Friday, December 20, 2013

Best of 2013

via Pinterest
Well, it may surprise some of you that I'm doing a year-end review so early in December. But the time has come for me to take a wee break from the blogosphere, not only to read some good books so I have fresh material for reviews, but also to spend some time with family and friends.

It's been another exciting year to be a bibliophile. In the midst of one crazy travelling year, I've posted near the Smoky Mountains, on Vancouver Island, in Washington State, and in a lovely little cabin in northern Michigan. A series of miracles, to say the least. And wherever I've gone, I've taken a lot of good books with me to keep me company.

It's also been a challenging year to post. Lest you think I'm some kind of crazy person who can do a bunch of things and keep up with the reading at the same time, my book list isn't quite as long this year, and some of my reviews were well-loved favorites that I knew and trusted, even though I hadn't read them in a while. Life gets busier, and precious moments to read are fewer and farther between. So on many days it was a labor of love. But the Lord gives grace and words and strength, and I'm realizing more and more that time to read is a gift from Him, not to be taken for granted.

As I looked back on the articles and reviews from this past year, I was encouraged by what I saw. Sometimes I came across articles I didn't even know I had written, and they inspired me as I read over them again. Other times I smiled, remembering good memories on the day I posted certain articles, or the joy that it was to read books for certain reviews. And once or twice, I got absorbed in my own writing as if it were someone else's.

At the end of another year, I can truly say the Lord has been very good to me. A lot of good books, and I'm grateful for the ones I was able to read. A lot of articles, a lot of discussion. And not only that, but I got to meet some very special fellow bibliophiles this year that I never expected to. In person. International bibliophiles from Canada and Australia.

That was indeed a gift from the Lord.

So, before this holiday season begins, I'd like to pause and take some time to reflect on where the Lord has brought me thus far. To do that, I've picked seven articles and seven book reviews from the past year that were especially memorable or enjoyable to me. I would love to hear about articles or book reviews that stood out to you this year from the blog as well! :)

I hope you'll enjoy a sampling of past content from the blog.

Top 7 Articles
Are Authors a Product of Their Times?
When Bibliophiles Play (Part One, Part Two, Part Three)
The Power of the Cross (Part One, Part Two)
A Happy Birthday Blog Post
Bibliophiles and Accountability
The Sinners We Love (Introduction, Conclusion)
Let Them All Laugh 

Special Mention
Dominion-Oriented Bibliophiles--guest post for In Which I Read Vintage Novels
Feeding the Soul--Balancing Busyness and Times of Rest--guest post for Fullness of Joy

Top 7 Book Reviews
The Lady of the Lake, by Sir Walter Scott
The Hole in Our Holiness, by Kevin DeYoung
The Daughter of Time, by Josephine Tey
Humble Orthodoxy, by Joshua Harris
The Silmarillion, by JRR Tolkien (Part One, Part Two)
Dreamlander, by K.M Weiland
 7 Men and the Secret of Their Greatness, by Eric Metaxas

While I'm gone, perhaps you would enjoy browsing some of these Top 7 posts. And I'll still be around for comments and emails during the holiday season.

It's always a gift to receive your comments, emails, and interactions. They make blogging very enjoyable, and I really appreciate every one of them. :) I hope that the articles and reviews this year have been thought-provoking, inspiring, and most of all, encouraging in your walk with the Lord. That would be my greatest desire with this blog, and my goal every year with the content I put out.

I'll be back January 3rd to celebrate two years of My Lady Bibliophile, when I'll post my 2012 book list, and pick a top fiction and nonfiction book of 2013, as well as my favorite author from the year. Until then, I wish you a very Merry Christmas, and a very happy New Year, from the bottom of my book-loving heart. May you find abundant time to reflect on Christ this Christmas season, and perhaps to sneak in a few pages of your favorite novel as well. ;)

Until 2014!

Lady Bibliophile

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Brothers At Arms

Ever since the John J. Horn books first released, I knew that I would have to try them out. The well-designed covers and intriguing plot premises grabbed me right away, and I'm always on the lookout for modern authors who write in a biblical and yet enjoyable manner. I think I was always inclined towards Brothers at Arms from the beginning, and after Suzannah's excellent review, I knew that I would simply have to lay my hands on a copy. Recently, due to a good sale, I took initiative and ordered one of his books. And great was my delight when I received it in the mail, in spite of its less than gentle arrival.

Lady Bibliophile should not be in sight if any of her books are thrown on the doorstep, instead of being carefully and deferentially placed there.

Since I could only order one, I chose the one I was most interested in: Brothers At Arms. Though technically it's the second in a series, it exists on its own right beside the first one, The Boy Colonel, and you'll have no trouble reading it out of sequence, as the stories don't intersect until book 3. This week, and most of Sunday afternoon, I plugged away at it. Relaxing, suspenseful, and absolutely enjoyable from beginning to end, the story never flagged, and I was quite pleased with my purchase.

So today, I present to you Brothers at Arms.

The Story
Lawrence Stoning and his brother Chester are an experiment. Growing up in a family with an absent socialite mother and a scholarly father who wants to keep track of them like specimens on a cork board, these twins couldn't be more opposite. One, Chester, was encouraged into hunting, sporting, and all things active. Lawrence took a more scholarly turn, and enjoys his books and ink and paper. Their father is keeping track of each son's education to determine which one turns out best, but other than that he's not really involved in the lives of his sons, and the brothers aren't involved with each other. They're individual entities, existing solely for their own interests. Neither of them know who is the oldest twin; their father didn't want that knowledge to damage his experiment.

I'm inclined to favor Lawrence for that status.

When Chester runs away to join the army, his father is distraught, and comes out of his lethargy enough to order Lawrence to follow after and bring him back. Lawrence tracks his brother down, determined to do his duty by him, secretly yearning for his books at home, and finds that Chester has no intention of coming back at all. So Lawrence gets him an officer's commission, attaches himself to Chester as his personal servant, and off to Spain the brothers go.

When Chester rescues a young Spanish girl from a kidnapping, and finds out from her brother-in-law that she has an angry and powerful suitor after her, he sells his officer's commission and he and Lawrence travel as bodyguards with the young woman, her sister, and her brother-in-law, to take refuge in Peru. But they soon realize that Pacarina has more than a suitor after her. She guards a powerful secret that she alone holds the knowledge of: a great Incan treasure hidden away for years past. Someone knows she holds the secret, and will do anything to wrench it from her.

They have until the shadow of the snake falls to leave Peru. But the person after Pacarina might not even give them that long before he strikes again. Lawrence only wants to make sure that he brings his brother home safely, in deference to his father's request, but his lack of survival skills and Chester's recklessness promise to make that a miracle if he ever manages it.

These two brothers find themselves at increasing odds with each other, and unless they can find a way to overcome their differences, they may bring Pacarina, as well as each other, down, simply through their own disparities.

My Thoughts
I'm always interested to see how young authors do, and though John J. Horn is a new author on the scene, and his journey is just beginning, it bids fair to be a fine one. I'm sure he'll grow and improve over time, just like every other author. I can definitely see the Henty/Ballantyne influence, and I think he's doing a great job imitating them. He did well with his second book (I can't speak to the first one, not having read it), and I enjoyed it immensely, but I enjoyed it with the knowledge that he'll get even better if he keeps up the writing.
The most important thing to be found in any book, the characterization of the main characters, is absolutely spot-on in Brothers at Arms. The twins, Chester and Lawrence, each have a separate viewpoint in the story, and it is distinct and well-drawn. Lawrence writes the story through first person perspective, and I love the stiff little scholarliness that he brings to writing a rip-roaring adventure yarn. It fits perfectly, and tells you more about him than he ever does himself. It's almost as if he's struggling to reconcile in his bookish mind that he's actually telling anyone about all these crazy happenings. So he tries to polish it up and present it with some semblance of intellectualism, and that touch was both original and charming. Chester and Lawrence are so vivid in their likes and dislikes that I really can't pick a favorite, though I know I would end up being a complete Lawrence on that adventure. There was one instance where Horn wrote from Chester's perspective, and he's completely different than Lawrence, and just as vivid. Horn knows his characters and who they are, and that shines through.
I suspected the villain just before he was revealed, but I was hoodwinked along with the rest of the characters for most of the book, so that's always pleasant, because I like surprises.
Sometimes I had a hard time remembering the time the story was set in--1830s, I believe--and I put it a little later in my mind, so I kept thinking certain plot elements were out of character until I remembered that it was 19th century. A little more clarification on that would have been helpful. Also, the book is quite adventurous, but sometimes things move a little too fast. However, overall it was an excellent story, and the author's pacing will improve in time. Two very small complaints in the end, and far from outweighing the benefits of the story.

The thing I most appreciated was that a young man saw the value of fiction, took delight in it, and wrote some of his own. That's what excites me about this book, because fiction in today's homeschool circles is taken up mostly by females, and we really do need young men to bring their perspective to the genre. This young man was not ashamed to write about themes of chivalrous manhood, attractive womanhood, and even a little romance, yet it was all done with excellence, and no unsavory things were included. I also find it refreshing that Horn created an absolutely feminine character in Pacarina who was still worth her salt. 

I only wish I could read the 3rd book in the series. But it is now out of my power to get. Unfortunately, due to Vision Forum's liquidation, this Men of Grit series is no longer available for sale. I trust that the temporary disappearance will only be for the present, and Horn can find another distributor for his books. They should come back on the market, for they will delight many bibliophiles, and they hold a breath of promise to young people rising up and taking dominion of the literary market.

Bravo to John Horn. Brothers at Arms was a pleasure from beginning to end, and if it ever comes back on the market, I highly recommend it as a pleasurable and edifying read.

Lady Bibliophile

Friday, December 13, 2013

The Hobbit (Reprise)

 In honor of the US release of the Desolation of Smaug today, I'm doing a reprise of my review of The Hobbit, (the book), from its original posting in April, 2012. I'm quite looking forward to seeing the film, and I'm sure many of you are as well! :)

These are my first impressions of The Hobbit. I've read it twice now, and learned a lot more about Tolkien's world since, but it's fun to remember what I thought of it when hobbits and dragons and Middle Earth were all new to me. I've also reviewed The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion, which you can find under Tolkien in the Book Reviews tab.


The Plot 
I had the exceeding privilege of ordering an annotated edition of The Hobbit for my first exposure to Tolkien. It added much to my pleasure, because it contained many of his philological notes in the margins, as well as old book covers, illustrations he liked and hated, and notes about the creating of his world, Middle Earth. I remember the first night I looked at The Hobbit: I had just finished an Australian book, the Magic Pudding (finished it with a flashlight under the covers. I couldn't sleep.) So, still wide-awake, I pawed around my book stack. I knew what I wanted: this strange book that was supposed the be the first in the legendary Lord of the Rings series. One by one, I quietly rustled through the pages of chapter one "The Unexpected Party". I didn't really have an expectation for the story, but from what I had heard of the Lord of the Rings, but I remember expecting it to be a bit more...epic. So far, it was just about a bunch of dwarfs eating dinner with a fanciful creature called a hobbit, and planning an expedition to kill a dragon. Nice. I didn't have anything against dragons, mind you, or dwarfs for that matter, but I thought that The Hobbit seemed a bit simpler than Narnia, and I wondered what the uproar had been about. But, I determined to enjoy it, even if it was a children's book. The poetry was quite good, at least, and the British humor popped up continuously, which is a definite plus.

And then... But wait. I get ahead of myself. You really wanted to know what the plot was.

Simply put, it's about a cozy little hobbit, a creature a bit like a dwarf, with furry toes and colorful waistcoats, and a love of numerous meals all on time. The hobbit we're referring to is named Bilbo Baggins is very comfortable with the way his life is going, until one day the wizard Gandalf shows up, and his life is forever changed. The wizard Gandalf is looking for someone to go on an adventure--a burglar, in fact. And he has chosen Bilbo Baggins to fill the role. Thirteen dwarfs and a few songs later, Bilbo finds himself leaving the Shire to travel to dark and distant lands to kill a dragon and get back a huge pile of treasure that rightfully belong to the dwarfs. From giant spiders, to goblins, to fierce wolves, he has to lead the dwarfs to their ultimate destiny, and they seem to think that poor, ordinary Mr. Baggins has all the solutions to whatever problems they will face.

Now we can get to 'And then'. Innocent as this story sounds, darker strands soon begin to appear that are not usually found in children's stories. The dwarfs are greedy creatures, and the lust for gold grows stronger and stronger the closer they get to their destination. Greed is oftentimes treated as a joke in literature, but Tolkien foreshadows dark problems in the plot because of this vice. Also, among his journeys, Bilbo finds a ring. A ring that has a special power to do something (which I wont give away) and that causes him to tell a lie for the first time in his life. This small incident is what ties it into LOTR, and the whisperings of future trouble appear when Bilbo sees the strange effect it has had on its former possessors.

We'll talk about fantasy later. But for now, I would reassure you on two points in looking at reading this book: first, it's much like Narnia--not necessarily in plot, but in type of fantasy. Both Lewis and Tolkien has a Judeo-Christian background, though Tolkien was Catholic, and if you take the time to look and evaluate, you'll clearly see the biblical morality in both works.

And as for the question of Bilbo being hired for a burglar--or as Gloin the dwarf says "You can say Expert Treasure-Hunter if you prefer"--well, if he steals anything, it shall be resolved. I promise. And the dragon is the thief of the treasure. Bilbo isn't going to steal it from the dragon, but to restore to the dwarfs what is rightly theirs. No situational ethics, I promise you. :)

Score one for Tolkien. I should have trusted all those who had gone before. Though I had my doubts at first, by chapter two, I was hooked. And I've never looked back.

My Thoughts
 I have to say, I would only criticize Tolkien for giving away so much before he gets to the end. He gives
away the final battle. He gives away the fact that Bilbo makes it to the end. He gives away quite a few events by saying, "but they were wrong, as you shall see". I didn't even notice this until I read the book aloud to my family, but they kept laughing when he killed all the suspense. I was happy to find that he didn't do this in LOTR nearly as much.
The humor was so funny, and I loved Bilbo's lines. They in themselves made the book, much like A.A. Milne's humor turns Pooh Bear from a cute Disney creation to an intelligent fairy tale.
There were quite a few talking animals. I was glad LOTR didn't rely so heavily on those for the climax rescue points as The Hobbit did. Not that I mind talking animals so much, but personally, I think it's more epic when the characters have to work themselves out of the ditch. It's the point that you are taught at writer's conferences, the point that says when the character reaches the darkest moment, the helper comes not to solve the problem for them, but to point them in the right direction. At first, all the climaxes were solved for Bilbo, but later on he had to work to find solutions for them. But in saying that, I'm not criticizing the element of providence that Tolkien includes. Bilbo finding the ring in the dark is Providential. Bilbo thinking of the key to open the door in the mountain is providential. I think the providence theme shines thorough not when Bilbo is picked up out of his problems without a bit of effort on his part, but when he is given a piece of knowledge or help that he could not have gotten on his own, and helps him to make the final leap to success. It's a bit like overcoming temptation--God gives us a way of escape, but we have to choose whether we will follow it or not. We're given everything we need for life and godliness, but we still have to practice it. So my favorite parts were when Bilbo had to put forth a little effort in the critical moment--like putting the dwarfs in barrels, or the riddle competition with Gollum.
By far, my favorite theme in The Hobbit is the fact that is so clearly expressed: God uses the weak things to shame the strong. There is no allegorical representation of God in the Hobbit, though you will find it in his other works, but you still see the Christian influence shine through. When we first meet Bilbo, he doesn't think he can do it. But by the end, he's looking beyond what he thinks he can do to what needs to be done. And in the end, when he's a bit proud of his success, Gandalf reminds him fittingly that all his 'good luck' wasn't really his at all: "You don't really suppose, do you, that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit? You are a very fine person, Mr. Baggins, and I am very fond of you; but you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!"

I am exceedingly glad to have met this little fellow. Because he's an essential prelude to the events yet to come. And without humble Bilbo Baggins, we could never have enjoyed the Lord of the Rings. :)

The Movie
The whole reason for this blog post, is of course, the release of the Desolation of Smaug today! :) I'm seeing it tomorrow, but for those of you who will see it today, I hope that you find infinite enjoyment from it. I found a very nice trailer last night that I had never seen before, so in case others haven't as well I'll link to it for your viewing pleasure. For those of you who have not seen Tolkien, please note that the movie is rated PG-13 for intense battle sequences, some of which are included in the trailer I linked to.

I've seen the first film in the Hobbit trilogy, An Unexpected Journey, twice now, and I'm greatly looking forward to finding out what's next. Martin Freeman does an incredible performance as Bilbo, and Smaug is already spectacular, just from the trailers. I have every expectation of Bilbo's time in the Lonely Mountains being fully satisfactory. There remains to be seen what Peter Jackson will do with the new plot additions--but all in all I'm anticipating it with much pleasure.

Do you plan to see the movie today? And if so, what are you most looking forward to about it? :)

Lady Bibliophile

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Emma of Aurora

A couple of people this year recommended Jane Kirkpatrick to me for her historical fiction and excellent writing. She was an author I had been eyeing for some time, for she seemed chose real historical women to write about, and though I didn't know much about her, I thought it would be good to check her out and see if she was someone I would be interesting in looking into further. When her book came up in my Waterbrook Multnomah book review selection, I thought that it would be a good time to give her a try, and I requested Emma of Aurora, the entire Change and Cherish trilogy in one volume.

A book over 1,000 pages. An author I had never read before. A month to read it in. I was a little nervous, but it was worth a try, and thanks to a generous blogging review program, which I am very thankful for, I wouldn't be losing out if I didn't like it.

It did require some dedication, though. This much-worn and huge doorstopper has travelled with me from Michigan to Tennessee, kept me company in a van with a flat tire, and been my constant companion on Sunday afternoons. But I finished it on time, and simply for the sake of reading a big book, it was worth it to prove to myself I could still do it.

So here, I present to you my first (and probably last) acquaintance with Jane Kirkpatrick, and my impressions of Emma of Aurora.

The Plot
This book combines three volumes about Emma Giesy's story, originally titled A Clearing in the Wild, A Tendering in the Storm, and A Mending at the Edge.

A true woman, who really existed, Emma Wagner is a young woman eager for marriage in her local community of Bethel, Pennsylvania. The leader of their community, Brother Keil, who serves as counselor, minister, doctor, and general decision-maker all in one, no longer encourages marriage, trying to keep young men and women single to devote their service to the colony. But Emma marries a wise and kind older man, Christian Giesy, who is a friend of her father's, and their life promises to be happy together, if Christian can ever be home for a few weeks at a time instead of constantly being out recruiting new colony members.

When the Civil War threatens to break out, and the railroad comes to town, the Bethel community determines to move out West, where land is a good price. Nine males scouts are chosen, and for some reason, Emma Wagner Giesy went with them, the only woman to accompany the expedition. They started out in 1853, and her first child was born in 1854, so she must have been a strong woman and well able to endure hardships.

A Clearing in the Wild explores young Emma's travelling along the Oregon trail with the nine scouts, establishing her family, and trying, in spite of the age gap between herself and her husband, to be a worthy helpmeet. When they choose a site for the Bethel colony to come out, they eagerly set to work, but their leader arrives and disapproves of the site, and the colony splits, with Christian and Emma choosing to stay at Willapa, and Keil's followers moving on to Oregon.

A Tendering in the Storm continues Emma's journey with the death of her husband by drowning, and her marriage to Jack Giesy, an abusive husband. Though she never liked Brother Kiel, and determined not to leave the Willapa colony that she and her husband had worked so hard for, Emma's finds that Brother Keil's Aurora colony holds her only promise of refuge for herself and her children from her second husband.

A Mending at the Edge finishes Emma's journey. She faces separation from her sons so that they can be properly brought up with male influence in their lives, due to the lack of a father figure, and Emma's struggles to develop a servant's heart for the colony, and balance individual value with submission to others.

My Thoughts
Emma, as the main character, deserves the first section of my thoughts here. She's not a main character who gives me a warm and fuzzy relatable feeling--flawed and stubborn most of the time, it's other people's love for her that I loved, not her for her own sake. Christian Geisy, her husband, was a brave and steadfast Christian man, and when he drowned, I said goodbye to my favorite character. He was what Emma needed, and when he died, she lost her compass.

Some things have been fictionalized for the purposes of the story; whether Emma was as strong-willed as she appears in the book, I'm not entirely sure, but I suspect there might have been an inkling, if not of such outright feminism, at least of a sturdy nature. For the purposes of my thoughts, however, I'll stick to how she was portrayed in the book, whether or not that was actually the case in real life. Her constant manipulation in the first book was disturbing, and I was constantly starring feministic thoughts and misjudgements on her part that could have been avoided if she had been willing to embrace a biblical role of womanhood.

Even though she was flawed, however, I chose to keep reading, because I know that a character, especially in a trilogy, is supposed to undergo a character arc of changed attitudes. Book 2 showed me that other characters recognized her flaws just as much as I did; Emma, ironically, was the only one blind to them. I thought that showed good promise for future improvement, and at the end of book two I was greatly relieved and hopeful, for it looked like she would get it. Something happened towards the middle of Book 3, however, and I'm not sure quite what it was; but Emma went back to her manipulating and feministic ways, all in the name of improvement and individuality, seeming to think she had learned her lesson. She made poor choices, and for a while the author was excellent at portraying the grief and punishment that those poor choices led to. But in Book 3, the aftermath that continued through the years seemed to be passed off in the name of 'trials' rather than a result of Emma's continuing poor attitude.

It is grievous, when a character shows genuine signs of growth, to have them change and slide all the way back to where they began, and this was a hard book to finish. I was hoping that it would be a good trilogy on the whole, though one that I could only recommend to readers willing to read all of it, to draw the proper conclusions about Emma's attitude. But now I can't even do that, for the arc doubled back on itself, and the reader is left with a character who is older, somewhat wiser, but just as blind in a few key areas that she was at the beginning.

The one good lesson that this story taught was of community, and reaching out to help one another. Emma was so afraid of being under obligations to others that she often shut out relationships, and hurt people who wanted to reach out to her. It's good to ask other people to help bear our burdens for us, and very strongly illustrated in her story is the blessing of help given and help received, not only by immediate family, though that is a key theme, but also by church and friends as well, even when it requires being personal and vulnerable.

Emma Geisy was not of the Amish or Mennonite persuasion, but she and her family did live in a central community that focused on sharing common money and resources, working for the good of each other. I never knew fully what the community believed. It seemed to be this Christian utopia society, and what it stood for is unclear, besides the focus of sharing money and work for the good of all, and following the leadership of Wilhelm Keil. Brother Kiel's views on preventing marriage, Emma's claim of her second husband abusing her, and the Willapa colony split, are all documented facts, and Jane Kirkpatrick seemed to do a good job with working with the historical records and the historical society, as well as some of Emma's descendants, to give an accurate picture of the colony.

The women's house church in book 3 could have been a beautiful picture of older women discipling younger women, but it was instead a group of women gathering together at Emma's instigation to have their own independent spiritual discussions. There's nothing wrong with women having spiritual discussions together over sewing and trading recipes; but the underlying motivation of doing so without any leaders around to guide is hardly a biblical or beneficial idea.

Scripture was seriously misapplied in multiple places in book 3. In fact, in the majority of places where it was quoted, it was taken out of context. You can't take only one verse of Scripture and base your whole theology on it, particularly when it's supporting unbiblical attitudes. A verse must be taken with it's surrounding meaning, not merely taking on an individual basis to excuse actions that would otherwise be inexcusable.

Due to plot elements of pregnancy and marriage, told from a first person woman's perspective, as well as disturbing feministic attitudes on Emma's part, this is a book for mature readers, preferably female, who are able to sift out the right from wrong. But at this point, though it was not entirely devoid of benefit, as I used the time to pinpoint her feministic attitudes, and see if any of them had crept into my own life, I wouldn't recommend it. You can find better books to spend your time on, and the history isn't so overwhelmingly incorporated that this book is worth it for the history's sake.

I respect the amount of work Jane Kirkpatrick put into crafting this story; her careful detail with food and people and colony, the life of the band and church, and the regular housekeeping events are lovingly and carefully written. Sometimes she would describe little family habits and interactions and they made me smile, because I would never think of writing such things down, but they made the people so real, and I kept thinking "that's just like someone in our family does!" I enjoyed those bits, and it inspired me to develop some more of that detail in future stories I hope to write. But Emma Wagner Giesy is not a good role model, and her story is a heavy one, certainly not for relaxation or entertainment, with a conclusion far from satisfactory.

So all in all, my first exploration into Jane Kirkpatrick will probably be my last. But it was worth a try, and I'm not out much in time for it. For more information about Jane Kirkpatrick, check out her author's website. And for more information about Emma of Aurora, including a link to the first chapter and other reviews, click here.

I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review. A favorable opinion was not required, and I have given my honest thoughts regarding this work.

Lady Bibliophile

Friday, December 6, 2013

Book Tag Week (Part Two)

via Pinterest
Welcome, friends and fellow bibliophiles, to Part Two of our book tag week! If you would like to read part one, you can catch up here. Questions for this tag are sourced from Cupcake Classics, which I found through a random Google Search. So let's get to it!

1. How do you find out about new books to read?
A lovely question! Somehow, a lot of friends (and family) know I like books, so I get quite a few suggestions dropped right on my doorstep. :) They're very patient folk, waiting for me to get through everything--and they also keep me busy trying to keep up! 

Right now I'm reading a book suggested by an attendee of one of my book talks. Most suggestions come through my Bible study group and other good friends. Very rarely I'll find a book on Amazon that I've never heard before, and which sounds rather good. Most often it turns out not quite as good as it looked. But sometimes it works. That's how I found out about The Way We Live Now, by Anthony Trollope, and I enjoyed that book immensely.

I have a computer document entitled "Books to Look Up", and every time someone gives me a book that intrigues me, I write it in there.

Blogging was also a huge jumpstart to my list of to-reads. I added forty titles to my list last year, and many of them were online recommendations from people I knew. One of my favorite memories was when I had an online birthday party in 2012, and each guest brought a few book title suggestions along with their messages. :) That was special.

2. How has your taste in books changed as you've gotten older?
My taste has not so much changed--though I do read more nonfiction than I used to--as much as my attitude towards reading has. It used to be that books were solely for entertainment, and I guarded that entertainment jealously. Now I think of them as a matter of dominion. I realized that a book was not merely a story, but a worldview encased in fiction or nonfiction, and therefore it was vital that I started practicing a little thinking and unpacking of the themes the author included, so that reading was a beneficial exercise. Really, the Lord opened my eyes, because it wasn't any message or person or book that gave me a thirst for thinking through what I was reading--He just planted that desire in me.

Don't worry. I still have just as much fun as I used to; discernment is far from boring, and you can still like fiction and be discerning, too. ;)

3. How often do you buy books?
Maybe two or three a month. It goes in fits and starts, but that's probably what it averages out to be. Every July I break that record and buy around 15 books at our 4th of July booksale. I also get a few books for free through blogging review programs, and other promotional deals. And sometimes when I go see speakers they hand out free books. For instance, earlier this year I helped run the book table at an Answers in Genesis conference, and got a free book as an unexpected blessing at the end. :)

Most of them are thrifted, but this month I spoiled myself and bought three brand-new books that no one else has ever read before. I know. Spoiled. Rotten. A golden occasion, and so close to the holidays, and I can't think up any excuse that will explain the indulgence. I can't wait till they get here...

Now another good question might be how many books do I persuade other people to buy? Several, I'm pleased to say. At the aforementioned AIG conference, I was so persuasive that a husband and wife both ended up buying the same three books without even realizing it.

I promise, I didn't know they were related. And they returned the extra copies.

4. How did you get into book blogging?
I graduated from highschool. :) Seriously, that is the true answer. About the time I finished graduating, I wanted to start a book blog with some of my thoughts about what I was reading. I've always had a love for writing articles, and the idea of combination book reviews and teaching articles all came together into My Lady Bibliophile. And the Lord has seen fit to bless these efforts thus far with much inspiration, for which I am very grateful.

5. How do you react when you don't like the end of a book?

I FLING it across the room. 

No, I'm rarely that violent. Firstly, I will treat my family to a detailed explanation of how awful it was at the next available meal. If it's of a tragic nature and I don't like it, then I immediately choose a better book that will relieve my feelings, and start reading it as fast as I possibly can, to wash out the bad taste. If I review the book I dislike, I try  never to write a review in the heat of the moment. If it angers or upsets me, then I cool off. Putting words on the internet is a weighty thing, and I try to have emotions well under control before I post opinions publicly.

On one occasion I was so spooked and appalled by the book I had read that I took it into my online group chat and solemnly warned everyone present not to read it.

Such is life with a bibliophile.

6. How often do you take a sneaky look at the back page to see if the book has a happy ending?

Haha, I used to be notorious for this. Every time I got a stack of books from the library, I would go through them all, pick out the chapter titles that looked most exciting and intriguing, and skim through them. That habit has faded with time, and I no longer do so quite as much as I once did. I like a good surprise now, so when I'm really good I wait for the chapters to come consecutively. On occasion, however, reading ahead saved me from a few bad books, and if I'm doubtful about the value of a book, I have no problem with looking ahead to get a general idea of the worthiness of it.

I still do have my moments of weakness, though.

There you have it, my friends! What about you? Do you like to read ahead? What do you do when you don't like the way a book ends?

Lady Bibliophile

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Book Tag Week (Part One)

Via Pinterest
I realized that I have posted a lot of deep thinking articles lately here on the blog, I thought it might be fun to take a break and do a Book Tag week, answering some fun questions about reading habits, likes and dislikes. Though I haven't been tagged personally, I did find two very nice tags through Google search. Note that I'm not familiar with the site they came from, so can't give it my personal recommendation, but these tags are excellent and I wanted to source them!  
So without further ado, let's have some fun with a Book Tag Week here on My Lady Bibliophile. :)
Q1. What one book from your collection would you keep if all the rest had to be thrown away?
This was supposed to be a fun tag. A relaxing tag. And now not only am I in torment at the thought of throwing away my book collection, but the thought of keeping only one is pure agony.
Let's see. I would not keep any book that was part of a series. Then I would always be tormented that I couldn't read the rest of it.
Oh, I give up. I think I would throw away all of them, and just be sad. Or perhaps--I know. I would keep the print-out of the book I'm writing. That's it. :)

Q2. What one book would you never go back and re-read ever again?
Quite a few, actually. I'm probably fated to read L.M. Montgomery's Emily series again before my life is over, though I really, really don't want to. It's one of those books that has a tiny tug, even though you know it will just exhaust you to read it. The Brethren, by H. Rider Haggard is held in loving memory, but I don't know if I could ever go back and re-read it. Not that I didn't like it--but once was enough.
I have no intentions to read Dorothy Sayers again, though I do understand others who appreciate her literature. It didn't do good things for me, so I had to let it go. But that's my reading journey, and certainly not everyone's. Also, I doubt I'll read Agatha Christie again. I've lived quite a happy life without her for so many years that my original hiatus will probably extend indefinitely.
But never is a long word, and the Lord has different seasons for reading. If He ever gives me a good reason to pick them up again, then I'll gladly do so. Until then, I'll leave them on the shelf.
Q3. Do you like to have something to munch or sip whilst you read?
I had a similar question on a writing tag not too long ago. Ideally I don't like anything to eat or drink while I'm reading. It's not because I have the noble commitment not to ruin any books I come in contact with. Rather, it's because I like being absorbed in the story without any distractions. However, I'm starting to shift on this point from sheer necessity, and sometimes I'll have a mug of H2O with me (though the mug, I might add, is always my Spilled Ink mug from our library's winter reading program.) Also, once in a blue moon I have a book open on the table when I'm eating breakfast alone.
The spoon and my mouth do not always make contact. But at least the story flow remains uninterrupted. ;)

Q4. When did your love of books start and what was one of the first books you ever read?
When I started to read, perhaps? That was a very long time ago, and very hazy in my memory. However, I remember getting lots of books at the library from a very young age, and Fridays are always my favorite day of the week because we walked to our local library almost every Friday for a few years. It's a strong enough memory to still make Friday my Happy Day.
My parents might have a better memory of the first book I read. I can't go back that far, I'm afraid. So I'll fast forward the question a few years. One of the series I loved most as a child was the Little House in Brookfield series, based on the life of Laura Ingalls Wilder's mother, Caroline. The way she always put butter on her pancakes and then tried to eat them before the syrup ran down the sides gave a remarkably cozy impression,.

Q5. Very romantic or full of action?
Not very romantic. I always feel rather guilty when a book is terribly romantic, and I don't approve of a lot of touchy-feely romance either (which is why I said farewell Davis Bunn's A Book of Hours, even though I loved the story premise).
Ideally I would choose a story full of action, not just there for the action's sake, but to show that regular people can overcome huge obstacles, because we have a Lord beyond our own abilities.
Ideally, I like a book that combines both action and love interest in a very purposeful way.

Q6. Cliffhanger or resolved ending?
My favorite resolutions leave the story a little open-ended--with room for imagination, and to think about what the future of the characters would be like. I enjoy books that lay out what happens to the characters, but most times I like there to be a little bit of mysterious ambiguity.
I don't mind cliffhangers if the book is very old and its sequel has been published for years. If they're modern-day books, I'm very leery of them. Douglas Bond's Guns of the Lion is the perfect example of a modern-day book with a cliffhanger ending. The book was simply splendid, and the cliffhanger perfect, but I didn't like the  offhand way he followed through on it in the sequel. So it's not the cliffhanger I have the problem with, as long as it's followed through on.
All in all, I prefer books with semi-resolved endings.

Q7. Big books or small books?
Big books, definitely. I do most certainly understand that big books can seem overwhelming, and when there isn't as much time to read, the question arises whether you want to spend all your reading time on a few big books or several small ones. But I find that big books develop the characters so beautifully, and I like the way you get to live with the characters, and they're all family by the time you're finished. Big books contain a lot of artistry, much thought about the elements included, and a wider range of characters.
Big books enrich. And I like enrichment. But let me not discount the small ones, for some of my favorites are small books, too, that contain just as much craft and artistry as my doorstoppers.

Q8. Only one genre or a mixture?
I like a select mixture. My favorite genre is probably historical fiction, otherwise known as 'classics', and that's what I read the most from. But I also enjoy a good biography, nonfiction about many different subjects, and the occasional modern-day fiction or fantasy.

Q9. Past, present or future books?
Past. British lit girl all the way. Still have yet to find a future book that I think has a biblical premise, but my mind is open.

Q10. Stand alone or series?
I love series.
Let me amend that. I love the first and third books of almost every series I read. Very rarely do I like the second book in a series. This is due to the prevailing notion on the part of authors that a second book must contain the newly married couple fighting through the entire thing, or a best friend turning evil, or somebody you've always loved dying. Second books seem doomed to angst and conflict. I have no idea why. First books are always great fun and quite adventurous, and third books are grand and noble, but sometimes second books don't carry on the theme quite as well.
The only second book I loved in a trilogy, of course, was The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien. And even then, the Ents were a bit slow at times.

Here we have Tag One for this Tag Week. You're welcome to join in on the questions in the comments, or of course, on your own blog!

Have a great week, and may it have a lot of good books in store for you. :)

Lady Bibliophile

Friday, November 29, 2013

When a Character Chooses Evil

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When I was younger, I held to the idea that the only books worth reading were the ones in which the main character made the right choice. The ones where he was made of shining heroics, glowing with virtue and rewarded accordingly. A bad book, in my mind, meant the character who was faced with two decisions, and walked down the wrong path. True, a character could sometimes make the wrong decision for the sake of the story, and go through all sorts of hardships, and see the error of their ways. But I was quite sure that the main character couldn't be left in their wrong decision. In other words, the only way a book could be properly and biblically resolved was for the character to see the error of their ways and forsake the wrong choice for the right one.

But then I started thinking about a book I'm reading currently, and looking at Scripture, and now I'm starting to re-define that a little. Not much, for I still think main characters should be morally upright people. But there are a few valuable exceptions that I've discovered lately, where a character chooses wrong instead of right.

This subject requires much careful thought to draw the correct conclusion, so bear with me all the way to the end, and we'll explore this issue as biblically as possible, looking at the various facets that come to mind. Truth is truth, absolutely. Books must hold to truth, and books must always point to righteousness and virtue. Sometimes, however, they can point to virtue by a warning of what not to do rather than an example to follow.

Look for instance, at the story of Saul in Scripture. He never repented. Nor did King Ahab--that was one sordid mess from beginning to end. Samson died committing suicide after losing his strength at the hands of a prostitute. Judas Iscariot never asked forgiveness for betraying his Lord. The tribe of Judah deliberately continued sinning, and God sent them off into captivity to Babylon.

I'm reading a story right now where every character in the book can see the main character's problems but the main character herself. While I normally don't endorse stories like that, this author seems to be handling it biblically thus far. And as I thought about it, and looked at Scripture, I came to see that sometimes, sadly, people do not repent. And if real people do not always repent, then fictional characters do not always as well.

I used to ignore the bad guys in books--they were just props, someone there to be a foil to the hero, and who cared that they received judgment in the end, so long as the main character made it through victoriously? And then I realized what a grievous thing it was, whether the character was a side character or a main character, that they should choose to sin and reject God's grace. Main characters do choose to reject God's grace, in certain books. And though I do not endorse books where the villain is the main character, sometimes the main character, without being the villain, still chooses sin. We see that in Scripture. We see that in real life. Should we see that, then, in the books we read?

I don't think it's wise or healthy to read books with majorly flawed main characters too often. But on occasion, an author can write a book like that that is wise and fruitful for the reader to pick up. That being said, there are two guiding principles that should be in place when a main or side character rejects right for wrong, and we're going to look at those today.

1. The character must be given every opportunity to repent.

The character must be shown to be making deliberately sinful choices--not 'forced' to make the wrong decision. Characters around the person making the wrong choice must warn them of the consequences, and show them the right path to go in. We see this in Scripture, and we should also see it in the stories we read. The Lord warned the nation of Israel again and again and again through his prophets. Saul had Samuel to point out the way he should go. Samson's parents warned him against marrying a Philistine girl. King Ahab had the prophet Elijah. Yet they chose to ignore the warnings, and they received punishments accordingly.

2. The character must receive blessings or curses in equal measure to their actions.
In Deuteronomy 28, we see the Lord set before the nation of Israel blessings for their obedience, and curses for their disobedience. Again and again in Scripture we see this format, originally used in Genesis, when the Lord offered a curse if man would eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. In Revelation, we see the ultimate blessing/curse format, when those who come to a saving knowledge of Jesus are taken to Heaven, and those who do not are taken to Hell.
This blessing and curse flip format is the key to seeing if an author handled the story resolution well--is the character struggling through disobedience, or blessed for their obedience?
All good characters suffer, so suffering shouldn't always be the tip-off of disobedience, but the character choosing the wrong choice should have warning signs, internal discomfort, and counsel from others that they're going down the wrong path. Such things correctly portray the grace and warnings God gives his children when we choose the wrong thing. If the character chooses to ignore those warnings, then we must see hardships start to come. God doesn't look lightly on disobedience, and nor should we as readers.
On the flip side of suffering, we do see in the Bible that some wicked people do prosper. The rain falls on the just and the unjust. Look at Job, who suffered though he had done no sin, and the wicked man Job describes, who has children and riches and family. We do see this in real life, and some books may choose to portray that side of evil. But even in Job we see that the prosperous wicked man is suddenly destroyed, and that should be the fate the characters we read who make the wrong choices. "Yet God prolongs the life of the mighty by his power; they rise up when they despair of life. He gives them security, and they are supported, and his eyes are upon their ways. They are exalted a little while, and then are gone; they are brought low and gathered up like all others; they are cut off like the heads of grain" Job 24:22-24.

In the end, the main character must be blessed or cursed according to his deeds. It is vital that his actions receive due justice by the end of the book, because this book is all the picture we'll have of his life, and therefore, we must read stories in which the sin receives proper resolution.

A passage in Psalm 34 beautifully expresses this point that I'm writing about today: that the characters we read about can be good and blessed, or sinful and cursed. Affliction comes to the righteous, and prosperity comes to the wicked, but in the end, every book should be based on the principles in the following verses:
The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous and his ears toward their cry. The face of the Lord is against those who do evil, to cut off the memory of them from the earth. When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted
and saves the crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, But the Lord delivers him out of them all. He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken. Affliction will slay the wicked,
and those who hate the righteous will be condemned. The Lord redeems the life of his servants;
none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned. Psalm 34:15:22

I used to think that only books with repentant righteous characters were biblical. Now I realize that some stories, just like Scripture, can portray the heartbreak of wrong choices, and the judgement it leads to. As long as that justice is clearly shown, then a main character not worthy to be emulated can still, with great discernment on the part of the reader, make a book worth reading. The only caution I would give is that if the main character is going to make the wrong choice, than the author must take even greater care to make sure the reader clearly sees the consequences of that. The danger of the main character choosing the wrong choice is that we as readers might make that choice with them, and fail to see how wrong it is, unless it's properly written.

Also, we should never read a book simply because the character made a wrong choice and was punished for it. Such books must clearly point us to our Lord, not merely justified for reading material because they 'didn't get away with it'. Reading a book with a character not worthy of emulation isn't worth our time only because the story was resolved correctly. This measure, this choice on the part of the author to deliberately make the main character choose the wrong thing, must be read with huge care, for the very specific reason of learning a lesson that couldn't be taught better in another way.

I tell you what, though. Reading books where the character makes the wrong choices all the way through, even when they are punished for it, is really depressing. There can be profit in such books, but it's tough profit, and emotionally draining. It's sad when people don't respond to God's love and mercy, and seek to follow him. I'm reading a book like that right now to review on the blog, and it drains you after a while to be so constantly vigilant. It's a book that the author seems to be handling correctly thus far, and one that I'm learning a lot from. But after it's over I won't be reading another one like that for a long time to come, I hope.

While a book where the main character chooses the wrong path all the way to the end may legitimately show biblical truth, there is one thing that it will probably lack. That is redemption. A character who deliberately rejects God's law will also be deliberately rejecting God's grace, for you cannot have one without the other. And I would rather have the majority of my reading diet focused on the themes of redemption, and thus, on Christ's work, rather than focusing on a character's wrong choices, and therefore, on man's sin.

Ultimately, I would rather have a bad character be a sub-plot than the main plot. But I now understand more clearly that sometimes people never make the right choice. We see that in Scripture again and again. And since fictional stories are supposed to be realistic portrayals of God's truth, there can be occasional stories (though we as the reader must use great care and caution in reading them) where we see the path of judgment instead of the path of redemption.

The points in this article today refers specifically to Christian stories and Christian authors. While non-Christian authors can also choose the blessing/curse format, they do not have an understanding of the Lord or his Word, and therefore are extremely unlikely to handle a main character's wrong choices with biblical consequences. I would rather read stories by non-Christian authors in which the hero actually is a hero, as a safeguard to my discernment and emotional involvement in the story, and that's what I would personally recommend to someone thinking about reading a book with a faulty main character.

This is only a very small introduction to this topic. I would say that this should be a subject of thought for mature readers. If you're new to reading with discernment, then don't tackle this aspect right away. Choose books with heroes worthy of imitating to build a strong foundation. Even strong Christian readers should approach the idea of a seriously flawed main character with caution. I bring it up today because it's a subject worth mulling over. I don't have it all hammered out yet, but this is what I've been mulling over this week, so I'd be more than happy to discuss it further in the comments. :)

Lady Bibliophile

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Books I'm Most Thankful For

via Pinterest
Lest I be a shameless plaguerist, I'll admit that this topic is not of my making. I got it from an email advertisement, one referring specifically to books. In fact, you can check out the company yourself; I've only found one good book to review from it, and I give a word of caution that there aren't many good books on it, but you never know what you'll find.  When the advertisement came through, entitled "Books I'm Most Thankful For", I was looking for a blog topic, and as soon as I saw the title, I grabbed at it immediately and ran with it.

Certainly taking the time to be thankful is not only a biblical command, but also an attitude that cheers the spirits. And in these dark days of November, being cheerful over our favorite books is the perfect occupation to put a smile on the face of any bibliophile. :)

In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. ~1 Thessalonians 5:18

So, since 7 is the perfect number, I'm going to give 7 fiction and 7 nonfiction books I'm most thankful for, many of which I've reviewed here on the blog.

Top 7 Nonfiction
-Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking, by Susan Cain
Why: It's hard for introverts to talk about themselves. Though Cain doesn't come at the introvert/extrovert issue from a biblical perspective, a careful reading can equip introverted readers to express themselves just as confidently as extroverts. We have just as much to say; we just need a little more time to prepare beforehand. The scientific experiments detailed in this book are very interesting, and as an introvert looking for words to describe myself, I enjoyed it heartily. Nor am I the only one; several introverts of my acquaintance like this hands-down. If you're an introvert looking for a book written expressly for you, or an extrovert looking to understand introverts, Susan Cain's Quiet is the perfect choice.

-Don't Wrestle, Just Nestle, by Corrie Ten Boom
Why: I read this book several times a year to learn to embrace Jesus' finished work on the cross, and get rid of the chains of worry that took over my life. Now I don't read it as often--whether that's lack of wisdom, or merely because I've learned the lesson, I'm not quite sure. I think it's time for another go-round--but during several hard years, Corrie Ten Boom's hard-hitting yet comforting teachings on worry helped me cope one day at a time.

-It's (Not That) Complicated, by Anna Sofia and Elizabeth Botkin
Why: Don't look at boys, don't talk to them, and maybe you'll be able to keep your perfect cellophane heart wrapped up for your future husband. That was my motto, until I read the Botkin sisters' It's (Not That) Complicated, and learned not only that boys are real people too, and like talking to girls, but also, it is possible to carry on pure and enjoyable discussions with our brothers in Christ. I've never viewed young men the same way since, and I'm no longer afraid of them (too often) but enjoy rousing discussions whenever I'm in their company.

-Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, by Eric Metaxas
Why: I count Dietrich Bonhoeffer as one of my spiritual mentors, a man who fundamentally shaped my theology. I had the privilege of reading this book fairly close to its release, and I had to read 600 pages in 3 weeks, as there were 11 other people waiting for me to finish with it. In spite of the cramming it took to read it, I eagerly drank up the details of the man who nearly took the life of Adolf Hitler. Bonhoeffer is a spiritual mentor, and a Christian hero that I highly esteem and honor. As a side note, I'm glad Metaxas wrote such a long biography. It took every page to do the concepts justice that Bonhoeffer's life illustrates.

-The Cost of Discipleship, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Why: Bonhoeffer wrote this book as if he were speaking to today's Christians. In a world where the church universal preaches a gospel of cheap grace, Bonhoeffer calls us to a costly dedication to our Lord. A life that lays down and sacrifices, and follows in Jesus' footsteps. This was a concept I always believed and held strongly to, but was never able to put into words until Bonhoeffer did it for me.

-Damsels in Distress, by Martha Peace
Why: This book, written specifically for women, addresses how to take captive our own emotions, and how to navigate the emotions of others. Let's face it: some days are tough days, and Peace teaches through nouthetic counseling how to control our emotions to the glory of God. This book taught me how to deal with manipulation, hit me pretty hard on some feministic ideas that were still hanging on, and also introduced me to the concept of nouthetic counseling, the idea that we give solutions from Scripture instead of focusing on emotions.

-Dream Big...But Beware of Dream killers, by Todd Wilson
Why: I was always a terrified little dreamer before I read this book. But the summer my mother bought it for me at a homeschool conference, it gave me the courage to keep going on my novel, Which is still going today, and might not have been written otherwise. Todd's book helps me not only to forgive dream killers, but also to keep on dreaming during the dark days. Of all the books here, this one has probably had the most practical day-to-day impact on my life, and I'm mightily grateful for it.

Top 7 Fiction
-Jane of Lantern Hill, by L.M. Montgomery
Why: One of my childhood griefs was slowly growing older than Jane. It hurt to be older than her. I wanted to stay her age forever, and be the best of friends, and follow her adventures every summer as she went to visit her father on Prince Edward Island. I don't know that I learned any startling, life-changing lessons from this book. But it's always been close to me, and it hits a soft spot whenever I see it on my shelf.

-Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens
Why: I picked this book off our library's used book shelf at 12 years of age. It's a ghastly edition; it has a blurb (thankfully no pictures) advertising the infamous Gwyneth Paltrow movie spin-off, with, um, inappropriate stuff to say the least. Don't look it up, bibliophiles. But in spite of the advertisement, this book started me on the very first story by the man who would later become my favorite fiction author. That's a pretty momentous moment, and I'll always set store by the book that first introduced me to the complicated characters and dramatic plots of Charles Dickens. :)

-The Silmarillion, by J.R.R. Tolkien
Why: I liked Tolkien very much before I read Sil. Who wouldn't like Lord of the Rings? But Sil gave me a firmer grasp on Tolkien's worldview, and turned me into a die-hard fan. This man has the soundest fantasy I've ever read in my life, and his world and cultures are staggering to read about. If you want to read biblically-based fantasy, read Tolkien. He's worth a life-time of study, and the Sil explains a lot of questions and reservations that people have about LOTR.

-Guns of Thunder, by Douglas Bond
Why: I don't read this book often. It always sends a little shiver through me when I pick it up. It's a fantastic story, but the first time I read it I was going through a pretty tough stage of life. In spite of that, I will always thank God for it, for during the time I read this book I jumped out of the baby Christian stage, into a full understanding that Christianity required out and out surrender and commitment. God's grace is completely grace, and completely undeserved, and though I came to a full realization of my sin during this book, I also came to a full confidence in Jesus' righteousness imputed to me. And since then, I've never looked back.

-Freckles, by Gene Stratton-Porter
Why: Who wouldn't love Freckles? I love him at any rate, and though he's rather like Jane and I haven't learned any huge spiritual lessons from him, I'm still thankful for this book, just for the sheer joy of it. I need to read it again. I've walked the old Limberlost trail many times with this warm-hearted young Irishman, and fought with him, and loved with him, and seen him fail and triumph many times. He's a definite favorite, and I wouldn't trade his acquaintance for a room full of bookshelves.

-The Fisherman's Lady/The Marquis' Secret, by George MacDonald
Why: Malcolm is a hero worthy of all lauds and accolades. A straight speaker, a sincere Christian, a brawny fisherman, and a man who loves his womenfolk with all purity and honor. Very few men could lay claim to a better character that that. Besides some corking great plot twists, and none of them too tragic, (just a little for the spice of it), the characters that populate his adventures make lovely acquaintances. Dark villains war against chivalrous heroes, and throughout all of it, Malcolm's simple, great-heartedness keeps people relying on him in all their troubles. I've read these books many times, and this summer, I was blessed to secure my own copies at no cost.

-Pollyanna, by Eleanor Porter
Why: If you asked me who my best friends were around the age of 11, I probably would have said Jane (see above) and Pollyanna. I loved them to bits. These two girls--one who loved her father so much, and one who was so joyful all the time--were yearly must-reads throughout my early teens. Pollyanna's choice to be glad in all circumstances is one still near and dear to my heart today. I held strong by her, and defended her, and wanted to be as joyful as she was, and she definitely had a major impact on my childhood.

These books, each in their different way, shaped my childhood and young adulthood, and therefore have shaped a great deal of who I am today. I love them all, and have read them cover to cover many times.

It's good to remember our foundations. Good to remember where we've come from, and why it means so much to us. This is what these books mean to me, and why I chose to review most of them here on My Lady Bibliophile. I praise God for them, and take delight in them, and hope to read them many more times in the years to come.  And I hope that you all find them to be the same good reads that I have.
And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful. ~Colossians 3:15

Which books are you most thankful for? You certainly don't have to list this many (or you can list more!) but I would love to know, if you care to share. :)

Lady Bibliophile

Friday, November 22, 2013

Bible Week (Part Two)

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Hello, friends and fellow bibliophiles! Welcome to part two of Bible Week, here on My Lady Bibliophile, where we're looking at reviews of two Bible versions. If you're new to this series, be sure to check out Part One, where I explain why I no longer read the 2011 NIV version.

Today I'd like to review another Bible version, the one our family switched over to after using the NIV for many years. We switched to ESV, and the majority of us have the MacArthur ESV Study Bible, so that's the version I'll be reviewing today.

The ESV is a joy to read, a true and honest translation of the Word of God; and MacArthur has rich study notes that enhance our understanding of the Word. With much delight, I introduce you to this version today, with the same Pros and Cons format we had before.

ESV Study Bible
This is what my Bible looks like. :)
The biggest pro of this version is the Scripture itself.  This version is reverent, and rich in its choice of words. The ESV uses the 'essentially literal' approach to interpreting Scripture, meaning it takes every word from the Greek and Hebrew and translates them faithfully according to the meaning. In this version I don't have to constantly sift and challenge as I did with the 2011 NIV, but I can rest in the fact that presented here is a careful and trustworthy translation of the word of God. This is a weighty thing to say of any Scripture, but as far as I have read, I can truly say this of the ESV.
Personally, I think it's not only more faithful to the Greek, but better to build up vocabulary and elocution as well. While I don't claim that big words are better, there is a certain level of intellectualism that upholds the authority of Scripture, and this certainly seems to have it, though I have not read through the ESV in its entirety yet, but only about half of it.

Some people have concerns that the 'essentially literal' approach is choppier than versions which use the 'general meaning' translation format for a smoother read. But I have not found the ESV to be unreadable; it flows smoothly, though its syntax and wording are on a slightly higher grade level, and I think even young children would be able to get most of the meaning. Certainly as much, or even more, than KJV.

As well as the reliability and accuracy of the text, the study notes are also a joy to read, and give much insight into the meaning of the text. Though I do warn my readers, MacArthur is strongly premillennial and credobaptist, and these theological views do come into play with his notes.  However, I think even people of differing viewpoints would find some common ground in his careful exegesis of Scripture, his complementarian viewpoint of men and women's roles, and his unapologetic stance on young earth creation. Finally, I can say after 12 years of Bible reading, I now have study notes that are not generally bland. These are rich with insight, and trustworthy according to my study of Scripture. Though I must make the disclaimer that I have not read most of these notes yet; I'm only beginning, and I fully acknowledge that MacArthur is human, and therefore subject to errors and misunderstandings like the rest of us. The notes should not replace Scripture itself, but they are helpful in illuminating Scripture, and in the case of MacArthur, such illumination seems to be trustworthy as far as I have read.

The only serious con I could think of, believe it or not, had to do with the notes. They are extensive, a condensed form of MacArthur's commentaries, and in many instances take up more of the page than the Scripture itself. This can make chapters stretch out indefinitely, and would bog down some readers. Thought MacArthur certainly isn't trying to upstage Scripture, I wouldn't mind seeing a little more of an even spread. But his notes are such good teaching, and the scripture itself is so true, that I'm willing to bend a point. However, some purchasers looking at different versions of the ESV study Bible might want to take this into consideration. My brother has both a MacArthur Bible and a thin-line Bible, and I'm thinking that I'll do the same as well.

There are very few bells and whistles in MacArthur's version. The charts are few and far between, and I haven't come across a single picture thus far. I always find charts of themes, commands, kings and sacrifices very helpful, and I do wish this one had a few more, but I have other Bibles I can refer to, so I'm willing to work with it.

Also, this version does not put the words of Jesus in red-letter. I prefer red-letter versions; it's easier to locate specific passages in my opinion, and if I were able to customize my version I would definitely add this feature.

Ultimately, the ESV has both spiritually nourished and challenged me in daily Bible reading, and I look forward to discovering more about this version. It does not compromise, and stays faithful to the true spirit and wording of the Holy Bible. And I look forward to wearing out my copy with many years of good use.

Though I still keep it in the box it came in, and pull it out every morning. :) I'll have to bend someday, so it can look well-read.

But not yet. I love the gold on the pages.

MacArthur's 2011 NIV
John MacArthur saw the faults in the newest translation of the NIV, and though he was initially reluctant, he did release a version with his study notes so that readers could receive the correct meanings of the Scripture passages, in spite of the modern updates. In his own words:

"No matter what version of the Bible people are reading, I want to be able to help them understand the meaning fully and accurately. The NIV is the most widely used translation in the world, with millions of users. Some prefer it because they find it easier to read than other translations. All English versions of Scripture have translation problems and ambiguities. That's one of the major benefits of a good study Bible. The notes and other tools built into the volume can highlight and clarify the proper meaning—or at least give a more precise understanding of what the original text actually says. My prayer is that these insights and explanations, together with the acclaimed readability of the translation, will help illuminate the true meaning and unleash the divine power of Scripture for NIV readers." --The MacArthur Study Bible, by Phil Johnson

While I think mature Christians would do well to seek out a better version, MacArthur is wise to see an opportunity to take dominion here, and point people to the true meaning of Scripture. I'd like to see one of these copies someday, and check out how he handles the passages. Certainly, if people are going to continue reading the NIV (and they will), wise study notes are a must to help counterbalance the faults of the translation.
This concludes Bible Week here on My Lady Bibliophile. :) We've looked at a couple of versions of Scripture, and two different translation philosophies. Have you read the ESV Bible? How about the 2011 NIV? What did you think of them?

Lady Bibliophile
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