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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: “Captain Blood Returns,” by Rafael Sabatini

Genre: classic; adventure; historical fiction (1600’s)

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Plot Summary: The second in a rollicking trilogy about the adventures and exploits of one Dr. Peter Blood… turned pirate!

My Book Review: “Captain Blood” was an enjoyable read for me several years ago (you can read my review of it here).  I was happy to learn there were more books in the series, however one thing one must know going in is that the adventures in the second and third books are not in chronological order.  In other words, they are interspersed within the timeline of the first.  This also means that there is no appearance of Blood’s sweetheart, Arabella Bishop.  Boo-hoo!

 

Despite this drawback, there is plenty of romance—both in the classical sense and in the emotional lives of some of the side characters.  There are plenty of women to keep the story lively!  Another thing I appreciated was that each chapter was pretty much a completely different scene altogether.  No repeats here!  Sea battles are described in such a way as to not get too much over one’s head, and still be exciting.

Chivalry, courage, wit, and strategy… They say Ryan Gosling has it all, but I rather think it’s Peter Blood.

 
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Posted by on August 27, 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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Non-Fiction Books I’m Liking (Summer 2019)

Strong, simple, sassy female writers this summer!

Distinctly You, by Cheryl Martin~ I had never heard of this author among the Christian living books before but the subtitle, “Trading Comparison and Competition for Freedom and Fulfillment” spoke to me.  I am not half finished with it yet but I am finding the simple prose and reflection super helpful.  It has already begun turning over some rocks in my life for God to work more healing.  I appreciate that Cheryl Martin is so honest with her life and never paints a picture of a spiritual person who has it all together.  You can check more of her quiet, precise voice in the following videos: 

Part 1 / Part 2 

The Money Plan for the Young, Fabulous and Broke, by Suze Orman~ I’m one who finds Dave Ramsey a bit too intimidating for me.  This was a freebie book that I picked up as a breakfast read.  What had I to lose?  An older book (pub. 2004), it’s advice is still classic.  The book is written for an audience in their 20’s, but she includes readers who are a little older and late-but-better-than-never to the party (like me).  Suze has a fun, simple style that doesn’t turn condescending and that is refreshing!  I found her explanations of things like Roth IRA’s easier to understand than a Dummy’s Guide to Investing I had tried to read earlier.  One of my pet peeves about financial advisors is boiling their message down to: “Just don’t eat out so much!”– as though all people who are broke are so because they visit McDonald’s every week.  It’s annoying and assumptive.  But Orman doesn’t get that way.  This book is a keeper and I would like to check out more of her stuff.  So if you think you’ve tried financial guidebooks before and gave up, maybe you should give one of her books a try. 

 
 

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Book Review: “The Blue Castle,” by L. M. Montgomery

*See Note

Genre: romance; classic

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Plot Summary: 29-year old Valancy Stirling takes stock of her uneventful life.  All she has ever known is a grey, dull existence with no real love of her own.  Her favorite fantasy is to dream of her very own ‘blue castle’ in which everything is just as she would wish and she entertains a string of handsome suitors.  But then she gets a shocking medical diagnosis that changes her perspective on everything.  What will she do with the rest of her life?

My Book Review: L. M. Montgomery has been a favorite author of mine since way back.  I grew up with her as a teenager, convinced that I was a Montgomery heroine myself.  I’ve read almost all of her novels, but still have a few more of the Anne series and one or two obscure works to cover.  I purposefully waited to read “The Blue Castle” until I was the same age as the main character– I always like to identify with the characters I’m reading about.  However, I’d been a little bored with the last Anne book I’d read (“Anne of Ingleside”) and was not sure how I would like this one, especially since it is less known.

I absolutely loved this, as it turned out to be such a sweet gem of a story!  There are almost three parts to Valancy’s journey but I don’t want to put major spoilers here.  At first I was unsure I would become so attached because the first third details Valancy’s bitterness about life and her lack of familial love.  But a few plot twists I never saw coming changed the whole thing, both for Valancy and for me as a reader.  I began to wonder how I might react to the news that I had a fatal disease, and it was interesting to see Valancy’s attitude go from self-pity to acting on her new self-discovery.  Who might we become if we really acted on what we thought or felt on the inside?

Valancy finds love—not among her joy-robbing relatives that she’s known her whole life, but among the outcasts of society. She decides to spend her life acting on her compassion, and in so doing mirrors Jesus’ actions toward the lepers, the dying, and those of scandalous reputation.  Her blue castle no longer becomes her ideal, but a little ramshackle cabin in the sticks becomes her wonderful reality.  She spends so much time enjoying living in the here and now, that she forgets about her impending sentence.

I found the story to be so beautiful and it gave me much food for thought. Not to mention, I got a good laugh out of some of her relations!  Set during the 1920’s, it’s definitely a lot different from Montgomery’s other tales, but I’m sure it will become a new favorite for you as it now is with me.

*Note- This is one of those instances where you can’t judge a book by it’s cover.  This is not a Harlequin romance novel, like this popular book cover above indicates.  Nor does Valancy have brown hair and wear 1980’s nighties.  And the hero of the story does not look one bit like a Ken Barbie doll!  No, below are pictures closer to what I picture them to look like (even though their dress and age may be a bit off)…

If you liked this book, I also recommend…

 

 
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Posted by on June 5, 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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