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Random Books: Fall’s Hurrahs

And then… 🙂  I went to two more book sales over the weekend and came home with EVEN MORE!

 
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Posted by on October 22, 2018 in Book Shopping

 

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Book Review: “A Season of Shadows,” by Paul McCusker

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Genre: Christian fiction; historical fiction; suspense; intrigue; WWII; espionage

Plot Summary: When the rich, beautiful Julie Harris finds herself a widow during the early days of WWII, she decides she needs to find out the truth about her late husband.  Was their marriage a sham ever since they met?  Was he true to her, or did he live a double life?  The only way she can answer these questions is by going undercover herself, as one of America’s first agents of the war.  Working in London, she gets to know a small circle of people who seem to be her friends.  But who can she really trust?

My Book Review: It’s been a long time since I’ve ever read a book by Paul McCusker.  I remember I loved his Passages series when I was a kid (spin-off novels from Adventures in Odyssey, which McCusker helped create).  What would one of his novels for adults be like?  This one grabbed my attention, as espionage always does!

I found that I enjoyed this suspense story very much. Although I suspected the one character all along, I was never quite sure enough and I kept going on the edge of my seat.  Some great plot twists I didn’t see coming, and different love interests for our beautiful heroine that kept me guessing, too.  🙂

But more than that, I really learned a lot about England (esp. London) during the air raid bombings in 1940. I love fiction books that can teach me about a certain era, and this was definitely one of those.  Everything from what civilian daily life was like, how they coped, their attitude during the most difficult of days, and the everyday heroes of the war such as the emergency volunteers, the doctors and nurses, and the priests.  I even learned some things about Churchill.  To confirm all of this, I ended up watching a documentary on Netflix (“Winston Churchill: Walking With Destiny”- narrated by Ben Kingsley) that went over the same timeline during which this book is set and I got to hear and see photographs of the very things “Julie” would have witnessed.  I also watched a brief documentary on the first spy training camp the US set up in Canada, where our heroine also would have been sent to.  It made the book feel all the more real and I know it was well researched.

Some drawbacks to the book are that some readers may find it predictable. Sometimes I wanted it to be a tad more cloak and daggerish, but that’s probably just me being unrealistic!  I did find it somewhat unbelievable that Julie would run off to be an agent to spy against the very people her husband supposedly sympathized with, so soon after his death.  That part just didn’t make a lot of sense to me.

But I still enjoyed it, and stayed up late nights trying to finish it in time to send it back to the library. Those are the good ones, aren’t they?  So, if you’re up for burning the midnight oil, I think you’ll like this one!

I also recommend…

 

 

 
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Posted by on October 1, 2018 in Book Reviews

 

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Characters Series: Heroines in the Worst of Times

When I was a kid, I wished that I could do something really BIG and dramatic that would save the day.  I think that I still do have this desire, and I think it is a common one.  We humans want to know that our lives have a purpose and meaning.  It’s all very well to talk about character when things in life are going so nicely.  Of course, character is needed in everyday life.  But it’s so much harder when you’re in the midst of scary events. 

We’re usually not aware of these kinds of heroines until we put them in the context of history.  The real-life heroines are the most admirable, for they show us that it is possible to have integrity for real and that it’s not just for fiction.  One of my personal favorites ever since I was little has been Queen Esther—Persian queen (Jewish commoner) in disguise!  Even though she was in the prime of life and could easily talk herself out of it, she felt a duty to go to the king on behalf of her people because she could do something. 

One our favorite Lord of the Rings quotes goes something like this: 

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. 

“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”  

Thinking of history not that long past, there are the character role models of Diet Eman and Corrie ten Boom.  They were also both women in the prime of life who did what they could while their country was occupied by the Nazi regime.  I cannot think of anything more terrifying than facing a concentration camp, yet that is what they risked experiencing (and did experience) because of their belief that all people matter.  What heart, what courage these women modeled!  Come to think of it, why else do heroes do what they do, other than because of their value for human life and freedom?  In the moment of their action, they put aside their safety and sometimes very lives for the treasuring of another. 

I have never read the book, but I recently watched the movie The Help for the first time.  This story is full of women in a particular place (deep Southern America) in a particular time (violently racial 1960’s).  Some did what was popular and easy in the community—letting others bully them as to their personal decisions and relationships.  Others saw their neighbors as human beings with souls.  And still others decided to take a stand, to say ‘enough is enough’, and try to help each other in the middle of what was impossible conditions.  They were scared; they were hesitant at first or said no at the beginning, because they were risking so much.  But each decided that their friends and family were more important than their present fear and took the step forward that eventually became fruitful.  No longer ‘Strange Fruit.’ 

Sometimes heroines will never see the fruit of their labors.  In Tangled Ashes (Michele Phoenix), Marie is a seventeen-year-old girl living in an obscure village in France during WWII.  She is just an ordinary teenager, but living in extraordinary times.  She is forced to serve in a nearby manor house where strange and secretive things are taking place under the German occupation.  She “hears nothing, she sees nothing”– until she is forced to face the facts that her best friend is pregnant with an enemy soldier.  Suddenly, she cannot live for her preservation alone.  She has a tiny, innocent life to look after and it ends up costing her dearly.  But her love puts others first, and she has to trust that her courageous actions are more important in the long run. 

What becomes of the people we have influence over?  Maybe we will never know.  Or maybe their lives will touch others in a great, wide ripple effect that never stops.  All we can do is strive to pass on a heritage that will be life-giving and honoring for others.  And maybe this idea is not relegated to the big, grandiose acts of queens, but starts with the everyday little yeses and considerations in this world. 

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.  Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2: 3,4) 

 
 

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Free Jane Austen course

A few months ago I was alerted by an email from Hillsdale College of a new free online course they’re making available on Jane Austen.  As I keep slowly working on the C. S. Lewis lectures, I haven’t tackled the newest ones yet.  But I’m looking forward to it and am finally getting around to passing the link on to anyone else who is interested.

While browsing the Hillsdale website, I notice there are several other excellent courses available for free as well.  Lots of American civics and history lectures, Churchill homage, and many literature courses besides.  Among them are talks elaborating on: Shakespeare’s Hamlet; Great Books 101 & 102, and Mark Twain stories.  Enjoy!

 
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Posted by on July 12, 2018 in Uncategorized

 

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A Post Full of Audio Dramas

I came across something entirely new to me– the ATC Seneca Awards, which recognizes the best in family audio dramas.  The Awards are according to the opinions of the Audio Theatre Central podcast which you can check out here.  I thought it would be fun to dredge up trailers for as many nominations as I could find and collect them all in one place on this post.  Audio dramas are a great source of favorite family memories and long car trip entertainment.  Have fun!

Captain Bayley’s Heir – (Heirloom Audio Productions; John Fornof (writer/director); starring John Rhys Davies, Finty Williams)

The Trials of St. Patrick – (AIR Theatre; Paul McCusker (writer/director); Philip Glassborow (producer); starring John Rhys Davies)

Ode to Saint Cecelia – (AIR Theatre; Paul McCusker (writer/director); starring Derek Jacobi, Hayley Atwell)

The Giant Killer – (Lamplighter Theatre; John Fornof)

Wulf the Saxon (couldn’t find a trailer) – (Heirloom Audio Productions; Todd Busteed (writer/director); John Campbell (score))

*You can find reviews of all of these audio dramas and more on the ATC podcast.

 

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on June 24, 2018 in Audio/Radio Dramas

 

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Movie Review: In the Heart of the Sea

0bba4907568246579cbeaea9a220b52fBased on the book Nathaniel Philbrick.

Version: 2015; starring Chris Hemsworth; directed by Ron Howard

Genre: adventure; drama; based on true story

Plot Summary: Herman Melville is looking for his next greatest story in order to make ends meet and thinks he make have a lead.  An aged seaman has a story to tell, if only he can glean the truth from him.

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 make no apology for my puns. I was hooked from the first glimpse of the trailer.  I only wish I could have seen it on the big screen!  Oh, the drama!  It seemed to promise to do big scale justice of the story behind the world’s most famous whale.

And it delivered! What a riveting tale told through great acting, costumes, props, the works!  Best of all, a story that kept me glued throughout.  This was right up my alley of love for seafaring adventures.

Parts are a little hard to stomach, such as how the whalers went about harvesting whale oil. But it seemed historically accurate, and similar to the book “Moby Dick” in many ways (capturing the factual details of the whalers’ chores).  Also, a group of men adrift at sea are forced into some difficult decisions, SPOILER ALERT: namely cannibalism.  But we are not shown graphic details. END OF SPOILER.

I think one of my favorite aspects of it was the psychology behind the different characters. When you have an extreme situation with different people coming from different backgrounds, with different values and beliefs, what will each person choose and why?

It was apparent to me that this film was made with somewhat of an agenda [ie, whaling was ALL bad], and not one I would entirely agree with. But it did make for an exciting story and one I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend for an older audience.

 
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Posted by on June 19, 2018 in Movie Reviews

 

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Movie Review: “Lincoln”

 

3dead818f8bb0491dba54bfac1dd62b2Based on the book, “Team of Rivals,” by Doris Kearns Goodwin.

Version: 2012; Daniel Day-Lewis; Tommy Lee Jones; Sally Fields; David Strathairn; Lee Pace; Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Genre: historical drama

Plot Summary: [from IMDb:] As the Civil War continues to rage, America’s president struggles with continuing carnage on the battlefield as he fights with many inside his own cabinet on the decision to emancipate the slaves.”

My Review: Disclaimer*: I have not read the original book, so this review will not be comparing it to that work.  Only as a story in and of itself, totally unrelated to the book.  

I remember reading high praise for this movie when it first came out. Actually, I believe I had my eye on it when it was first announced it was in the making, and Daniel Day-Lewis was cast in the role of Abraham Lincoln.  The similarities between their looks are amazing, but would the movie do history and the man himself justice?

Oh wow. I can’t begin to tell you about the amount of research that went into the creating of this film.  I would love to know more about the ‘making of’ it.  I do know that the actors and actresses really gave this one their all and went into full-depth character to accurately portray these historical people.  Day-Lewis in particular researched Lincoln’s mannerisms, way of walking, speech, and voice in order to become him.

I am not so steeped in Civil War history as to know how many facts in this movie are correct, but I do know that it was inspired by the thoroughly researched book, “Team of Rivals,” by Doris Kearns Goodwin. The author worked closely on the making of the film as well.

LINCOLNActing is top-notch. I really felt as though I were viewing a fragment of my country’s history, and that felt exciting.  Even though I knew how history played out, this movie caused me to doubt for a little bit what would happen.  The behind-the-scenes politics of history made for a tense plot and kept me on the edge of my seat.  In fact, it was so identifiable in this day and age and maybe that’s why I felt nervous for what would happen.

One drawback of the film is that many of the historical facts presented escaped me in one viewing. I will definitely need to rewatch it to glean more from it.  Because of this, I felt somewhat confused and didn’t understand some of the plot structure.

However, I did learn a lot about the genius of Abraham Lincoln. I’ve always had the impression that he was so morally simple as to be sort of uninteresting.  Not so!  This man had a talent given to him by God that he used in the time and position he was placed in.  He was an absolute chess-master at politics, but had a core of integrity that kept him straight and true.  I believe watching this shed some light for me in deciding how to vote this past presidential election.  It also caused me to love a person I’ve never met, and left to wonder why God would allow such a man who did so much good and suffered greatly for it, to die at the hands of an assassin so soon after victory was achieved.

My favorite scene is near the end, with the singing of “Battle Cry of Freedom.” It was so inspiring, and caused me to be grateful to God for His working in our country’s history.  When’s the last time you felt excited about history?

 
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Posted by on April 14, 2018 in Movie Reviews

 

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