Sunday, February 26, 2023

"The Truth Will Set You Free" by Samuel L. Hoard

This autobiography was a wonderful read.  It shows so beautifully how a person's religious beliefs and their behavior can and should meld together.  And it has some really good discussion of the doctrine of vocation, what it means to live out the different roles God calls you to.

Black minister Samuel L. Hoard details his struggle to get accepted to a Lutheran seminary in the 1940s, his work during the Civil Rights movements of the 1950s, and his stint as a military chaplain serving in Vietnam during the 1960s.  It also discusses his parish ministry work and how strongly he believed that integrated churches are the best option.  Black and white parishioners should worship side-by-side in the same congregations, not be separated by force or by choice.  Rev. Hoard worked hard to live his life as a testimony to his belief that Christ died to save everyone and loves everyone equally.  Whether that meant participating in a Civil Rights demonstration or praying with a dying soldier in the middle of a battle, he did what he was called to do.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who would like to read about the struggle for equality from the perspective of a Christian.  Or to anyone who isn't sure how to fight against prejudice and injustice in a loving, Christ-like way!

Particularly Good Bits:

While I have pity for and sometimes anger against those who are racist, I cannot hate them (p. 11).

I learned from these conversations that if a person -- white or black -- is determined to keep a closed mind and be prejudiced, there is nothing much that can be done or said (p. 39).

The United States isn't perfect; it still has many social problems, racism being a major one.  But seeing the Berlin Wall made me deeply grateful for the liberties enjoyed by all Americans, black as well as white (p. 137-38).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for describing the violence and bloodshed of war in a gentle way, and for tackling some difficult and fairly grown-up issues.  It is not something young children would read, but it is definitely something high school students would benefit from!

This is my tenth book read from my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2023.

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Top Ten Tuesday: And Then a Heroine Comes Along

This week's Top Ten Tuesday prompt from That Artsy Reader Girl is "Favorite Heroines."  I've decided to list mine in alphabetical order by first name because I am late getting this post finished and I don't want to take the time and mental energy to figure out whom I like best.  I'm also going to list a few attributes I associate with each of them, though, so you can get an idea of what they are like!

Anne Elliot in Persuasion by Jane Austen -- shy, quiet, sensible, loyal, kind, tenacious, bookish

Anne Shirley from the Anne of Green Gables books by L. M. Montgomery -- quirky, imaginative, bookish, starry-eyed, stubborn

Constance Kopp from Girl Waits with Gun and the rest of the Kopp Sisters series by Amy Stewart -- sensible, down-to-earth, brave, stalwart, capable, determined

Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter books by J. K. Rowling -- intelligent, loyal, courageous, level-headed, resourceful, curious, bookish

Jane Eyre from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte -- strong-willed, strong-minded, indomitable, resilient, affectionate

Jo March from Little Women, Little Men, and Jo's Boys by Louisa May Alcott -- independent, smart, imaginative, bookish, understanding, stubborn, resourceful, dependable

Mary Russell from The Beekeeper's Apprentice and the rest of the series featuring Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes by Laurie R. King -- willful, intelligent, gutsy, bookish, indomitable, skillful

Thursday Next from The Eyre Affair and the rest of the series by Jasper Fforde -- trustworthy, diligent, determined, curious, strong-willed

Trixie Belden from the Trixie Belden series by Kathryn Kenny -- smart, loyal, curious, pugnacious, determined

Valancy Stirling from The Blue Castle by L. M. Montgomery -- bright, vibrant, bookish, diligent, kind, forthright

Well, from my listing of random character traits and descriptions, I think we can see the sorts of traits I value in fictional characters!  There are a lot of similarities here, aren't there?

Monday, February 20, 2023

"A Tangled Web" by L. M. Montgomery

I'm going to enjoy this book a lot more the next time I read it.  This time, I was so terribly worried about how some of the storylines were going to turn out that I simply had to finish it as fast as possible, which was not exactly relaxing.  Next time, I will be secure in the knowledge of whose storylines turn out happily (and nearly all of them do), and I can just laugh at all the sarcasm and acidic wit, and at all the completely ridiculous human foibles they're aimed at.

Two huge old Canadian families, the Darks and the Penhallows, have intermarried so often over the past several generations that they're basically all one giant clan now.  Old Aunt Becky, the clan matriarch, is expected to announce who will inherit a specific heirloom, an ugly old jug painted with hideous nonsense that is one of the funniest MacGuffins I have ever encountered.  Everyone in the clan wants the antique jug, and thinks they have a right to it, even though it's really not a desirable object in and of itself.  It has a tragic family history, and because everyone knows everyone else wants it, everyone just keeps wanting it.

Well, Aunt Becky does NOT announce who she's leaving the jug to.  She sets up a year of suspense and intrigue for the whole clan by leaving instructions on who is to keep it for the next year, along with a sealed letter saying whom she will bequeath it to.  And then she dies like two weeks later, and all the Darks and Penhallows spend a year trying to be as circumspect and respectable and worthy of that jug as they possibly can.  Because they all think that the letter might say that the person who has been temporarily entrusted with the jug should decide himself who gets it.

(Mine from my Instagram account.)

That's really just the backdrop for the book, though.  The story mainly revolves around three couples: Gay Penhallow and Noel Gibson, Donna Dark and Peter Penhallow, and Joscelyn and Hugh Dark.  Gay and Noel are freshly engaged, but Gay discovers that her engagement may not lead to marriage after all.  Donna and Peter's families have hated each other for decades, but then Donna and Peter experience a jolt of love-at-first-sight and have to try to figure out a way to get together.  Joscelyn and Hugh have been married for ten years, but parted ways in bitterness a few hours after their wedding and have been living separate lives all this time.

The title makes me think of the old Sir Walter Scott quotation, "Oh what a tangled web we weave When first we practice to deceive."  Which I'm sure it's meant to.  What's interesting is that most of the deception practiced in this book is self-deception.  Gay had deceived herself into getting engaged to a shallow man just because he's handsome and charming.  Donna is a widow who deceived herself into thinking she should never love another man because her first husband died young during WWI.  Joscelyn deceived herself for ten years that she loves a man other than Hugh that she only saw once, but thinks she is bound to forever because of what she felt in that one meeting.  And all the other members of the clan deceive themselves over a whole lot of random things -- including whether or not they are worthy of inheriting the jug.

I laughed aloud quite a lot over this book.  Montgomery reveals a sharp and biting wit similar to Jane Austen's as she lays bare the ridiculous things people are capable of thinking and doing.  I suspect I will laugh more next time I read it, as I said, because I won't be so worried about what will happen to everyone!

Particularly Good Bits:

And, as Uncle Pippin said, while the truth was all right, in its place, there was no sense in pouring out great gobs of it around where it wasn't wanted (p. 2).

Margaret thought she would not mind growing old if she could be left to do it in peace.  It was hard to grow old gracefully when you were always being laughed at because you were not young (p. 86).

"I like any gate," said Roger whimsically.  "A gate is a luring thing--a promise.  There may be something wonderful beyond and you are not shut out" (p. 134).

One couldn't be altogether hopeless in spring (p. 234).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for a surprising number of mild curse words and one use of the N-word in regards to a statue someone has painted brown.  

I'm contributing this review to We Love L. M. Montgomery Week, which I'm hosting right now on my other blog!  Click here to see all the fun LMM posts people are contributing -- and you can join in yourself, too!  I've got a couple of games coming up, plus I'm hosting a giveaway.  One of the giveaway prizes is a copy of this book!

This has been my 9th book read off my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2023, and my 9th book read for my fourth Classics Club list.

Thursday, February 16, 2023

The In or Out Tag

Spotted this at both Deborah Koren's blog and Cindy's Book Corner and thought it looked like too much fun to pass up :-)

Unlike most tags, there are no rules about thanking people or tagging people.  If you want to fill it out, you can!  If you don't, then don't!  

Reading the Last Page First -- OUT.  I can only remember doing this once, and it was for And Now Tomorrow by Rachel Field.  I did it that time because the first section of the book made it sound like the book was going to end differently than the 1944 movie, and I adore the 1944 movie, so I had to find out if it ended the same way or not.  Because, if it didn't, I wasn't going to bother reading the whole book.  But it does, so I did read it.  And loved it.

Ordinarily, though, I don't want to ruin the flow of a story by reading the ending first.

(Bwahaha!  I snuck an Alan Ladd picture in here!)

Enemies to Lovers -- IN.  It's not my favorite trope, but I love books like Pride and Prejudice, North and South, and the Anne of Green Gables books a lot, and they all use this, so I'm fine with it.

Dream Sequences -- IN.  Sometimes, I don't even mind "it was all a dream."

Love Triangles -- IN.  They're a classic.  I've even used them myself, like in My Rock and My Refuge.  

(This and all the following book photos
are mine from my Instagram account.)

Cracked Spines -- OUT.  OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT.  My mother gave me a boxed set of four Jane Austen novels for my birthday when I was in my upper teens.  Then she borrowed them each in turn to read herself and absolutely destroyed their spines.  Not only did they no longer fit in the slipcover, you couldn't even read the titles on the spines.  They made me sad every time I looked at them, and I eventually gave them away.  I still have my original Anne of Green Gables paperbacks that my mom also ruined that way, but my grandma gave me those, so I keep them anyway.

Now, a caveat to all that, though -- if I'm buying a used copy of a vintage paperback, like a Louis L'Amour or a Rex Stout or something like that, I am super fine with the book looking like it lived in someone's back pocket for weeks on end fifty years ago.  In fact, I prefer those to shiny, new copies for specific genres and authors.  But I WILL NOT contribute MORE crackage to their spines.  And I prefer them not to be so cracked that I can't read the title anymore.

Back to My Small Town -- IN.  Although "someone new comes to town, and everything changes" is my favorite trope, I also love "someone comes back home, and everything changes."  Probably my favorite versions of that are the book The Count of Monte Cristo and movie The Lone Ranger (2013).

No Paragraph Breaks -- OUT.  Also, ew.  Also, I don't think I've ever read a book like that, but I'm against it on principle.

Multi-generational Sagas -- IN.  I mean, I'm embarking on a quest to read all of the Sackett novels by Louis L'Amour this year, so I'm obviously a fan, right?  Also, I love historical fiction, and that sort of thing generally involves lots of history.

Monsters Are Regular People -- OUT if you mean horrific villains are portrayed as normal and acceptable.  IN if you mean stories where vampires just wanna make friends and hold down a job.  Angel (1999-2004) is my second-favorite TV show of all time, after all.

Re-Reading -- IN.  I reread a LOT.  I've estimated that 1 out of 4 books I read is a reread, usually.  This past year, it was closer to 1 in 3 -- I read 103 books, and 29 were rereads.

Artificial Intelligence -- OUT.  I don't read much sci-fi, and I just am not a fan of sentient robots in general.

Drop Caps -- IN.  They usually look amazing.

Happy Endings -- IN.  I LOVE happy endings!!!

Plot Points That Only Converge at the End -- IN, as long as the book isn't too long.  I must admit, I've never read a book by Tom Clancy because I've heard so many people talk about how he'll start like eight little plots going and you never find out how they're related until the very end, and that does sound kind of daunting to keep straight.  But J. K. Rowling did the same thing over the course of the Harry Potter series, really, and I loved that.  So... I'm not against it, anyway.

Detailed Magic Systems -- IN if I don't have to read all the details.  Out if the book is basically a travelogue about a fictional world.  This is part of why I don't read a ton of fantasy and sci-fi.  Descriptions of places and how things work bore me, and if that's the bulk of your first few chapters, I'm outta here.

Classic Fantasy Races -- IN.  The fantasy I do dig, such as The Lord of the Rings and Eragon and Harry Potter, all use classic things like unicorns and elves and dwarves and centaurs and dragons. 

Unreliable Narrators -- OUT.  I am not a fan.  I want to trust the narrator to tell me what's going on.  If I can't, I'm probably going to dislike the book.

Evil Protagonists -- OUT.  One of the things I demand from fiction is that it restore moral balance by the end of the book.  Also, if the protag is evil, I'm really not going to want to like them.  And if I don't like the protag, and they either have to face dire consequences or will get away with being evil... why would I want to read that?  Why???

The Chosen One -- IN.  Harry Potter, Frodo Baggins, Eragon, the Pevensie kids... I'm totally a fan.

When the Protagonist Dies -- IN and OUT.  Ordinarily, I hate it.  I want my happy ending.  Buuuuuuut... Hamlet dies.  And I adore Hamlet.  I can be okay with protag death if that still results in a good ending.

Really Long Chapters -- IN, I guess?  I don't care, when I read.  I tend to write short chapters, though.

French Flaps -- OUT just because I don't really have any books with them and they seem annoying.  I had to look up what they are, though.

Deckled Edges -- IN.  I am a very sensory, tactile-oriented person, and how a book feels can matter a lot to me.  Like, I really can't stand cloth-bound books and avoid buying them.  I love the feel of deckled edges :-)

Signed Copies by the Author -- IN!  Why would anybody not want that?

Dog-Earing Pages -- IN!  Books are not sacred objects.  It's okay to bend the pages.  When I was just starting to read chapter books, I had a toddler brother who delighted in pulling bookmarks out of every book he found, so for several years, dog-earing was a necessity.  I usually use a bookmark, but if I don't have one, I don't feel guilty about dog-earing. 

Chapter Titles Instead of Numbers -- IN!  But be aware I will probably ignore them completely.

I was not tagged with this, so I'm not tagging anyone else, but if you think this looks fun, by all means fill it out yourself!

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Top Ten Tuesday: Love Me Tender

Our Top Ten Tuesday prompt from That Artsy Reader Girl this week is a Love/Valentine's Day Freebie, so I'm listing off my ten favorite love stories.  They are:

1. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

2. The Blue Castle by L. M. Montgomery

3. Persuasion by Jane Austen

by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

5. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

6. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

7. Speak Easy, Speak Love by McKelle George

8. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

9. A Room with a View by E. M. Forster

10. A Little Beside You by Jenni Sauer

Do we share any favorites?  What did you choose to spotlight this week?

Friday, February 10, 2023

"Shane" by Jack Schaefer (yet again)

Some fictional characters take up residence inside your heart in a quiet, calm, yet confident way, and you can't imagine life without them there anymore.  Shane is one of those, for me.  But not only Shane -- Joe and Marian and Bobby Starrett too.  The whole family of four are so, so dear to me.

This book never ceases to fascinate me.  How Shane rides onto the Starrett family farm one day, just asking for water for himself and his horse, ready to move on through again once he's refreshed.  Accepting a simple offer of hospitality, then another, then another, then taking on a job he never would have dreamed of doing before, and never would have done if it hadn't been Joe Starrett who offered it to him.  The sophisticated gunman becomes a farmer.  The aloof loner joins a family in the most integral way possible without actually becoming physically intimate with any of the family members.  He simply... becomes one of them.  Belongs to them, as the narrator remembers thinking at the time.  He adopts them, they adopt him, and he's theirs as much as they're his.

At the end, it's Shane who has to sever those ties, cut himself loose from his family so he can become the lone gunman again.  Not because he no longer loves his family, but because he loves them so much, he can't possibly do anything else.  Because greater love hath no man than this: that he would lay down his life for his friend.  And Shane loves the Starretts, as surely as they love him.  Just as surely as I love all four of them.

On the surface, it's just another story of small farmers versus a big rancher.  The big ranges slowly gave way to small ranches and farms all across the West in real life, and that metamorphosis was often painful and brutal and violent.  Shane elevates this time-worn tale by giving us heroic men and women who are straight and true and upright and clean... but not perfect.  

Over the past seven years, this story has climbed higher and higher on my favorite books list -- going from somewhere down near fifty up to rest inside my top ten even as its characters nestle a little deeper into my heart with every reread.  It's a jewel-perfect book, pacing and characters and plot and description all polished and shining and brilliant.  The 1953 movie version starring Alan Ladd as Shane is equally wonderful, and it has climbed higher and higher on my favorite movies list over the years too.

I read the Critical Edition this time, but didn't read all the essays at the end.  Yet.  I read the introductory matter, and I'm saving the other material to enjoy now and again, adding one or two to each of my future rereads of the book so I can make them last a long time.

Particularly Good Bits:

Something in father, something not of words or of actions but of the essential substance of the human spirit, had reached out and spoken to him and he had replied to it and had unlocked a part of himself to us (p. 113-114).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for some old-fashioned cussing and western violence.

Tuesday, February 7, 2023

"The Lilies of the Field" by William E. Barrett

Wow.  I mean, wow.  This book is going to end up on my top favorite new reads of 2023 list.  Many, many thanks to Katie Hanna for recommending it to me!

Homer Smith, a black twenty-four-year-old handyman from South Carolina, stumbles on a group of German nuns living in the middle of the desert in the American Southwest.  He offers to help them fix the roof of the little house they live in and ends up building them a chapel.  Homer teaches them better English; they teach him that permanency and belonging can be beautiful.

This book is warm and sweet and good-humored and funny.  Do not be shocked if I reread it in the near future.  It has such a hold on my heart right now!  I have seen the 1963 film that stars Sidney Poitier, and that is also wonderful, but the book is honestly just more delightful yet that the movie is.

Particularly Good Bits:

Homer Smith was not a late sleeper but he did not believe in stumbling around in the half light, waking up birds (p. 29).

He didn't know where or how, but that was a problem of the future and the future was never quite real to him.  A man couldn't calculate on time that hadn't arrived, happenings that hadn't happened; he had all that he could do in coping with what was already here (p. 73).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: G.  Good, clean, wholesome, uplifting book.

This is my 8th book read and reviewed for my fourth Classics Club list AND my 8th book read from my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2023!  Oh, what symmetry in that.

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

"The Vanderbeekers on the Road" by Karina Yan Glaser

Hmm.  Although I still very much enjoyed this latest installment in the Vanderbeekers series, I didn't love it quite as much as the first five.

This book picks up right where The Vanderbeekers Make a Wish left off, with Mrs. Vanderbeeker and all her kids, plus their friends Mr. Beiderman and his ward Orlando, setting off in a borrowed van to pick up Mr. Vanderbeeker.  They follow the cross-country route his dad had planned to take him on twenty years earlier, stopping at places like the St. Louis Arch and the Grand Canyon and ending up in California where his grandfather had been stationed during WWII.  And all of that was absolutely lovely.  They made new friends, acquired new pets, and had lots of really sweet adventures.

However.  As usual, the Vanderbeeker kids are keeping secrets from their parents and each other, as well as making big plans without asking for permission or telling anyone about them... but, unlike in the other books, these aren't just plans to clean up a vacant lot and make a garden or secrets about health inspections that got messed up.  The kids are working against each other, and some of the kids very nearly mess up the futures for the other kids.

Also, it's really hard to keep secrets when you're on a road trip across the whole continent.  My credulity got strained a little too much by that, I'm afraid.

However, I did still really enjoy the book, over all.  I loved how excited these city-raised kids got over getting to visit a Target, stay at a farm, and sleep under the stars.  The whole family is becoming very dear to me, and I still find their parents to be some of the finest fictional parents I have ever encountered in kids fiction.  In any fiction, really!

Particularly Good Bits:

Wasn't it funny how you could feel so drawn to home and still feel the urge to explore the whole world? (p. 143).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: G.  No objectionable content other than a few mentions of evolutionary theories and some discussion of "praying to the universe."  I did find that last thing a bit disappointing, as previous books have had the parents saying a blessing over the food or the kids saying a prayer in a non-specific way.  I liked that, because readers could feel like maybe the Vanderbeekers shared their own beliefs, but this book kind of nixed that.

This is my 6th book read from my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2023.