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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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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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Movie Review: “Jamaica Inn”

Based on the book by Daphne du Maurier

Version: 2014; starring Jessica Brown-Findlay

Genre: classic; suspense; costume drama

Plot Summary: [from imdB.com:]  A young woman moves in with her aunt and uncle and soon discovers unsavory happenings in her new home.”

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. “Jamaica Inn” has been made into a movie at least three times (Alfred Hitchock- 1934; 1983, starring Jane Seymour; current review) and I have seen all three.  This is not because I especially love the story, but because I was usually bored with nothing else particularly appealing to watch.  The 2014 caught my attention because of Jessica Brown-Findlay playing the lead character.  I have to say that out of all three, this most recent version is my preferred version.

For those who may not be aware, the story is very dark and tense.  What I liked about this movie was the way it kept it tight and the viewer guessing; there is also a lot of texture, wind, and weather.  Watch it for the moody atmosphere if nothing else.  But the acting is pretty well done, and there is interesting cinematography, too.

Unfortunately, there is a pretty racy scene between Mary and love interest Jem.  There is some amount of foul language as well (lots of rough and rowdy fellows and drunken tavern scenes).  An attempted assault is made on Mary, but her uncle defends her.  There are several scenes of murder and some gore.  Obviously, this film is not for sensitive folks.

SPOILER: I often get weary of the church as being painted as the villains in movies.    However, if this storyline has started to lose its shock-and-awe value it is because we live in an age where #metoo has reared its ugly head within the church and the reality is that one mustn’t take even religious leaders for granted.  Even so, we have a pervading sense that this is not the way it is supposed to be—injust, mercy-less and hypocritical so-called “Christians.”  It is not supposed to be this way because Jesus Christ was not this way and deep down the world recognizes the contradiction.  The Bible says that the man who says, “I know Him,” but does not do what He commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him.  Whoever claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus did.  (1 John 1:4-6)  Rev. Davy appeared to be living God’s commands, yet his life was full of darkness, control, and death.  Whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness.  But whoever is truly a Christ-follower lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble.  END OF SPOILER. 

Is Jamaica Inn worth the watch?  I think it can be thoughtfully viewed and learned from.  Some themes to talk over include addiction, codependency, fear and control.   How does each character’s choices come back to haunt them in the end?  It makes for interesting dialogue.  But it’s certainly not a family movie.

 
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Posted by on December 12, 2018 in Movie Reviews

 

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Movie Review: True Grit

Based on the book by Charles Portis.

Version: 2010; starring Jeff Bridges; Matt Damon; Domhnall Gleeson

Genre: adventure; classic

Plot Summary: [from goodreads:]  Mattie Ross, 14, from Dardanelle, Arkansas, narrates half a century later, her trip in the winter of 1870s, to avenge the murder of her father. She convinces one-eyed “Rooster” Cogburn, the meanest available U.S. Marshall, to tag along, while she outdickers and outmaneuvers the hard-bitten types in her path.”

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.  

I’ve been wanting to watch this film for a while, but you should know by now I’ve never been up to speed on pop culture.  I have never seen the John Wayne movie made in 1969, so I cannot compare it to that or the book which (as stated) I have not read.

I could immediately see why this story is such a classic.  The plot sounds like one that could easily be written today.  One could also appreciate the detail and attention taken in the production of this movie.  Much of the story’s tone is cold and austere, the characters are often grungy and hardened.  This gave it a believable feel, taking place in a tough atmosphere and time period.

I was struck by such a quick-witted heroine only aged 14 years.  She is forced to grow up far too early and therefore she is mature and capable.  She doesn’t let any scoundrel monkey with her and isn’t shy in standing her ground.  She makes for a very admirable character!  The question isn’t whether she has true grit, but whether others are up to the task of staying faithful to their word even when the trail grows cold.

I wanted to give thought to the choice of background music.  Orchestrated by Carter Burwell, much of the theme delineates from the hymn, “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.”  At first I wondered why this choice was made.  The sound fits well in the background, but what about that song connects it to the story?  After thinking about it, I realized that although the film is not overtly religious and many of the characters do not recognize God (except through swearing), our young heroine Mattie Ross does come from a God-fearing family.  Mattie is not after personal revenge per se, something the Lord commands us not to seek.  But she is after justice which is a major attribute of God.  After local officials refuse to take correct measures, Maddie pursues her case with a local bounty hunter.  She wisely chooses a man she believes will not be soft on the matter of holding a wrongdoer accountable… Rooster Cogburn.  He isn’t an easy character to deal with, but Mattie is not faint of heart.

It’s a good thing she isn’t timid because there are plenty of gorey scenes that aren’t so pretty.   This isn’t exactly a family-friendly flick, and also contains some amount of swearing.

But overall, I was glad to be able to watch this movie at last and counted it as a positive experience.  I would encourage fans of both the book and the previous film version to give this a try.  No, Bridges isn’t John Wayne, but I believe he made the character all his own.  I especially got a kick out of Matt Damon’s egotistical Mr. LaBoeuf.

 
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Posted by on November 25, 2018 in Movie Reviews

 

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