Friday, July 23, 2021

"Plain Jayne" by Hillary Manton Lodge

I have never really read much "Amish fiction," though I remember when it was the hottest thing in Christian fiction.  But Hillary Manton Lodge has become an auto-buy author for me, and that means not only that I will buy her next book whenever it drops, but that I want to read her earlier works too, like Plain Jayne and its follow-up, Simply Sara.  I was able to find copies of both of them recently, which made me so happy.

Jayne Tate is a motorcycle-riding, alt-rock-listening, story-chasing journalist.  But after her estranged father dies, her writing suffers, and so her editor makes her take time off to regroup.  Rather than go hiking or take a lot of naps or take up gardening, Jayne decides to go hang out with Amish people so she can write a newspaper or magazine article about them to sell freelance.  Which is kind of a nosy and aren't-I-superior-to-you attitude to have, but of course, she soon learns that there's a lot more to Amish life than horses and quilts and waking up extremely early in the morning.  

Jayne meets a formerly Amish carpenter named Levi who interests her immediately, even though she has a boyfriend back in the city.  Levi's family allows her to live with them and write about them, even though they have nothing to do with Levi anymore because he left the Amish faith and became a Protestant.  Over the course of the book, Jayne makes steps to reconcile with her estranged mother and sister, learns how to bake pie, and reevaluates her own faith.

I think my favorite part of this book is that Jayne realizes that a simple, Amish life is not for everyone.  She learns how to focus and how to prioritize, but she also understands that you can serve the Lord from a modern life that uses electricity just as well from an old-fashioned one.  Although I've really never read any other Amish Christian fiction, I have gathered from reviews and such that generally such books have an opposite conclusion, which I don't find to be healthy.  After all, Godliness with contentment is great gain -- which means being contented with the life you've been given, not trying to conform to someone else's life.

Particularly Good Bits:

Some people might question the consumption of ice cream in fifty-degree weather, and that's their prerogative.  I'm just not one of them (p. 107).

Living in a small town was like being followed by a Greek chorus who lamented your latest mishap (p. 150).

Just because my life wasn't simple didn't make it insignificant.  Owning a cell phone didn't make me a lesser person (p. 256).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-13 for some discussions of whether or not an unmarried couple will spend the night in bed together.  (Spoiler alert: they don't.)

This is my 33rd book read off my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2021.

Thursday, July 15, 2021

"I'm Your Huckleberry" by Val Kilmer

I picked this book up at the bookstore on an absolute whim.  I didn't even know he'd written a book! But it's not shocking that it would catch my eye, since Val Kilmer has long been one of my favorite actors.  I've always thought of him as off-kilter, extremely intelligent, and funny, so I figured his book might be similar.

I was totally right.  This doesn't feel like a memoir so much as spending a couple of days listening to Kilmer reminisce about his family, his career, and his love life.  Happily, he never goes into any kind of racy details about that last item.  He never says mean or snide things about any of the women he dated, or his ex-wife Joanne Whalley.  He's remarkably gentlemanly, in fact.  You get the idea that he is dazzled by women, but has no real idea what they want or need out of life or a man.  Which was kind of fascinating, in a somewhat sad way.

I was really happy that most of the book was a sort of behind-the-scenes tour of many of his famous movies, because that's what I wanted the most from it.  And he definitely delivered.  I think the only movie of his that I love that he didn't cover at all here is Spartan (2004).  So that was immensely satisfying.  Do I wish he would have delved more deeply into a few of them?  Yes.  But what is here is very fun.  And I got to learn some of his thoughts on Hamlet and what it was like to play the title character onstage, which you know thrilled me.

Val Kilmer was raised a Christian Scientist, and he talks a LOT about his particular religious beliefs in this book.  They're a little peculiar, to me, but I definitely respect his commitment to serving his fellow humans with love and compassion and generosity.  He also explains his battle with throat cancer and his struggle to discover a new way of acting now that his golden voice is gone.

Particularly Good Bits:

When you dream dreams when you're young, do them before you have a reason not to.  When you are young, that is when all the dreams come true (p. 94).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-16 for some veiled references to sex, discussions of drug and alcohol use, and the very sad story of his youngest brother's drowning.

This was my 32nd book read off my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2021.

Friday, July 9, 2021

"Christy" by Catherine Marshall

I'd read this once before, back in the mid-'90s when the TV series based on this book first aired.  Which is why I have a TV-tie-in cover, of course.  It was such a BIG deal when that show aired, to the people where I lived right then!  You see, I lived in western North Carolina, only a couple of hours from the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee where this book is set, and where the series was partially filmed.  And if you think that Appalachian mountainfolk weren't simultaneously excited for a big TV series to be all about people like their forebears, and also terribly apprehensive of how those forebears would be portrayed... well, you need to think again.  

You see, a lot of times, pop culture portrays the mountain folk of Appalachia as being half-witted and ornery and generally useless.  The hillbilly caricature is awfully prevalent in movies and TV shows in particular, and naturally, people who actually live in the Appalachians are sensitive about this.  It's true that things like feuds, moonshining, superstitions, and hardscrabble farming were parts of life in the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains for some people, generations ago.  But when those things get turned into the sum total of a fictional character, then you end up with a caricature instead of a representation of life.  Anyway, that's why the people I grew up around were cautious about the show.  

I think just about everyone I knew at the time watched the show.  And then discussed it with everyone else.  Certainly, all my friends and all my mom's friends did.  It's been years and years since I watched it, but I have the whole series on DVD and am now seriously considering pulling it out to see how my memory of it compares to the actual show.

Anyway.  This is supposed to be a book review.  All of that was just to explain to you why I'd read this 25 years ago, as a teen.  I reread it now because my book group chose it for our summer read, and here we are.

This book just flew by.  I was so engrossed.  It was a very nostalgic read for me, not because I felt nostalgic for being a teenager and reading it the first time, but rather, it made me nostalgic for the Appalachians of North Carolina, so close to Tennessee, so similar in so many ways.  All the descriptions of mountain scenery just hit me right in the feels, and yeah... I became an odd mixture of hyped up and melancholy at times.

Christy is based on the life of Catherine Marshall's mother, Leonora, although it's highly fictionalized.  Her mother did grow up around Asheville, NC, and go teach school in the mountains of Tennessee at a mission school.  Some things, like walking seven miles through snow to reach the school, are based on fact.  There really were an inspiring woman and a handsome young preacher leading the mission.  But enough of the book is made up that it's considered fiction.  If you want to know more about the fact vs. fiction, I recommend reading this and this.

But on to the fiction.  Christy Huddleston is a college student in 1912 when she listens to a presentation about work being done to help educate the people in remote areas of the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee.  She learns they need a teacher and volunteers to teach for one year even though she hasn't finished her own schooling.  Even though she grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, also part of the Appalachians, she feels as if she's entering a whole new world when she reaches Cutter Gap, TN.  At first, she looks down on the mountain people there, assuming that because their lives are simple and hard, lacking in things like indoor plumbing, basic sanitation knowledge, electricity, and other modern "necessities," the people living there must be simple and backward too.  

But she learns, sometimes painfully slowly, that her assumptions about these people can lead to more than just simple misunderstandings.  She sees things like moonshine and thinks of it as evil and contemptible until she learns how and why people come to depend on it for their livelihoods.  She looks at the feuds between families and sees only hatred and ignorance until she learns about their histories, sometimes needing to learn about hundreds of years ago when these people's ancestors came here from Scotland, and why.

Most of all, Christy learns to look and think before she speaks and acts.  And that includes taking a hard look at her own beliefs about God and Christianity, and looking at her own reasons for coming there, and for staying to teach even when things get hard.  She is befriended and mentored by several women, romanced by the mission's minister, and challenged by the local doctor to think and believe and act for herself instead of always following the example of those she admires.  It's a coming of age story, more than anything.  And I'm very fond of those.

Also, Miss Alice Henderson is my hero.  As the quotations below will show, hee.

Particularly Good Bits:  

"'Before God,' he would often say to me, 'I've just one duty as a father.  That is to see that thee has a happy childhood tucked under thy jacket'" (p. 71).

But to Miss Alice it was lack of joy that was the heresy (p. 117).

There was something I had noticed too: an initial acceptance of herself as she was and so of other people with their foibles.  And so she did as little scolding or criticizing of others for their foolish behavior or their sins as anyone I had ever known.  it was not that she was willing to compromise with wrongdoing or poverty or ignorance, just that she was a long step ahead of wasting emotional energy on fretting.  And she never put pressure on the rest of us to accept her opinions.  The secret of her calm seemed to be that she was not trying to prove anything.  She was -- that was all.  And her stance toward life seemed to say: God is -- and that is enough (p. 174).

"Such morbid introspection," Miss Alice added crisply, "was nonsense.  Either God exists -- or He does not.  If He does, either an individual has a relationship with Him -- or that relationship has been severed.  Indigestion or arthritis can't change the bottom fact that God is or the unfailingness of a single one of His promises" (p. 376).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-16 for violence, a long section about a typhoid epidemic that can get pretty disgusting, and a discussion of a child's grooming and rape by a serial child molester (it happened in the past and is related as the backstory for a character, but still, it's not something I'd let a young teen son or daughter of mine read).

This is my 23rd book read and reviewed for my third Classics Club list.