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2019 Year in Review + Favorites Awards!

I guess I have myself pretty well pegged by now, as I completed exactly the amount of books I set out for myself in 2019, which was 24 books.  That was more than I had read in the previous 4 years, so hooray for me! 😀  Do you reach any reading milestones?

I read some great Christian living non-fiction books this year, tried a lot of new-to-me authors, did some rereading and even stepped out into the cozy mystery genre a few times.  I also decided to quit my third-party book selling on Amazon, and haven’t been attending as many used book sales.  That freed up more space around here for my ever-growing home library.  I now have two half shelves of space (but not for long)!

This is the part of the show where I say “This is the part of the show where I answer silly questions with silly titles from silly (or not so silly) books…”  I play this every year and it’s a real blast!  This year, there’s a few more questions thrown in.  I will try not to repeat:

Describe yourself:  “This Is My Body,” by Ragan Sutterfield

Describe where you currently live:  “Uncle Sam’s Plantation,” by Star Parker

If you could go anywhere, where would you go:  “Ashenden,” by Elizabeth Wilhide

Your favourite form of transportation: “Slow,” by Brooke McAlary

What’s the weather like:  “Rhythms of Rest,” by Shelly Miller

You and your friends are: “Between Us Girls,” by Sally John

You fear:  “The End of Law,” by Therese Down

What is the best advice you have to give: “The Power Formula for LinkedIn Success,” by Wayne Breitbarth

Thought for the day: “Distinctly You,” by Cheryl Martin

My soul’s present condition: “Seated with Christ,” by Heather Holleman

How I would like to die:  “Love’s Awakening,” by Laura Frantz

2019 can be summed up as: “Respect for Acting,” by Uta Hagen

If you looked under my couch you would see: “The Shape of Sand,” by Marjorie Eccles

At a party you’d find me (with/in etc.): “The Country Beyond,” by James Oliver Curwood

At the end of a long day I need: “The Enchanted Hour,” by Meghan Cox Gurdon

My fantasy job is (to be): “Million Dollar Baby,” by Amy Patricia Meade

To fight zombies, I’d arm myself with: “The Woman in White,” by Wilkie Collins

A happy day includes: —-

On my bucket list is/are: “The Fortunes of Captain Blood,” by Rafael Sabatini

If I was competing in the 2020 Japan Olympics/Paralympics, my chosen sport would be: “Rooted,” by Banning Liebscher

Almost filled in all the blanks!  It’s more fun when you have a longer list of titles to work with.  What would your answers be?

Arranged by category, my 2019 Favorites Awards are as follows:

What fiction book won my heart this year?…

#2 in the Gormenghast Series was just so much fun to read and though some books may come and go, not many leave such an impression as the world Mervyn Peake created, on the edge of insanity and pure bliss.

Here’s to another wonderful year of reading; may it be informative and full of wonder and imagination!

 
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Posted by on January 10, 2020 in Reading Habits

 

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Book Review: “Village School,” by Miss Read

Genre: classic

Playlist…

Plot Summary: Miss Read narrates a year of her life teaching young schoolchildren in the charming English village of Fairacre.

My Book Review: This series has probably been on my reading list ever since I was 12 years old because my aunt thought highly of them.  She was a lover of tales of the English countryside—Bronte, Herriot, and Susan Allen Toth.  It just was one of those books I’d always been meaning to try but never was able to get around to it, until now that is.

“Miss Read” is the pen name of real-life English schoolteacher Dora Saint, and her books were inspired by her experiencesVillage School was her first novel.  I’m not sure if the rest of her books are in the same vein as this earliest one, but if so I would characterize them as sweet narratives of life in a peaceful place, largely untouched by the wide, industrial world and without many trials of the soul.  It is filled with ordinary people of contrary, comedic, and cantankerous characters.

There isn’t much in the way of plot here and so truth be honest there were times I felt bored, but what I liked best were the descriptions of the pastoral landscape and seasonal changes that Miss Read observes in a time before smartphones, earbuds and facebook.

I think I want to taste at least one more of Fairacre before I completely decide how I like them.  However, if you’re looking for a restful escape by way of a book, I think you’ll find what you’re looking for in here.

 

If you liked this book, I also recommend…

 
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Posted by on September 26, 2019 in Book Reviews

 

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Movie Review: “The Jungle Book”

Based on the Rudyard Kipling.

Version: 2016; starring Ben Kingsley; Bill Murray; Scarlett Johansson, Christopher Walken

Genre: adventure; children’s classic

Plot Summary: [from goodreads:] After a threat from the tiger Shere Khan forces him to flee the jungle, a man-cub named Mowgli embarks on a journey of self discovery with the help of panther, Bagheera, and free spirited bear, Baloo.”

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.  

Alright, an amendment: as a teenager I did try to read the Jungle Books, but did not get very far because it just wasn’t my cup of tea. I remember watching the Disney animation a few times as a child though, and I would also recommend the Masterpiece classic “My Boy Jack” based on the true story of author Rudyard Kipling and his son during the Great War (starring Daniel Radcliffe).

Even though reading the book escaped me, I was excited to see the live action version. I think the most fun for me was listening to all the great voice actors (obviously, we see only one human throughout the whole film, except in distant portrayals of the villagers).  I did not know beforehand who was playing most of the characters, so it was fun guessing.  I absolutely loved Ben Kingsley’s noble sounding voice as Bagheera.  What a perfect match for one of my favorite actors!  Another favorite was Christopher Walken as King Louie.  Although it took me a little bit, I soon recognized his famous voice and I thought it was hysterical!

It was genius to change the voice of Kaa the Python to a woman’s. For one, it provides more female roles to the story, and also the thought of an alto voice can be very hypnotizing.  However, Scarlett Johansson just didn’t do it for me (I don’t know why this is).  It also did not seem to make sense why this villain was in the story in the first place.  It didn’t flow connectively to other parts.

Is this live action a musical? Not really, though it does include some snippets of songs from the cartoon, but this primarily weighs in favor of the drama.  The characters who do sing are not exactly noted for their musical capabilities.

The special effects were great and there was an appropriate atmosphere of fear throughout, balanced by Mowgli’s faithful and loving friends. Raksha, Mowgli’s mother-wolf, is nurturing and Baloo the bear provides cute, comic relief.  My personal favorites were the little wolf cubs.  🙂

Despite all of this, I disliked how this movie ended. In both the book and 1967 version, Mowgli the boy goes to live in a human village where he is adopted by parents.  Baloo and Bagheera sacrifice and do what is best in their friend’s interest, making for a bittersweet but satisfying ending.  In this newest adaptation, after all of the struggle for keeping Mowgli safe, the boy stays with his animal friends.  Perhaps this is a bridge to a Jungle Book II?  Who knows.  But one has to wonder what the purpose was in Mowgli living isolated from his own kind.  In the earlier version Bagheera shows wisdom (and joy) in seeing Mowgli off to a home among people who can nurture him better than the animals can.  In version 2016, nature seems elevated above the benefit of human love and relationships.  Man is evil, and Shere Khan cannot really be held responsible for his actions because man *made* him what he is.  It all boils down to your world view.

Most will probably find this movie family friendly, though it is sad to see a tiger kill a wolf (not graphically), and there are some scary parts (snakes, teeth, etc.) that may bother little children.

*Of interest, I find that another live-action version of The Jungle Book, directed by Andy Serkis is due in the near future.

 
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Posted by on August 18, 2019 in Movie Reviews

 

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Book Review: “Wish You Were Here,” by Beth K. Vogt

Genre: contemporary fiction; Inspirational; romance

Playlist…

Plot Summary: Allison Denman has only 5 more days until the big day when she marries Seth, the man she’s been dating for six years since they were kids in high school.  They’re perfect for each other (he says).  The dress is perfect (their mothers say).  But how did she end up kissing Seth’s brother Daniel this near to the wedding day? Now what?!

My Book Review: Broken-off weddings intrigue me.  It is never pleasant for the people going through it, but I am curious about the complex emotions and motives behind it.  That’s why I wanted to read this book.

The author was new to me.  I believe this is a first fiction novel for Vogt and I was surprised. You’ve heard me complain many times about the state of Christian romance fiction.  Why would I take a chance on another one?  Because I don’t believe the problem lies in the genre as much as it is individual authors’ perspective and skill.  No, I don’t enjoy the churned-out sugary novels.  But I’m always hoping to find a book where I can trust the author, sink my teeth into a good plot.

I say I was surprised, because I liked this book: a good balance between comedy and seriousness. The characters and dialogue were interesting and it wasn’t cliché.  I liked how the ending left you hanging a little.  Not everyone’s woundedness was healed by the end.  Not everything was completely wrapped up, though you had a good guess how things would turn out.

I liked the subtle presence of animals in the story. The llamas that stare at Allison’s suitors.  The kitty named Bisquick (adorable name!).  I enjoyed the setting for it all—the beautiful state of Colorado which I could picture very well in my mind, although I’ve never been.

Another word on the characters, though. I do wish that there was a little bit more development in Allison’s life after her breakup with Seth.  I appreciate the complexity in that it was hard for Allison to form new ways of relating in her relationships (with Seth, parents, etc,) and sometimes she made mistakes going back to past habits.  But I wish that she had become more fully aware of how her codependency was hurting herself and others, how it fed an unhealthy relationship, and what better ways she could learn from there on out.  I wasn’t convinced she wouldn’t go repeating it in her next relationship.

Many Christian romance novels feature ‘the perfect guy’—the hunk who rescues kittens, volunteers at the homeless shelter, and sweats while chopping wood. I liked that Daniel, the hero of Wish You Were Here, didn’t have everything right in his life, made mistakes, and almost had some of the same control traits as his younger brother.  But he faced those issues, made corrections, and made different choices.  That made for a much more interesting character!

Another interesting character is Allison’s tried and true friend, Meghan. I loved this girl as she told the truth point blank to her best friend.  She definitely had some good words of wisdom, especially as a confidant to Allison’s younger sister who was entering the dating scene.  However, it is too bad that this BFF couldn’t have been more truthful with Allison sooner in her abusive relationship with Seth.

I wish that the characters were a little more mature in their Christian walk, but some attempt is made on both their parts to grow throughout the book. I wouldn’t consider it preachy, but perhaps the spiritual element didn’t feel completely at home, either.  I don’t think that’s a reason to eliminate it, but something for authors to work on making sure things flow a bit better.

Some may be waiting for a series after this, but I don’t believe there will be. However, there is a short story sequel for fans, entitled “You Made Me Love You.”  I don’t think I’ll be reading it because I don’t enjoy short stories, but the summary made me smile!

I don’t think this book will interest everyone, esp. those who abhor romance, but for those who do like I think this will be a pleasant, surprise read.  It’s clean, and I could even recommend it to teenage girls.  It addresses some situations they face such as depression, cutting, and pornography.

If you liked this book, I also recommend…

 
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Posted by on June 20, 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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Listen to “The Man Who Was Thursday” on BBC

Are you in the mood for a little G. K. Chesterton?  I enjoyed reading “The Man Who Was Thursday” a few years ago (see my book review here), but I am enjoying Geoffrey Palmer’s reading of it even more!  For a limited time, you can listen to it for free on BBC Radio 4.

 
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Posted by on April 23, 2018 in Audio/Radio Dramas

 

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Book Review: “The Melting of Molly,” by Maria Thompson Daviess

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Genre: classic

Plot Summary: Molly, a young widow, has a problem: she needs to lose weight and fast!  An old beau is renewing his acquaintance by coming back to his old hometown where she still lives, but she looks nothing like she did 10 years ago.  The only one who can help her attain her goal is the next door doctor.  But he likes her as she is.  What’s a girl to do when several men start to pay her more attention?

My Book Review: This was a fast, enjoyable read!  I originally discovered it on Librivox (listen to it for free here) and soon after found an old copy of it at a library book sale.  I found it cute that, in a story about a girl on a diet, a bookworm chewed a neat little hole through the edges of the pages.  🙂

The story takes place in the Gibson girl era, where things were not much different than they are today in that a woman’s worth was often judged on the dimension of her waistline. Only they had corsets back then to help them out.  Molly is a delightfully funny character, honest and vain, but thoroughly woman.  I loved the old illustrations throughout the book as well.  And the doctor was a swoon!  Perhaps one can see the ending from the start, but poor Molly can’t and it’s fun to watch her transformation when all the time she has a good man’s unconditional love.

This book is a simple read. Don’t expect too much out of it.  But if you are wanting to get into a cute little love story, this entertaining novel will probably satisfy.  Just ask the bookworm.

I also recommend:

 
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Posted by on February 14, 2018 in Book Reviews

 

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