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Book Review: “Love’s Awakening,” by Laura Frantz

Genre: Christian Inspirational, romance; historical fiction

Playlist…

Plot Summary: The story of the Ballantyne family continues with Silas and Eden’s youngest daughter Elinor.  The apple of her father’s eye, Ellie grows up knowing only love and privilege in the bustling city of Pittsburgh.  The Ballantynes are respected businesspeople, but also harbor fugitive slaves as they work with the Underground Railroad.  Danger lurks literally right next door as the rival Turlock clan head up a posse of bounty hunters to stamp out the acts of the abolitionists.  But Jack Turlock strikes Ellie as a more gentle soul, and his young sister looks up to her as a role model as she teaches Pittsburgh’s first finishing school.  Where will Jack’s loyalties lie when his father pressures him to break the law?

My Book Review: “Love’s Reckoning” (read my review here) was my favorite read from last year, so I was really looking forward to Laura Frantz’s next in the series!  Again, the book cover art is so vivid and gorgeous and it alone deserves 5 stars.  However, I had mixed feelings about LA…

The Ballantynes come across as being a very real family, real characters and it was delightful picking up to read about them again.  Their grace and faithfulness is wonderful—toward each other, their neighbors and even their enemies.  Ellie has grown up watching her parents love each other and wishes for the same kind of love for herself.  The trusting relationship Ellie had with her father was lovely; no doubt it helped her spot a good man when she saw one.  I also enjoyed reading about the prosperity Silas and Eden had established at the time this book takes place.  New Hope certainly sounds like a wonderful home in which to live and no wonder the escapees begged to live there at the risk of being recaptured!

He who pursues righteousness and love finds life, prosperity and honor.  (Proverbs 21:21)

LA has a very different feeling to it than LR.  Whereas #1 felt gritty, wintry and tragic, #2 felt full of spring lilacs and roses.  That’s not a bad thing, but for ¾’s of the book I wasn’t very engaged or interested.  It felt like a typical Christian romance and I felt disappointed.  But.  Then there was a plot twist which I am now beginning to really appreciate from this author, and the waterworks started up.  Just as I was reaching for my kleenex, there was another plot twist, and !

Unfortunately, the overall reading experience was not as good as the first, but I love how Frantz is able to leave you hanging at the end of her books (at least, the two I’ve read so far).  I am definitely going to be reading the last in the trilogy and can’t wait to read others by her.

I think older teens could enjoy this series as well.  The heroines are young women who grow in virtue and lovely character.  These are romances, and Frantz doesn’t deny sexual tension.  However, it is carefully worded (not titillating), nothing inappropriate happens between hero and heroine, and the curtain is drawn to keep the marriage bed sacred.

So if you are wanting something light and perfumed, I think you’re going to enjoy Love’s Awakening.  Note, I don’t recommend reading this as a standalone without reading LR first.

PS- I found this on Laura Frantz’s Pinterest and loved seeing how she envisioned the characters.  To be honest, Jack was hard for me to picture so this helps to “fill it in”, but at the same time it’s not even close to how I thought he might look.  Ansel on the other hand looks very much how I imagined!

I also recommend…

 

 
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Posted by on June 11, 2020 in Book Reviews

 

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Book Review: “The Woman in White,” by Wilkie Collins

Genre: classic; romance; gothic; mystery; thriller; suspense

Playlist… 

Plot Summary: Walter Hartright, a young drawing teacher, is employed by a wealthy Cumbrian benefactor to teach his two wards painting.  Over the course of a pleasant summer, he falls in love with the beautiful heiress Laura Fairlie.  But she is engaged to another man.  A stranger arrives with a note containing warnings about Miss Fairlie’s intended.  Who is telling the truth?  Who is the young woman in white who looks like Laura?  And who will emerge from this story sane?

My Book Review: This is my third book by Wilkie Collins, and by now he is at the top of my list of favorite authors and I am quite a fan.  I loved “The Moonstone” when I first read it over twelve years ago and now that I’ve finished WiW I realize I love this one even more!  It is a very thick novel, and switches first person accounts as Moonstone did, and which I love.  It gives the story more of an air of authenticity.  There are three very distinct seasons within the story (or epochs, as Hartright calls it): 1) Limmeridge House; 2) Blackwater Park; 3) investigations from London.

Geniuses are ahead of their time, and that’s what makes this book so riveting.  It covers the themes of mental illness, women’s rights and narcissism.  But it also upholds the “old-fashioned” values of honor, faithfulness and compassion.

One of the best characters of the book, Marian Halcombe, is a strong heroine.  She is not beautiful but she has a capable mind and is a match for the villainous Count.  I loved reading about her standing firm on principles.  She makes mistakes anyone could have made in her discernment but they were honest ones and she had good intentions.  If it weren’t for her physical weakness and loyalty to her half-sister Laura, she could have beaten Count Fosco at Blackwater Park.  I was on the edge of my seat throughout that ordeal!  I felt like I was about ready to go crazy myself, so bizarre were some of the happenings.  Not all perceptions by all good characters are correct, because they only have half the tale.  Neither are all antagonists what they fully appear.  What a great storyteller Collins was!

SPOILER: Walter’s restraint from pursuing Laura when he could have had her was touching.  He could have overpowered her, influenced her, manipulated her just as easily as Sir Percival or the Count could have.  But he is aware of her unavailability (maritally and mentally).  END OF SPOILER.  Love is patient.  Love is kind.  It is not self-seeking… and that is the picture we see in this hero, aptly named.

Wow, these characters were so developed.  You could make a psychological study of almost all of them.  Skipping past the “goodies”, let’s look at some “baddies”.  Count Fosco is definitely the strong evil one of the piece.  He had the hold on people somewhat like a cult leader.  His extreme narcissism and magnetism with which he controlled others were apparent.  But looking at the symptoms his wife exhibited were even more telling.  She worshiped and served him without question.  She is described as having had a completely different personality before her marriage to him.  She had no thought of her own (only programmed by the Count), and would go into a paranoia if she thought his position threatened.  I was doing some interesting reading on this.  Her cold, motionless staring, even her repetitive “busywork”– endlessly rolling the Count’s cigarettes—seemed indicative of a classic textbook Geschwind syndrome or temporal lobe epilepsy, similar to the brains of long-term cult victims.  And Wilkie Collins wrote this in 1859??  Fascinating!

It was interesting that not everything that happened was part of the scheme of the villains.  Certain things backfired on them.  Part of me was disappointed in finding this out in the end because I liked thinking the Count was a Complete Mastermind Evil Being.  But it actually served to make it more realistic and believable.  The ending was not entirely explained [SPOILER: Who was the assassin? END OF SPOILER], but then not everything in life is.  The character Pesca sort of fizzled out at the end for me and he needed a stronger ending.

But really, this has been one of my favorite reads of the year.  I can see why it is such a classic.  There’s so much depth for analyzing and going deeper and I would love to hear/read/discuss more of it!  I’m also looking forward to watching different film versions.

I also recommend:

 
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Posted by on May 17, 2020 in Book Reviews

 

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Book Review: “Ashenden,” by Elizabeth Wilhide

Genre: historical fiction

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Plot Summary: The history of an old English manor house is told from the point of view of successive generations of owners, servants, and occupants.

My Book Review: I think I might have discovered this book on the shelf at the library, or among goodreads recommendations.  It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book that wasn’t a classic or by a Christian author.  I think it’s time I start investigating other books out there and this looked like an interesting place to start.

Split narratives between past and present are it’s own genre now and its nothing new.  But this book looked interesting to me because the main character is really about a house, and how history treats it.  From the time it is built in the late 1700’s through to present day inheritors Charlie and his sister Ros, we are swept through history chapter by chapter.  In one way this kept me from growing close to the characters.  In another it kept my interest in what happened next.  We know a few things from the first chapter about how the house is in it’s present state, but then we are taken back to the beginning and are clued in as to how it happened.  And then the overall question at stake is, what will be its future?

Despite the interesting plot, there were a lot of things that kept me from liking this book.  There is a small amount of foul language and ‘observations’ I could have done without.  Around chapter 2 I wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue with it, but it takes a lot to deter me from finishing something once I start.  There are several characters who have mistresses or sleep around and have affairs.  In one instance, a man stumbles across a couple having sex which is briefly but graphically described.  So yeah, there are content issues.

However, I liked the conclusion the book makes [SPOILER] in that it doesn’t matter if there is a long uninterrupted line in a single family that owns a place so much as it does if the people who live there are happy and love it and can care for it.   [END OF SPOILER]

I would have to say that my favorite time era depicted was probably when the original architect James Woods goes back twenty years later with his two nieces to visit the house he built.  I liked the idea of Maria carving her initials for Reggie and Bunny to find more than a hundred years later.  They have no idea the context for it, but they appreciate it as being a part of the history of the place as indeed it is.  I wish there were more “easter eggs” like that throughout the book.

You might like this if you enjoy the manor house genre, and especially if you are into Downton Abbey.  Enjoy with a good cup of tea!

I’ve heard that Ashenden Park is based on real-life Basildon Park in Berkshire, but I don’t know this to be 100% certain.  It certainly sounds very similar, featuring honey-color stone and an octagonal room to boot:

I also recommend…

 
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Posted by on April 28, 2020 in Book Reviews

 

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Book Review: “The Marquis’ Secret,” by George Macdonald

Genre: historical fiction; Inspirational; classic

Playlist…

Plot Summary: A year has elapsed since the Lord of Lossie passed away and still Malcolm has not claimed his identity as rightful heir.  Lady Florimel has been spending her time in London with friends, but their bad influence is rubbing off on her and it has Malcolm worried. How can he best protect her while in her employ as groom?  Meanwhile, will the steward of the House of Lossie succeed in ruining the fisherfolk’s village?

My Book Review: I enjoyed reading the first in this series by George Macdonald, The Fisherman’s Lady (see book review here).  I loved the Gothic atmosphere set in Scotland– full of ghosts, superstition, crackling fires, and fresh landscapes.  I was looking forward to more of that.

This book had its strengths and weaknesses.  I appreciate short chapters, so that was a plus.  But I definitely did not find it on a par with TFL.  Probably the thing I missed most was the above mentioned atmosphere.  Half the book is set in London and the south of England.  While the rest does take place in Scotland, it just didn’t have the same gothic appeal.

However, the book did contain some of its own sweetness.

It takes a lot for me to label a book “preachy”.  I would love to write a post later on this topic if I ever get around to it!  I don’t fall into the same camp as a lot of folks who eschew spiritual conversations in books as though that made for a literary downfall.  However, when the characters themselves seek to turn every spare moment into an opportunity for a sermon… yes, I take issue with that just as I would if they were real life characters.  I admired Malcolm for his honest living before God and others, and he had intentions for good all along.  But one can easily turn a person away from the Gospel when they’re a one-note johnny.  There’s no room for the Holy Spirit to do His work.  This was an irksome element for me.

But as I said, I respected Malcolm and he was hard not to like.  I loved his looking at a situation straight on and shining God’s light on all around him.

“Malcolm was one of the few who understood the shelter of light, the protection to be gained by the open presentation of the truth.”

He lived out the Book of Proverbs in a refreshing way.  He believed that if you’re right with God and man, there’s no need to fear anything.  He is a novelty in the world around him, and to us living in our world today.  “But the noble man makes noble plans, and by noble deeds he stands.” (Isa. 32:8)   Because of this, I would recommend George Macdonald’s books especially for young people.  They’re entirely safe, wholesome stories that I would have enjoyed reading growing up.

An example of Malcolm’s good character qualities is his showing his sister some tough love.  SPOILER ALERT: He held out hope that he would not have to go to extremes to protect her but as she kept pushing him away, he eventually came to the decision that claiming his authority, dealing her an intervention and giving her an alternative was the best thing to do for her, even if she completely rejected his love.  On the flip side, Macdonald wraps everything up too quickly and neatly all in the same chapter, and Florimel does a complete 180 in about a second and a half which was not believable (unfortunately, one of the book’s weaknesses).  END OF SPOILER.

Another one of the book’s downsides is Macdonald frequently skipping over essential plot parts that seemed to bore him or that he forgot to write about so he went back and stuck it in quickly by saying, “I’ll just mention here that Malcolm did xyz…” End of Chapter.  Felt a bit lame and lazy to me.

There were quite a few good quotes out of this one, popping up in those spiritual conversations Malcolm has with Lady Florimel, Lady Clementina and other characters.  But my favorite thing about the story was the unsaid parable that wove itself throughout and culminated in a fairytale-like ending, which is maybe what Macdonald is best at.  I’ve been reading in the book of Isaiah lately for my devotions and came across this verse.  With what’s been going on in the news, I’ve been longing for Jesus to come back and put things right.  When every knee shall bow and tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord and “the Lord Almighty will be exalted by His justice, and the holy God will show Himself holy by His righteousness.” (Isa. 5:16)  He will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the plumb line (Isa. 28:17).  “And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness.  The unclean will not journey on it; it will be for those who walk in that Way; wicked fools will not go about on it.  No lion will be there, nor will any ferocious beast get up on it; they will not be found there.  But only the redeemed will walk there…  Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.” (Isa. 35)  Doesn’t that sound wonderful?  Even so, come Lord Jesus!

How does that apply to us living in today?  As God’s children, we are to be carriers of justice and beautiful holiness as well.  And that is just what Malcolm illustrates when he comes back to Portlossie.  He fellowships with even the humblest of his tenants; the faithful are rewarded; fairness is set in order; the wicked are castigated and the repentant are encouraged.  Although—a bone to pick here: SPOILER ALERT: As the “ruler” of Lossie, I don’t believe the punishment Malcolm meted out to Mrs. Catanach and Caley was a just example to other citizens of law and order; I believe he let them off too lightly.  I know the point was his trying to demonstrate mercy but the biblical illustration of the kingdom of heaven falls short here.  This is because of one of Macdonald’s fundamental beliefs (see below) END OF SPOILER.

As much as I enjoyed the scriptural truths played out in this fiction, there were some holes from Macdonald’s own faulty theology also present.  I could have written them down but honestly I don’t have time for that and don’t feel like being more of a watchdog here than what I am already.  So I’ll spare you the point by point analysis.  Besides, I can’t remember what they all were anyway.  🙂  I did find it interesting that Master Graham was ousted by the church for being ‘heretical’ but we are not told what his unorthodox teachings were.  George Macdonald didn’t believe in the concept of hell; he believed it was not in God’s nature.  Yet the justice of God (as already described, a major theme in The Marquis’ Secret) demands a dealing with unrepentant sin.  There is also quite an emphasis on being good, yet not exactly receiving Christ’s work on the cross for us.  The reason for this is because Macdonald also didn’t accept the orthodox view of Christ’s atonement for sin.  To him, salvation was only a process of evolution toward Christ-likeness.  I believe it is both and am disappointed Macdonald erred on such major points of doctrine.

However, one of the things Macdonald did well was teach the concept of “God as Father, and sought to encourage an intuitive response to God and Christ through quickening his readers’ spirits in their reading of the Bible and their perception of nature.”

This probably wasn’t George Macdonald’s best, but it did fully demonstrate his core beliefs.  And that won’t keep me from enjoying more of his books in the future.

A closing quote from the book:

“…in the kingdom of heaven to rule is to raise; a man’s rank is in his power to uplift.”

 

I also recommend…

 
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Posted by on April 10, 2020 in Book Reviews

 

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Book Review: “Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker,” by Jennifer Chiaverini

Genre: historical fiction; Inspirational; Civil War

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Plot Summary: Elizabeth Keckley, a former slave woman living in 1860’s Washington DC, is hired by many of the city’s female elite for her superior dressmaking skills.  While serving many congressmen’s wives, as well as Varina Davis, Mrs. Keckley also receives an opportunity to sew for Mrs. Lincoln as her husband prepares to enter the White House.  For the duration of the Civil War, Elizabeth is employed by Mary Lincoln as her personal modiste and she witnesses history in the making first hand.  When tragedy strikes, what will become of the bond of friendship between these two very different women?

My Book Review: Jennifer Chiaverini is known for her fictional “quilt genre” books.  Those haven’t really piqued my interest, but I have a few of her other historical fiction on my TBR.  This is the first I’ve read by her, and I was impressed.  Although it felt a little slow-reading for me at times, I came away from it being glad I learned a lot about the people on whom this story is based.

Elizabeth Keckley was a real person who was born into slavery in 1818.  She was able to buy her and her son’s freedom at the age of 37 and eventually moved to the capitol and established a successful dressmaking business for herself.  This lady was so interesting to learn about.  I would relate more, but it would spoil the book.

We’ve heard about Antietam, Gettysburg, the Emancipation Proclamation, 13th Amendment, the fall of Richmond and John Wilkes Booth.  But this is told from a friend of the First Lady’s point of view which makes the story unique.  The most interesting part for me was the time related after Abraham Lincoln’s assassination.  I had no idea what happened to Mrs. Lincoln after the White House years.  It was fascinating, but if you’re hoping this story ends in a grand fashion with fireworks you would be wrong.  In some ways, it was heartbreaking.

In this story, we learn the kindness of a true friend in Keckley.  She was a fashionable, dignified, self-educated woman with common sense and whom Mrs. Lincoln needed and turned to in times of trouble.  Sometimes, Elizabeth could be too over-giving in a codependent sort of way.  Mary Lincoln wasn’t the easiest person to get along with.  But reading of Keckley’s love and loyalty was beautiful.

I was thinking about our modern era of social media.  How easily one’s text can be misconstrued and before you know it there is a facebook battle or twitter backlash.  We think our troubles are unique to our time, but in reading Mrs. Keckley’s story we find that is not true.  How does she handle the media outrage against her?  As a heroine– with perseverance, honesty, and right living despite not everything being made just this side of heaven.

If we think we have a terrible time of it in politics, it is maybe slightly comforting to learn that nothing new is under the sun.  Lincoln was not elected by the majority of the population, and many Republicans tried to run against him during his second presidential campaign.  Many “friends” deserted them and the news was full of criticism, slander and lies.  But the country made it through, and history remembers Abraham Lincoln as one of our greatest presidents.

I think Chiaverini was pretty methodical in her historical research.  I felt like the characters leapt off the page and it’s been fun to look up their photographs and feel like I know them.  If you are a history buff, I think you will appreciate this one.

PS- As you can tell from my review of Lincoln here, it is one of my favorites.  I was interested to know that Elizabeth puts in a cameo appearance as Mrs. Lincoln’s attendant in some key scenes!

The video below sums up her life in brief, but does contain spoilers:

I also recommend…

 
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Posted by on February 9, 2020 in Book Reviews

 

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Book Review: “The Fisherman’s Lady,” by George Macdonald

Genre: classic; mystery; Victorian; Gothic

Plot Summary: Malcolm MacPhail has lived all his life by the sea with his grandfather, waking early each morning to fire the village’s ritual canon, and earning his living by fishing.  He knows the water and all the people of his little town.  But something changes in his life when he is introduced to a new calling—that of serving the marquis as captain of his yacht.  He also encounters the marquis’ young and pretty daughter, Florimel.  Secrets surround around him…  His grandfather has a secret, the manor house holds a secret, and so does a neighboring noblewoman.  But who holds the truth, and what does the truth mean for young Malcolm?

My Book Review:  I think every Christian needs to try reading at least one George Macdonald story.  Whether one of his children’s books or one of his romance novels, a lot of theology gets packed into the story and characters and it does good for one’s soul.  I appreciated the old-fashioned sense and virtues found in the character of Malcolm.  I recommend the edited version by Michael Phillips if you cannot slog your way through archaic Scots dialect.

So… a Christian gothic romance?  Hmmm, interesting combination.  Christian, –or at least Inspirational genre,– yes.  Gothic, most certainly.  Very little romance.  Big plot twist.  Yes, I saw part of the twist coming, but not the half of it!!

I got some very good quotes and I definitely plan on finishing the sequel, and reading even more by Macdonald.  However, I would not say I agree with his all of his theology –even as respected as he is.  It is very surprising once you read about it.  Christian writers Michael Phillips and Madeleine L’Engle also subscribe to similar beliefs.  However, I would not say that they surface so much in the story for a person to recognize such a big difference between it and orthodox Christianity.

I mostly just loved the atmosphere.  The crackly, firelit, Scottish countryside; shadows, leaves, and forest; spooky attics.  It is such sensory fodder for a vivid imagination!  And, I had fun brushing up on my best Scottish accent.  🙂

Wanting to travel far away to another time and place while sitting in your armchair safe at home?  Grab a cozy blanket and this novel… I’m sure it will be just the thing for you!  (*Side note: please ignore the popular book cover that’s out there of a watercolor painting featuring boy and a very mature Florimel.  It makes it look so outdated and uninteresting.  Which is why I am not featuring it on my blog post as I usually do with my book reviews.)

 
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Posted by on November 17, 2019 in Book Reviews

 

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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!

 

If you liked this book, I also recommend…

 

 

 
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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.

I also recommend…

 

 
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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.

I also recommend:

 
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Posted by on May 5, 2019 in Book Reviews

 

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