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About booklearner

booklearner is a Christian, aspiring voice over artist, and author of the blog "booklearned: Life with Books." She also volunteers as a narrator for Librivox.org under the name 'thestorygirl.'

Book Review: “Beginnings,” by Steve Stephens

Genre: Christian Inspirational; biblical fiction 

Playlist… 

Plot Summary: Once upon a time, Garden-Maker made the stars and space and time, and spoke earth and light into being.  He formed Man out of the dust of the earth and created a paradise for him to live in and it was perfect.  But then the creature called Shining One grew jealous of the glory of Garden-Maker and enticed Man away from the path of wisdom.  And so begins the epic tale told by an ancient storyteller…   

My Book Review: This series, entitled “The Story Teller” by Steve Stephens, sat on the shelf in our church library for years and they looked intriguing to me.  Finally, I picked up the first one to read and fell in love with the beautiful poem-prose narrative.  They are simple retellings of the Genesis stories, yet the words swirl around in a sort of colorful, magical mosaic.   

Stephens isn’t the first to write imaginative accounts of bible stories, filling in details and elaborating or simplifying finer points here and there.  But I loved his bard-like habit of substituting characters’ names for their signature qualities.  For example, the Creator God is referred to as Garden-Maker and later on in the story as Promise-Keeper.  Noah is Builder, Sarah is Princess and Joseph is Dreamer.  This is also done to place names as well.  Canaan is the Valley of the Apples; Egypt is the Land of the Deltas.  Describing people and places as such gives the familiar Story a fresh take as well as a timeless feel.  But it is still the same. 

I found it wonderful to be reintroduced to these ancients of the faith and most especially, to read of the character of Promise-Keeper who never fails us.  He gave me such encouragement of heart.  If you’re wanting something that will help you understand the heart of God and His Word a little better, this is a great supplement.  It is easy enough for children to understand, and adults will find a deep well of truth to rejoice in.  I truly cannot wait to read the next installment, “Leaders”, followed by “Kingdoms”,  and “Promises”.   

  

If you liked this book, I also recommend… 

 

 

 
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Posted by on January 18, 2019 in Book Reviews

 

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Movie Review: “Murder on the Orient Express”

Based on the book by Agatha Christie.

Version: 2017; starring Kenneth Branaugh; Johnny Depp; Derek Jacobi; Michelle Pfeiffer; Judi Dench

Genre: classic; suspense; costume drama; mystery

Plot Summary: [from imdB.com:]  When a murder occurs on the train he’s travelling on, celebrated detective Hercule Poirot is recruited to solve the case.”

My Review: Disclaimer*: I have not read the original book, so this review will not by comparing it to that novel.  Only as a story in and of itself, totally unrelated to the book. 

When I first saw the promo trailer for this, my first instinct was: “No.  That’s not Poirot, and nobody can tell me it is.” How can anybody possibly play that character better than David Suchet?  But there have been so many times when I have tried something (usually movies) that I thought I would hate, and it turned out I liked it much, much better than I thought I would, or benefited by it in some way.  So I did break down and give this a try.

Did it surpass the previous Orient Express I love starring Suchet, Barbara Hershey, and Toby Jones?  No.  Did Branaugh embody Chritie’s Poirot?  No.  Was it a terribly rotten movie?  Surprisingly, no.  Here’s why.

Try to get it out of your head that this is a remake.  Try to get it out of your head that this was a book first with a detective that appeared in a whole series of books previously.  Forget what Poirot looks like, and that Suchet perfectly imitated his mincing steps and egg shaped head.  Now, sit down and take this film as it is.  Take Branaugh’s Poirot completely as Branaugh presents him.  And you get a good, suspense-filled movie with a  “closed room mystery” and a cast full of colorful characters that make you think about life and justice, while giving you chills in the middle of an avalanche and a cold blooded murder scene.  This is what …Orient Express actually is.  And the film does an excellent job of that.

I still like BBC’s Agatha Christie’s Poirot version, for all of the above reasons, and because it feels more realistic.  It has it’s own sense of atmosphere and it doesn’t come off feeling so exaggerated.  But.  Branaugh’s film is to be recognized as being a good drama, too.  It really does not fail.  In fact, I was better able to follow the plot in this one, the motives behind the murder, and the big reveal at the end was far more dramatic than a huddled group in a narrow dining car.  The newer version works to create different change of scenes on a limited stage.  Overall, it took on an artistic, creative flair that was very interesting.

I’ll warn you: if there’s going to be a murder, you might as well expect blood, and there is lots of it.  So, cover your eyes Sally and Johnny and Grandma, too.  In fact, this may not be for you.  In a nutshell: if you crave realism and darkness, choose BBC’s Murder…  If you wish something with a bit more flair and composition, go for Branaugh’s.  Both are recommended.

 
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Posted by on January 13, 2019 in Movie Reviews

 

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Looking Forward in 2019

New Year’s resolutions, check! First though, I want to do a rundown of what did and didn’t work for me last year in the world of books. I know I usually do that in my annual year-in-review posts, but I forgot a few things…

I tried to join a couple of reading challenge groups on goodreads last year. The first one was a type of ‘Read a Book that Contains These Certain Elements’ type groups. Except, they had really stringent checklists. I really didn’t make it past one book. The reason was not that finding books was so difficult (I mean, I have 2500+ to choose from on my TBR!), but that I’m just too much of a list-lover and have always curated my yearly to-read schedule in such a way that I couldn’t let go of it. I tried, several times but it just wasn’t as much fun doing it any other way. So then I tried a group that has lists(!) of words you look for in whatever book you happen to choose to read. That’s working a bit better for me, and it’s fun to compare my findings with my mom at the end of the month as we work from the same scavenger hunt words.

But at the same time, I feel like I’m hunting for more, something different. I don’t know what it is yet but I think I’ll keep scouting around. Maybe I will decide to post my word lists every once in a while on the blog, if you’re interested.

Something I’ve been having LOADS of fun doing the past year, is creating playlists inspired by the books I read! Maybe I’m not the first person who’s thought of doing this, but I’m enjoying it so much and plan on sharing my music with all of you as I publish my book reviews. All you need is a free Spotify account to listen and I will have the link above my Plot Summaries to click on. I have over a dozen playlists built now, and I am starting to arrange them by mood genre.

As far as reading quantity goes, I don’t expect it will change much this year. Aiming for two books a month seems to be a realistic speed at this time in my life. And I am learning to be okay with that.

I have a couple of books I really, really want to read in particular sometime during this year. They are as follows:

“Polish Your Poise with Madame Chic,” by Jennifer L. Scott

“Relearning to See,” by Thomas Quackenbush (I’m getting progressively myopic and suffering bad eye strain.)

books by Richard Swenson

books on spiritual disciplines

Do you have any goals you would like to achieve in the books this year? Share them with me!


 
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Posted by on January 12, 2019 in Reading Habits

 

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2018 Year in Review + Favorites Awards!

I hope everyone reading this had a very good Christmas season over the past several weeks!  There’s still more to celebrate: the end of this year and a new one to come!  Do you have any book reading goals to celebrate?  Perhaps you made a goal to read a certain # or to stretch yourself to try new authors or genres.  Or maybe some organization was in order and you had to pare down your collection.  This post will be where I recap my own reading journey from 2018.  I still have two more books to finish up, but I think I will easily manage that.  I will still count them in my total here.

In January, I wanted to read at least 2 books a month.  I fell just shy (-1) of that goal but since I worked hard reading two very long fiction books and completed them, I feel that makes up for it.  🙂  I’m proud of myself.  Typically I read one fiction and one non-fiction a month.  As always, I wish it could be more but that is where I am in my life.  My TBR list continues to grow and I know I will never be able to finish what I currently have on it, let alone all the new ones I add almost daily.  But my poor, obsessive brain can’t help craving the promise of new plot summaries, almost more than reading the books themselves.  Is anyone else like this?

2018 was the year I sort of came out of my reading slump, so HOORAY!  I read two very long fiction novels: “Doctor Thorne,” by Anthony Trollope (500+ pages), and “The Cloister and the Hearth,” by Charles Reade (102 chapters; 700+ pages).  I read an equal amount of fiction and nonfiction, with fiction consisting of some old classics and adventure.  I also went to so many book sales that I lost count, and ended up having to resort to putting some of my books in storage and also doing some weeding:

So it’s time to play my end of the year game where I answer ordinary questions using the titles of books I’ve read in 2018!  You’re welcome to play along in the comment section below!  Here we go…

Describe yourself:  “Curious Faith,” by Logan Wolfram

Describe where you currently live:  “The Cloister and the Hearth,” by Charles Reade

If you could go anywhere, where would you go:  “King Solomon’s Mines,” by H. Rider Haggard

Your favourite form of transportation: —-

What’s the weather like: —-

You and your friends are:  “What You Do Best in the Body of Christ,” by Bruce Bugbee

You fear:  “1984,” by George Orwell

What is the best advice you have to give:  “It’s a Matter of Trust,” by James Callner

Thought for the day:  “The Aisles Have Eyes,” by Joseph Turow

My soul’s present condition:  “Beginnings,” by Steve Stephens

How I would like to die:  “The Valiant Papers,” by Calvin Miller

It’s interesting to me that some things never seem to change from one year to the next, but other things I thought would never change are starting to!  That’s exciting!

Are you ready for my favorite reads from 2018, arranged by category?  (Be sure to share your favorites, too!)  Click on each award to see the slideshow:

And now I will reveal to you my All-Time Favorite Read of 2018.  (As a side note, I do not include non-fiction in this award.)  It is…

Stay tuned during the upcoming year for my review on why I loved this book!

 

 
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Posted by on December 30, 2018 in Uncategorized

 

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Book Review: “Sands of Time,” by Susan May Warren

Genre: Christian fiction; suspense; intrigue; romance; contemporary fiction

Plot Summary: [from goodreads.com]An inexplicable ailment was striking down the children of Russia; in less than forty-eight hours, American medical missionary Sarai Curtiss had watched two young patients slip away, and she feared she might have an epidemic on her hands. Yet how could she help anyone in the middle of a violent coup? The new leadership had demanded all foreigners leave the state–on pain of death. Unwilling to leave her clinic, but unable to combat her enemies alone, Sarai had to join forces with an unlikely ally–Roman Novik, the rebel Cobra Captain who broke her heart. Faced with a corrupt government, a brutal military and the truth of their own deepest feelings, it would be a race against time to save the lives on the line–and an entire country at risk.”

My Book Review: No, this review has nothing to do with a Jake Gyllenhaal action flick.  Gotcha.

I became interested in this three-book series (Mission: Russia) by Susan May Warren a couple of years ago because of the intrigue+romance aspect of it.  I read the first book, “In Sheep’s Clothing” (which you can read review of here) last year but to be honest, I was left wanting.  However, I decided to go ahead and read the second installment since A) it’s more of a standalone novel; B) it looked more interesting.

I’m glad I tried it as I liked it much better than the first. The sequel details the story of Viktor’s (Viktor is Book #1’s hero) friend Roman as he seeks to rescue an old acquaintance (okay, a romantic flame from 10+ years’ past) from a dangerous coup who has it in for her because of her knowledge of secrets they don’t want to get out.  The story was fun, fast, and kept me guessing to the end.  I thought Roman– love that name!– made a better hero than Viktor, but I had to struggle to see what he saw in Sarai.  She was really quite annoying and made me want to slap her sometimes.  I don’t say that often.

It was fun to read something set in another part of the world, and I’ve always had an interest in Russia. Descriptions were great, dialogue was humorous, and the book had the benefit of the author’s experience for having been a missionary there at one point.

Yet at the same time, it also suffered from some of my complaints about the first novel. Even though it is an action story, it just has way too much cheesy mushiness throughout that feels forced and sort of gets in the way of another wise interesting book.  If I had realized sooner that it was a Steeple Hill romance novel, I probably wouldn’t have bothered to put it on my TBR to begin with.  But as far as that genre goes, it was probably better than most because of the international intrigue side of things.  I appreciated that it wasn’t a steamy romance, and the characters acted with propriety.  And I don’t know how things go with romance publishers, but it may be that they require authors to have so many romance-checklist additives per page.  ?  Which could explain why it felt cheesy and forced.

The third installment of this series focuses on the other pair I was hoping would come together in the end: Yanna and David.  The plot looks interesting, but I’m outta gas for this genre.  I’ve decided I’m still interested in trying other books by this author, but no more Steeple Hill for me!

If you liked this book, I also recommend…

 
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Posted by on December 29, 2018 in Book Reviews

 

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Fairy Tales Retold

Listen on BBC Radio 4 for a limited time to free short story readings of various fairy tales!  The retellings are slightly different, and the narrator Lia Williams is interesting to listen to.  I recommend “The Gingerbread Business” (Hansel and Gretel), but there is also “Sleeping Beauty Wakes Up,” and more to be released within the next couple of weeks.  Have a fun holiday season!

 
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Posted by on December 27, 2018 in Audio/Radio Dramas

 

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Random Books Post: End of Year Hurrah

Hello, and a Merry Christmas to you all!  You will find my latest treasures I’ve lately found at library bag sales and castoffs from our church library renovation.

 

 
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Posted by on December 22, 2018 in Book Shopping

 

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