Friday, October 31, 2014

Best of: Bible Edition

Before I begin, we learned last night that Junior B (whose real-life name is Carrie-Grace) made it to the semifinal rounds of Bible Bee. If you would like to watch her compete today (Friday), tune in to the FREE livestream starting at 12:30 EST.

Photo:Trounce/Wikimedia Commons (used by permission)

Since Junior B. is competing right now in a National Bible Bee competition, and I'm just about to finish my fourteenth or fifteenth year reading through the entire Bible (I have now officially lost count), it seems appropriate to do a literary Bible edition of this year's Best Of series.

Actually, I rarely like Bible editions of things. Apples to Apples is much better with the secular version, because how can you put adjectives like Goofy and Weird and Wicked and Confusing next to words like Jesus or Ark of the Covenant? It just isn't funny. It's much better to pair up such adjectives with a generic noun like Marriage or the White House. Then at least you can laugh.

But in literature, it's different. In literature you can celebrate the fact that the best of Books, crafted by an infinite Creator God, contains some of the most rich descriptions of battles and sacrifice, friendships and feuds, long journeys and reconciliations and healing. A hallowed book where the sun stands still for a day, and a river turns to blood, and holy God becomes accursed Lamb, bearing our sins in the most cruel death known to the world at that time. The Bible is the source of everything we consider epic in the other books we read. And it deserves ultimate study and consideration.

I have chosen the following Best Of people, not because they are perfect, nor because they are the top in the category. They are simply the ones I love the most after a decade and a half of reading through the Scriptures.

My favorite sidekick in Scripture is Jonathan's armor bearer. You never know much about his age, his religious beliefs, or his life--but following a young master up the hill to a bunch of hostile Philistines shows that he had courage and skill in warfare. Other honorable mentions go to the slave doctor, Luke; Paul's beloved son in the faith, Timothy; and David's mighty men.

And his armor-bearer said to him, “Do all that is in your heart. Do as you wish. Behold, I am with you heart and soul.” ~1 Samuel 14:7

My favorite heroine in Scripture is Jehoshebeath in 2 Chronicles 22, who rescued her baby nephew, the rightful king, from his grandmother, Athaliah. We're given few details as to the rescue--only that she hid him in a room. But every time I read those few verses, I can taste the fear and feel pursuit breathing down my neck as if I were the one hiding him. Other honorable mentions go to Anna the prophetess, Elizabeth the mother of John the Baptist, and Lydia, the first convert in Philippi.

One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us. 
~Acts 16:14-15

David and JonathanDoré's English Bible

I am torn here between Jesus and Peter and David and Jonathan, and so will include both. Peter was included in Jesus' intimate circle of friends; I never knew enough about James to really connect with him, but Peter is identifiable for a lot of people--he's the audience of the Gospels, if you will--always asking the questions that you and I would ask if we were there. Stumbling, falling--clinging to Christ through it all. Honest and blunt in a way that few of Christ's followers dared to be. And the way Christ was patient with him and showed him mercy always warmed me.

As for David and Jonathan--I think every tragic sacrifice of friendship in literature must stem from them.

I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother;
you were very dear to me.
Your love for me was wonderful,
more wonderful than that of women.
~2 Samuel 1:26

Five daughters of Zelophehad, 
The Bible and Its Story Taught by One Thousand Picture Lessons
There are a  lot of siblings in Scripture. Not all of them got along very well (*sideways look at Joseph's brothers.*) Even Jesus' siblings didn't believe or support his ministry, forcing him to give the care of his mother to John instead of one of her own children.  But the most interesting group to me is the five daughters of Zelophehad. They lived in a time and a region where women were property along with animals and lands. But because they were part of God's chosen people, Israel, they benefited from the Lord's tender love and care for the female sex that surrounding cultures didn't have. Instead of being shy and surrendering their right to their father's land, they came to Moses for justice, and their case not only won them an inheritance but also revealed God's law of daughters having equal civil rights with sons. 

And the LORD said to Moses, “The daughters of Zelophehad are right. You shall give them possession of an inheritance among their father’s brothers and transfer the inheritance of their father to them. ~Numbers 27:6-7

Definitely David. He has one of the best stories in all of Scripture, and aside from Jesus, probably the largest amount of space. A young man who slew giants in the strength of the Lord, matched wits with kings and defended sheep from lion and bears--who became a mighty king grappling with the sins of others and his own heart. His psalms are the heart-cry of millions. David's story is that of a man who was so flawed, so earnest, so dedicated to the Lord--a story where God's providence and power and forgiveness are portrayed in every line. And the root from which descended the Messiah, our Savior. 

“Thus says the LORD: If you can break my covenant with the day and my covenant with the night, so that day and night will not come at their appointed time, then also my covenant with David my servant may be broken, so that he shall not have a son to reign on his throne, and my covenant with the Levitical priests my ministers. ~Jeremiah 33:20-21

Other categories I didn't include today, but will include in future installments of the 2014 Best Of series are fathers, mothers, unlikely heroes, and animals. If you have favorites in any of the above categories, feel free to share in the comments! :)

Lady Bibliophile

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Crown and Covenant Trilogy

(Since we're on the road, and my internet connection is a bit unreliable, I'm posting early! :)

Hello, friends and fellow bibliophiles! By Kyla's special request, I have today a review of the Crown and Covenant trilogy, by Douglas Bond. :)

The Saga 
Duncan's War introduces the M'Kethe family in 17th century Scotland, a family who keeps sheep and gathers with others for illegal Sunday services out on the moors. When their old neighbor is beaten for his outspoken belief that Christ is the head of the kirk, Duncan's father is stirred to action, and he and Duncan along with Duncan's friend Jamie, set off with the rest of the covenanter troops to stand against Sir James Turner at the battle of Rullion Green.

King's Arrow picks up several years later from the perspective of Duncan's younger brother, Angus. Unlike Duncan, Angus is content to keep peace like his father and spend his days practicing with the bow and arrow. He likes herding sheep, reading books, and honing his skills at chess, until an unjust murder by the Covenanters forces innocent people to die for their faith at the Battle of Drumclog--and Angus to learn that it takes a man to kill, and a man to let live.

Rebel's Keep is the final installment of the Crown and Covenant trilogy, and by far the most intense. While Sandy continues to cling to peace, his sons Angus and Duncan march off to face the enemy yet again at the Battle of Bothwell Bridge. And the persecution that has affected their lives, but not yet scarred it, brings them to the ultimate brink of imprisonment and commitment to their faith.

My Thoughts 
Good, clean adventure that has lead to many arguments about the manliness of kilts in our online Bible study, the M'Kethe family adventures are sure to please young people early teens and up.They're full of battles and dogs and army captains and bannocks by the fireside, all wrapped up in deep questions of faith--when is it lawful to resist tyranny, and when is it biblical to flee? Full of Scottish lingo (such as the unforgettable 'daft limmer'), Bond's books are a great introduction for understanding Scottish speak, and easing into George MacDonald's thicker inclusion of it.

Bond has a strong form of patriarchy in his books, and I appreciate that. Sandy M'Kethe thinks through things; he's not hot-headed or hasty; he's strong and manly, yet slow to quarrel, with a rich prayer life and a gentle hand for his wife. Patriarchy, unfortunately, is a dirty word in today's society. Call it what you will, the basic principle is that men are responsible to lead their homes, to provide for them, and to be spiritually accountable to God for the way they lead their families. That does not make the father on the same level as God, nor does it negate the fact that each member of the family will be standing before God all by themselves to give an account of their work. And Sandy is a strong and biblical example of what fatherhood should be.

Their family discussions differ slightly from what I'm used to. When our family sits around the table, everybody asks questions, everybody poses answers. We wrestle with Scripture, we argue over the interpretation of Scripture, and while we're all sound in doctrine, we sometimes don't see eye to eye. Bond doesn't focus on family tension, choosing to develop different themes instead. As an author you can't do justice to too many huge themes at once, and he chose wisely to temper family conflict for the greater lesson of biblical warfare.

Duncan's run to call the troops to battle was my favorite section of Duncan's War. And I loved his puppy, Payton. I loved Angus's friendship with the redcoat soldier in King's Arrow. And I love Rebel's Keep for Duncan and Angus's brother-brother time in the Battle of Bothwell Bridge. Book 1 and 3 were always my favorites.

In our family we haven't had a hard time handling the themes of death, persecution, and physical torture that the books contain from age 13 up, but some families have expressed concerns on that account, so be aware. Thumbscrews, the rack, beheadings, and grisly displays on town gates all come with the tales. There is no language or profanity. The series is so rich with ministers who preach the Word of God, historical figures from the time, and dates and places of the era. I learned more about the Scottish covenanters from these books than I ever learned from social studies.

As we enter a new age of political legislation in America, these books are vital to keep on family bookshelves. We will be persecuted for our faith, and we will have to choose between man and God increasingly in the days to come. Other believers in other countries around the world are already facing this, and children need examples of characters who have faced this in the past and endured in Jesus' name.

Christ is our Lord, the head of the Kirk now and forevermore. The Crown and Covenant series is a stirring reminder of that, and a fantastic way to chase away the autumn doldrums.

Lady Bibliophile

PS. We're down at National Bible Bee this week, and if any of my blog readers are there I'd love to meet up with you! :)

Friday, October 24, 2014

War of Loyalties Character Interviews--Ben Dorroll

Folkestone, England

 From a medical perspective, Jaeryn Graham found his new assistant quite satisfactory. He kept to himself and didn't talk much to put patients at their ease, but he seemed to take a genuine interest in each one that had a soothing effect without many words. The desire to relieve pain was there in the gentle touch, and not only that, but to relieve the distress of mind that pain often brought.
  From an agent's perspective, Ben Dorroll left a little to be desired. 

It seems fitting to start off character interviews with the main character, Ben. Actually he's not fond of being interviewed--he prefers watching from a corner and going about his business and never getting questioned while he does it. He's a 24-year-old young man very kind, very private, and is never happier than when he's helping out a patient at Jaeryn's clinic. I have always felt about him how Thorin Oakenshield described his company of dwarves in the Hobbit movie: "Courage. Honor. A willing heart. I can ask no more than that." 

From an author's perspective I have asked a lot more than that. But he's given it in full measure, and signed up for book 2, so that's a relief. ;) 

He's not what you would call easy-going. There's a lot of mental processing going on underneath, and if you interfere with what he thinks is honorable and just, then he'll be angry with you. He's slow to make friends, but once he's agreed to be friends, he'll never change his mind. 

This interview is in first person from his perspective, selected from a list of over 100 questions that he very nicely answered for me in January. Side comments in parentheses are mine. 

Probably the only thing worse for the poor man than being interviewed is having his interview posted in public.

What's your real birth date?
June 17, 1892
(Friday. Because it was random, but Ben's my favorite character, and Friday's my favorite day. The year Ellis Island opened!)

What about you is heroic?
I'm not heroic. Never have been. Some people might say I'm heroic for taking care of my family I suppose, or putting my life in danger, or giving up the idea of a medical practice so I can do secret intelligence work during the war. But those aren't heroic, really. Just what I'm supposed to do.

Of what benefit could you be to the current group?
I have keen powers of observation and notice details that even Jaeryn doesn't catch. I also am fairly unnoticeable, so people don't have me in the forefront of their minds. I'm a doctor, and my medical skills come in handy. Fellow secret agents that dislike Jaeryn don't have that same dislike for me, so I can go places he can't. I'm good at photography, doggedly committed until the job is successfully completed, and not likely to draw back from something just because it will cause personal inconvenience or sorrow.

Why would you choose to join the current group?
Because my father asked me to, and I do what people ask of me. I also expected to get paid better, and that was a factor to consider when I'm supporting a family. 

Do you own a car? Describe it.
No. Nor do I know how to drive. I've driven with horses many times before, and ridden them (when I must) but I mostly get around on a bicycle.

What is your most prized mundane possession? Why do you value it so much?
My certificate of practice from medical school. It's only a framed piece of paper, but it expresses all the hard work I put in to get here, both with completing school and earning the money for tuition. And I think it was the first dream I had that came true, so it gives me hope that perhaps the dream of a practice will come true someday, too.

How old were you when you went on your first date?
Nineteen, almost twenty. Charlotte and I met up at the school library and I bought her a soda afterwards, because that was all I could afford, and neither of us drank coffee then. We walked to the park and talked mostly about classes and studies; nothing personal. But she seemed to like it, and I kept the glass bottles even though I could have gotten money from returning them, because I liked her so well. They're all packed away in my mother's attic somewhere with the rest of our things. I hope.

What one word best describes you?
Committed. Dutiful. Introverted. Heart-hungry. Inexperienced. (That was one word, everybody.)

What is something you had to learn that you hated?
How to lie. How to enter a room and take things and look things over without anybody knowing. How to keep secrets from people I want to trust, and who I want to trust me. 

Do you tend to save or spend your money? Why?
If I have any money to save I save it, but I'm generally short a few days in between paychecks, so that opportunity doesn't come often. When I saved for school I saved every penny, and didn't buy anything I couldn't absolutely get on without.

What song is "your song?" Why?
"May it Be" by Enya.

What time of day is your favorite?
Just at dusk, because that's often the time when I'm getting home from a hard day's work. Probably around 7:00pm. The perfect time for thinking over everything that has happened, and trying to figure out solutions to problems with no one to notice or interrupt. Generally it's also when most of the solutions to my problems come to me. My favorite moment of the day is when I'm just a few feet from my front door, and the lights in the sitting room are on, and I have the prospect of supper and an evening at home with Charlotte.

What is your favorite drink? (Coffee, Coke, Juice, Beer, Wine, etc.)
Root beer. We drank this at my wedding reception, and it brings back good memories. Charlotte and I would buy it when I was going through my residency year in Richmond, but I haven't had any since coming to England.

What do you feel most strongly about?
Home. Honor. Duty. Family.

What is your religious view of things? What religion, if any, do you call your own?
Protestant Christianity. When I get to church, which is a bit off and on.

How private of a person are you? Why?
Extremely private. I don't tell what I'm thinking or how I grew up if I can help it. For one, I prefer not to give out unnecessary details about myself. For another, I can't imagine why people would be interested, and for a third, I've worked for years to feel at peace with my situation but it's a rather precarious contentment, and I'd rather not have it disturbed by living the past over again. Best to leave old memories where they belong.

What trait do you find most admirable, and how often do you find it?
Integrity. I haven't found it in every one of my acquaintances, but I'm finding it in unlikely places, and learning what it really means, and trying to develop it in myself. I most admire it when a man holds to integrity no matter what the cost, even if he must sacrifice himself.

  Jaeryn watched to make sure Ben filled the order correctly, and gave a quick nod of approval before returning to his own work. "What else should I know about you?"
   Ben tried to keep his tone pleasant, though he wished Jaeryn would take the hint and leave off. "I'm not sure. Nothing that would interest you, or have bearing on our work here, I think."
  "A politely worded invitation for me to mind my own business." Jaeryn chuckled. "Fair enough."

All snippets from War of Loyalties, by Schuyler M. 

Lady Bibliophile 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

In Which Jules Verne Takes on The Count of Monte Cristo

If you've ever enjoyed The Count of Monte Cristo but considered it a bit of a guilty pleasure, this book is for you.

If you've ever checked out The Count of Monte Cristo but returned it again overwhelmed by its massive size, this book is for you.

If you like all things Jules Verne, all things scientific and adventurous, all things romantic suspense (as in the adventure sense, not the lovemaking sense) then this book is for you.

Mathias Sandorf, by Jules Verne.

The Book 
When street villain Sarceny stumbles across a plot to free Hungary from Austrian rule, he takes his
by Leon Bennett (1839-1917), public domain
knowledge straight to banker Silas Toronthal, and betrays three brave men to execution: Count Mathias Sandorf, Stephen Bathory, and Ladislas Zathmar. Undaunted, the three make an abortive attempt at rescue by climbing down the lightening rod of their prison--but Bathory is wounded and executed along with Zathmar, and Sandorf plunges to his death in the waves of the Bay of Rovigno.

Fifteen years later, white-haired Doctor Antekirtt appears in the provinces of Dalmatia where young Pierre Bathory live with his widowed mother. Pierre is in love with Sava Toronthal, who resides with her rich parents in the same region, and Sava returns his affections in spite of her father's disapproval. Doctor Antekirtt just has time to make an acquaintance with the dead patriot's son when Pierre Bathory is stabbed to death, adding yet another senseless victim to the list of Toronthal and Sarceny's enemies.

Doctor Antekirtt, enraged at the injustice, sets off with two jolly acrobats in tow to make right the wrong that has been done.

But attaining his object will be far from easy. The female spy, Namir, as well as crafty Sarceny, stand in his way. And fights on a mountaintop where they are trapped by Sarceny's henchman, a kidnapped maiden in the grip of a man who is not her father, and the wealth of Silas Toronthal staked on the gambling table will all combine in a resolute attempt to wrest justice from his grip.

by Leon Bennett (1839-1917), public domain
My Thoughts 
This book deserves praise on all levels: plotting, characterization, and morality. A corking great read  (with 111 stunning illustrations in the ROH press edition), and if you're looking for an adventure with travel by land and sea, then this is a good choice. It's a break from traditional English/French/American tales as well. Instead of these familiar locations, prepare yourself for Tripoli and a thousand other spots dotting the Mediterranean Sea.

While a lot of Verne's elements copy The Count of Monte Cristo--even to digging a live body out of a graveyard vault--he makes it his own. You get beautiful geographic portraits of each town they pass through (Verne's trademark); night-time chases, scientific developments, and everything from gambling dens to the minarets of Sidi Hazam. Dumas makes Monte Cristo's story absolutely French, complete with affairs for every married couple. Verne leaves off the affairs but incorporates just as much family intrigue, and villains staking their lives on the hidden rot of deceit.

by Leon Bennett (1839-1917), public domain
My favorite characters by far were the two acrobats, Point Pescade and Cape Matifou: one large and
muscular, the other small and agile. Cape Matifou's honest strength comes in handy for catching delicate young ladies, and Pescade's sharp wit plans deeds of daring about as fast as they find themselves in a tight corner. The best of friends--and I love best of friends.

As far as the theme of revenge goes, Verne gives it a twist by making Sandorf wish to revenge not simply his personal grievances, but also the failed plot to free Hungary from Austrian rule and the cruel recapture and death of his friend, Bathory. While Verne's moral dilemma is about as abruptly resolved as Dumas', it is neither so hopeless nor so heart wrenching--even if it ends on a contemplative note.

by Leon Bennett (1839-1917), public domain
There's only one instance where Point Pescade lets off a phrase that's a little less refined, and even then I wouldn't call it swearing. You'll find violence in plenty, but no more so than in other books of Verne's ilk, and it's suitable to the story. There's little if no reference to sexual misbehavior, another plus for a great story. Clean adventure, yet full-blooded, and absolutely nonstop.

If you're looking for a grand vintage novel with all the elements that make a classic, then try Mathias Sandorf. It's rich storytelling, and gives epic satisfaction.

Lady Bibliophile

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Best of Unlikely Heroes

Unlikely heroes don't always commit huge acts of cunning and bravery. An unlikely hero can be someone who is faithful day in and day out in a situation where others would check out or give up. Or someone who does a simple act of kindness. Or someone who, in spite of huge flaws, yet has one spark of goodness that they will not violate.

Here are some unlikely heroes I've collected from my favorite books:

Sir John Middleton
He's mostly known for matchmaking and hosting dances, but Sir John Middleton is one of two decent men in Sense and Sensibility. In a story where the girls' rightful protector, John Dashwood abdicates responsibility, violating all biblical principles of caring for widows and orphans, Sir John offers the cottage for a pittance, just enough to persuade his cousin to accept it. His hospitality may be inconvenient on occasion, but in spite of his flaws, he was the first man to step up in the time of need.

Matthew Cuthbert 
He's a quiet man. Mostly happy to please his sister, the only thing that Matthew defies her in is his pipe--and even then he's fairly considerate. Matthew sees an opportunity to love and bring up Anne, and finds new heights of bravery and diplomacy when he speaks up to Marilla on her behalf. I'll be exploring him more when I do a series digging into Anne of Green Gables. But the dress with puffed sleeves, and the night before he died when he told Anne he wanted her more than any boy--he filled her hungry heart with the love and understanding that young teens need.

Dickson McCunn 
He's just a grocer who wants to have an adventure. Only thing is, he finds the adventure rather bigger than his liking, when it combines international intrigue and maidens in distress, and an old house full of villains. One of John Buchan's most lovable heroes, Dickson's sturdy Scottish practicality is as endearing as his desire to just go home and be comfortable again.

Sidney Carton
Dickens knows how to twist heartstrings with Sidney Carson. He's a ne'er do well clerk who never made it in life, and most of the book I was creeped out by hints of his secret love for Lucie Manette. But he more than redeems himself.

“‎And yet I have had the weakness, and have still the weakness, to wish you to know with what a sudden mastery you kindled me, heap of ashes that I am, into fire.” ~A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens 

Erroll Stone (A Cast of Stones)
Pulled out of the ale barrel just long enough to realize there's more to life than drink, this nineteen-year-old young man confronts things that people much older than him find just as bewildering: addictions, grief, politics--and the pain that even to his friends, he is dispensable for a higher good. I loved his journey to redemption with the staff and the lots.

John Chivery (Little Dorrit)

Who couldn't love him for his Amy and the epitaphs he composed for himself?

Here lie the mortal remains of John Chivery. 
Never anything worth mentioning. 
Who died about the end of the year one thousand eight hundred and twenty-six, 
Of a broken heart, 
Requesting with his last breath that the world 'Amy' might be inscribed over his ashes, 
Which was accordingly directed to be done by his afflicted parents.

"I may not be a gentleman, but I am a man. Why do you think I found this room for you that you'd like and carried up the things for you when I really felt like knockin' you down? Do you think I did it for your own sake? I didn't do it for you! I did it for her!" 
"For who?" 
"For Amy! Because she loves you!"

~Little Dorrit BBC movie  

Phileas Fogg 
A man who ran his clothes, his club, his whist and his meals like clockwork, and took an enormous bet to travel round the world in eighty days. In spite of his cold-blooded,  mechanical demeanor, he has inklings of warmheartedness. Especially when a pretty woman is about to be burned in a funeral pyre.

“Why, you are a man of heart!"
"Sometimes," replied Phileas Fogg, quietly. "When I have the time.” 
~Around the World in Eighty Days, by Jules Verne

Diccon  (To Have and To Hold)
A rough and ready fellow, rescued from torture by Ralph Percy, he's one of those extremely unlikely heroes that I always had a deep love for. Even when angry with his master, Diccon follows him through danger and thirst, pirates and prison, all the way to the stake and escaping from angry Indians. He's a trusty comrade, and a man I would want by my side in the untamed wilderness.

Thomas the monk (The Lady of Blossholme)
When you have a woman as fierce as Emlyn in love with you, and agree for love of her to dress up like the devil and scare half the countryside, as well as to set the Abbot of Blossholme's abbey afire, you deserve hero status. Thomas was one of those lovely people who had grown comfortable with his lot in life, and yet was brave enough to overcome it.

Sir Nat 
I haven't read Drums in years--be aware that it has some significant language in it. But Sir Nat was one of those fellows who would never hurt a fly (and yet liked watching cock fights) never really did anything splendid, didn't have the cleanest mouth--and yet had something clean about the heart of him and his desire for peace with mankind. He always called the main character, Johnny, Bantam. Junior B loves him, and so do I.

Some other unlikely heroes, which alas I don't have space to include, are Pancks (Little Dorrit); Chuffey, Mrs. Todgers, and Tom Pinch (Martin Chuzzlewit); Nancy (Oliver Twist); and John Amend-all and his jolly fellowship (The Black Arrow), who, though rather rough and lawless the lot of them, still had a great deal of the stuff of natural love and brotherhood among them. Also Alice, from The Black Arrow, who was a great deal more smashing than dear Joanna. And dear Sergeant Quick and Professor Higgs from Queen Sheba's Ring, with their trust in the sovereignty of God. Quintessential Englishman who could look a savage tribe in the face with a stiff upper lip.

Which unlikely heroes would you add to this list? :)

Lady Bibliophile

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Shadow Things, by Jennifer Freitag

You know a book has captured you when you start bargaining with it.

"If you end this way, then I will review you on my blog tomorrow. If you end this way, then I shall be really unhappy and THINK about reviewing you on Friday."

I'm sure the book was terrified at the possibility of delay.

Jennifer Freitag's The Shadow Things has been on my docket for a long time, and with the upcoming release of her new Plenilune, I wanted to do my homework and learn a little bit about her style. The Shadow Things has gotten a lot of popular press, and I always get a little nervous with books that have received rave reviews. I feel like I am expected to love them in advance, and for that reason this one was a little hard to connect with at the beginning. But very soon the story worked its magic and I slipped into Indi's world with little thought of what anyone else experienced, savoring the tasting and living of it for myself.

And truly, savoring is the best word for it.

The Story 
Indi map Matheorex lives with his hound and his blood brother Cynr, happy with life and the prospect of becoming the Chieftain after his father dies. Happy, that is, until his mother dreams of a little brown voice that will bring trouble on their tribe, and Indi hears the hoofbeats of the god Tir in the thunder.

Things get worse when he kills a god in the form of a black wolf. Angog the priest views him as a curse upon his people. The stalks of corn wither and die, and his father falls ill. Indi seals his fate when he listens to the priest who saved his life from the wounds he got from the wolf. A little brown man who brings tales of a humble Christos, God become man, who came to save his people from their sins.

When blood brothers break fellowship, and the little brown voice splits them asunder, Indi enters a world where he is not the son of a chieftain but slave to the blood brother he loved with a thrall ring around his neck. And though Christos slays him, yet is he determined to trust in him.

"Paul writes that creation groans, awaiting the revelation of the sons of God. It remembers, I think, in dreams, the wonders of the sinless, perfect world. You can hear it in the wild tinkle of the wind through the beech leaves, the splashing of water through cold, crystal streams, the beauty of a hind poised against the sky on a hilltop, and all through heartbreaking, beautiful things that surround us each day. They are memories, dear Indi, memories of long-lost days when God walked with man and all was well, when the lion lay down at peace with the lamb, when the wolf and pony ran together on the heights and laughed at the joke the mockingbird made." ~The Shadow Things, by Jennifer Freitag (Ambassador International) 

My Thoughts 
There are many things to admire about the story crafting; the first of which is what others have mentioned before me. Word weaving is a skill to be learned, mostly through reading good books, and I can tell in The Shadow Things that Jenny has read the right books and put them to good use. The story was bleak, so the chalky landscape and dying tassels of corn fit in well with the impending doom of the characters, but the bleakness wasn't overpowering. All the little things combined to make a grand, big thing.  The slash through Tir's carving over the door; the apples like red rubies; the fabrics and fires and horses (Jenny makes grand descriptions for horse lovers, especially with a tribe that breeds them to sell.) They're beautiful.

Jenny opened up the story conflict with tension that captivated me right away.The first conversations with the Christian priest were not my favorite, but after a time I grew used to them and loved his talks and the way Indi thought through Christianity with the very words of Scripture. I'd buy the whole book just for chapter 12.

I don't know enough about her style to know if she likes sympathetic villains, (some don't) but I wouldn't have minded a little more insight into the thoughts of Cynr--he's pretty much straight evil. And I think I could understand why, for the war between Tir and Christos was told in Cynr's angry eyes. The false god had one man and the true God had the other. But he seemed so sympathetic as Indi's blood brother at the beginning, and then it was like a switch flipped and he wasn't.

I actually read it and thought "Poor Junior B is going to love Cynr someday." 

Though Indi struggled at the beginning to accept the Christian faith, after his initial reservations he in essence struggled with grief, but didn't seem to struggle with doubt. I didn't mind that. He was a convincing character--faithful to the God who had saved him from Taranis, willing to face famine and servitude and pagan sacrifice for the sake of Christos. My favorite scene with him was the night he got saved. Staring up in the dark, enjoying the feeling of a burden lifted. I've done that time and time again, and there's nothing quite so intrinsically human as staring in the darkness, wondering that something bigger than you, that you cannot touch or see, and can only laud and worship, saw fit to reach down and fellowship with you. Indi has a place among my book friends now, and I love him.

This book contains violence, some with children (one instance of which I wouldn't have done, but probably because it felt like she had committed it on one of the characters in a book I'm writing. ;) and unfaithfulness between a husband and wife that was honestly yet appropriately handled. Jenny isn't afraid to plunge the knife, and that is another sign of strength as an author--not delaying, but doing what needs to be done. And not with callousness, for it hurts, and the weight of the pain of the shadow things bears down even heavier. But in the heaviness of the broken now there is hope that the morning will come. I'd say 15 and up for plotline if you're looking for a safe age, and maybe later depending on the child.

As far as the ending goes, though one particular thing wrenched my heart--the Thing I Wouldn't Have Done--I think Jenny struck the right balance between bitter and sweet, realistic and healing. It is a true and fierce book and sweeps up the heart in a clear picture that this world is not our home and Christos is worthy of the ultimate sacrifice.

By the end I couldn't put it down, and the way she ended on one little detail was brilliant. But I can't give it away, so I'll keep quiet and let you read it for yourself.

"God will not settle for imperfection, but He works in His own ways in His own time. One day He will look down upon the close of this time and the opening of the other and say, ‘It is very good.’ That is what we are living for, that is what stirs our sweet dreams each night, both us and the world, and that is what keeps us going through the dark: knowing that a morning is coming. And while we love the beauty of our world, we must remember that it is only a type, a shadow thing, very faintly resembling what is to come.” The Shadow Things, by Jennifer Frietag  (Ambassador International) 

Lady Bibliophile

Friday, October 10, 2014

In Which War of Loyalties Makes its Snippets Debut

Hello, friends and fellow bibliophiles!
It is my pleasure today to debut the first War of Loyalties snippets post on My Lady Bibliophile! For a long time I've been a writer, but kept this novel fairly locked up as far as plot-line and excerpts go. Editing drafts require a lot of time and privacy to smooth out the rough edges.

But I have longed to be able to share it with you, and feel that it is in good enough state to start dropping hints about. Right now I plan to devote two posts a month to writing--one with snippets and one with character interviews, with a couple of weeks in between. Sometimes they'll be about my War of Loyalties spy novel, and sometimes about other novels that I have in the works. I do hope you all will enjoy this new focus in the coming months!

I wrote an earlier post digging into a lot of questions about the novel plotline, but as a reminder, here is a brief introduction to the plot:

Medical student Ben Dorroll has no interest in the European conflict, until his father writes pleading for him to come to England to train as a spy recruit in home front intelligence. The opportunity to continue his medical work at the same time convinces him to accept the position. Bringing his wife Charlotte and sister Pearl with him, Ben moves to Folkestone, the hub of a crumbling spy ring in need of fresh recruits. There he's placed under the mentorship of Jaeryn Graham, a young Irish doctor, with a ruthless “do-what-it-takes” mentality in his work and a compassionate  generosity in his private life.  

It's a whole new world of espionage with a triple twist of uncertain trust, ambitious agents, and international betrayal.

War of Loyalties October Snippets

 "Going out with your young woman?" The short, balding proprietor opened the icebox and returned with two amber-colored bottles. "I saw the ring when you dropped in last week."
  A warm glow rose in Ben's eyes at the mention of her, but he shook his head. "Not today." He picked up the bottles, which were cold and rather slippery from the warm air hitting them, and examined the root beer inside with satisfaction. Then, wanting someone to share his anticipation, Ben offered more conversation than usual. "My older brother's coming over this evening." The words sounded strange on his tongue. He had never said them before.
 "That's nice." The man dropped the pennies in his cash register. "How long has it been since you've seen him?"
 "Twenty years."

  "Hello, little brother. I'm Edmond." The young man standing before him offered a firm handshake, and Ben returned it with one of his own. He had waited for weeks to hear those words, and a thrill ran through him at their sound.

  There was a curse in every curve of that black ink.

  "We're pleased with your work. Are you quite sure you're recovered from your last escapade?"

  "Completely." The young man addressed as Graham nodded and flexed his fingers at the remembrance of what he had just finished. They were straight and unblemished, except for two--and these two, even though they were crooked, he glanced at with a proud lifting of his chin, as if he would gladly have them over the other eight, whole ones.

  Ryson's pale blue eyes glared at him. "You do your ethnicity no favors with such remarks."

  The well-stocked wallet in Jaeryn's coat pocket rested at his side with a reassuring solidity, and his hand snaked in to feel it. The knowledge that its ample contents enhanced his value as an agent sent a warm tingle coursing through his fingers--or perhaps that was merely the sting that still lingered from his recent injury.

  A flaxen-haired young woman, clad in a linen skirt and coral shirtwaist, peeped around the doorframe, and joined the conversation. "He's going more because his father asked him to. Even if it took him three years to make up his mind." She glanced demurely at Ben, and broke into a light, sweet laugh as his mouth opened involuntarily to defend himself.
  "That's sweet of you, lad," the old woman said, and the fine wrinkles around her mouth deepened in a pleased smile.
  A radio droned out the latest war news to the left of the front door, and maps and propaganda posters plastered the walls with bloodthirsty red slogans.

  "I only knew of one son for years; an army captain, Edmond Dorroll. He's done well for himself in the war. But this other son I had never heard of until three years ago, when Matthew Dorroll requested the position for him. Benjamin Dorroll's coming from America, and I can find no evidence that he's been in England for some time. I find it strange that Matthew Dorroll didn't want the position for the older son instead of the younger."

  "Curious." The word lilted, long and drawn-out, and Jaeryn smiled again to himself.
  Need help. Bit of a risk, but I'll make it worth your while. Meet me in Dover. J."
  "His name is Jaeryn Graham, and he has long-time connections to the special branch. He's twenty-eight, and Irish to boot, but he's loyal for all their madcap ways."
  "No, you don't." Ryson's cold grey eyes never ceased from their appraisal of him. "No one your age understands the responsibility of knowledge."
  Samuel Ryson opened a drawer and took out eight sovereigns, which he gave to Ben. They felt cold and hard, and Ben rubbed his finger softly over the insignia, then looked them over until he found the discrepancy in their make. It was there, and a slight smile crossed his face at his success. A tiny hole the size of a pin-prick, which no-one would ever suspect unless they knew what they were looking for. He twisted it, and the sovereign fell apart.

  "First of all, we two must place implicit trust in one another in order to work together. You can rely upon my loyalties to the Allied cause, and I'm sure I can rely on yours. For another, I gather, like he did, that you prefer to mind your own business and have others mind theirs. If you want your colleagues and your enemies to trust you, try to give them at least an impression of openness."


  Pearl stood near him, gazing out over the Channel and breathing in the salty sea air while Ben paid the cab driver. Her voice, when she spoke, was so low he almost missed it. "Ben?"
  "Hmm?" He looked down at her, and now that the men were gone, a touch of eagerness lit up her face.
  "It feels like home--with you here."
  "Does it?" Ben touched her cheek and brushed back a strand of curls from her face as if she were six instead of twenty. "Then I'm glad." 

All snippets from War of Loyalties, by Schuyler M.

Lady Bibliophile
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