Friday, March 30, 2012

When Bibliophiles Play

My younger sister definitely helps keep me on the ground after a long, beautiful flight into the theology of reading. Hints of "Long post." or meaningful sighs let me know in a love-and-cuddles kind of way:  "Dear sister, please take a break, and just do something fun."

But this is fun. :)

Today, my fellow bibliophiles, I will take a day to play. And I'm going to play 'tag' or 'tagged' or whatever the blogging name is for it.
Since I am very new to this blogging world, when Joy from Fullness of Joy told me I had been selected, I had to go look it up to find out what it was. :)

Here, my friends, are the deep dark secrets of Lady Bibliophile, in response to her questions. And keep reading (don't peek) to find out who has been tagged by me...

Here Are The Rules
1. Post these rules.
2. Post 11 random things about yourself (optional).
3. Answer the questions the tagger posted for you in their post.
4.Create 11 new questions for the people you tagged to answer.
5. Go to their blog and tell them that they have been tagged.

11 Random Things about Me...

1. After I'm finished watching a movie I really like, I go back and watch all my favorite scenes a second time. (When I'm by myself)
2. I'm extremely likely to read the end of a book when I first get it and then go back and read it consecutively
3. I prefer writing my stories with a pen.
4. I like classical music when I can see it performed live at a symphony concert.
5. I am the leader of an upcoming Bright Lights group for young ladies who want to live their teen years for the Lord.
6. I am left-handed.
7. I have played the harp for four years this April (self-taught)
8. I prefer to take more books than I could possibly read on a trip, just so I don't run out. (Even though one would be sufficient.)
9. I would like to go to Prince Edward Island to see the places where Jane and Anne would have lived, if they had lived.
10. I do not like The Christmas Carol in any way, shape, or form. (apologies, Scrooge fans! That was random, I know...)
11. I am an INFJ according to the Jung- Myer's-Briggs test.

Joy's Questions...
1. Who are your top 3 favourite classic fiction authors and your top 3 favourite modern fiction authors?
Oh, my. What is considered modern here? For the sake of clarity, I'll consider anything before 1900 classic, and anything after modern. :)

Favorite Classics:
1. Definitely Dickens. (Of course, no one would know that, as I've hardly mentioned him.) Because of his laugh-out-loud humor, his cutting insights into government, and his beautiful characterizations of people like Joe Gargery, Amy Dorrit, Herbert Pocket, and Tom Pinch. Also John Westlock, Mark Tapley, Arther Clennam, and Pip.

2. Jules Verne. Best known for his book Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, this man wrote brilliant science novels, all of which were fulfilled except Journey to the Center of the Earth. My favorites of his would definitely be Mathias Sandorf, a Monte Cristo style story, Journey to the Center of the Earth, and The Mysterious Island.
3. Baroness Orczy. Honestly, who wouldn't like the Scarlet Pimpernel and his daring deeds? The all-time best in the series is Eldorado, because the Scarlet Pimpernel is actually imprisoned due to the betrayal of Marguerite's brother, Armand St. Just...
4. George MacDonald-Tales of beloved Scotland, whose characters experience strong Christian growth and the gentle love of God. These books were written for his flock after the Church of England barred him from the pulpit. He wanted to teach eternal security, and this important doctrine was rejected by the clergy of his day.

(Wish I could include John Buchan and Gene Stratton-Porter, but alas, I am out of space.)

 (Oh, Joy, four just wasn't enough for the classics. :)

Favorite Moderns:

1 Michael Phillips. This man has the astonishing ability to write like he's a tried-and-true classic. His stories of multigenerational faithfulness and interesting biblical archaeology novels mark him as a step above his modern counterparts.
2. Douglas Bond-The Crown and Covenant novels, and his stunning work on John Calvin, The Betrayal, show exquisitely researched stories of the Reformation and the Scottish Covenanters Also, his Mr. Pipes series puts hymn history in stories to make them easily understood by children and adults alike.
3.Chuck Black. Epic allegories of the Bible for teens that contain no wizardry, magic, or witchcraft. Please check him out at
4. My friend, Emily. Though she's not yet published, she has no objection to my mentioning her story, The Nine, a tale of nine men who stage a revolt against a tyrant king. I hope that you'll all be able to read it someday. Epic medieval-style battles and an excellent presentation of Christian loyalty.

2. Which character in John Bunyan's immortal classic, The Pilgrim's Progress, do you identify with the most in their/your spiritual journey? (Christian, Faithful, or Hopeful)

I've only read the children's adaptation of Pilgrim's Progress, but I would identify most with Hopeful at this point. I think hope is one of the most important character qualities of the Christian, because it keeps us on the One who can fulfill our needs rather than the needs themselves.
3. In J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, we see that Sam's and Frodo's responses to Gollum/Smeagol are different. If you were in Sam and Frodo's place during the times they had the opportunity of killing Gollum, would you kill him and be rid of his trickery and wickedness, or would you feel pity for him having carried the burden (the Ring) yourself, knowing its temptation, and show him mercy? (P.S. if you haven't watched/read The Lord of the Rings, you can skip this question)
I'm currently reading LOTR for the first time, so I haven't gotten to this scene yet, but I think I know enough about Gollum to answer it. Even though I loathe him, I do feel pity for his burden, and would rather see him redeemed of his past at this point. But if he doesn't want that, then I hope he comes to a quick end, because I don't want him troubling Frodo. :)
4. Which do you enjoy more: reading a book or watching a movie?
Reading a book. But I would take watching a movie adaptation of a book as a very good second choice.
5. What is your favourite kind of music to sing, hear and play and who do you think was the greatest music composer of all time?
Sing and hear and play? Definitely Celtic. The passion of the Irish and Scots is unsurpassed in the history of music. :)
Greatest composer? Probably Beethoven, because when I hear him performed, I can become completely absorbed in the music, which doesn't often happen with classical for me.

6. Which 2 books of the Bible do you tend to read from the most?
I follow of a reading plan of the entire Bible every year, but if I were just to pick it up and look for a passage, it would probably be Psalms or Isaiah. I love Isaiah chapter 40, when God  assures his people that he has not forgotten their cause, and He will give them strength to run and not grow weary.

7. Is there a figure in history (outside the Bible) that you love the most? And why?
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, because he embodies several important principles:
-a person's virtue is not established by his nationality, but by the cleansing blood of Christ. Bonhoeffer was a German during WWII, and is often consigned with all other Germans who mass executed thousands of innocents. But he was a shining light of uncompromising principle in a dark nation, and a dark time.
-He worked tirelessly for the reform of the church, never allow himself to be intimidated by the government in an age where people refused to speak up and say "This is wrong." He continually spoke out against the oppression of the Jews, when other people reacted in fear, and chose to ignore the issue.
-Even though some church leaders chose to compromise on important issues, he still gave them grace and associated with them, while not condoning their sin. I think this is important for us to know today, as we interact with other Christians that we may not agree with.

8. Is there a book or movie that you've read/watched and you've wished something had gone differently and would like to re-write it?
Yes. But unfortunately, I can't remember what it is. Probably a tale with a tragic ending, or one where the character ended sadder but wiser. I don't care for sadder but wiser endings for the main character, though I may not mind it as a sub-plot.

9. What are your 2 favourite scenes in The Chronicles of Narnia (taken from either the films, books or both)?(P.S. if you haven't watched/read The Chronicles of Narnia, you can skip this question)
Definitely The Last Battle, in The Last Battle. :) It has the power to evoke insecurity every time I listen/read it. (Are they really going to make it this time?)
And my other favorite scene is in The Horse and His Boy, when Lucy is talking to Aslan in Prince Caspian, and she asks him if he can tell her what would have happened if she had obeyed and followed him the first time. He says "What would have happened? No. But you may know what will happen, if you follow me at once."
That's a paraphrase, but something like it. I think this is a classic illustration of how Christ Jesus wants us to obey in the present and look to the future, not live in the past. He is not God of the dead past, but God of the living future.

10. What are some of the books (fiction + non-fiction) or movies that have inspired and changed your life?
-It's (Not That) Complicated (by Anna Sofia and Elizabeth Botkin) changed my perspective on how to treat young men as brothers in Christ.
-Guns of Thunder (by Douglas Bond) and the depiction of the Great Reformation brought me to the point where I believed that God had fully and freely redeemed me. I was saved before this, but I stopped fearing my sin about this point.
-Don't Wrestle, Just Nestle, (by Corrie Ten Boom) helped me to see that my worrying habits were not part of the Christian life, and helped me to overcome that worry.
-The Amazing Grace movie taught me that if God could help William Wilberforce fight impossible obstacles for twenty years against the slave trade, then he would enable me to continue on in my earnest longing for some areas of reform.
-Facing the Giants showed me that I could look at my fears, and watch them fall one by one in Jesus' Name.

11. What do you love most about the place where you live?
I live in Michigan, the beautiful state of Great Lakes and sand dunes. I dearly love being able to visit areas where a special peace seems to be in the very atmosphere, when we vacation at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. I also love being able to experience all the seasons so vibrantly: snow, eighty-degree summers, soft springs, and colorful autumns.

11 New Questions:

1. Who is your favorite Dickens character (If you haven't read any you may substitute for your general favorite character in anything you've read. :)

2. Do you keep a book list of the books you read, and if so, how many did you read last year?

3. Do you like to write stories, as well as read them?

4. Would you call yourself an introvert, or an extrovert?

5. List 5 of your favorite fiction books, and five of your favorite nonfiction (biographies count).

6. Which do you purchase more, used books or new?

7. Which book has influenced a spiritual turning point in your life? (Or a book that inspired you to live more for Christ, and why.)

8. What do you consider to be three benefits of reading modern stories, and three benefits of reading classic stories? (Classic being pre-1950)

9. Do you prefer fiction or nonfiction, and why?

10. What is your favorite genre (historical, fantasy, mystery, romance, science fiction, etc.)

11. Does the cover of a book influence your decision to pick it up, and if so, what kind of cover sparks your interest?

And I tag...

Krystina, from The Silent Wanderings
Kaleigh and Anna, from Facing the Waves
Suzannah, from In Which I Read Vintage Novels

There you have a bibliophile at play. :)

Lady Bibliophile

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Mark of Excellence (Part Three)

Have you ever picked up an epic plot, only to find that the publisher forgot to employ a line-by-line editor? The results are pretty disappointing. I came across this difficulty when I picked up I Will Repay from the library. I can't remember who published it, but I found a rough estimate of thirty usage, spelling, and grammar errors. Bad ones. They couldn't even decide whether to spell "Blakeney" with and 'ney' or 'ny'. I read the book, but a little of the edge was taken off for me by the obvious indifference to quality.

Contrast this with Les Miserables' Signet Classics edition. In the course of 800 pages, I found only 5 errors.

Welcome, readers, to the third (and final!) article on "The Mark of Excellence"--raising the bar in the books we read. Before I move on to the grammatical section, allow me to finish up a couple of points from last time on characterization.

The Stars of the Play

As we discussed before, excellent books show clear gender differences, moral values, and mentor roles. To finish this topic, I'd like to cover a couple of points about action.

1. Protagonists Should be Virtuous
Protagonists, also known as 'the good guys', need to be good guys. Sure, they may have some habits they need to change; often that's the whole plot of the story. But for the most part, they should be an example of shining worth. If you end the book saying "Oh, I wish he wouldn't have" then it shows that the author got a little mixed on their hero and villain. (Or heroine and villainess) Like Brother Cadfael, in Dead Man's Ransom. I really like this Benedictine monk, but I wish he hadn't looked the other way, deliberately, when two people make away with a wanted man. Most times you find this principle of excellence violated in instances of lying or physical affection.

2. Antagonists Should Commit Sanctified Crimes
This may sound a bit odd, but it goes back to that "be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil." We are children of God. Our minds and hearts need cleansing, yes, but there are still some ills of the world that we aren't born with explicit knowledge of. And if the villain does something wrong that causes us to learn more about evil than we should know, then that villain is not committing 'sanctified' crimes. You'll find this dilemma in social justice novels, romance novels, and murder mysteries most often.

One That May Surprise You...
A novel, especially a novel that deals with a serious issue of society, needs to have some humor.

Surely, you say, this is dispensable.

In a future blog post I'll tell you the following story in more detail; but suffice it to say for now that I just decided to put down a book. The story-line was deep and heartrending, with astonishing plummets into the world of evil and the dregs of criminal society. I knew something was wrong with it, so I took a break on it for a while. And just the other day, I put my finger on it. It had no humor.

And therefore, it had no hope.

Humor, whether or not the author is a Christian, or the character is a Christian, gives us a breath of assurance that someone can see the silver lining, the rainbow, the happy ending. In Christ, we Christians have a happy ending. And we should live in the hope of a happy ending, with a smile on our faces, and a joyful word on our lips. Humor is essential in an excellent book because it gives us hope for the future.

It is only a godless man, and a godless story, that has no hope.

Final Point of Excellence
You probably guessed this point from the introduction to my post. One of the highest marks of excellence for a good book is good grammar.

Not perfect. Good.

I couldn't possibly say perfect grammar because these posts don't have perfect grammar.  I spend all the time I can after they are written in editing mistakes, and I would spend more time if I could. But when something is put up for sale, it implicitly promises satisfaction to the consumer, and therefore, it is essential that the author and the editors make numerous passes to ensure that the customer is receiving a high-quality product. Grammar-spelling, complete sentences, and usage- is the building material of the finished structure. If you put door frames in crooked, the door sticks, and it inconveniences everyone who uses it. Likewise, if you don't ensure that your words are spelled correctly, the eye is caught on the defect, and can't proceed with the story.

Generally, if a book contains under six or seven noticeable errors, I'll say "Good. Not perfect. But everbody's fallible." But if you jump to thirty errors in a published and paid for novel, then the publisher obviously didn't go for quality.

Or we could be charitable, and suppose he just forgot his reading glasses. :)

In Conclusion
Obviously no book is perfect, and I'm not saying that a book isn't excellent if it doesn't fulfill the qualities I've talked about. But these are guidelines, hopefully helpful ones, that show us what can make a good plot, what makes good characters, and what makes good construction. Remember that our mental 'food' gives us nutrients and nourishment, and we want to make sure our intake is quality-controlled.

Have fun reading today, and while you're at it, find some marks of excellence in your favorites. :)

Lady Bibliophile

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Mark of Excellence (Part Two)

Americans drink an average of 526 12-oz. sodas a year, which averages out to 1.5 per day. Spending on fast food in America has increased to $140 billion per year. The average serving size in your typical McDonald's value meal has tripled since the 1970s. Whether or not these statistics are completely accurate, the point I'm making here is that consumption of 'junk' food is a staple part of American society. I observe it personally, just looking at shopping carts in the stores. The majority of items are pre-packaged, processed minefields of sugary calories. What, you may ask, does this possibly have to do with books?

Consumption of mental junk food is a staple part of American diet as well.

Since rising costs hit quality items first, this doesn't surprise me. Many families can't afford to eat all organic, natural, locally grown, pesticide-free items all the time. Our family certainly doesn't. And often times an all organic, natural, locally grown, pesticide-free story costs much more than the 'junk food' of modern literature.

And so, we've settled for less. And our evaluation of what is truly excellent in the literary food realm has seriously downgraded.

So welcome, my friends, to part two of "The Mark of Excellence". For those of you who didn't catch my last post, I encourage you to check out part one. Today we will be looking at a few general points about historical and biographical books and worldview, as well as language and action choices.

Historical and Biographical Works
You've all read them. Novels that claim to be written with 'stunning historical accuracy' only to find that the only things historical about them are the side arms and the calico dresses. That is not true historical. When you evaluate 'historical' fiction, try keeping in mind the following points:

1. The history should be accurate.
This may seem like an obvious one, but the more you think about it, the more it rings true. It should be packed full of real people who lived in that time period, real events, and real culture. (Note that I didn't say 'realistic') Take Kidnapped for instance. Because Robert Louis Stevenson wrote his story right out of real trials at the time of the Jacobites and James of the Glen, the words he put in the mouth of Alan Breck were actual events and names that I have come across in other reading. And The Betrayal, by Douglas Bond, a novel about John Calvin. Bond used actual words uttered by Calvin, resources from actual letters, and of course, actual theology from his Institutes. The only fiction thing about it, really, is the 'narrator' of the story. But what the narrator says is actual fact.

2. Remember it's fiction, not fact.
Half of the difficulty of attempting to write historical fiction is the knowledge that your readers will accept some of the enhancing bits as real, and the real bits as fiction. If your only source of history is Tracie Peterson novels, then please find a different one. Much of today's historical fiction is "Hollywood history". Check out original sources, read signs, go to museums, and find out if these authors did their research.

3. The history should be interesting.
I can give you actual names of French Revolution leaders. You'll hear things  like 'the committee of Public Safety' and 'Sansculottes' when we're discussing In The Reign of Terror, by G.A. Henty. I can tell you about the Battle of Waterloo, and the years between the revolution and Napoleon. I know countless tales of the Scots, and the names of their British oppressors. You all know Great Britain's Prime Minister during WWII, but I can tell you a little of Winston Churchill's part in Parliament during WWI. Why? because I've found stories who's historical facts check and double check throughout different authors, and different centuries. And they present it in a memorable way--a way that helps the facts stick because you remember them in connection with fictional characters such as Harry Sandwith, Duncan M'Kethe, and Charles Rutherford.

4. Details should be specific
The fact that the women are wearing dresses and people travel with horses shouldn't be the only tip-off. The characters should talk like they're living in the time period, interact like they're living in the time period, and make choices based on the ideology of the time period. The main character shouldn't cause you to think they're a movie actor, paid to take the part. Neither should the supporting cast.

My post "You Can't Judge a Book..." covers some of the points I'm going to be making here, so if you'd like a more in-depth look on that point, check out the above link, and read "The Beau Ideal" if you're wondering what to do with a book that doesn't measure up to these marks of excellence.

1 Moral values
I've covered this point before in an older post, so I'll only mention it in passing here. Why do I enjoy the "Golden Age" of literature from the 19th century? Because the heros and heroines held a moral code. An understanding that certain things were right, and certain things were wrong. Men who protected women, the strong who rescued the weak, the friends who never forsook one another. While Jesus Christ and Christianity may not always be mentioned, you can tell the author's basic premise by the character's moral code. If anything goes, then you'll be up against man-centered philosophies, which you'll find quite often in mystery and social justice novels. If right is right, and wrong is wrong, then the author may not be Christian, but they'll be promoting Christian ideology, whether they know it or not.

2. Clear Gender differences
Skirts and trousers are a good start. But attitudes should be clear-cut also. Is the wife always proving the husband wrong? Does David treat his sister with respect? Would the hero take advantage of the heroine in a moment of weakness? Ideas of chivalry, respect, patriarchy, and femininity should continually surface. Is the girl always leading the boy? Issues...

3. Mentor roles
Young heroes and heroines should have an older mentor helping them out occasionally. Brother Cadfael, (Ellis Peters) Arthur Clennam, (Little Dorrit)  and Gandalf (Lord of the Rings) all play mentor roles to younger protagonists. If the young person is all-sufficient, then it sends the message that we're capable of making our own decisions without the wisdom of those who have gone before us--we're our own authority. Please note, though, that this is a general rule, but there may be some worthwhile exceptions.
3. Resolved moral conflicts
If a lie is told, it should be reconciled. If a murder is committed, the murderer should be caught. When authors leave moral threads hanging, or sinners excused, then we're not receiving a serious picture of how God treats sin. He never excuses it, and looks at it in a very grave light. How many children's books contain lies that are 'based on circumstances' or disrespect that is never repented of?
These are a few points on part two of "The Mark of Excellence", meant to be general suggestions and guidelines. All these should be tested against Scripture, and God's leading in your life. Thanks for stopping by, and as always, you're welcome to write with thoughts, concerns, or suggestions. May your reading be to the glory of God. :)

Lady Bibliophile

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Mark of Excellence (Part One)

Sometimes, paragraphs like the following leave a question mark in my mind:

Matt washed his face. Took a handful of paper towels and did what he could for his trousers and jacket. Glanced in the mirror. Looked away. Used his fingers as a comb. Washed his face a second time.
-Imposter, by Davis Bunn

I think the poor author forgot the grammatical rule of complete sentences. He. Chopped. His. Phrases. And. Clauses. Up. Into. Little. Tiny. Pieces. Everyone has a bad day once in a while, or even more realistic, just a bad paragraph. But this type of paragraph is Davis Bunn's trademark.

Which leads me to my new series: What constitutes true excellence, both in structure (the plot) and execution (the grammar) of the books we read? Today we'll be looking at plot structure.

Examples of Mediocre Quality:

The Skeleton in the Closet (Plot Structure)

One of the best illustrative quotes for my point here is in the Focus on The Family Radio Theatre drama "Father Gilbert Mysteries".  Father Gilbert, Anglican vicar and former police investigator, is talking to a really bad playwright about his work:

"Oh, Simon, since you want me to be honest, I’ll say this: I think the biggest problem with your work is that it doesn’t ring true…your characters are clichéd, your dialogue is a collection of mixed metaphors, and trite sentiments, and—well, your plotting is at best muddled, and at the very worst incomprehensible. It doesn’t ring true to anything anyone knows of life. I’m sorry to be so brutal, but you wanted honesty."  
-The Play's the Thing, Part 2

That just about summarizes everything, but let's go into those points in a little more detail.
1. Clichéd Characters
Have you ever read a book where the character is completely bland? The cliché part isn't necessarily wrong, but you have to have either or. Either the plot may be cliché, with memorable characters (Such as in The Hidden Hand) Or the characters may be cliché with memorable plot. But woe to the author who combines both. (The Immortelles, Gilbert and Lynn Morris) Why is this bad? Call it preference if you will, but its pretty obvious who's writing for writing's sake and who's writing as just another job.  The former will work hard to chose memorable details such as names, personal appearance, or unique courses of action; the latter will select tried-and-paid-for details that have made the bestseller list twice already.
2. Mixed Dialogue
You have to be a good author to include mixed dialogue, and even then you can barely get away with it:
"Oh, good gracious me I hope you never kept yourself a bachelor so long on my account!" tittered Flora; "but of course you never did why should you, pray don't answer, I don't know where I'm running to, oh do tell me something about the Chinese ladies whether their eyes are really so long and narrow always putting me in mind of mother-of-pearl fish at cards and do they really wear tails down their back and plaited too or is it heads..."
-Little Dorrit, by Charles Dickens. I cut the paragraph in half for your sake. :)

3. Unrealistic Sentiment
I was looking through The Covenant by Hilda Stahl. While I would describe it as pre-packaged mental let-down, I thought it had some interesting elements. But I finally put it down when the girl's husband walks into their cabin after he's been in a fist fight and she says "Let me fix your face." He holds her to his breast and says "Fix my heart first."

(Honestly...what man would say that in real life? This was CLEARLY written by a romance author. Please excuse the passionate refutation.)
4. Muddled plotting
Let me pick on Imposter again. Here's a summary of the plot from the book flap:
In the midst of Paul Kelly's senatorial campaign, Matt Kelly returns home from the federal training academy on the brink of an identity crisis. His inherent ability to bury his personal feelings behind a mask of withdrawal is a professional blessing but a personal catastrophe that had left his closest relationships in shambles.
Matt's world is thrown into chaos when a bomb erupts at the Kelly home causing personal tragedy and focusing national attention on his father's rejuvenated campaign. This quest for justice takes Matt and his team of unlikely collaborators from the power chairs of transatlantic government and the cell blocks of inner-city America to the unturned soil of his family's hidden past.
Imposter is a mystery. Matt Kelly is out to find a criminal, and to do so, has to dig into his family past. But my bone to pick is not that I couldn't solve the mystery (I often don't) but that Bunn pulls out someone totally new at the very end. The solution is at best, muddled, and at worst, incomprehensible. Why? Because 'whodunit' is someone that's not even a character in the story. He's a 'ghost' from the past that suddenly appears, and Matt Kelly says "He did it!".  And in a sub-plot, here was even the question at the end whether his father was really his father or not... to tell you the truth, I think he was, but I couldn't really tell for sure. 
Every plot needs to have introduction, body, conclusion; especially if there is no sequel. It's that unfair.
But I won't just pick on Bunn. How about George MacDonald, in The Lady's Confession?
Juliet falls in love with and marries the honorable local doctor. The whole point of this book is the terrible secret she's hiding from him, and the repercussions after she finally tells him. But when we reach the climax--the point where she confronts him and will not let him go until he knows--what do we read?

"She drew his head closer down, laid her lips to his ear, gave a great gasp, and whispered two or three words."

And that, my friends, is all. Juliet makes a desperate appeal later on, in which she pleads "He was much older than I was, and I trusted him!" But that's not really a revelation. This book illustrates that if you must muddle the plot because the sin is too wicked to state in words, then you'd better switch it to a different sin. It's neither polite to the reader, nor good writing.

Note, however, that in the above point, I'm not referring to mysteries where the conclusion is revealed in the end. Those are supposed to be muddled. But stories which are muddled without a conclusion are not truly excellent.

5. It doesn't ring true
Many popular romance novels don't ring true to anything anyone knows of life. People don't meet and marry that way. Sci-fi can also come up against this obstacle. The same principle holds here that we discussed under clichéd characters, only slightly differently worded. Either the plot or the characters must ring true. Enduring stories ring true in both plot and characters, but occasionally an author strikes it rich as long as they follow the either-or principle. If your plot is fantastic, then your characters must be normal. If your characters are fantastic, then your plot must be normal. Take Tolkien, for instance, in The Hobbit. We all know that goblins and trolls and dragons and magic smoke rings (as well as hobbits, for that matter) are pretty fantastic. But Bilbo Baggins is real, because he's afraid and a bit clumsy throughout the whole story. Even Gollum, as fantastic as he is, shows twinges of insecurity and regret that make him more relatable.

Examples of Excellence:
If you'd like to further study out books where authors avoided these errors, then check out the titles below. I've selected the ones that I think best express excellence:

1. Original Characters
Pearl Maiden, by H. Ryder Haggard. This wins the award for characters who will make you laugh and cry, take your breath away with their audacity, and make you groan over their obtuseness. Well done.

2. Understandable Dialogue
This is a tough one, but I'll put down Gene Stratton-Porter. I really don't have to go back and read anything twice, (with some authors I do)  but she says some deep things worth remembering. Try The Keeper of the Bees or Her Father's Daughter. (Both of which I edit for occasional language.)

3. Realistic Sentiment
Jane Austen novels. Tales of true love without all the frilly glitter.

4. Clear Plots
Martin Chuzzlewit, by Charles Dickens. There may be a hundred different plots, but he ties them all up beautifully and concisely.

5. Rings True
Depends on what you prefer. Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott, or Anne of Ingleside, by L.M. Montgomery are great examples on a dignified and complementary scale. Also Laddie: A True Blue Story, by Gene Stratton-Porter. 

I will conclude part one right here. If you have books that you think illustrate the above points of excellence, I would love to know what they are.

Lady Bibliophile

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Wearin' O' the Green

What do you think when I say "Ireland"?

True love...
Brave warriors...
The Emerald Isle...

But what do you think of when I say "St. Patrick's Day"?

Lucky Shamrocks...
Pots of Gold...

Isn't that sad?

O Paddy dear, and did ye hear the news that's goin' round?
The shamrock is by law forbid to grow on Irish ground!
No more Saint Patrick's Day we'll keep, his color can't be seen
For there's a cruel law ag'in the Wearin' o' the Green."

Irish history has sunk to a couple of pints, and the author of that song probably went to the tavern to drown his griefs after finishing the last word. (Sorry. A bit of personal interpretation there.)

The True Importance of St. Patrick's Day

But the Irish blood runs in me veins, and I'd like to set a couple of things straight. I'd like to tell you a story, which will lead into my book review.

Once upon a time, a boy lived near Kilpatrick, in Scotland, in the year 387.  His parents were Romans, and he lived under their roof until the age of 14 or 15, when cruel raiders swept down upon the land and stole him away to serve a people of Druids and pagans. He lived as a sheepherder for six years among this people, learning their language and their customs. He wrote of his relationship with Jesus Christ during his captivity. "The love of God and his fear grew in me more and more, as did the faith, and my soul was rosed, so that, in a single day, I have said as many as a hundred prayers and in the night, nearly the same." This boy had a dream, in which God told him to leave Ireland by taking passage on a ship at the coast. After a brief recapture and near starvation, he succeeded in his escape and reunited with his family. He studied for the priesthood, and in his heart, felt the call of the Lord to return to the Irish people and bring them the good news of Jesus Christ. In spite of past pain and past scars, he obeyed.  Constantly in danger of martyrdom, he labored among the Irish people for forty years until his death on March 17, 461, at Saul, where he built his first church.

You all know the man.

St. Patrick.

Continue on to the year 521 A.D., when a baby boy was born to a tribal chieftain, and given two names. One meant 'wolf', the other meant 'dove'. He was destined to fulfill both names in his lifetime. This boy descended from royal blood, and could have become king, had he not chosen to study for the priesthood. He studied with 3,000 other students at Clonard Abbey, under St. Finian, and became one of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland. Succeeding in his ordination as priest, he founded several monasteries and his reputation grew. But then something went wrong.

Finnian of Clonard possessed a copy of the Scriptures, a sign of great wealth. He refused to let Columba copy it, and the student went behind his back to copy it in the dead of night. When Finnian discovered his treachery, he took Columba before the king, Diarmit; and the king ruled that Columba should return to Finnian the copy of the Scriptures.

And Columba allowed a sprout of bitterness to grow up in his soul.

When Diarmit violated monastic security to capture and execute one of Columba's kinsmen, the priest called together his clan to do battle. As the war raged, he knelt in prayer for the victory of his men, with frightening success. The Ui Niell carried the day. Columba now stood in a position to claim kingship at the cost of 3,000 souls.

Condemned by religious and secular authorities, perhaps grief-stricken in his own conscience, Columba accepted the penalty of exile to Scotland, and swore to bring 3,000 souls to Christ--the number of men whose deaths he caused.

With twelve men, he left for the tiny island Iona. But in his soul, he grieved at leaving his native Ireland.

Book Review
To follow more of Columba's story, I direct you to today's book review: The Saints of Ireland, by Hugh de Blacam. (Also known as Aodh de Blacam). This book is older, and harder to find, but well worth the reading for an overview of two important Irish missionaries. De Blacam enthusiastically sets forth the lives of St. Columba, or Columcille, and St. Brigid, a woman missionary to Scotland.
The account of their calling, their ministry, and their miracles brings a whole new meaning to St. Patrick's Day--because these people are an offshoot of his ministry. Due to his ministry in Ireland, he raised up a generation of Christians to evangelize his own native Scotland.
Hugh de Blacam gushes occasionally over the greatness of these people; perhaps because of their connection to Roman Catholicism. I had to smile when he spent two or three pages mourning the common mispronunciation of St. Brigid's name, and deploring the nicknames 'Patty' and 'Biddy' as disrespectful to two of Scotland's greatest saints. But I didn't find it irksome, and it was helpful, as I had pronounced Brigid's name totally wrong up to that point.
I don't think you'll find the account of St. Columba's battle in this book, or if you do it is marginalized as much as possible. Saints, after all, are supposed to be perfect, and historians dispute certain facts of Columcille's life, not knowing whether they are factual or legendary. I don't pretend to know. But I like the account of the battle, and I also enjoy some other legends surrounding Columcille's life and death, including an account of the Loch Ness monster. (You can find the legends of Columcille's life in Life of St. Columba by Adomnan of Iona. I've not read the entire book, but I include it based upon a high recommendation.)
Whatever is fact, whatever is legendary, this man's ministry came as a result of St. Patrick's obedience to the call of God, and his forgiveness to those who enslaved him. The story of their lives, however faulty, however hyped, portrays quite clearly the forgiveness and redemption of Jesus Christ. We have a call just as they do, to go forth and make disciples of all nations--no matter our past pain, as in the case of Patrick; or our past sins, as in the case of Columba. Thank God that through Jesus Christ we are free from the chains that others try to bind us with, or that we fasten on ourselves.

And that, my friends, is the true message of St. Patrick's Day.

Irish Music
For those of you who came for the book review, it is now finished. But I couldn't resist including a couple of further resources.
Some of my favorite music is of the passion of the Irish. No-one can express the true live-and-die loyalty like the Celtic clans, and I am proud to claim my heritage. I encourage you to celebrate St. Patrick's Day by purchasing the following MP3 downloads:

Songs From Ireland

Charlie Zahm's mix of authentic and original tunes beautifully expresses the loyalty, love, and virtue of the Celtic people.


Deborah Brinson combines her lovely voice with the sound of the harp in singing many Irish melodies that are overlooked by other performers. Buy the entire album; I guarantee satisfaction.

It's time to reclaim the stereotypical Irishman from his pots of gold and pints of beer, and show the rich history that he really possesses.

Thank-you for joining me. I had a good time. :)

Lady Bibliophile

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Liberté, égalité, fraternité! (Part Four)

Sir Percy returns, with a review of Mam'zelle Guillotine. Technically, this book is number 11 in the series and takes place some time after Eldorado, but the source I took it from mis-informed me, and I decided to read it anyway.

In this story, instead of facing off with Chauvelin, the Scarlet Pimpernel matches wits with a woman--and I may say that this fact raised a little warning signal in my mind. As chivalrous and honorable as Sir Percy is, could this turn out well?

A mysterious band of benefactors rescue in the dead of night the Marquis de Saint-Luque, his son, and the family tutor, M. le Abbe Prud'hon who were being transported to the guillotine in Paris. The resulting twitter in London society, and the news that the Scarlet Pimpernel has promised to rescue the Marquis' missing wife and daughters, set the mysterious hero ever higher in public opinion--much to the delight of the Prince of Wales and Marguerite Blakeney. Though in spite of her pleas of danger, Sir Percy stands firm in his honor. He will not go back on his word, even though his tactics and disguises may be growing less and less effective.
Not only was his former imprisonment an added danger, but a bitter woman brings deep complications. Gabrielle Damiens spent her youth in a friendship with the Marquis de Saint-Lucque, and upon his refusing marriage to her, took some letters of her dead father's and used them to blackmail him into an alliance. These letters incriminated the young Marquis' father with a treasonous crime, that if revealed, would bring black shame upon the family name. The Marquis had her thrown into the Bastille for life and married elsewhere, but the mad populace stormed the Bastille and released her after more than a decade of imprisonment. Gabrielle will now do anything to exact her revenge, and works her way into the position of public executioner at the town of Mezieres. She almost has her wish at the Marquis' capture, but when the Scarlet Pimpernel spirits him away, she is left with the sole hope to execute his wife and daughters with her own two hands.
Thus sets the stage for the 11th adventure in the Scarlet Pimpernel drama. Will he prevail against the femme fatale of Gabrielle Damiens?

My Thoughts
In all my readings with the Scarlet Pimpernel, I enjoy the fact that his honor remains untarnished, whoever he decides to deal with. (As long as honor doesn't apply to Christian phraseology, in which case he would fail sadly.)

But in this book, I had to raise an eyebrow.

He loves Marguerite dearly, more than his own body and soul, as he adamantly asserts. So why should he be pretending love to another woman, however 'discreet' that love may be?  There's nothing terribly unchaste--merely rough terms of endearment, and it didn't last for long...but still, should he be kissing her when he has another wife--and not merely a kiss on the hand, lest any wish to combat the point?

I think that one principle comes into play here that many people (including myself) need a deeper understanding of. To explain this point, I have to bring a greater degree of reliance upon God than Orczy herself may have used, but bear with me for a moment.

"For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to shew himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him." (2 Chronicles 16:9)

Too often, we settle for second best, because we cannot see in our human understanding how God could deliver us from a particular problem. It happens when you quit tithing, because you might not have enough money for tomorrow's breakfast. Or when you lie to protect the Jews from concentration camp. Or when you make love to another woman so that you can rescue a defenseless woman and her children from the guillotine.

These constitute second best, my friends.

But you might say "Surely God would excuse the lie, or the kiss--surely He doesn't want me to be so righteous that I have to bear the thought of someone's blood on my hands."

God doesn't need your sins to accomplish His will.

Orczy could have done it differently. She could have crafted a much better adventure here, and included the same woman with the same challenge. Sir Percy could have devised another strategy, and accomplished the exact same thing.

One of my favorite quotes is from the Mally family, with Tomorrow's Forefathers: "You can do things God's way, or you can do things man's way, but any way other than God's way is second best."

In Conclusion
Am I recommending that you do not read this book? It really depends on you. If you only read for entertainment without evaluating the books you read, then you probably shouldn't pick it up. But if you read with careful discernment, if you recognize right and wrong and take the time to annotate along with the book, then you might be able to. But it all comes down to which reading journey God has you on, and whether He wants you to edit or avoid. I would encourage you to ask Him, and check your family's commitments regarding media.
Sir Percy's tactic here makes up a very small part of the book, a few chapters in the middle. It certainly doesn't continue throughout the whole story. But it's worth making note of, and taking time to properly refute. He's a good literary friend of mine, but like all books, he was crafted by a human author. He's not a paragon of virtue, and neither is Orczy.

All this being said, can you still be a Scarlet Pimpernel fan? Of course. :) It's never wise to allow one questionable section to spoil a whole series. But that whole concept will have to be addressed in future.

Lady Bibliophile

Join me for Friday, and an Irish review in honor of St. Patrick's Day!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Birthday Wishes

Lady Bibliophile cordially invites you to wish her beloved younger sister, Carrie-Grace, a very happy 12th birthday!

As she loves to remind me, she reads simply because I am around to keep her at it, and I would never stop if she weren't here to tear me away. Carrie-Grace has a special love for all things outdoors and adventurous. We share a love of Jane Austen and all things girly, and she makes a very good mother to her large family of ten baby dolls and 36 stuffed cats. We share many private giggles, and budding story excerpts. Oftentimes she will give me a knowing wink when she sees a certain little notebook slide out. :)

Her three favorite books are:
1. Baby Island, by Carol Ryrie Brink
2. Dandelion Cottage, by Carroll W. Rankin
3. Pearl Maiden, by H. Ryder Haggard

She inspires me most with her passionate love for the Lord Jesus Christ, and her zeal to see others come to salvation. As I see her daily grow in favor with God and man, it is my delight to honor her today with this very special blog post.

Tomorrow, my older brother Collin turns nineteen.

While I read more constantly (for leisure) than he might, his reading speed far surpasses mine. He continually surprises me with his musical abilities and his computer tech skills. He is studying for a BSBA in Computer Information Systems with CollegePlus!, and has now completed his first year of college in six months, due to this excellent program.

We share an enjoyment of Chuck Black's two series:
1. The Kingdom series (6 books)
2. The Knights of Arrethtrae (6 books)
For their exact titles, I refer you to my bookshelf on the sidebar.

His passion for apologetics and defending the faith combined with an amazing talent for rightly dividing the Word of truth equip him greatly for serving the cause of Christ.

Join with me in wishing them a very happy celebration, and many more years to come. May the Lord bless their lives and service to Him.

Lady Bibliophile

P.S. Spending the weekend at the Family Economics Conference/Liberty Day in Wheaton, Illinois. If any of my readers happen to be here, I would love to meet up with you. :)

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Why We Love Stories

Sometimes I seriously consider overhauling my reading, and picking up a straight diet of strict textbook-style knowledge for a change. I never do. You will find something always connected to a story (real or fiction, history, biography or novel) where I keep my current reads. And in my Christian walk, I would say that stories-fiction or nonfiction-have helped me most in my sanctification process. For instance:

-It's easy to say to someone "Rejoice in the Lord always", but it sure brings the point home when you remember a loveable girl telling a poor minister  "God told us 800 times to rejoice and be glad, and Father said if he told us that many times, he must mean it." (Pollyanna)
-It's easy to say "Give your heart to your father", but the concept strikes me even harder when I read about Jane keeping house for her father on Prince Edward Island, even though he and her mother are separated. (Jane of Lantern Hill)
-It's easy to say "Trust in the Lord" but my mind accepts this as possible not just in hearing the concept, but in remember Corrie Ten Boom, and her trust in a concentration camp. (The Hiding Place)
-It's easy to say "Love your husband", but I really know what this looks like when I listen to the life of Nannie T. Alderson, a woman willing to follow her man even when she had to live in a house with five cowboys, and no fellow women for miles around. (A Bride Goes West)
-It's easy to say "Serve the Lord your God with all your heart" but my heart catches on fire when I read an allegory of knights serving their Prince through life and death. (Kingdom series)
-It's easy to say "Forgive your enemies" but oftentimes I find this to be impossible until I remember Jean Valjean, forgiving those who beat him down in his sin. And ultimately, when I read the account of Jesus Christ nailed to the cross, and forgiving those who stripped and killed him so shamelessly.

You see, a story gives flesh to the skeleton and life to the principle. We are a prideful people, and stories work around our defenses so that we readily admit the wrong before we realize it's our own problem. Think of these verses from 2 Samuel 11: 1-7

The LORD sent Nathan to David. When he came to him, he said, “There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor.  The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle,  but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him.
  “Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.”
  David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the LORD lives, the man who did this must die!  He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.”
  Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man!"

That was pretty easy, wasn't it? What can David say?

You see, no matter what our personality type, God placed in us all a special need for people. For reality, I might add. We do need times of teaching without a tale, I grant you (such as Geometry. But on a side note, maybe Geometry would be more interesting in novel form.) However, we only really understand what we've learned when we can apply it to the people around us.

We all know that Pollyanna never existed.
We all know that Jane never kept house for Dad. (sigh)
We all know that Chuck Black wrote the 'allegory' of Arrethtrae, not the 'history'.

But we still carry the memories of these characters with their weaknesses and triumphs to spur us on in our own good deeds.

 Fiction isn't reality, nor do I ever think it is. But 'reality' and 'realistic' are two very different books. Nathan's story to David was fiction. But because it was realistic, David recognized it. I imagine the sheep imagery struck a chord with him, as he was a former shepherd. And so, when Nathan made the translation to David's own life, he got it. G.A. Henty's The Young Carthaginian is fiction, yes, but since he based it in reality for the times, I remember a lot more about Hannibal's march then I do from my former history textbook. Because I care about Malcus, a soldier under Hannibal, I care about Hannibal for his sake. And as a final example, I remember who Heinrich Himmler was because I remember and care about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a pastor fighting against church compromise.

You see, it's our knowledge of people that helps us with the knowledge of dates and theories. And it's our love of people that make those dates and theories stick.

For most of us.

For Example
So what I'm trying to say here is this: God created in us an innate need to hear his truth. We need to be reminded again and again of His Law and His Love. And to teach us these concepts, He built in our hearts a need to hear these truths through stories. Why? So that we will not just memorize these things as head knowledge, but He lovingly forces us through stories to see how we need to apply His teachings around other people.

Here's the perfect illustration for my point:

Picture a lawyer, something like Jaggers in Great Expectations. Never lost a court case, able to defend innocent and guilty alike, smooth, sharp, polished. Always biting the side of his forefinger, but that's a side note. Abrupt, cold, logical, and disconcerting. To quote Dickens "with an air of authority not to be disputed, and with a manner expressive of knowing something secret about every one of us that would effectually do for each individual if he chose to disclose it."

You can picture him standing in the crowd near Jesus, staring at this strange rabbi out of calculating eyes, and contemptuous of the Pharisees' feeble efforts to trap him.

If any man has the means to trap him, it's Jaggers. Now read from the following:

 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

What does Jesus do first? He meets him on his own ground: the head knowledge.

 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

So Jaggers wins his court case. But somehow, it doesn't smack of the usual victory....

 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Pay attention, friends, to the following well-known story.

 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.  A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.  So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.  He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him.  The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

So what did Jesus just do here? He used a story, a common, plebian illustration, to confront 'Jaggers' with the duty of all mankind: "Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but in actions and in truth" (1 John 3:18)

Why? Why didn't he use a fancy argument, one that would impress this expert in the law, this lawyer who surely would respect a man able to out-argue him?

Simply because he needed to leave 'Jaggers' without excuse. Someday, when this lawyer stood before the judgment seat of Christ, and the Lord asked him "Why have you broken my command to love your neighbor as yourself?" then he wouldn't be able to say, "You never explained to me what that meant. I didn't know what it looked like." Jesus used the commonest of illustrations to show the lawyer, "This is how you love your neighbor."  He used a story to illustrate one of the most important truths, the second greatest commandment, that he ever gave mankind. Again, so that this lawyer would not just memorize these things as head knowledge, but Jesus forced him through a story to see how he needed to apply these teachings around other people.

But even when Jesus explains concepts on the human level using stories, he still makes sure we know what he's saying. Read on:

 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

Poor Jaggers. What can he say now? Even the uneducated crowd around him can get this one.

 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

He has confessed with his mouth, and is without excuse. Jesus now gives him the command that always follows the principle.

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:25-37)

Jaggers just suffered his first defeat.

In conclusion, the principles that you learn through textbook-style knowledge equip you with the tools you need to advance the kingdom of God. But in all your learning don't neglect the stories, those tales (real as well as fiction) that turn your head knowledge to heart knowledge. Because in the end, it's not about what we know, but how we use our knowledge to give a cup of cold water to Jesus Christ.

That, my friends, is why stories are so important to me. And why, I hope, they are important to you.

Case closed.

Lady Bibliophile

Friday, March 2, 2012

Foul Deeds Arise

I say 'mystery'.

You say "Sherlock Homes", or "Agatha Christie", or perhaps, for the very good Dickens fans, you might say "Edwin Drood".

I say "Brother Cadfael".

Ellis Peters, really Edith Mary Pargeter, never attended college, but her brilliant self-study and knowledge of her Welsh lineage helped her craft the numerous stories of one Brother Cadfael. I have read two of the twenty novels, though I must admit not consecutively, and today I would like to review The Pilgrim of Hate, a medieval mystery with a Benedictine sleuth.

A Bit About the Man
Brother Cadfael became a monk a bit later in his life, so throughout his mysteries, he and those around him constantly come up with bits of his past. His close friends suspect he had a wife at one point, possibly children as well, but they never ask and so far he hasn't spoken of any. He took part in a crusade or two, and in spite of his holy orders his face lightens and his blood tingles at the tales of the constant warring between King Stephen and the Empress Maud. He lives in Shrewsbury at his cloister, the community herbalist, but because his godson lives in town Abbot Radalfus allows him to leave whenever he wishes to do his duty. Because of this freedom he sees quite a bit of action by the side of his young friend, Hugh Beringar. What really brings him to the fore of these mysteries, though, is his great healing skill, which brings under his care poor pilgrims and Welsh prisoners alike.

The Story
Brother Cadfael feels a bit apprehensive about the upcoming Feast of St. Winifred. He alone knows that the expected miracles hoped for from this gentle woman's ashes really won't be able to take place, because he removed her ashes years ago from her coffin. (A Morbid Taste For Bones, Book 1) In keeping with his good Catholic roots, he did it with the sense that she wanted him to, but he's never been entirely sure. In fact, a criminal's bones rest there instead, making it even worse.
Add to this complication the supposedly unconnected fact that a knight siding with King Stephen was killed far away in Winchester, after a street skirmish with Empress Maud's men. Cadfael really doesn't concern himself with this, until the pilgrims begin to arrive for the feast: a crippled boy Rhun with his beautiful sister Melangell and his aunt; three tradesmen who really look suspicious; and a strange pair of young men who never lose sight of each other for an instant.
Wha about the two young men, Matthew and Ciaran? They both come straight to Cadfael's herbarium to seek relief for Ciaran, who took a vow to walk the length of England barefoot with a heavy cross on a thin cord around his neck. He's in rough shape, and though both Matthew and Cadfael beg him to remove the cross if only for a moment, he utterly refuses. Touched by their devotion to one another, Cadfael watches as they interact with the fellow pilgrims come to Saint Winifred's feast, and young love blossoms between Matthew and Mellangel.
Then the celebrations take an ugly turn. A young friend of Cadfael's, Sir Olivier, comes to the feast in search of Luc Meverel, the adopted son of the dead knight, who may have done him to death unlawfully. Obviously, Ciaran and Matthew are likely candidates--but which? Then Ciaran binds Melangell to a promise not to tell Matthew that he is pursuing his journey alone. He claims that he doesn't want to burden his friend any longer. Melangell keeps her promise until after the feast, when Matthew discovers her trickery and sets off after him. But which is Luc Meverel? And who committed the foul deed upon the hapless knight in Winchester?
Follow along through the tangled web as Cadfael sets his wits and his herbs to work to solve the mystery. And take time, too, to make friends with crippled Rhun; whose life shines out suddenly in a burst of brilliant illumination. Not everyone is suspect: but there's just enough doubt to keep you guessing. :)

My Thoughts
Though the Roman Catholic doctrine certainly exists in these stories, it's not overly heavy. I choose to interpret the abnormal events that take place as workings of God rather than the powers of dead saints. The Catholic mindset certainly presents some errors, but the fact that Brother Cadfael views justice under the wider scope of Christianity really adds a special dimension to the conclusions of these mysteries.
I used a bit of white-out here and there, but this particular book didn't require a lot.
I will say, though, that Mass Market editions present rather tasteless scenes of the victims on their front covers. It doesn't detract from the story, but you may want to cover it if you are reading it around certain ages, or in public settings.
Brother Cadfael is a bit of a 'situational ethicist', probably also from his Catholic trappings of purgatory, confession, and prayers for absolution. Situational ethics, the idea of deciding right and wrong based on the situation, is certainly not a biblical concept. But Brother Cadfael doesn't implment this in every novel, and while I would disagree with him occasionally in his handlings, guides this particular situation excellently.
If you choose to read Brother Cadfael, you'll be confronted with questions of justice, mercy, love, hatred, and loyalty in the midst of political turmoil.

The Cadfael Chronicles
BBC adapted Brother Cadfael novels for television. I have never seen any, and did not intend to mention them in this post, but it came to my attention while researching that BBC blatantly changed the whole scope of particular novel. The identity of the criminal changes from one person to another, which didn't win any points with me as they tapped on my favorite character to substitute. Also, they change one particular character from a patient and God-fearing Christian to a selfish brute that deceives and forces others to beg for him. BBC's episode of The Pilgrim of Hate does not remain true to this particular story, and changes some of the most redeeming elements of the book. More than that I can't say, as I have not seen the entire episode, but I did read that the episodes produced before Peters' death were more accurate. I would be interested to hear anyone's thoughts, if they have seen it.

Alas, I have no room here to delve into the knotty question 'what is true justice?' but never fear that when I return with another Brother Cadfael review, I'll be re-visiting this point. Peters, in the two books I have read, doesn't give 'a short shrift and a lang tow' to the criminal; and reading about the characters agonizing over the criminal's fate is almost as harrowing as finding out 'whodunnit'. I would also like to re-visit 'situational ethics' in more detail at another time. With so many points to discuss, I have my future all laid out. ;)

Obviously, I haven't read these chronicles in order, but it isn't completely necessary. It's a bit like reading Poirot or Holmes. Sure, you can start with A Study In Scarlet, but if you decide not to, you'll catch on quite easily and it won't detract from your enjoyment. Oh, and for your information, The Pilgrim of Hate is #10 in the series.

Lady Bibliophile
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