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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

Playlist…

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

Playlist…

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

Playlist…

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: “Tangled Ashes,” by Michele Phoenix

Genre: Christian fiction; historical fiction; mystery; contemporary fiction

Plot Summary: The Chateau de Lamorlaye holds secrets.  That is what historical contractor Marshall Becker finds when he reluctantly agrees to take on the Renaissance-era castle renovation project in Northern France.  But he also finds that some of the people surrounding the castle harbor mysteries of their own, including himself.  Who is disturbing the property at night, obviously looking for something?  Who is the old man who lives on the historical site?  What is it about his employer’s family governess that holds his attention?  And what is the WWII story behind this mysterious old castle, involving a girl named Maria, her friend, and the classified program started by the Nazi occupation?

My Book Review: Anytime a plot summary gives me goosebumps, I’m in.  That’s the way it was with this book and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it.  I was hooked right from the prologue, which begins with a flashback to WWII.  That’s the way the story was often told—back and forth from present day to the 1940’s. Who wouldn’t want a good read featuring a mystery that takes place in an ancient chateau?

I’ve got to say that this story gripped me right through. The characters are well fleshed-out and one can tell the author Michele Phoenix writes from the heart.  When I was finished with the book I was intrigued to find that much of the historical setting for the fiction was factual and that the author spent much of her youth at the Chateau in Lamorlaye, France.  That adds a whole, richer dimension to things!  You can see more pictures and videos about it on the author’s website here.  I was pretty excited to see that it was very much like how I pictured it in my mind.  I guess that means Phoenix did an excellent job at descriptive writing!

I knew somewhat about the Nazis’ secret Lebensborn program (I won’t give any more spoilers away; avoid video below if wanting to avoid spoilers), but I was interested to know a little more while reading Tangled Ashes.  That’s always one thing I like when reading a fictional (esp. historical) book—learning about something new.  The story was well crafted in that it was hard to tell where the fiction began.

I’ve read this described as ‘chick lit’, but I disagree here. This isn’t your fluffy romance novel (you’ll be pleased to know if you abhor that genre).  Romance really doesn’t factor much into the story; I would say it’s more about flawed characters who struggle and grow during the course of the book.

I will be keeping an eye out for more books by Michele Phoenix, and have at least one other of her books on my TBR. I burned the midnight oil finishing this one, and I’m sure it’ll be the same for you!

If you liked this book, I also recommend…

 
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Posted by on April 22, 2019 in Book Reviews

 

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Non-Fiction Books I’m Liking (Spring 2019)

There is so much to see, do and read in the springtime!  Let’s not waste a moment but take advantage of the time learning!

Relearning to See, by Thomas Quackenbush~ I suffer from myopia and astigmatism, along with strabismus on top of that.  So yeah, I have a lot of eye strain.  I’m also not a good candidate for contact lenses and I don’t particularly feel glamorous with two pairs of eyeglasses.  I just have never been able to think well with frames on my face.  Being interested in holistic measures, I’ve heard of improving one’s eyesight naturally using different exercises, diet, etc but never really knew how to implement it or had the confidence it would help with my particular issues.  I discovered this title on goodreads a while back, and then found it at a book sale when a local library was doing a purge.  What a stroke of good luck!  It’s been my breakfast reading material for the last couple of months.  Overlook the author’s unfortunate last name.  This is an in-depth textbook that borrows a lot of material from a learned eye doctor, William Bates, who studied and practiced during the turn of the century thru 1920’s.  A lot of his explanations and reasoning makes sense.  I appreciate that he does not view the Bates Method as eye “exercises”, rather a way of relearning how to see in a natural, relaxed manner.  Some of it gets a little too textbook on me and over my head but that’s okay, I just skip ahead to the more comprehensive parts.  Have I seen any improvement?  I want to finish the book first to understand everything before I begin implementing the techniques daily.  (To be completely honest, it is hard to form a new habit and it is hard to practice while a lot of your work is in front of a computer.)  But there was a moment (which the author refers to as “a flash”) when I experienced a bout of being able to see clearer than I had for a long time.  This was after I’d started trying some of the relaxed ways of looking around me.  It did not last very long, but it was enough to give me some hope and encouragement.  I think a lot of people will be interested in the scientific material presented, and be assured this is not some “quackish” gimmick. 

The Enchanted Hour, by Meghan Cox Gurdon~ This was such a wonderful book to listen to on audio!  I had no idea what it was about when I saw it in the library but the title had me hooked and I enjoy listening to non fiction audiobooks so I took it home with me.  Do you enjoy reading aloud and want a kindred spirit to share your enthusiasm?  You’ll find it in the author who narrates her own book.  Her passion for reading out loud to youngsters, teens, dogs, the ill, disabled, elderly—anybody and everybody!– is obvious.  She provides tons of interesting studies and statistics, as well as interviews with doctors, volunteers and a few guinea pigs on the benefits and NECESSITY of reading out loud.  Did you know that our society has lost approximately a third of its vocabulary and illiteracy is rifer now than it was decades ago?  How can we stop this epidemic and be more involved in our kids’ lives?  The answer is simple: READ A BOOK.  And yet most of us struggle to do keep up this discipline in a modern world of technology.  Gurdon shares tips and ideas from her own experience on how to make reading a fun family habit and how to make memories for years to come.  As a narrator, Gurdon does pretty well since she has had years of practice while bringing up four children.  I do wish she wouldn’t affect character voices for some of the people she quoted or interviewed, as this is sort of a no-no in non-fiction narration and becomes cartoonish rather than enhancing the story.  But she had such a warm, cuddly type voice and I fell in love with her descriptions of babies, tykes and tots.  Please do not misunderstand that reading is for young children only.  Although Gurdon puts a lot of emphasis on this, she also stresses that reading out loud really is good and beneficial for all ages.  

 
 

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