Friday, April 28, 2023

"The Enchanted April" by Elizabeth von Arnim (again)

This is the third time I have read this book.  I simply adore it.  I'm beginning to think that no actual holiday in Italy could compare to the pure delight of reading about these remarkable ladies spending April there!

Four British ladies who do not know each other pool their resources and rent a villa in Italy for the whole month of April.  Lotty wants to escape her weary life for a bit and breathe some new and different air.  Rose wants to get away from the fact that she is sure her husband no longer loves her.  Mrs. Fisher wants to sit alone in the sunshine and think.  Lady Caroline wants to figure out what to do with her life.

They are all trying to escape their ordinary lives and get some rest in a new environment.  But they discover that they carry their lives with them.  In fact, although all four ladies had grown tired of being who they were, when they reach their Italian villa, they gradually become more their true selves than ever before.  And it's that peeling back of artificiality and exposure of the real, honest people inside themselves that transforms each of them, not the beauty of an Italian spring or the sunshine or the (comparative) solitude.

And, once the ladies have been able to reveal their true selves to themselves and to each other, they can meet other people with poise, balance, confidence, and charm.  Lotty's and Rose's husbands arrive and discover their wives are as dear and sweet and whole as they had been years ago when they were wooing.  A third male arrival benefits from both Mrs. Fisher's and Lady Caroline's transformations as well, though he doesn't know this because he had not met them before.

All in all, this book makes me smile, laugh, and rejoice.  I'm sure I'll continue to read it every couple of Aprils for the foreseeable future.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: G.  It's wholesome and sweet and uplifting.

Thursday, April 27, 2023

"The Princess and the Goblin" by George MacDonald

What a whimsical, meandering, endearing story!  I read this because I had learned that it was a big influence on both J.R.R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis, so I wanted to see what it was like.  I can definitely see some ways it influenced The Hobbit, especially the sort of "adult telling children a little story because they are cute" tone.  Which is not a tone I am fond of, so it took me quite a while to get into this book.  But I did eventually enjoy it, especially when it surprised me in one specific way.  I was convinced one character was going to turn out to be evil, but she wasn't at all, and I liked that a lot.

The story revolves around Princess Irene, who discovers a magical old woman living in the attic of her fortress.  And it revolves around Curdie, a little boy miner who is very good at noticing details.  They take turns rescuing each other, which I appreciated, and both had to learn the importance of believing and trusting people.  There are a lot of goblins in the story too, but the princess rarely encounters them, so the title is a bit misleading, really.

Particularly Good Bits:

...that is the way fear serves us: it always sides with the thing we are afraid of (p. 104).

     "We are all very anxious to be understood, and it is very hard not to be.  But there is one thing much more necessary."
     "What is that, grandmother?"
     "To understand other people" (p. 173)

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for some instances of children in danger, goblins threatening to eat a child, and other somewhat scary images.

This is my 14th book read and reviewed for my fourth Classics Club list, the 22nd read off my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2023, and my third for the Classic Children's Literature Party.

Thursday, April 20, 2023

"My Hygge Home: How to Make Home Your Happy Place" by Meik Wiking

I picked this up at the library on a whim and really enjoyed browsing through it!  I have been interested in the Danish concept of "hygge," or "a safe, happy, cozy atmosphere," for a while now, but I really hadn't read much about it.  I just know I like hygge-ful pictures of books and reading on Instagram, and a friend who has a homemaking blog writes about the concept sometimes.  I wouldn't say I read this book, exactly, as there were some pages/chapters I just skimmed, but there were others I read in depth.

The chapters that I paid the most attention to were "A Perfect Night In," "Shining a Light on Happiness," and "Hygge is Homemade."  I really liked the things Wiking said about needing to have different spaces within your home for different functions.  Obviously, we know a kitchen and a bathroom have different functions than a living room or bedroom.  But within the living room and bedroom spaces, it's important to have places where we can gather with others, and places where we can cozy up alone.  The importance that lighting choices can make in those different areas was very interesting to me too.

(Just sharing some of my most hygge book pics
from my Instagram account...)

Will I be changing things in my house because of this book?  Actually, not much, because it turns out I have intuitively set up our house to be very hygge already.  In our living room, we have a couch and two comfy chairs that face each other, providing a place for people to interact in comfort.  In our library, we have a loveseat with a nice light, a pillow, and a throw blanket for people who want to read in semi-solitude.  Our basement also has a couch for those who want to be more away from others for a while.  We have mostly warm lighting throughout our house, which promotes the feeling of cozy belonging.  And we are blessed with an abundance of natural light through our many windows.  We have plenty of green, growing things outside to see through the windows, and we have houseplants in four rooms inside too.  We have a jigsaw puzzle set up almost all the time for people to gather around and work on together, which facilitates togetherness and conversations.  We eat meals together every day around our dining room table, not by the TV.  And so on.

The things I found most fascinating in this book were the studies on the way that sunlight can affect us, the way that different kinds of social interactions can affect our mental and physical comfort, and how much the specific kinds of light you have in your living and working spaces can impact your mental, emotional, and physical health.  Plus, there were a lot of lovely pictures throughout :-)

Particularly Good Bits:

...staying at home and finding comfort and joy in what you already have is an act of rebellion.  This is what hygge is truly all about -- living the good life on a tight budget.  It is the enjoyment of simple pleasures.  It is the art of creating a nice, warm, comforting atmosphere (p. 128).

I think one of the best things we can give to our children is an understanding of where we can find joy and well-being without spending money (p. 129).

Play just for the sake of play is vital to our happiness.  To me, the good life -- a rich life -- includes moments of laughter, joy, and play (p. 196).

A hygge home means a series of spaces that remind you of who you are and what brings you happiness.  It means making space for what you love to do (p. 235).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: G.  Nothing objectionable here, content-wise.  There is some humanistic thinking about people being basically good that Christians can politely disagree with and move past.

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

"Emily of New Moon" by L. M. Montgomery

One of the things I love about L. M. Montgomery's writing is how vividly she remembers what things feel and seem when you are a child.  I also have very clear recollections of my childhood, particularly of my inner self as a child, and so much of what she writes rings so true.  When Emily cries, "I am important to myself" (p. 25), I wanted to cheer because that is how I felt too when I was in single digits and being dismissed by adults.  And, when "Elizabeth Murray had learned an important lesson -- that there was not one law of fairness for children and another for grown-ups" (p. 375), I set down my book and clapped.  I was very sensitive to injustice, slights, and being treated condescendingly when I was a kid, and I try really hard not to treat kids that way now that I'm an adult.

Anyway, I read all three Emily books twenty years ago, when I was in my early twenties, and thought they were okay.  I don't know if I loved Emily of New Moon when I read it just now, but I definitely liked it a lot more than I did before.  I chuckled often, smiled oftener, and am eager to read the next book in the trilogy.

Emily Starr's father dies, and she is taken in by some of her mother's relatives.  Cousin Jimmy and Aunt Laura are kind and loving to her, but Aunt Elizabeth bosses both of them and is less welcoming to Emily.  Still, they give Emily a home at New Moon farm on Prince Edward Island, and if Aunt Elizabeth is not kind, she is at least honorable.

Emily makes friends with some kids and some adults.  She starts out a lonesome, grief-stricken, pale child with a good deal of grit and spirit hidden under her puny exterior.  She blossoms into a loveable, healthy, friendly girl over the course of the book.  Always imaginative, Emily is determined to become a published author, and she spends a lot of time writing poetry, stories, and letters to her dead parents.  

And, while terribly ill with a fever, Emily solves long-ago mystery.  Her subconscious pieces together clues about a woman who disappeared and figures out what really happened to her, and brings joy and comfort to her best friend as a result.  This is presented a little bit mystically, but I know how powerful a person's subconscious and imagination can be, and I find it wholly believable that a person could put together a few seemingly disparate facts and reach the logical and correct conclusion without consciously trying to do so.

I really loved Emily's concept of "the flash."  I also have moments of such clear and unadulterated joy that they seem like ecstatic glimpses of a different world.  Mine usually are brought about by bits of music, silhouettes, or something wonderful happening against all expectation -- they can all transport me with a jolt of ecstasy.  I don't have a name for it like Emily does, but I think the concept is the same.

Particularly Good Bits:

And always when the flash came to her, Emily felt that life was a wonderful, mysterious thing of persistent beauty (p. 8).

Aunt Elizabeth was one of those people who never understand anything unless it is told them in plain language and hammered into their heads.  And then they understand it only with their brains and not with their hearts (p. 54-55).

"Poets are so scarce in Blair Water folks don't understand them, and most people worry so much, they think you're not right if you don't worry" (p. 80).

Spring is such a happyfying time isn't it, father" (p. 215).

She was filled to her fingertips with a rapture of living (p. 269).

Outgrowing things we love is never a pleasant process (p. 361).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG for grief, mild mistreatment of a child, gossip about a woman leaving her husband for another man, and oblique descriptions of a sad and lonely death.

This is my 13th book read and reviewed for my fourth Classics Club list, and my second for the Classic Children's Literature Party.

Sunday, April 16, 2023

"Imagination Redeemed" by Gene Edward Veith Jr. and Matthew P. Ristuccia

Wow.  SO many nuggets of wisdom in this book.  

The subtitle is "Glorifying God with a Neglected Part of Your Mind," and that pretty succinctly explains what this book is about.  Veith and Ristuccia point out that Christians are often told not to use their imaginations.  The imagination is often reviled as being untrustworthy, frivolous, unnecessary, or even an instrument of Satan.  But, God gave every person an imagination, just like He gave them reason and taste buds and an appreciation for music or flowers or other beautiful things.  That's the starting point for this book: imagination is a gift and can be used for good or evil, like everything else.

Each chapter is broken into three parts.  First, Veith (a professor of literature) discusses good and wholesome uses for the imagination, as well as how to deal with temptations to misuse it.  Second, Ristuccia (a pastor) delves into one of the amazing visions in the Biblical book Ezekial and unpacks the ways that God spoke to Ezekial and the ancient Israelites (and us) through visions that appeal to the imagination instead of to reason and intellect alone.  Third, they include a short colloquy based on the rest of the chapter.

I have always cherished my imagination and sought to use it to God's glory, so this book mostly confirmed things I have thought or felt or believed, but it explains them so much better than I ever could.  If you've ever been told to stop being imaginative, or been told that reading (or writing) fiction is a lesser use of time than nonfiction, or been told that imagining things is actually wrong, you might find this book comforting and revelatory.

Particularly Good Bits:

But just because the imagination can be the source of idolatry and other sins is no reason to ignore it.  That the imagination can be used for evil means that Christians dare not ignore it.  We must discipline, disciple, and sanctify our imaginations.  We are to "take every thought captive to obey Christ" (2 Cor. 10:5), and that must include the thoughts we imagine (p. 16).

But the imagination is a gift of God, and it finds its fullest expression in God.  His imagination led to his creation.  His imagination was manifested in his image, in us human beings and supremely in Christ.  And God reveals himself and restores his image in us through Christ by means of his Word.  That Word addresses our understand, our will, and our imagination.  When we attend closely to the words of the Bible and imagine what they are saying in a fuller way, we become more intimately and personally involved in Scripture, and the Word of God has a greater impact on us (p. 41).

A Christian imagination comes from internalizing Christian truth, not just from knowing a set of doctrines abstractly.  They have to penetrate deeply into the heart and become part of one's identity.  The way that happens, again, is through the imagination (p. 111).

Remember that a worldview is something that we see with, a model by which we "view" the "world."  So someone with a Christian worldview is able to look at all the world and everything in the world -- including the constructions of non-Christian worldviews -- in the light of Christian truth (p. 116).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-16 for including some discussions of bad ways the imagination can be used, such as to indulge in sexual fantasies.  Those are only mentioned very matter-of-factly, not delved into in a salacious way, but this is still not something I would recommend to kids or young teens.  It would be great for the upper high school grades, though, and I intend to have my own high school-age son read it.

This is my 21st book read from my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2023.

Friday, April 14, 2023

"Moonfleet" by J. Meade Falkner

Well, that was... interesting.  The cover makes it look like it might involve tall ships more than it does.  Or pirates, maybe.  There's stuff with ships, but not loads, and there are no pirates, just smugglers.  Sigh.  Also, I watched the 1955 movie version starring Stewart Granger last year, which turns out to be very, very, very loosely based on this.  More like vaguely inspired by the book, really.

The book is about a British orphan in his mid-teens who has a crush on a local girl, accidentally gets involved with smugglers, gets thrown out of his aunt's home and lives at the local pub, ends up in prison in the Netherlands, and then has a kind of miraculous escape just at the end.  With various adventures in between.  I think it's supposed to be kind of like Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson, but instead of having a focused plot and a narrative that gambols merrily along, this one felt more like hopping from one stepping stone to the next and hoping you don't lose your balance.  It wasn't bad, and parts of it were really fun, but I just didn't love it.  (I didn't love the movie version either, though I wouldn't mind watching it again sometime just for Stewart Granger.)

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for violence, smuggling, robbery, danger to a teen and to others, and several perilous and suspenseful sequences.

This is my 11th book read and reviewed for my fourth Classics Club list, my 20th book read from my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2023, and my first book read for the Classic Children's Literature Party.

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Top Ten Tuesday: Animal Crackers

Our Top Ten Tuesday prompt from That Artsy Reader Girl for this week is "Covers with Animals On Them," and I have chosen to narrow that to junior fiction/middle grade books that feature animals on their covers.  Instead of writing up a description of them this week, I've just copied over a line from my review of that particular book that I think you might find interesting.

(All titles linked to my full reviews.)

All the Mowgli Stories by Rudyard Kipling -- "Why do I love these stories so much? Because they're fun, but they've also got a lot of wisdom in them."

The Black Stallion by Walter Farley -- "It's still a rousingly good yarn of overcoming steep odds, trusting your friends, and using your skills and talents to the utmost. I still love it."

The Christmas Pig by J. K. Rowling -- "Rowling loves her mythology, and this book kept reminding me of the myth of Orpheus descending into Hades to rescue his wife Eurydice. With a little of Dante's Inferno and Toy Story mixed in."

Dragons at Crumbling Castle and Other Tales by Terry Pratchett -- "I loved how he often turned fairy tale tropes upside down."

Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman -- "I liked it enough to plan on seeking out more of Gaiman's books."  (Note: I've read 4 more of his books by now...)

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis -- "Is it weird that I liked this book WAY BETTER when I read it now, as an adult, than I did as a kid?"

Old Ramon by Jack Schaefer -- "This book is very short, just a hundred pages, but it packs so much wisdom and beauty into those pages!"

Over the Moon by Natalie Lloyd -- "I LOVE FLYING HORSES. They aren't in nearly enough books, and I'm so glad this book has them :-)"

The Vanderbeekers to the Rescue by Karina Yan Glaser -- "Yes, the kids keep a big secret from their parents in this one. Yes, that causes a lot of problems. Yes, there are consequences."

The Young Man and the Sea by Rodman Philbrick -- "I had tears in my eyes by the end of this book, it was so good."

Any books here you've read?  What did you share for TTT this week?

Friday, April 7, 2023

"The Warrior's Path" by Louis L'Amour

The Warrior's Path
 had a much more focused plot than the previous two Sacketts books, which I appreciated.  Kin and Yance Sackett (sons of Barnabas, who was the star of those first books) get word that Yance's wife's young sister has disappeared up in Massachusetts, along with a young woman that people believe to be a witch.  Kin and Yance set off through the wilderness, arrive at the colony where the girls lived, discover nobody is particularly inclined to seek the lost girls, and set off to find and rescue them.  

That section was my favorite, as it was filled with the kind of woodcraft and woodlore that has always thrilled me.  I used to read these junior biographies of Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett and Kit Carson and their woodsy brethren over and over and over as a kid -- I even had sections of my favorites memorized.  I would practice tracking critters in the snow: my cats, our dog, birds, raccoons, my little brother, and anything else that traipsed through.  Good, good times.

The Sacketts find and rescue the girls, but Kin thinks this is not enough.  They've uncovered a "white slaver" ring -- we would call them human traffickers today -- that is stealing teenage girls from the colonies in America and selling them to planters in the West Indies.  Kin is sure that, unless they can catch and convict the ringleaders, more girls will keep getting kidnapped and trafficked, over and over.  So he sets off for Jamaica, tracing one of the leaders to Port Royal.

Kin's totally right about the trade in white women not slowing down just because they rescued two girls.  The gang's leaders are making too money to be stopped by the loss of two captives.  They even manage to re-kidnap the older one, Diana, and take her to Jamaica, thinking they can force Kin to stop fighting them by threatening her or something.

But these guys clearly don't understand Sacketts.  Kin won't stop until the gang of traffickers is brought to justice, either at the end of a rope or the end of his sword.  The last quarter of the book has a lot of swashbuckling and swordplay and fist fighting and other thrilling heroics.

Also, Kin and Diana get married.  This is not really a spoiler, as you should be able to see that coming by the time you've finished chapter one.

Particularly Good Bits:

"To make a country we need all kinds.  He is a thoughtful man, and such are needed.  He reads, he thinks.  Too many of us are so busied with living that we do not" (p. 62).

Yet aside from her beauty there was much in her to admire, for she was a quietly capable person who did not scream, faint, or cry so far as I had seen.  She looked matters in the face and did something about them (p. 73).

"You have your books.  They are the best companions" (p. 80).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG for lots of violent fights, the understated but obvious fact that these teen girls were being sold as sex slaves, lots of peril and danger, and a handful of old-fashioned cuss words.

This has been my 18th book read from my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2023.

Tuesday, April 4, 2023

Top Ten Tuesday: Indie State of Mind

I love that this week's Top Ten Tuesday prompt from That Artsy Reader Girl focuses on Indie/Small Press/Self-Published Books!  As an author who has published both with the small press and self-publishing models, I am excited to see those get a chance to shine this week.

Although, technically, any press that is not affiliated with one of the "big five" (Penguin Random House, Macmillan, Harper Collins, Simon and Schuster, and Hachette Book Group) is considered to be "independently published," I am focusing mainly on self-published books here, with a couple of very small press exceptions.

Here are my favorites:

The Beautiful Ones by Emily Hayse -- book two in the fantasy western Knights of Tin and Lead trilogy, which retells the King Arthur legend

A Little Beside You by Jenni Sauer -- a "Snow White and Rose Red" retelling with a scifi setting and lots of cozy vibes

These War-Torn Hands by Emily Hayse -- book one in the fantasy western Knights of Tin and Lead trilogy, which retells the King Arthur legend

Emmazel by Kendra E. Ardnek -- a fantasy story that weaves the fairy tale "Rapunzel" with the Jane Austen novel Emma

In the Glorious Fields by Emily Hayse -- book three in the fantasy western Knights of Tin and Lead trilogy, which retells the King Arthur legend

Isabella's Daughter by Charity Bishop -- the last book in the Tudor Throne series of historical fiction revolving around Britain's Tudor royalty

Song of the Valley by Britt Howard -- a sweet, heartwarming Christian romance set in modern-day Montana

Land of Hills and Valleys by Elisabeth Grace Foley -- coming-of-age historical fiction set in Wyoming during the Great Depression

Laertes by Carly Stevens -- a dark academia retelling of Shakespeare's Hamlet set in 1920s Europe

The Goblin and the Dancer by Allison Tebo -- a retelling of the fairy tale "The Steadfast Tin Soldier" changed up so that the jack-in-the-box character is not a villain

Have you read any of these?  Do you seek out indie books and authors, or read them if they happen to cross your path?

Sunday, April 2, 2023

Join the Classic Children's Literature Party

My blogging friend Carissa is hosting a bookish event this month: The Classic Children's Literature Party!  Carissa says her goal with this event is "that your imagination would be sparked and that you would just feel warm and comfortable and joyful as you proceed through your reads."  Doesn't that sound jolly?

I've got a dozen or so classic children's books on my TBR shelves, so I plan to focus on those for my reading this month.  Being an inveterate mood reader, I don't know exactly what I'll be reading yet, but I'll be choosing from these to start with:

  • The Happy Prince by Oscar Wilde
  • The Lost Prince by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  • Moonfleet by John Meade Falkner
  • The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald
  • A Vicarage Family by Noel Streatfeild

How many of those will I read?  Well, one at least!  Maybe all of them!  We shall see :-)  I do have a couple adult books already started, so I want to finish one of them before starting another read.  But that should give me plenty of time in April to read one or two of these, if not more.

If you want to join this fun event, check out the kick-off post on Carissa's blog for more details!