck story with mutiny, deaths, storms, islands, animals, and longitude. Essentially it is a survival story multiple times over--but the ending is abrupt and very strange. I'm still trying to figure it out. Why is the water hot in the antarctic? There were a lot of loose ends in this story--where did that come from? (After a shipwreck, he mysteriously had enough handkerchiefs to tie together to lower himself off a cliff.) How is that possible? Is he paranoid or is something really freaky here?

I will still read Poe, but I'm glad this one is behind me.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Beyond the Blog, Armchair BEA Day 3

The pictures from Book Expo America look amazing! Since I'm not there, it's time to join from my armchair. Today's topic is "Beyond the Blog."

Beyond the traditional forms of the novel, what are you favorite alternative forms (graphic novels, audiobooks, webcomics)?

When I travel I bring along several audiobooks because I get carsick. That's usually only once a year on my trip to Maine. I get impatient because the story seems to go so slowly.

How do you think the changing format affects the reading experience?

Audiobooks have absolutely been a godsend to my daughter in her literature class. This year she listened to almost all of her assignments on audiobook.  She listened to Great Expectations, Pride and Prejudice, Dorian Gray, Pygmalion, and three Shakespeare plays. These fully-dramatized recordings of Shakespeare are awesome. It brings Shakespeare to life! I would highly recommend them.

 Focus on ways you engage in talking about books outside of your blog. Do you participate in bookclubs, take classes, meticulously maintain your Goodreads profile?

Bookclubs are awesome! Here is my bookclub meeting from last night. These lovely ladies meet to read and discuss books once a month. I find bookclubs are especially helpful in two situations--when you get excessively busy and when you want to read difficult books. Some months when I'm really busy the only book I finish is my bookclub book. Other times I wouldn't even attempt a book like Truman (which we read last summer) because it's difficult. I need the encouragement to keep going. I also want to talk about it!

I've had several book clubs over the years. One was an email-based bookclub. We were a far-flung group from Chicago, NJ, VA, WV, NC. That was a great bookclub. I was in it for 5 years and we were reading through all the books in The Well-Educated Mind. We finished! (more or less). I joined late, but I was able to read through the history selections, the dramas, and some of the poetry.

Goodreads? Yes! You can find me there by clicking on the link in my sidebar. I find I'm getting more and more sucked in by Goodreads. You can also find me on Instagram and Pinterest. Books, books everywhere.

What do you do to discuss books beyond your blog?

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Armchair BEA, Day 2

It's Day 2 of Armchair BEA. Since I can't go to Book Expo America in Chicago, I'm participating with Armchair BEA. Today's topic is all about aesthetics.

How often do you judge a book by its cover?


How often are you surprised by what you find?

I'm very often surprised by the contents of a book. I really don't like surprises.

Do you strategize and make sure every book in your series has the same cover design (as far as you are able to) and type? 

Is this a question to see how obsessive compulsive I am? Ha! Yes, I'm obsessive compulsive about books.
For example, I've been collecting hardbacks of The Inheritance Series for my teenagers. I couldn't just buy one copy of the series because sister and brother would fight. Would you know that one of the books is a different size than the others. Phooey.

I'm also trying to collect all the full color collector's editions of the Narnia series. I've got 4 so far. I keep looking at used book store.

I'm now collecting classics with clothbound/hardback covers from Penguin Classics and paperback novellas from Melville House Publishers.

How important is it for the visual art on the outside of the book to match or coordinate with the literature art on the inside? 

I think it's important! How important is a feather to the story in Persuasion? I don't know. I guess I'll find out.

The Blog: As a book blogger, in whatever form that takes, branding is important. Your colors, your fonts, your style of review, all of these things come together to make the "brand" of your blog - something that makes your reviews and posts and websites, all your various content, immediately recognizable to the people looking for you. Do you think about these things?

Umm...No. I just want to read books and discuss them. I'm sort of plain. My daughter...she would have abstract art or something on her blog. I just have antique paper and blue font. I suppose it goes with my love of history and classics.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Book Expo America

I've always wanted to go to Book Expo America. Wouldn't that be awesome? May is always a busy month with graduations and weddings and end of the year school activities. Now that my kids are growing up I might be able to go some day!!

In the meantime, I'd like to participate in Armchair BEA to enjoy some of the Book Expo festivities. Today is introduction day.

What is the name you prefer to use?


How long have you been a book blogger?

5 years, since January 2011

Have you participated in ABEA before?

Yes. One other time several years ago.

Do you have a favorite book? If you cannot choose a favorite book of all time, pick your favorite book today - just this second. Remember that favorites are allowed to change if something affects you deeply enough.

My top 5 classics (not in any order) are North and South by Gaskell, Cry, the Beloved Country by Paton, To Kill A Mockingbird by Lee, Jane Eyre by Bronte, and my newest addition The Edge of Sadness by O'Connor. 

What book are
you most excited for on your TBR? What are you most intimidated by? 

I'm so excited about my new clothbound Penguin classics. I've just purchased 5 of them for summer reading. Middlemarch by George Eliot, Persuasion by Jane Austen, and Far From the Madding Crowd by Hardy are several I'm eager to start reading. I'm intimidated (but excited) by Jonathan Edwards: A Life.

What is the most interesting thing that you have learned through your reading this year so far?

Well, I just finished reading Dead Wake. So I learned all sorts of interesting things about the sinking of the Lusitania. Did you know that the British Admiralty wouldn't let any of their destroyers come to the rescue of the stricken survivors? And no one knew how to use the life jackets?

If you could choose three characters to have lunch with, who would they be and why?

Jonathan and Sarah Edwards because of their intelligence, godliness, and place in American history-- and their children and marriage are fascinating.

Nik Ripken from The Insanity of God because I'd like to talk about the refugee crisis and missions.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Dead Wake

Another weekend is upon us! Happy Mother's Day to all the mothers out there. My man has been working up a storm. This is one of my Mother's Day gifts.

He made the little stand and bought the decanters so I can entertain more easily. I hate soda, and tea and lemonade are more my style.

My coreopsis is in full bloom. These little beauties are bringing some brightness to my world even though it's been raining and raining and raining some more. My roses will be out soon.

I finished Dead Wake. What a great nonfiction book! Erik Larson tells the story of the sinking of the Lusitania in vivid detail, threading together the stories of several passengers, the captain, the U-boat captain, the secret espionage room, and Wilson. There are lots of reviews online about this book. Several people complained about Wilson's love story being inserted as having nothing to do with the story. But--I thought that was a fascinating thread to weave into the narrative. He was completely distracted!

We get to read captains' logs, telegrams, and ship manifests. The utter coincidence of events coming together at the "right" time brings up some interesting questions. Why? I just wanted to scream at everyone. It's like watching the movie Jaws. You know what's coming and you feel like jumping up and down and screaming to prevent the disaster. I also felt like saying, "Don't you remember the Titanic?" There were some eerie similarities with problems with lifeboats and life jackets.

Erik Larson does an excellent job of putting the story into the larger context of the war. One haunting question about war--why should we celebrate sinking a passenger liner and give awards for killing over a thousand innocent kids, women, and families?

What are you reading?

Monday, May 2, 2016

It's May! What's up?

It's May! My youngest daughter's senior year is winding down. And my older daughter is getting ready to have a baby in July! We have a graduation and then our first grandbaby which means lots of fun and lots of transitions in my life. 

Youngest daughter and hubby being silly at our niece's wedding

In April we went to the regional speech competition and my daughter placed 6th, just missing a slot to Nationals by one place. She did very well and we were excited.

Youngest daughter and I outside the competition

What's going on in your reading life?

I finished reading this gem. The Insanity of God is not what I expected, but it was an excellent book. It is a missionary biography. This book tells the story of Nik Ripken who along with his family went to Africa as missionaries. They ended up in Nigeria, with Nik taking trips into war-torn Somalia in the 1990's. This is their story of disillusionment, of the darkness in the world, of famine and poverty and persecution. How can the world be so dark? 

Nik and his wife decide to travel around the world and speak to various persecuted Christians. They want to find out how to stand in persecution and how to help them. In the end the persecuted Christians help them. It is the Ripken's story, but also the stories of dozens of persecuted Christians from Russia, China, South East Asia, India, and the Middle East.

You will be blessed by the stories in this book. Highly recommended. It makes me want to read Black Hawk Down which happened during the same time. That's not my normal fare in reading, but it may shed light onto this time period in Somalia.

I also read Madam Will You Talk? What an interesting book. This is a fast-action, fiction book written in 1955. I read it for my book club. A widow, Charity Selborne, and her friend Louise travel to the south of France for a vacation. While there, Charity visits the ancient ruins in Avignon and surrounding countryside. She makes friends with a teenage boy who is in trouble. Thus starts the romantic mystery, complete with a murder, a crazy man, a smooth talker, a murderer and a romp around southern France. It is coincidental, and she falls in love very quickly. So this book is not meaty. 

I enjoyed the beautiful setting, the strong heroine, and the allusions to classic literature--especially the Romantic Poets. Hint: if someone is reading or named after a romantic poet, they are the good guy or gal!

I'm currently reading Dead Wake. I'm looking forward to a  little nonfiction. What are you reading?