Tuesday, December 30, 2014

2014 Best Of + 2014 Booklist

Every year the Lord gives me another rich experience of reading and writing. I have been a bibliophile for as long as I can remember. But only in the last few years have I actually chronicled the books I read, the thoughts I have while I read them, and the discussions I enjoy with other bookworms. Having this blog to think through books is key--otherwise I would just gulp them down and move on. But taking time to slow down, to pray, and now today, to remember the path I have walked, is a continual source of awe and encouragement. I hope you all enjoy this look back as much as I have.

Top 8 Articles
The Accessible Gospel
Let Us Fix Our Eyes on Jesus 
Shock Value in Literature (Part One, Part Two)
One Thing Every Book Reviewer Needs to Remember 
The Doctrine of Fantasy (guest post by Elisabeth H.)
What Every Author Needs From Every Bibliophile 
Tall Tales: Comfort With Sin Equals Maturity 
"It's Like the Great Stories, Mr. Frodo." 

Top 8 Book Reviews 
One Thousand Gifts, by Ann Voskamp
A Cast of Stones, by Patrick Carr
The Children of Hurin, by J.R.R. Tolkien
A Place of Quiet Rest, by Nancy Leigh DeMoss
The High Deeds of Finn MacCool, by Rosemary Sutcliff
Warwick the Kingmaker, by Paul Murray Kendall
Middlemarch, by George Eliot
Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen

2014 Books I've Read
I aimed for 52 books, and while I did not reach my goal, it would be silly to fixate on the 6 I did not read and ignore the 46 I did. I will not deny that I am sad for not quite reaching the finish line, but there is always next year. And this year, the books were so good. So good.

1. Against the Tide, by Hope Irvin Marston
2. A Cast of Stones, by Patrick Carr
3. The Pursuit of Holiness, by Jerry Bridges
4. One Thousand Gifts, by Ann Voskamp
5. The Shield Ring, by Rosemary Sutcliff
6. The Birth Order Book, by Kevin Leman
7. Pendragon's Heir, by Suzannah Rowntree
8. The Pilgrim of Hate, by Ellis Peters
9. King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table, by Roger Lancelyn Green
10. The Hero's Lot, by Patrick Carr
11. The Lost Baron, by Allen French
12. The Draw of Kings, by Patrick Carr
13. Doctors in the Great War, by Ian R. Whitehead
14. The Kaiser and His Court, by John C. Rohl
15. Oliver Twist, by Charles Dickens
16. The Children of Hurin, by J.R.R. Tolkien
17. Folkestone During the Great War (1914-1919) by Reverend J.C. Carlisle
18. The Red House Mystery, by A.A. Milne
19. The High Deeds of Finn MacCool, by Rosemary Sutcliff
20. Demolishing Contradictions, by Ken Ham
21. Cranford, by Elizabeth Gaskell
22. High Fences, by Grace S. Richmond
23. Demolishing Contradictions Volume 2, by Ken Ham
24. Queen Sheba's Ring, by H. Rider Haggard
25. War Games, by Suzannah Rowntree
26. The Rosary, by Florence L. Barclay
27. How Could a Loving God? by Ken Ham
28. The Lady of Blossholme, by H. Rider Haggard
29. At Home in Mitford, by Jan Karon
30. Warwick the Kingmaker, by Paul Murray Kendall
31. On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, by Andrew Peterson
32. Answering Your Kid's Toughest Questions, by Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson
33. Anon, Sir, Anon, by Rachel Heffington
34. Behold the Dawn, by K.M. Weiland
35. The 39 Steps, by John Buchan
36. Mr. Nary, by Roo Charmichael
37. The Thunder, by Douglas Bond
38. Tidings of Comfort and Joy, by Davis Bunn
39. The Shadow Things, by Jennifer Frietag
40. Greenmantle, by John Buchan
41. Plenilune, by Jennifer Frietag
42. Middlemarch, by George Eliot
43. The Patmos Deception, by Davis Bunn
44. Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen
45. The Rakshasa's Bride, by Suzannah Rowntree
46. On Writing Well, by William Zinsser

Nonfiction of the Year

 One Thousand Gifts, by Ann Voskamp 

Honorable mention goes to American Phoenix, by Jane Hampton Cook.

Fiction of the Year 

Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen 

Honorable mention goes to Middlemarch, by George Eliot.

Author of the Year:
Suzannah Rowntree. Indie author of  War Games, The Rakshasa's Bride, and the up-and-coming Arthurian epic Pendragon's Heir, Suzannah has demonstrated that she has the grit and grace it takes to write well. I love her adventurous writing, I appreciate her conservatism in all the right areas, and I can't wait for the day (soon!) when I can fangirl in public about the characters I have so dearly come to love.

We have had many discussions about books both on and off the blog, and Suzannah's thoughts on writing, boldness in telling the truth, and excitement for the dominion of the fiction craft are a continual challenge to me. Be sure to check her out at Vintage Novels.

Honorable mention goes to Rosemary Sutcliff. Through her Finn MacCool legends and The Shield Ring, I greatly enjoyed making her acquaintance for the first time!

Do you have a favorite book review from My Lady Bibliophile or elsewhere? What books have you read this year? Were there any articles here that especially impacted you? I'd love to hear about them. :)


Friday, December 26, 2014

Mansfield Park

Welcome, friends and fellow bibliophiles, to the last book review of 2014. It's hard to believe we're already here. And I could think of no better book to fill this spot than Jane Austen's incredible Mansfield Park.

2014 is the bicentennial of Mansfield Park, originally published in 1814. If you have time hanging heavy on your hands during the Christmas holiday season, then you could probably manage to read this before the year is up. I just read it the last couple of weeks, and was reminded afresh why this is my favorite Austen novel.

The Book
Fanny Price is the eldest girl in a large family of eight children, soon to be nine. Her father is a no-good lieutenant, and her mother's relatives, out of pity for their straitened condition, invite Fanny to live with them at Mansfield Park. She will not be brought up as privileged as her cousins, but she will be given a safe home and a good education. Under the eyes of her socially correct uncle, Sir Thomas, and her officious, worrying Aunt Norris, Fanny will be in no danger of raising herself above her place.
But the year Fanny turns eighteen, newcomers arrive at Mansfield--the dashing Crawfords, brother and sister, who are devoted to pleasant society, a good match, and lots of money. The Crawfords, though pleasant enough at first, wreak havoc with all Christian ideas of love, constancy, and earthly dominion. And both of them in their selfish way threaten to destroy the Bertram family's status in society, as well as Fanny's happiness.

My Thoughts 
Was Jane Austen a Christian? Well, obviously I can't prove that, and only God knows for sure. But Mansfield Park seems quite clear proof that she was. While the other novels are tales of love and good character, Mansfield Park is much more forthright in condemning 'good works' with no heart change undergirding them. You won't find words like 'Jesus Christ' and 'salvation'. But if you read between the 19th century terms, she's clear as to what it takes to live a really good life:
He feared that principle, active principle, had been wanting, that they had never been properly taught to govern their inclinations and tempers, by that sense of duty which can alone suffice. They had been instructed theoretically in their religion, but never required to bring it into daily practice. To be distinguished for elegance and accomplishments--the authorised object of their youth--could have had no useful influence that way, no moral affect on the mind. He had meant them to be good, but his cares had been directed to the understanding and manners, not the disposition; and of the necessity of self-denial and humility, he feared they had never heard from any lips that could profit them.
~Mansfield Park, chapter 48 (emphasis mine) 
Jane Austen uses terms like duty, religion, disposition--to mean conscience, character, and (one would think) Christianity. Thus, I think it fair to call her a Christian author.

Fanny was always my favorite Austen heroine, more so than Lizzy Bennett or Emma Dashwood. While I love all Austen's heroines, Fanny's sweetness and servant's heart, as well as her gentle self-denial, endeared her to me from the first. Whenever I heard people who thought Fanny an unrealistic mouse of a girl, I would (and still do) get upset. Fanny always gave up personal rights, but never gave up personal principles. And that is where the rub comes. So many of us insist on rights as our due: time, quietness, rest, exercise, convenience, civility--but Fanny gave up all these things. She was civil, returned a soft answer, and surrendered her own wishes for the wishes of others. But when conflicts with principle came in, she stood iron-hard and graciously refused to bend. Even in her refusals she did not give up her respectful attitude towards her superiors. And she is a role-model that I would be pleased to have any daughter of mine look up to.

The gradations of character from Fanny to Maria Bertram to Mary Crawford are fascinating to consider. While Fanny is the angel of goodness, Maria Bertram is the 'trapped good girl'. She puts on the appearance of conformity to satisfy her father and never embraces it as her own. Mary Crawford, on the other hand, is not trapped; more like the 'polished bad girl' phenomenon. At first, Austen doesn't deal with shocking sins to illustrate this. She shows each of the three women in their smaller choices of character: climbing a gate, riding a horse, and accepting the gift of a necklace chain--showing that it is not so much the actions, but the heart motivation that sets a person down the wrong road. The way to hell is often paved with polite nothings and gilded deceits, and Mansfield Park is abundant evidence of that.

Edmund Bertram, in spite of his faults, has always been a favorite of mine for the way he cared for Fanny, shaping her mind and acting as her male protector. I loved their talks of Cooper, their stargazing, and the rich confidences they shared in one another. They were iron sharpening iron, willing to correct and encourage and comfort each other as occasion required.

Mansfield Park contains almost no language, except for 3 or 4 instances of profanity from Fanny's father, which Austen included with a little dash to finish off the word.

There are so many other good points in this book, but the story speaks for itself, and I will leave it to do so. If you read Mansfield Park and need help deciphering the themes, Suzannah Rowntree has an excellent study of it in her book War Games: Classic Fiction for the Christian Life, which will be available for FREE from December 28th through January 1st. Be sure to check out some other free books that she's offering here.

I highly recommend adding Mansfield Park to your 2015 to-read list! It's a fantastic tale of genuine duty versus false gilding.

Movie Adaptations
We have seen two of the three Mansfield Park adaptations: 2007 and 1986. The 2007 version is a cute love story that strips it of all its richer meaning, and the 1999 version is scandalous. But the 1986 movie, while not flashy, has the best actors and stays faithful to the spirit of the text. I highly recommend this as a good Mansfield Park adaptation, though please be aware that there is some misuse of the Lord's name in episodes 5 and 6 on the part of Fanny's father.

Come back Tuesday for a delightful reminisce and the best of 2014 in books and articles! :)

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

War of Loyalties Holly Jolly Tag

This is a War of Loyalties Christmas that never is, was, or will be.  But it is the Christmas that Should Have Been if Schuyler were not the one writing this story. Jaeryn (27yo) is a dark, wavy-haired fellow with green eyes. Ben (24yo) has blue eyes and brown hair with a hint of wave to it. And Terry (35yo), whom you all have not met, is a lean, red-haired fellow with the biggest grin you have ever seen in your life. Acushla is a nickname for Ben's sister, Pearl. 

*Jaeryn hands around mugs of tea or eggnog and they all settle in for a chat.*

-Are you on the Naughty list or the Nice list?
Terry: I am a Nice sort of Naughty. *grin*
Jaeryn: *nonchalantly avoids question*
Ben: Nice. I think. Maybe not.
Terry: You're nice. Jaeryn's naughty.

-Have you ever had a White Christmas?
Ben: Lots of them. I like White Christmases.
Jaeryn: Quite a few, actually.
Terry: I used to rub Patrick's face in the snow on Christmas day snowball fights....

-Where do you usually spend your holiday?
Jaeryn: By myself and attending emergency patient calls.
Ben: Until last year it was alone in an apartment near John Hopkins University.
Terry: Well, that makes three of us, 'cause I always hang out at the pub most Christmases.
Jaeryn: One of us, Terry. That makes one of us. I don't hang out at the pub on Christmas, and unless Dorroll has any confessions to make, I doubt he does either.

-Do you open any presents on Christmas Eve?
Terry: I just shake 'em the night before, but I like opening them right away on Christmas morning. I'm going to come around about 5:00am for Acushla and see if she likes what I got her.
Ben (hastily): She'll be asleep. How about eight?
Terry: Ok. What about you doc? Do you peek beforehand?
Ben: I--um--sometimes feel them when no one's looking. And shake them.
Jaeryn: Are you serious? *evilgrin*
Ben: *turns red*
Jaeryn: I don't peek before Christmas as I don't live with anybody who puts them out beforehand. But when a patient or a friend drops in I open it when they give it to me.

-Can you name all of Santa's reindeer?
Terry: Donner and Blitzen and--and--Conner
Jaeryn: Rudolph
Ben: I have no idea.
Terry: Pearlie! Acushla!
Jaeryn: That's a new name. Did one of the reindeer run away or something?
Ben (trying to hide laughter): My sister is not a reindeer.

-What holiday tradition are you looking forward to most this year?
Terry: I think I'm going to hang up a piece of mistletoe somewhere.
Ben: I don't think that's a good idea if you have in mind what I'm thinking...
Jaeryn: *eyes twinkle*

-Is your Christmas tree real or fake?
Jaeryn: Real, of course. I don't put up a tree but if I did it would be real.
Ben: Whoever heard of a fake tree?
Terry: I can't wait to go cut one down.

-Hands down, what's your all-time favorite holiday food and holiday sweet treat?
Ben: Eggnog. I like eggnog. This is the fifth time in my life I've had it and it tastes good.
Jaeryn: When I was in college I would always find someone to go to for a traditional Irish Christmas dinner. Goose and stuffing and cranberry sauce and plum pudding and mince pie until you could hardly see straight. If I could have anything I wanted I'd go to Ireland and eat one of those dinners again. 
Terry: Oh, mm. Mum would make those growing up and I could get four plates down before I had to quit. I haven't had one of those in ages.

-Be honest: do you like giving gifts or receiving gifts better?
Jaeryn: Giving them, definitely.
Terry: Oh, I like giving them and seeing people's faces light up. Ben?
Ben: I don't--I don't really know if I like Christmas.
Terry: Doc! What a thing to say! Not like Christmas? Why wouldn't you--
Jaeryn: Leave him be, Terry. *whisper* he probably couldn't afford Christmas very well even if he liked giving gifts.
Terry *loud*: Oh, oh. Don't worry, doc, Christmas isn't all about the gifts.
Jaeryn: I'd send you to the North Pole if I could. TACT.
[Me: If Ben were willing to say it, he would say receiving them. Because that means someone cares about him without him having to ask, and it sort of warms him up inside when that happens. But he doesn't want to say it.]

-What would be your dream place to visit for the holiday season?
Jaeryn: *secret smile*
Terry: Oh, I don't know. I like the idea of seeing the family and all, so that would be good. And Alisa's got a nice place for the holidays.
Ben: I think I would most like to be with Charlotte, and wherever that is is good. Her parents would be nice to visit.

-Are you a pro-present wrapper, or do you fail miserably?
Jaeryn: I never wrap gifts.
Ben: I am good at it. Very good at it. The edges are nice and crisp and even and the ends look exactly the same.
Terry: I kind of tried once and it looked a little lopsided and crumpled...
Ben: *hides smile*

-Most memorable Holiday moment?
Terry: Probably the time I locked Erin up in the pantry closet until they called the police to find her. Mum gave me a whaling. I almost had to eat Christmas dinner standing up, she spanked so hard. 
Ben: Last Christmas was my first Christmas married. 
Jaeryn: And? AND? 
Ben: I liked it. It was memorable. That's all. 
Terry: You are no fun. Come on. 
Ben: Oh, all right. We put up our own Christmas tree and had dinner at her parents' house, and it felt good after college holidays where no one's around at school during break. And I gave her the locket she wears sometimes. 
Terry and Jaeryn: Mmmm. 

-What made you realize the truth about Santa?
Ben: I was very disappointed when I found out he wasn't real.
Terry: Aw, that's terrible. Who told you? 
Ben: :X
Jaeryn: *howls with laughter*
Ben: Just wait until you have to spill YOUR childhood secrets, Jaeryn Graham.

-Do you make New Year's resolutions? Do you stick to them?
Jaeryn: Terry doesn't stick to them. He swears every January 1st he'll quit smoking.
Terry: Now, doc! You don't even make them.
Jaeryn: Dorroll doesn't make them, but if he did he'd stick to them until the skies fall.
Ben: *smiles* I think you would, too.
Terry: Well, looky there. You two have something in common after all.

-What makes the Holidays special for you?
Ben: Good friends.
Jaeryn: That's just sweet.
Ben: I wish you would--
Terry: Don't get started again, either of you. This is supposed to be a time when EVERYBODY'S HAPPY WITH EACH OTHER.

-Play or sing your favorite Christmas song!
Terry: Okay. Just hear those sleigh bells jingling, Ring-ting-tingling too 
Jaeryn: Please don't, Terry. Not in front of everyone.
Terry: Come on, it's lovely weather for a sleigh ride together with you 
Ben: Terry, I don't know that song. 
Terry: Ok, we can pick another one. Come on, doc, you can join me. And you too, Dorroll. Let's all sing Here Comes Santa Claus or something.
Ben: Um, I think I have to go now. *hastily drinks down the eggnog*
Jaeryn: And I definitely have to go. A doctor leads a busy life. *sets down mug*

*Ben and Jaeryn make a hasty exit.*

*Terry goes to find Acushla to sing with him.* 

Thanks to this source for the questions. Merry Christmas, fellow bibliophiles! Wishing you a blessed and joyful holiday season. :)

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Patmos Deception

Every so often I get a modern fiction just to try it out; Amish romances don't interest me, but Davis Bunn's suspense novels are something I keep an eye on. For one thing, he's a business man who's travelled to most of the places he writes about. For another, I like his Tidings of Comfort and Joy and Marc Royce adventure series.

When I saw his latest release, The Patmos Deception, I requested it right away.

The Book
Carey Mathers arrives in Greece only to meet disaster. Promised a job with the Athens Institute of Antiquities, she finds the gates locked and the institute closed up. Greece economy has tanked, and her dreams of further studies in forensic archaeology seem to have taken a detour. Her grandparents want her to come home, but Carey stays on when old friend and Texas journalist Nick Hennessey tells her he's investigating a huge story and needs her expertise. Ancient Grecian artifacts are being stolen, randomly, with nothing to explain who is taking them or why. Nick's boss, Phyllis Karris, is involved in Parisian UN operations, and thinks someone higher up is orchestrating the thefts.

Carey and Nick go to the island of Patmos, where a Greek fisherman named Dimitri and a big Scotsman named Duncan McAllister may have the answers they're looking for.

My Thoughts 
Unfortunately, there's not much to say about this book. Bunn's former hero, Marc Royce, was a complex introvert, and you could tell whenever he opened his mouth there were a dozen things he was thinking. Nick Hennesey was a shallow journalist looking for a cash break. Even Carey, with glimpses of creativity (how can a male author describe a ponytail so well?) never broke beyond the cookie-cutter heroine. A good deal of the plot time was taken up with past crushes gone wrong. That's cliche and boring, and we weren't given enough reason to care about Nick and Carey before their love triangles were brought up. The Christianity was tacked on, and for someone who is very familiar with biblical history, irritating for its shallowness. Even the suspense had the feel of leftovers rather than something new.

There were a couple of things I did like; had the whole story been about the Greek family who befriended Carey, it would have had much more punch, humor, life, and interest. They were funny and loving and friendly, and I enjoyed them. But they drifted away from the plot and only had brief cameos as the story went on. Also, kudos on the wrap-up of the love-triangle plot. Without spoilers, I will say the most satisfying moment of the book came from the ambiguous resolution of Carey Mather's choice of fiance. One of Bunn's trademarks with romance is his ambiguous conclusions, and the more you read them, the more they work.

Beyond that, I'll stick to the Lion of Babylon series. Characters took action. Made phone calls. Had conversations about things besides love. Altogether much less cliche in a current-events plotline.

I look up Davis Bunn now and again because I like a story about current events. A lot of excellent modern authors write historical fiction, and those who don't write historical tend to stick to fantasy or dystopian. I haven't found many (yet) that write out-of-the-park books about modern day events, but I'm still on the lookout. It's a gap that needs to be filled in the literary world.

Davis Bunn is launching a new name, Thomas Locke, and delving into the fantasy genre with secular publishing. It's giving him an opportunity to write a more subtly influenced Christian fantasy story. If a copy of his new books ever comes my way, I'll be interested to compare them to what I've read of his so far.

*This book was given to me for free by Bethany House in exchange for my honest review.

Come back Christmas Eve for a very special War of Loyalties character interview! :) And don't forget Friday, when we'll be hosting the last book review for 2014!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Announcing Release Dates for Suzannah Rowntree's Pendragon's Heir!

Friends and fellow bibliophiles,
It is my esteemed pleasure and honor to announce that a brand-new Arthurian legend by my dear friend, Suzannah Rowntree, is about to release into the realm of literature. If you love knights and dragons, epic fantasy, and tales of Christian dominion, be sure to mark your calendars for March 26, 2015


Blanche Pendragon enjoys her undemanding life as the ward of an eccentric nobleman in 1900 England. It's been years since she even wondered what happened to her long lost parents, but then a gift on the night of her eighteenth birthday reveals a heritage more dangerous and awe-inspiring than she ever dreamed of--or wanted. Soon Blanche is flung into a world of wayfaring immortals, daring knights, and deadly combats, with a murderous witch-queen on her trail and the future of a kingdom at stake. As the legendary King Arthur Pendragon and his warriors face enemies without and treachery within, Blanche discovers a secret that could destroy the whole realm of Logres. Even if the kingdom could be saved, is she the one to do it? Or is someone else the Pendragon's Heir?
Author BioWhen Suzannah Rowntree isn’t travelling the world to help out friends in need, she lives in a big house in rural Australia with her awesome parents and siblings, trying to beat her previous number-of-books-read-in-a-year record. She blogs the results at www.vintagenovels.com and is the author of two non-fiction books, The Epic of Reformation: A Guide to the Faerie Queene and War Games: Classic Fiction for the Christian lifePendragon’s Heir, her debut novel, springs from her lifelong love of medieval literature.

While you're eagerly awaiting the novel release, be sure to add it to your shelves on Goodreads

I had the pleasure of being a beta reader during the writing process of this book, and I am thrilled to see the end result of Suzannah's excellent word crafting. So March 26, 2015, folks! 

Sure to please. Sure to inspire. Pendragon's Heir

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Hobbit Tag

The source for these questions. I know not from whence it came. 
It's a hobbity time of year again, and tomorrow I'm off to see the movie. Today we are marking the occasion with a Hobbit tag found on Pinterest! Enjoy, and I'd love to see your answers in the comments.

1. Favorite character? 

2. Least favorite character? 
Probably the Master of Laketown or the Goblin King. Both are disgusting and entirely uncivilized.

3. Have you read The Hobbit? 
Of course. Three times. Once out loud, and twice to myself. Until this fall, Junior B had read it one more time than I had. But I caught up with her. :cheekygrin:

4. Favorite scene? 

Oh, dear. In no particular order, the fight with the spiders, Bilbo's meeting with Smaug, and the final battle. (With Thorin's shield ring, everybody. That is cause for excitement if nothing else.)

5. Favorite dwarf? 
Thorin, without a doubt. That man has so much history and family heritage haunting his every decision. When you understand the backstory, you understand why he went mad with greed over the treasure. And he won the Mountain. He won back his people's homeland.

6. Favorite Wizard? 
Is there more than one option for this answer? I would like to know more about the other wizards before choosing a favorite, though it would still probably end up being Gandalf.

7. Where would you live in Middle Earth? 
I think I've answered this in the LOTR tag. I would live in Rivendell or the Shire.
8. What is your OTP? 
I don't know. What is my OTP? Do I have one? Is it a good thing to have?

Ok. According to Google it means One True Pairing, which leaves me about in the dark as before. Tauriel and Kili would not be in the running.

9. Favorite quote? 
“I am looking for someone to share in an adventure that I am arranging, and it's very difficult to find anyone." 
"I should think so — in these parts! We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner!” 

“Truly songs and tales fall utterly short of the reality, O Smaug the Chiefest and greatest of Calamities.” 

“They were frightfully angry. Quite apart from the stones no spider has ever liked being called Attercop, and Tomnoddy of course is insulting to anybody.”

10. Fili or Kili? 
In the book? Both of them are jolly good fellows. In the movie? Fili. He seems a little less for fangirling purposes than Kili.

11. Legolas or Thranduil?
In the book? Legolas. (OH WAIT HE ISN'T IN THE BOOK. Well, if he would have been I would have chosen him.) In the movie? They both have their good points, so it would be a tie.

12. Elves or Dwarves? 
Now that I have learned so much about the beauty and heritage of the Dwarven race, this is a difficult question. I would still choose the elves, but not for lack of love and respect for the dwarves. The dwarves have suffered and battled much, and their fight for good in the land of Middle Earth runs deep. But the elves have the stories and songs of ages, and I think if my heart did not break from the beauty, I would want to live with them.

13. What race would you be? 
Human. Boring human. Though I think I could have been a star-crossed half-human/half-elf under the right circumstances.

14. Favorite weapon? 
I assume they mean between the two great swords and Bilbo's Sting. I love Sting for what it stands for: a humble hobbit staying faithful in a situation far outside his comfort zone, reaching new heights of courage and character. But the other sword: Glamdring, the one that might have been at the Fall of Gondolin, would have to be my favorite. (The slingshot is pretty cute in the movie as well.)

15. Was there a scene that made you cry? 
I do not recollect, but I think when I read The Hobbit this fall I got rather teary-eyed over the scenes when Bilbo is *spoiler* coming home to the Shire.

16. Would you have gone on the adventure?
If I were by myself when Gandalf asked me, it's a toss-up between the two. I rather think I
would have stayed behind. If Junior B had been there, I would have gone in a heartbeat and taken her with me.  ;)

17. Have you watched the cartoon version? 
No, but my mom has a couple of times.

18. The Hobbit or the Lord of the Rings? 
"That's a silly question, counselor." Both, of course.

19. Do you own any Hobbit merchandise? 
Not a lick of it. The LOTR Lego sets are pretty cool, so someday my children Tolkien fanatics can have LOTR Legos. (Please note that I myself am not pining for them.) Unless you count the Hobbit soundtrack as merchandise, in which case yes, I have.

20. Did you buy The Hobbit on DVD? 
No. But my grandparents bought it for me last Christmas, for which I am extremely grateful and incandescently happy.

That concludes the tag, but if you're in the mood for more Hobbit-themed reading, my brother sent me a link to a fantastic article about the Christian evangelium of Middle Earth, which you can find here.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014


When a friend's mom told me she loved George Eliot's Middlemarch, I knew this was a story I had to read. "It's a book," she told me, "about people who shouldn't have gotten married and did. About people who should have gotten married and didn't. About people who married the right person, and people who married the wrong person."

What better novel could you have? On this glowing recommendation, I put it on my list, and just a few weeks ago finished this stunning portrait of marital bliss--or the very opposite, depending on the characters.

The Book
Middlemarch follows the lives of four Middlemarch families, all of various social levels and political persuasions--the Vincys, a comfortable upper-class family with a prim and beautiful daughter, Rosamond, and a lazy, ne'er-do-well son, Fred. Mr. Brooke, with his wards, the religiously fervid Dorthea and placid, sensible Celia. The Garths, with their hard-working older daughter, Mary, and a host of little children, and the Bulstrodes, a prosperous banking couple of dubitable origins. Also indispensable to the plot are an assembly of single gentleman: Reverend Casaubon, Will Ladislaw, and Doctor Tertius Lydgate. (What was his mother thinking to name him that?)

Are there more characters than that? Oh, certainly, with 800+ pages you need a variety of actors. But those are the principle ones, and all you have to keep track of.

Rosamund Vincy catches the eye of Tertius Lydgate, dashing young doctor. The two fall madly in love under the pleasant (and fictitious) expectations of an adoring wife and a rich husband. Fred would like to have the heart of Mary Garth, even if she is beneath his family, for they have loved each other since childhood. But Mary, wary of his unsteadiness of character, will have nothing to do with him. Dorthea chooses Reverend Casaubon, a man much older than herself, under the prospect of joining him in a great work: a scholarly treatise on old mythologies. And so, married and unmarried, these couples set the stage for a kaleidoscope of greed, secrecy, despair, redemption, and struggle for the ultimate need of man and woman to join together as one.

My Thoughts 
This is a large book, written by a very strange authoress. For years I've loved the Focus on the Family radio drama of George Eliot's Silas Marner, but never explored further into her works due to her break with the church. Her private life was a scandal, even in her own day, and she wrote under a pen name to separate herself and her other writings from her fiction, wanting it to be judged on its own merits.

But in spite of Eliot's personal shortcomings, I found Middlemarch to be a brilliant and biblically grounded portrait of wedded life. Eliot shows the tragedy of self-deception, and the ability to train oneself out of personal flaws into better character. Also, she shows the necessity of a husband and wife confiding in one another, and the joy of a marriage where they hold each other accountable. She covers everything, from parents who chose to know and invest in their children's mates, to parents who left their children to indulge their own inclinations. Even in the worst, most heart-breaking marriage, Eliot shows again and again that poor bad choices can be redeemed, if only a couple is willing to repent. But it takes two, and unfortunately in Middlemarch, the two never saw eye-to-eye. That theme, too, is a vital part of marriage portrayals--the marriage that could have been, but never would be due to sin.

Eliot's characterizations are brilliant--from malicious old Peter Featherstone to Calvinistic, self-tormented Mr. Bulstrode. She has the touch that makes for a classic story--the ability to bring together characters of different beliefs, lifestyles, strengths and weaknesses, and treat them all individually and honestly.  Eliot makes no disguise of which characters she loves most in this novel. Dorthea, Tertius Lydgate, and Will Ladislaw are people she holds near and dear, and though she makes no disguise of it, I love her ability to delight in them on paper. Every author has their favorites, and she was charming in the way that she admitted it.

I loved Simon Garth, Mary's father, very much. A loving father who took a proactive interest in the future of his daughter, he won my respect and affection right away. And can we just take a moment to appreciate Will Ladislaw? Artistic, passionate, hot-tempered and occasionally hasty of speech, kindhearted and generous, (plus a good writer), I loved him. Though I think I had a previous reason for doing so. ;)
Can we also take a moment to state that is
a terrible picture of Will Ladislaw? *shudder* 
Eliot's only flaw was her inability to take a hands-off approach as to the reader's conclusions. She constantly guided, told readers not to judge, and explained character motivations to the point of exasperation. There is a delicate dance of fiction--it is designed to pour medicine down the character's throat (and thus the reader's) by disguise. Eliot showed her readers the spoon and the medication, and explained exactly how the characters should take it, and exactly what effects they ought to feel. Some of these flaws would be cleaned up in movie form, leaving the gold of Eliot's work--the characters themselves--on screen. But as dreadful as it sounds, the book was so brilliant and rich and deep that this writing style shouldn't frighten you away. You'll love the characters so much that you'll forget to notice it after a while.

Middlemarch contains occasional language and misuse of the Lord's name.

The strength of this book lies in its vividness of the everyday. It's not in kidnappings and murders and abductions and buried treasure that characters are made and broken. It's the little strains of learning an honest trade, buying more furniture than they can pay for, ignoring gentle warnings, and heeding the promptings of conscience that guide the tone of the various marriages.

I highly recommend Middlemarch as a most effective story on the importance of selfless love and honest communication between a husband and wife. Whether you are married or hope to be married in future, this book is a four-star novel.

Lady Bibliophile

Friday, December 12, 2014

War of Loyalties December Snippets

"You are the most hopeless lot I've had the misfortune to work with thus far." Jaeryn voice sank to an ominous quiet, and he put every ounce of anger he possessed into the whisper. "I want to know what this means."
*             *             *
Most of the sticky tables stood empty as Bethel traffic wound down for the night, and even as he and Fenton parted, the last few customers finished their drinks and wandered off into the June sunset. Jaeryn breathed in the yeasty aroma as he too got up and slipped out. He took a shortcut over the fields back towards town, and the gentle swish of grass, with a hint of damp from it darkening the black leather of his shoes, sounded pleasant to his ears after the abrasive conversation.
*             *             *
"Emmerson died today," Jaeryn remarked off-handedly, pushing his empty plate away. "So now the break we've been waiting for has come, and we are ready to begin in earnest."
"Excellent," Ben said. "I mean--never mind. What did he die from?"
*             *             *
The grey-haired, smooth-handed, slightly heavy-set butler looked the very bulwark of British integrity, and Ben could see at a glance why Jaeryn trusted him.
*             *             *
"You think I didn't refuse to keep a secret for your spy, so I should have no reason to draw back now." Ben twisted the envelope to the letter in his hands until Jaeryn pulled it away. "But I did not know what to do. When a man is trapped between two hard places, and he cannot determine which is better, the decision is never a simple one. And he keeps on making that decision over and over in his mind."
*             *             *
Jaeryn nodded and set his mug of tea down on the windowsill, its steam rising up like a little frosty breath.
*             *             *
The heavy aura of ages past and ages future hung over Ben as he entered Mr. Emmerson's library. Thousands of hard bound volumes lined the wall, and the shelves were so lofty that he estimated the ceiling at twelve feet or more in height. It smelled of dust and ink and wood polish, and that, coupled with the heavy silence, gave off a comfortable invitation for visitors to sit down and take their ease.
*             *             *
I haven't seen my father yet. I want to see him very much, but I am afraid to attempt it--I don't know what he's like, and living in hope of reconciliation seems better than knowing for sure that it won't happen.
*             *             *
"Mustard gas poisoning, I think he called it. But I don't know what that is, or how serious it might be. Do you know what it means?”
*             *             *
They passed a group of khaki-clad soldiers eating sandwiches from the canteens. The American twang and British drawl and Scottish brogue all mingled as men joked and laughed together, throwing apple cores into the waves, and betting on the longest toss.
*             *             *
"I'm the doctor's wife come to see you," she said. "Please don't feel embarrassed. There's nothing wrong with needing help, and we're here to see what we can do for you."
*             *             *
Every day some committee or other comes to the clinic asking for money, and every day Jaeryn Graham gives them enough to make them fairly dance with gratitude. But when they turn to me, I am forced to decline. I wish I could offer something to help as well. 
*             *             *
"Did they die?" Pearlie spoke hardly loud enough for them to make out the words, as she set a plate of wheat bread on the table.
*             *             *
She looked much more mature than he remembered her being when he left home for college. Rather pretty, now that he thought about it, with her small arched brows and dainty chin. Soft tendrils of blonde curls hung loose over her shoulders, for she didn't pin it up like Charlotte, and her blue eyes were set a little wide apart, with a nervous gaze that kept her from looking people in the face for long. Not only that, but she hung her head like a little girl who had been scolded too many times and couldn't face the world again.
*             *             *
"I'd rather you didn't mention I used those. Ryson doesn't know, and I prefer to keep them to myself."
Ben smiled at the secrecy. "Why? There's nothing wrong with glasses."
"Never admit you have a weakness if you can help it," Jaeryn said tersely.
*             *             *

They were his last link to the things he had loved so much and left behind him.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Plenilune, by Jennifer Freitag

“They say time heals wounds, but I have never believed them.” 
“Nor I.”
~Plenilune, by Jennifer Freitag

Since Plenilune has received so many reviews, it will be my goal in this one to bring an expanded perspective to the table. Pacing of the book has already been covered, as well as the beauty and magic of the narrative choice of words. Therefore, while I heartily second the general consensus on those things, this review will be dealing with other aspects.

First of all, if you're looking for easy answers on whether or not you'd like this book, there are none. Plenilune is not a cut-and-dried novel, and as such cannot be easily put in a box--or on a page, for that matter. It has great virtues, and it has great flaws. Both go deep; both are things that every reader will need to grapple with. Some I am still grappling with a couple weeks after I have finished it.

There are some questions that a lot of you bibliophiles are still wondering about before you buy Plenilune, ones that I think deserve answering. So let's get to it.

The Book 
[From Amazon:] The fate of Plenilune hangs on the election of the Overlord, for which Rupert de la Mare and his brother are the only contenders, but when Rupert’s unwilling bride-to-be uncovers his plot to murder his brother, the conflict explodes into civil war. 

To assure the minds of the lord-electors of Plenilune that he has some capacity for humanity, Rupert de la Mare has been asked to woo and win a lady before he can become the Overlord, and he will do it—even if he has to kidnap her. 

En route to Naples to catch a suitor, Margaret Coventry was not expecting a suitor to catch her.

Age Recommendation: 18+ 

My Thoughts 
Jenny puts everything she loves about literature into this novel. Sometimes that is a good thing--majestic prose and best friends who fall in love. Sometimes it is not--salty language and bitter self-reliance. But all-out enthusiasm is the way books should be written, and that is what I love to see. Plenilune is a book of fierce wars and faithful loves, of characters who have deep hurts, and whose hurts cripple them from forgiveness. And characters who could have deep hurts, but who choose not to go down that path.

Margaret Coventry holds a great deal of the key to this book. She is a woman who comes, not as a coward, but very much Victorian in her sentiments and capabilities. She grows into a woman with greater strength by the end--to wield a sword and endure long days of fatigue and stand firm in the face of evil lords who love her beauty. To take action, whether it leads to glory or destruction, and see how it turns out.

Unfortunately she finds half of her strength in her bitterness. She hates her mother, and spends a great deal of the book acting in defiance of her, and that defiance develops into a self-confidence that is half of her 'maturity'. I think that can be a dangerous portrayal of maturity for girls reading this, thus part of my age recommendation. But the other half of her strength and maturity Margaret finds where she should--under the influence of faithful friends and loyal allies who covenant with her and weep and laugh and eat and sleep and battle together. Who show her that there is some good and hope and love worth fighting for, and encourage her to rise above her own problems and face those of a nation.

The characterizations in this book are all vivid and important to the plot. Margaret finds a host of Kings and Lionhearts in this novel, and I love every one of them, from crusty Lord Gro to dear Lord Skander and his bluejay-man. From dark Lord Rupert to mysterious Lady Woodbird, they are deeply beautiful and superbly confident lords and ladies.

Through all the battles Jenny is able to laugh in victory at the grand conflict of good and evil. Yes, laugh. Over the fate of an entire planet. There's no way to explain it on paper--but it was good. That the War-Lord of Plenilune should feel great grief over the deaths of little people and laugh silver-bright in the face of pending destruction seem like paradoxes unable to be reconciled. But they are not. They are Plenilune, and that I love.

While Plenilune contains mentions of forced marriage, and even people suspecting characters of sharing a bed, they are for the most part entirely unobjectionable. Sometimes those conversations are frank and honest, but only in two instances were they disturbing. Chapter 21 (Kindle location 6449) contains a sexually explicit comment. If you are trying to avoid some specifics about the facts of life, you should probably skim a little. Chapter 27 contains a horrible, sickening war crime of rape. (Kindle location 8617-8660) Many girls would be shocked at the kind of attempted rape it was, and even ignorant that such a kind existed until this book. Beyond the purpose of brutal honesty about war crimes, I failed to see the edification of including it in the plot.

The other element that factored into my age recommendation is the language. Yes, there is language, and yes, there is a lot of it. While I understand some authors choose to include language, I only saw the good guys have a serious swearing problem, and under their influence Margaret used it more and more the more confident she became. I would have liked it spread more evenly between good and bad characters, and I don't think it was necessary for Margaret to use it at all. It is not a good example for the main character to swear more and more the more she needs to deal with anger and annoyance.

If you're wondering about the magic, it's really not something to be worried about. If you're comfortable with Lewis and Tolkien I see no reason why you wouldn't enjoy that aspect of Plenilune. It's creative (scooping up fire and braiding it for sheer pleasure is splendid) and clear-cut good and evil. Yes, some of the men have powers that us ordinary mortals do not. I think it's portrayed spot-on good. As for violence, I made it through all the battle scenes just fine (if you've seen PJ's LOTR without trouble you won't have trouble with Plenilune's battles) though there was one instance of strangling where the indifference of the killer disturbed me.

My favorite part about this whole book was the fox. That little fellow is a dear companion. His great, pulsing, foxy heart and snarky conversations were near and dear to me. The mockery borne of pain that is able to take all most precious to him and turn it into a matter for jesting is something as familiar as home. His comforting little paws and aged youth and mournful wisdom were lovingly captured, and whenever I had a scene with the fox I was supremely happy. Out of all the characters in Plenilune, if I could only remember one, I would count the memory of him worth all the other characters combined.

Is Plenilune a story of good triumphing over evil? Of course. Of good characters triumphing over evil ones? That's where it gets more complicated. All the characters are deeply flawed, whether on the good side or the bad--just like us. But similar to Christian salvation, some of them cling to heaven and some of them cling to hell, and that makes all the difference. Greater grace, not inner goodness, rings deeply throughout this book.

It helps going in to view the reading of Plenilune as fighting a war. All the exultation of it, all the shame of it, all the aftershock and nausea of it. All the victory of it. Most of you will experience all those reactions in reading it. If you do not feel comfortable, there is no shame in that, but realize that those elements are there. The best advice I can give in reading this book is that it is not one to be fangirled over. It should be read earnestly, with your discerning powers 100% engaged. When you read it, be honest with the book and yourself about the right and wrong you find.

For another reader's perspective on this book, a review I highly recommend reading, click here.

And prepare yourself for a story that will shake you out of your little brown shoes into a whole new world.

“God forbid,” said his cousin crisply, “he should ever elect you scribe of the Book of Life.” 
“It should make for rummy reading if he did." 
~Plenilune, by Jennifer Freitag

Friday, December 5, 2014

American Phoenix

 Published in 2013, this fascinating new biography about John Quincy and Louisa Adams gives full proof that the age of good writing is far from dead. We're on the tail end of the War of 1812 bicentennial here in America, and this fitting offering encapsulates what Americans can be most proud of in their heritage: namely, the faithful men and women who sacrificed much for their country.

A recent read-aloud in our home, American Phoenix by Jane Hampton Cook is a poignant and classily written book about America's ambassador couple to Russia. A portrait of history, of marriage, of dominion and perseverance, and certainly one that any lover of history would enjoy.

Here's why.

The Book
[From Amazon:] American Phoenix is the sweeping, riveting tale of a grand historic adventure across forbidding oceans and frozen tundra—from the bustling ports and towering birches of Boston to the remote reaches of pre-Soviet Russia, from an exile in arctic St. Petersburg to resurrection and reunion among the gardens of Paris. Upon these varied landscapes this Adams and his Eve must find a way to transform their banishment into America’s salvation.
Author, historian, and national media commentator Jane Hampton Cook breathes life into once-obscure history, weaving a meticulously researched biographical tapestry that reads like a gripping novel. With the arc and intrigue of Shakespearean drama in a Jane Austen era, American Phoenix is a timely yet timeless addition to the recent renaissance of works on the founding Adams family, from patriarchs John and Abigail to the second-generation of John Quincy and Louisa and beyond.

My Thoughts 
Jane Hampton Cook sets you squarely down in 1800s Europe and never lets you leave. While most biographies give a respectable overview of a person's life and a dash of what's going on in the world, Cook's portrait of the Adams' couple is staggering because of it's lush inclusion of everything. Medicine. Politics. Art. Famous Who's Who. You'll come away not only with an intimate portrait of the Adams, but a firm grasp of what's going on in France, Russia, England, and America during the War of 1812.
I knew a little about John and Abigail Adams, and a very little bit about John Quincy, but almost
nothing about Louisa before this book. She's a woman well worth learning about. Struggling with moving across continents, separation from her boys, and countless miscarriages, along with ill health and social struggles--there's a wealth of points to take from her life. Not only from a historical point of view, but also the sheer awe of a woman who endured all those things in a world with no Skype calls to see her boys and very little medical help for a baby girl with seizures. She struggled with trusting her husband, grieving over her children's deaths, and living in a terrible climate away from everyone she knew. Cook gently captures the failures and redemption of this dedicated and loving woman as she tries to raise a family and represent a country at the same time.
Cook's writing style does have a couple of flaws. At the beginning of the book when Louisa is separating from her children and exiling in St. Petersburg, Cook subtly puts the reader sympathy squarely on her side with a scant dash of sympathy for John's political struggles. But as the book goes on she evens out the perspective between them--both their flaws and their virtues--and gives us an honest and laudable portrait of them both.
Cook tries to infuse her narrative with similes and metaphors that are in keeping with the era that she's writing--using them to teach readers even more about the culture and the times. Sometimes it's a bit contrived, but in the grand scope of the book that's easily forgivable. Most times it works, and works well. Occasionally Cook puts in fictional imaginations such as "Louisa might have felt this, or done this, or worn this,"--but she quickly strikes a good balance by using those conjectures to support historical details rather than personal conjectures.
I can't stress just how much detail she puts in: Russian culture, the emperor Alexander's family, and the social rules that Louisa and John were in constant fear of breaking as they tried to establish trade relations between Russia and the young America. The expense, the political jockeying with French and English ambassadors--even to the point where sledding parties with other adults were more than just a good time.
Louisa is not the only one who receives a poignant portrait. John, too, has struggles of his own that are honestly included. He writes privately about exile because of matters of principle, his keen drive to satisfy his father's expectations, and the constant fight between participating in frivolous events for the purpose of diplomacy or staying away for the purpose of economy. Over and around all that Cook wraps his concerns as a father and husband--over his wife's health and his boys' education in America. John is not a demonstrative man, perhaps not even as demonstrative as Louisa--but when he writes words of affection in his private diary they are true and honest and heartfelt.

American Phoenix reads like a fiction novel, but the majority of it is true. An excellent read that will educate and entertain in all matters history, marriage, and the hearts and minds of John and Louisa Adams.
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