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Book Review: “King Solomon’s Mines,” by H. Rider Haggard

Genre: classic; adventure

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Plot Summary: Experienced hunter Allan Quartermain is approached by two gentlemen proposing a search party/treasure hunt into unexplored deepest Africa.  Though he is skeptical about their success, he agrees to accompany them in hopes of leaving a legacy for his son.  Setting out, the trio encounter extremely hazardous conditions in the form of natural phenomenon, climate, and native hostility.  Will they even find what is rumored to have been Solomon’s ancient diamond mines?  Or will they succumb to the dangers along the way?

My Book Review: Oh my.  This is an oldie I’ve had on my list since way back as a mid teenager.  It’s always had this appeal for me as an armchair adventurer.  Ancient treasure, connected to true-life history while at the same time mysterious and mythical, including drama in far-off lands…!  I was finally able to read it this summer and hoped that my thirst for excitement would be fulfilled.

Although the actual story is fictitious, many of the characteristics of the novel are closer to the reality of the time period of which it was written.  It was not uncommon for adventurers to explore Africa in the latter part of the 1800’s, and many ancient secrets and geological treasures were discovered.  Haggard loosely based his characters on people he had met.  I would also like to further read on the topic of Solomon’s mines in particular and have added “In Search of King Solomon’s Mines,” by Tahir Shah to my TBR.

The thing I loved most about this exciting, atmospheric novel was the poetic descriptions of the land and people.  Africa has never been my favorite place to read about, but this book awoke more interest in it for me.  So many curious observations are made by the travelers that it gives the story a feeling of authenticity.  The battle scenes were also most exciting and it was easy to picture Chris Helmsworth as Sir Henry Curtis, standing his ground in battle clothed in ancient chain mail armor and wielding a battle-axe.

I also wondered how much this book might have influenced J. R. R. Tolkien in his Lord of the Rings trilogy.  I could see many similarities between the two.  For instance, SPOILER ALERT: the story starts out with a band of men coming together to start a quest, — a fellowship, if you will.  There is no doubting the three individuals’ sincerity and their implicit trust in each other from the beginning.  The adventurers eventually encounter ‘The Silent Ones’– three gigantic statues that had been carved long ago and set before the entrance to the treasure cave.  Is anybody seeing the Argonath here?  After this, they enter the “Place of Death” (so called by the natives) where they are awed by the enormous cathedral-like caverns underneath the mountain Suliman’s Berg.  I couldn’t help but picture the mines of Moriah.  At last they meet a table surrounded by dead kings of the past.  At this moment I began to picture Dwimorberg and the Paths of the Dead.  Or, Lewis fans might think of the sleeping lords on the island of Ramandu.  Another Narnian similarity I spotted was the underground diggings (of course, common to mines) and the underground lake they fell into while escaping from the treasure cave.  They eventually came to an animal hole in the earth where they popped through.  Reminded me so much of The Silver Chair!  END OF SPOILER

Although there is some sense of ‘white superiority’ on the part of our narrator Quartermain, I was actually surprised at how progressive he was for that time period in how he and his friends came to view the local natives as dear friends, comrades in arms, brothers, and noble people.

This was a book I finished at 12:30 in the morning, so you know I was pretty happy with my reading experience.  I think I will even say it surpassed my hopes!  I can’t wait to watch some film adaptations, although I doubt they’ll be faithful.   If you like your PCness, this won’t be the book for you.  But as I’ve just learned, Haggard was highly respected by the Oxford Inklings after all and one of them (Roger Lancelyn Green) is quoted as praising him “with the highest level of skill and sheer imaginative power.”  Need I say more?  I’m delighted to know there are 14 more books in the series!  What more bizarre situations can Quartermain find himself in?

*One note of caution for parents- a pair of mountains are described by Quartermain as “Sheba’s Breasts” because of their shape.  At times, it seems to go into unnecessary description over it.

Listen to King Solomon’s Mines for free!

 

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Posted by on September 1, 2019 in Book Reviews

 

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Book Review: “Secrets on the Wind,” by Stephanie Grace Whitson

Genre: historical fiction; Christian Inspirational; romance

Plot Summary: When Sergeant Nathan Boone happens across the remains of an Indian attack on the Nebraskan plains, he does not know he will also discover a young woman who has survived horrible abuse.  Laina Gray is at first unable to speak but, gradually with the help of kindhearted Granny Max, begins to take a few steps forward toward a new life.  What will happen when a newcomer to Camp Robinson who has taken an alias to escape his past recognizes Laina from her days as Riverboat Annie?

My Book Review: A friend’s mom recommended the author Stephanie Grace Whitson to me many years ago.  Although I enjoy many genres, I rarely read Westerns for some reason.  But I happened across this series on goodreads and was not prepared for how much I would come to appreciate this book.

At first I thought it would be a typical Christian historical romance but I’d stick it out and finish it.  I thought maybe this one would be one of those ‘tell instead of show’ books.  But the more I read, the more interested I became and I was deeply drawn into the story and the characters.  I really wondered what would happen next.  I feared the ending would be predictable, but the next chapter brought a new twist!  Then I found myself crying.  I was surprised at the spiritual depth in it, seasoned no doubt by the author’s own experiences.  Whitson pulled off a rare feat—I began to worry about the characters and how the story would end.

People who are supersensitive to what they may call ‘preachy’ books will probably not enjoy this read.  However, I don’t consider this story to be preachy.  Characters in their situations have conversations about spiritual matters and prayer lives (just like in real life), but that doesn’t make it preachy in my opinion.  A romance (or two) occurs, but I didn’t feel the book centered on it.  Instead, it was a natural occurrence that sprang among two people after both went through a thorough season of transformation by God.  It was amazing to read about, like they were your close friends.

Is it possible for fictional characters you thought you thoroughly disliked to become your objects of compassion?  This is what I found whilst reading the first in the trilogy, Pine Ridge Portraits and am looking forward to my experience in reading the next.  Yes, keyword: this book was an experience.  Whitson has my newfound admiration.

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Posted by on August 6, 2019 in Book Reviews

 

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Book Review: “The Loved One,” by Catherine Palmer, Peggy Stoks

Genre: novella; contemporary Inspirational

Plot Summary: Meg Chilton is proud of her son who is about to graduate from high school and leave for college.  But as his graduation draws nigh, Taylor announces to his parents his decision to join the military.  Devastated, Meg loses herself in her genealogical research—and learns of family’s courage and sacrifice stemming from great love.

My Book Review: I have a few books by Catherine Palmer on my TBR and this is the first I’ve read of her, co-authored with Peggy Stoks.  Actually, this was more of a novella and I zipped through it pretty quickly.  Published in 2007, it is a little dated but the content and story is still good.

The story has a strong, patriotic bent. But by the time I got to Chapter 2, I could see where the story was going and it was predictable.  However, the book flips back and forth between present day and the story of the Chilton forbears and it is the historical fictions that are the most interesting even if the contemporary scenes were repetitive.  I appreciated that the stories from the Chilton past were not wrapped up with nice little bows at the end.  Rather, the characters sacrificed family, emotional well-being and physical safety in order to do what they knew needed to be done: defend their country.

If you are interested in family history, or are looking for something patriotic to read this season, this short book will probably be just for you!

 
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Posted by on July 13, 2019 in Book Reviews

 

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Book Review: “Just Jane,” by Nancy Moser

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Genre: historical fiction; Inspirational Christian fiction

Plot Summary: The youngest daughter of the vicar of the small village of Steventon, Jane leads a pleasantly ordinary life full of friends, town gossip, balls, and family relationships.  She longs for a romantic relationship as well, but Providence doesn’t seem to be providing that.  As the years go by, she matures to find her own voice that she develops in writing some of literature’s more beloved heroines.  This is her story.

My Book Review: I have stacks of books by Nancy Moser I want to read, and I finally tackled my first as an “in between book” (book read while waiting for other books to arrive via Interlibrary Loan).  I have read a few books written by Austen fans meant to be “sequels” to her works, but to be honest I have never cared much for them and don’t go in for them anymore.  I thought this would be a little different in that it is a fictionalized telling of Jane Austen’s life.

The first third of the book did not really have my attention.  It was hard to get used to the first person/present tense narrative, and I disliked Jane’s immature voice.  It just wasn’t how I imagined her.  However, she matures as the story progresses and Jane and her sister Cassandra endure many hardships over the years.  In some ways, I found I could identify.  Moving away from a home one loves; moving multiple times; financial hardships; family quarrels…  In a lot of ways, Jane wasn’t a lot different than the average “jane”.  I loved the theme of the book—Jane struggles to find her own meaning and purpose in life in an age where women’s only status was that of matrimony.  Jane had several offers and therefore opportunities to “better” herself in the world’s eyes.  But she had an overriding factor in the midst of all of it that was common sense driven by her faith.  What a true-life heroine for our young girls to follow!

I came away from the book with a deep appreciation for Jane Austen than I ever have before.  She really gleaned truth and wisdom from her life experiences and packaged them into her fiction.  She may have felt like only an obscure, single woman at times, but she lived her life faithfully and it had such an impact on the lives of countless generations of ladies ever afterwards.  It is sad when some only celebrate her stories for their romance and ridiculous characters; sometimes it seems they capitalize so much on that aspect that one’s impression of Austen books is that they are shallow, bawdy, and titilizing (I believe she would be rolling in her grave if she knew).  But the real essence of Austen is her good sense, wise living and humorous observations of humanity.  They are stories we can all learn from.

Bottom line: If you are hungry for more all-things Austen… if you disliked Masterpiece’s “Miss Austen Regrets”… if you would benefit from a wholesome story of a real-life heroine…

I think you will like this.

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Posted by on May 5, 2019 in Book Reviews

 

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Book Review: “Doctor Thorne,” by Anthony Trollope

Genre: classic; romance

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Plot Summary: [from goodreads.com] “…Doctor Thorne is the compelling story in which rank, wealth, and personal feeling are pitted against one another.  The squire of Greshamsbury has fallen on hard times, and it is incumbent on his son Frank to make a good marriage. But Frank loves the doctor’s niece, Mary Thorne, a girl with no money and mysterious parentage. He faces a terrible dilemma: should he save the estate, or marry the girl he loves? Mary, too, has to battle her feelings, knowing that marrying Frank would ruin his family and fly in the face of his mother’s opposition. Her pride is matched by that of her uncle, Dr Thorne, who has to decide whether to reveal a secret that would resolve Frank’s difficulty, or to uphold the innate merits of his own family heritage.”

My Book Review: I highly enjoyed the second in the Barchester Chronicles series (“Barchester Towers”) about ten years ago, and always meant to return there.  But I wasn’t sure if the characters would be the same and I wasn’t ready for more of Mrs. Proudie!  It turns out, this book isn’t connected very much to the first two Barchester books, except by way of general vicinity.  It could easily be read as a standalone novel.

It’s been a while since I’ve read a book over 400 pages and I was afraid of getting stuck halfway through this one.  However, I have been experiencing somewhat of a revival in my reading life and didn’t have a problem, though it took me longer to get through.  Nevermind,– I was just proud of myself for completing it!

Fortunately, Mrs. Proudie stars in only a small cameo appearance.  But we meet other interesting characters, and Lady Arabella and her sister Lady de Courcy take the place as “women who rule the roost”.

I was looking forward to some great Trollope quotes, but alas this story wasn’t as peppered with the same wit as BT.  This story features a sweet love story between two young characters, but the suspense wasn’t enough to really hold fast my attention.  I felt it dragged on a bit too long and I started to become antsy to finish and be on to another book.

Although, I have to say that it makes for wholesome reading, especially in a day and age when couples often prove fickle, take no thought for each other’s future or well being, and do not prove constant.   I think readers will find a wonderful role model for young ladies (or anybody) in the character of Miss Mary Thorne.  Virtues such as faithfulness, sacrifice, and genuine love never go out of style.

I cannot wait to watch the Julian Fellowes’ new film version of the book!  Has anyone watched it yet and what were your thoughts?

 

If you liked this book, I also recommend…

 
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Posted by on May 2, 2019 in Book Reviews

 

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Book Review: “Cranford,” by Elizabeth Gaskell

Genre: classic

Plot Summary: [from goodreads:] “A portrait of the residents of an English country town in the mid nineteenth century, Cranford relates the adventures of Miss Matty and Miss Deborah, two middle-aged spinster sisters striving to live with dignity in reduced circumstances. Through a series of vignettes, Elizabeth Gaskell portrays a community governed by old-fashioned habits and dominated by friendships between women. Her wry account of rural life is undercut, however, by tragedy in its depiction of such troubling events as Matty’s bankruptcy, the violent death of Captain Brown or the unwitting cruelty of Peter Jenkyns. Written with acute observation, Cranford is by turns affectionate, moving and darkly satirical.”

My Book Review: I am one of those who likes to read the book first before they watch the movie.  However, there are some exceptions to the rule, especially if I think I have no interest in reading the book but might bare to find out what it’s about through watching it’s screen adaptation.  Sometimes I am pleasantly surprised, and am inspired to go on to read the original.  And that is exactly what happened with “Cranford.”

How interesting could a story be about a small town filled with elderly women? No—I’d loved Elizabeth Gaskell’s “Wives and Daughters,” (both book & film), and I’d planned to read and watch “North and South” (which I did), but Cranford looked too boring.  But I was hard up for a costume drama and had heard good reviews, so I finally caved and immediately fell in love with the movie’s charm.  The music, the characters, the humor… all was to be found in this beautifully directed film, starring Judi Dench and Eileen Atkins.  It was completely darling* and I was converted, determined to read the book.

I realize that the film series is actually based on a collection of Mrs. Gaskell’s smaller works of literature, and I intend to go on to read Mr. Harrison’s Confessions and My Lady Ludlow.  But in Cranford, I enjoyed reading about the many characters portrayed on screen and all of their eccentricities and habits of living.

“’…as Deborah used to say, we have always lived genteelly, even if circumstances have compelled us to simplicity.’”

One of my favorite parts was reading about Miss Matty’s visit to an old suitor, Mr. Holbrook. The description of his favorite comfortable room is a pleasant takeaway:

“The rest of the pretty sitting-room—looking into the orchard, and all covered over with dancing tree-shadows—was filled with books. They lay on the ground, they covered the walls, they strewed the table.  He was evidently half ashamed and half proud of his extravagance in this respect.  They were of all kinds—poetry and wild weird tales prevailing.  He evidently chose his books in accordance with his own tastes, not because such and such were classical or established favorites.”

SPOILER ALERT: It’s a shame Miss Matty never married him. END OF SPOILER. Obviously the poor lady suffered from a lot of codependence throughout her life, dependent on her parents and her strong-willed sister to make all decisions for her.  She is stretched beyond her comfort zone in an early plot twist that I’ve always regretted as I loved one of the characters who dies unexpectedly.

There are some discrepancies between book and movie. And fortunately in most of them, the movie’s changed elements were for the better.  For example, early on in the book the character of Captain Brown dies whereas in the movie he is a lovable, solid, male character that anchors the episodes.  I was sad to be deprived of him in the book.

However, many of the book’s details (even minute ones) remained intact throughout the series, as indeed much of what makes up Cranford is the beautiful, charming, small events of life. Sucking oranges, lace, and the conservation of candles are recognized and honored.  In fact, I believe I am glad I watched Cranford first before reading the book because it helped me understand some of the historical aspects that I would not have understood from just reading alone.  Conversely, reading about why the ladies went to their individual rooms to eat their oranges made much more sense in the book than watching it.

I mentioned I haven’t read the other two books in the Cranford Chronicles, and since I haven’t I do not know how much of the movie was added to with other characters and plot situations. But it certainly was in keeping with the spirit of Gaskell.  So much so that I can positively say I enjoyed the movie over the book.  Whenever anyone asks me what my favorite movie is, my answer is “Cranford.”

*However, it can always be possible to milk too much of a good thing which is what I believed happened to the second series and I didn’t enjoy it half so much.

Have you seen/read “Cranford”?  What did you think?

If you liked this book, I also recommend…

 

 
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Posted by on March 5, 2019 in Book Reviews

 

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BBC AudioDrama: “The Club of Queer Trades”

There isn’t much time left to listen to these; I only just discovered them on BBC Radio 4.  The drama is G.K. Chesterton’s “The Club of Queer Trades” and stars Martin Freeman.  I’ve found the two episodes I’ve listened to so far to be entertaining and very much like the book.  My favorite story out of the bunch is the first one, “The Tremendous Adventures of Major Brown.”  If you have some time, give them a try.  I’ve been listening while working on making valentines.

 
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Posted by on February 7, 2019 in Audio/Radio Dramas

 

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