Tuesday, March 29, 2016

March Character Letters

After the popular reception of the first installment of character letters, I thought I'd make it a monthly feature! Welcome to today's column of advice to characters from Gaskell, Star Wars, Tolkien, and Cinderella. :) Advance warning that the letters contain spoilers!

To Margaret Hale 

My dear Margaret,
When a man is standing in front of your door in great distress because you won't let him in, a well-bred lady finds some comforting words to say. I know your brother Fred is inside, and he ABSOLUTELY CAN'T SEE ANYONE, but girl, your future happiness will be in serious jeopardy long after Fred is back home with Delores. Take a deep breath and say, "I'm so sorry, Mr. Thornton, I would like to invite you in, but--"

Very well, Margaret. I don't know what to say either. But you don't look like you're even trying until it's already too late. Also, Ruby Gillis has magazines on how to refuse a young man's proposal. I can give you her address for further advice.

Gravely Yours,
Lady B.

PS. I love your blouses, and you would be a darling correspondent.

To John Thornton

My dearest John,
You know, one shouldn't wear black suits walking around in a cotton mill. All sorts of white fluff is flying around waiting to stick to your jacket and making you look undignified. I'm really surprised we never saw any on you.

You're such a dear, scowly soul. I'm not surprised though, your mother may not have smiled at you when you were a baby. Wives do not like scowls across the breakfast table, so I would learn to tone it down if I were you. It will improve your marital bliss.

You will be a cute daddy, if the way you treat Boucher's boy is any indication.

Seriously Yours,
Lady B.

PS. Somehow all this sternness melted away into a compliment. I'm not sure how that happened.

To Drisella

Dear Drisella,
I wouldn't recommend America's Got Talent for you just yet. I can't say I've seen much of it, but I suspect they want a higher standard of musical talent than you've currently achieved. I would also recommend a course of improving reading for the broadening of the mind and conversation. In case you ever want to expand your skills, Duolingo is a great resource for actually learning French.

Reprovingly Yours,
Lady B

PS. I do hope you grew up and found a nice lord. You were just unkind because of your upbringing and ignorance, and I think you could have easily turned around to something better.

To the Herb-Master of Gondor

Most Learned Master,
It doesn't give good evidence of your high learning when you quote prophecies about the king of Gondor in front of Aragorn and then say they're all old nonsense. I was embarrassed on your behalf. Ioreth is a gossip inclined to take too much credit to her own perspicacity, but she just might know some old knowledge you dismiss as fairytales. It's generally the laypeople of this world that preserve the truth that scholars mock at. I think you're a nice fellow, though, and you do the best you can with the knowledge you have.

Respectfully Yours,
Lady B

To Luke Skywalker

A yellow jacket, dude. A yellow jacket. *just falls down and faints* I'm not fashionable, Luke, and may never be, but the white shirt looked better on you.

You should be nicer to Han Solo when he asks if a smuggler and a princess would do well together. You squashed the tender bud of true love, and that was unkind of you. Perhaps a dose of poetry would be effective in awaking some sympathy for the plight of your fellow adventurer.

Fellow Adventurer,
Lady B

PS. I think you're just as nice as Han.

To C-3PO

You adorable Droid of Pessimism. Life will be OK. R2-D2 seems to know what he's doing, so I'd just follow him and let your blood pressure go down to a healthier level. I can't wait to see what adventures you go on next. When something happens, dust yourself off and be brave instead of predicting murder and mayhem. You'll enjoy the ride so much better that way.

Fondly Yours,
Lady B

PS. You're such a sweetheart for offering your gears and things after Someone got all burned up.

Which authors or characters would you like to see me write letters to for the April Character Letters? I'd love suggestions! :)

PS. Guess what? I got Instagram yesterday!!  Tell me your handles so I can follow you, and follow me @myladybibliophile for even more bookish fun!

Friday, March 25, 2016

My Good Friday Story

Every year on the week of Easter, I pause the book discussions in observance of Good Friday.

It's probably not hard to know that this blog is a Christian blog. At least, I hope not. I wouldn't want that to be in the background, especially because this blog was designed for Christian evaluation of the books I read.

But let me tell you a little more.

I was saved at the age of four, just a young thing. I do remember it, but barely. By the time I was twelve, I had no conception of God's love for me. I couldn't feel it, couldn't believe it, and just felt an empty, fearful ache where I wanted to feel that warmth of assurance.

I think I was thirteen or fourteen when I picked up Douglas Bond's Guns of Thunder, a fictional book set in the French and Indian war. When I got to the chapter that included significant text from Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, that had me glued to the pages in fascinated dread. For a child struggling with assurance of salvation, that's not an easy sermon to read. I remember crying out desperately that I wanted something to change, wanted to be saved.

While I consider myself saved from the age of four, I always count the beginning of my deeper relationship with God from that moment. It changed from the simple acceptance of a little girl to a more earnest pursuit of what it meant to believe him. That was the point where I started calling God 'Father' in my prayers. It surprised me at the time, because I had never done it before, and all of a sudden it came as naturally as if I had done it all my life.

Even after that, it wasn't all simple. I avoided Guns of Thunder like the plague, avoided all thought of the sermon that had affected me so deeply, and ignored rooted sins in my life that I was hanging on to. Thirteen and fourteen were emotionally painful years. I still feel a deep sympathy for the child I was when I think about them. I don't remember what happened after that. For a long time it was nothing, just tires spinning in a rut. But God was working even when I felt like I was at a stand still. I got rid of some unrepented sin I was hanging on to, and started taking holiness more seriously.

Some time later, we chose Guns of Thunder for a family read-aloud. I didn't want to hear it. It brought back too many painful memories, and I was afraid of that one chapter, with that one sermon. All the old fears resurfaced. But when we got to that chapter and read it, I was surprised to find my perception of it changing. Somehow, instead of condemnation, those words comforted and reassured me with the deep love of God. I think that was a big turning point for me. I wasn't afraid anymore.

How ironic that the Holy Spirit would use a fictional book to put me on the path of serious pursuit of Christ.

I started teaching teen girls through the Bright Lights curriculum when I was 17. It had been a dream of mine since I was 12 years old, and I'm still living the dream come true. That, along with continued personal and family worship, helped me ground my assurance of the character of God and the nature of salvation in the truth of Scripture, instead of my emotions. You'll never be fully sure of salvation if you only have your feelings to hold on to, and teen girls have a lot of feelings to navigate.

Now that I'm twenty-one, my relationship with Christ has shifted even deeper. Life has had its disappointments, its deep struggles with the effects of sin, and old griefs and scars that I still carry. Christ has met me in the darkest places of the soul and brought light with his presence. He's also met me in every moment of suffering, and proven himself still faithful and still satisfying. Everyone has experiences with suffering and temptation, that, when handled properly, ground them deeper in Christ. Even homeschoolers. ;)

Over the last couple of years, the increased joy of walking with Christ takes me by surprise almost every single day. Fresh glimpses of his love for his people can move me to tears, whether it's morning Bible reading, or Sunday sermon, or Monday Bible study. He constantly reaffirms his love for his people, and I get to walk in this intimate, incredible friendship with Jesus Christ until the day he takes me home.

That's been my story. Just part of my story, really. I could keep you here for hours talking details, but after walking through this portion of my spiritual journey, it all boils down to this: I am passionate about two things: that God should be the first source of my love and only source of my worship, and that I should never slacken in my pursuit of holiness until I can lay aside this sinful nature for good.

Because of Good Friday, we celebrate millions of stories of redemption. Some are quiet struggles; some are deathbed redemptions; some are stories of God's incredible power to snatch back from a sinful life. All are celebrations of a soul passing from eternal death to eternal life.

I've always loved stories. When I meditate on how many people have found wholeness because God and his Son orchestrated our redemption, those are the best ones of all. It was a brutal price to pay, but it was the only way anyone of us could have hope. How kind, how intensely loving Christ was, to offer his life for our freedom. What wonder it is to live in hope and wholeness because of Good Friday.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. ~John 3:16

So tell me, because I'd love to hear: what's your Good Friday story? 

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The One Biography Every Young Woman Should Read


Most young women perk up their ears. 


Maybe not quite so many, but you'll still get a few.


All young women flee. 

Come back. This biography is incredible, and Hannah More is incredible. Every young woman living in the crazy election year of 2016 should be taking a good, hard look at vision: whether you have one, and how you're living it out. Hannah More is a living example of a young woman who loved artistry, loved Christianity, loved people, and used these loves to shape her turbulent political times. And every young woman could be so much deeper, broader, and more productive by catching the same fire to use her talents for the Kingdom of God. 

The Book [From Goodreads]
The enthralling biography of the woman writer who helped end the slave trade, changed Britain's upper classes, and taught a nation how to read.

The history-changing reforms of Hannah More affected every level of 18th-Century British society through her keen intellect, literary achievements, collaborative spirit, strong Christian principles, and colorful personality. A woman without connections or status, More took the world of British letters by storm when she arrived in London from Bristol, becoming a best-selling author and acclaimed playwright and quickly befriending the author Samuel Johnson, the politician Horace Walpole, and the actor David Garrick. Yet she was also a leader in the Evangelical movement, using her cultural position and her pen to support the growth of education for the poor, the reform of morals and manners, and the abolition of Britain's slave trade.

"Fierce Convictions" weaves together world and personal history into a stirring story of life that intersected with Wesley and Whitefield's Great Awakening, the rise and influence of Evangelicalism, and convulsive effects of the French Revolution. A woman of exceptional intellectual gifts and literary talent, Hannah More was above all a person whose faith compelled her both to engage her culture and to transform it.

My Thoughts 
You know when a book is highly anticipated, and you're worried it won't quite live up to what you hope from it? I've been anticipating the life of Hannah More ever since I saw this biography popping up in my Goodreads stream last year. This month I picked it up from the library.

It--she--was everything I hoped she would be, and this is a biography, especially in this day and age, that every young woman should read.

The first major crux of Hannah's life is friendships. You become who you're around, and it's important to choose friends carefully. I've wrestled a lot with what inter-faith friendships should look like, so one of my biggest curiosity points in this book was looking at Hannah's wide spectrum of friends. I think we're wise to be careful who we're around, but I also think the current church club culture and homeschool girl cliques is far from what God intends by go and disciple the nations. Imagine if Paul only hung out with the twelve disciples. He wouldn't have had nearly the impact or experience in sharing the Gospel that he did. This book didn't give me every answer, and you do see tension in Hannah's life as she tries to figure out this same question. But we see her graciously cultivating friendships with a wide variety of intellectual souls--always well-mannered and educated people, not crass companions--and while not all of them shared her religion, all of them were able to have a respectful and fruitful conversation with one another. The most mature Christians I've seen have an open table and an open life to non-Christians, and I want to have the same kind of hospitality someday.

The second part of this book I found extremely inspiring was More's work in social reform. A lot of times I think we look at today's culture and dismiss it as a hopeless mess. So we sigh and complain, and form our own little hobby farms, and leave the work of reform to people who have a bent for politics. If worse comes to worst, we can move to Canada, according to Facebook. (Seriously? The Canadians laugh at this, guys.) 

More's culture had things just as bad as we do today, and maybe worse. Slavery widely accepted. Factory conditions appalling. The prevailing belief that poor people shouldn't read, and women should only be taught to be decorative. Christianity in name but not in practice. Getting hung for stealing a pound of butter. It wasn't the good old days. And instead of sitting back and bewailing the decline of the culture, Hannah More and William Wilberforce and Henry Thornton and a bunch of others did something about it. They gave away most of their money and time to the point of personal sacrifice. They replaced the appetites and educations of rich and poor alike with wholesome and biblical teaching, tracts, and stories. Stories that were engaging, that sold out and had to be reprinted within hours of their release. We need this kind of engagement and passion in Christians today before we can really expect to see a change. It can be done again. And a faithful few, like the Clapham Sect, can do it. 

Fierce Convictions includes letters, quotes, and narrative about More's beliefs and her life. She came from simple roots and rose to a life of hobnobbing with politicians and bishops. She had a tender spirit and a fun teaching style in her years as a school mistress. She even had a tragic romance, without which we may never have benefited from her extensive reforms for the fair treatment of men, women, and animals alike. Undergoing public attack and private struggles, her pursuit of humble, visionary living deeply touched and inspired me. I think it's a timely message, not only for my personal life, but for young women in our day. 

I hope you'll check this book out and enjoy it as much as I did. You can find lots of book quote posters, endorsements, and purchase links at www.fierceconvictions.com 

Friday, March 18, 2016

The High Deeds of Finn MacCool, by Rosemary Sutcliff (Reprise)

It comes to me rather shockingly that I haven't read a lot of literature by Irish authors. This must be remedied, it simply isn't proper. However, I did put on hold at the library one of my favorite Irish books I've read so far: The High Deeds of Finn MacCool, by Rosemary Sutcliff. Finn is the epitome of Irish spirit: reckless, romantic, kingly, savage. His legends are thought-provoking, and coupled with Sutcliff's beautiful writing, it makes for an enjoyable read. In celebration of St. Patrick's Day yesterday, I thought I would re-post a review I wrote in 2014, about The High Deeds of Finn MacCool. If you've never read this book, or are uncomfortable with the idea of mythology, this post will give you some food for thought. 

“I saw a house by a river’s shore,
famed through Erin in days of yore,
I saw to the south a bright-faced queen,
With couch of crystal and robe of green.”

I have some writing friends who are very nice to keep me supplied with stories. They've introduced me to Sutcliff, and very recently, lover of all things Irish that I am, one of them introduced me to Finn MacCool. He's the Robin Hood of Ireland, the King Arthur of Eire, and his Fianna can equal the Knights of the Round Table--or perhaps edge them out. Because as fine and grand as English legend is, the Irish fuse legend with soul-glory in a way that the British simply can't touch. Finn MacCool and his Fianna (the band of warriors) star in a collection mighty exploits, none of which are real, but which have been handed down through Ireland's generations and re-written time and time again. 

What better way to meet this epic hero than through Rosemary Sutcliff's beautiful retellings? 

I'm new to the whole realm of legends and myths. I didn't read a lot of them growing up, and I'm still rather wary of them. So when I review this book today, I'm actually still thinking about it, and I haven't reached a conclusion one way or another. But I think it's sometimes fruitful to review books and clarify my thoughts by explaining them to others, and that's what I hope to do today. If you love Ireland and old legends, you'll probably love Sutcliff's Legends of Finn MacCool. If you don't love legends in the first place--well, this book probably won't be the one to make you fall in love with them.  

The Book

It was told of [Finn] that his sense of justice was so sure and so unbreakable that if he had to give judgment in a quarrel between a stranger and his own son, he would be as fair to the stranger as to his son--and as fair to his son as to the stranger. It was told of him that he was so generous that if the leaves falling from the trees in autumn were gold and the foam on the salt sea waves was silver, Finn would give it all away to any who asked him. It was told of him also that he had another side, a dark-of-the-moon side, and could forgive an injury, laughing, but knew also how to nurse an old hate through the years, to the death of the man he hated. 
~The Legends of Finn MacCool, Sutcliff

 When the great Irish warrior Cumhaill, captain of the Irish Fianna warriors, was killed in battle, his enemies took over the leadership of his men, and his wife fled to raise his baby son in the safety of the wilderness. The baby's name was Finn, and in our English way of writing Irish names, he is now called Finn Mac Cool instead of Finn Mac Cumhaill.

Finn grew up in the wilderness learning the art of war and leadership; and when he had grown and was ready to win back the position that rightfully belonged to him, he journeyed to the High King at Tara and demanded his birthright of Captain of the Fianna. Goll mac Morna, his father's killer, endeavored to laugh him off, but the king heard his plea and gave him a test.

For twenty-three years, an evil enemy of Tara, Aillen, had lulled the assembled guests to sleep and then burned the castle to the ground once a year. The Fianna could not stand against his music, and the High King set the price that if Finn could keep the thatch on Tara on the night of her impending destruction, then he could have back the leadership of the men his father led so many years ago. 

Eager for his heritage, vowing to conquer, Finn took up his father's shield and spear to stand watch, and killed Aillen, so that Tara stood unscathed throughout the night. Goll mac Morna, his father's slayer, was forced to make way and join the ranks of the men under Finn. 

It was thus that Finn Mac Cool won back his heritage. But that was only the beginning, for then he had to make good on his word to keep his beloved Ireland free from invaders without and treachery within.

And it would truly cost this Captain of the Fianna everything he held dear to remain faithful to his trust. 

My Thoughts 

via Pinterest

"I have kept the thatch on Tara," Finn said.

There are many stories of Finn's exploits, just like there are many stories of the Knights of the Round Table. My favorite excerpts from Sutcliff's retellings were the tale of Diarmid and Grania, (about Finn's feud with his most loyal warrior over a beautiful princess) the Tale of Finn's Boyhood (how he kept the thatch on Tara all night. Glorious stuff.)  and the Hostel of the Quicken Trees. I loved the Hostel of the Quicken Trees most of all. When Finn and several of his warriors were imprisoned, about to be surrounded by a horde of men, and unable to call for help, his two sons held the ford against the enemy and laid down their lives for their father most valiantly.

But by far, the most glorious, epic story of them all was the Battle of Gavra, the last stand of Finn and his Fianna. Don't read that one until you've read a few others. You want to be fully acquainted with Finn first. And most of all, don't read ahead. The story is deeply moving when read in its proper sequence

Diarmid O'Dyna was my favorite man of the Fianna. Brave, strong, principled, the essence of sacrificial love and loyalty, he's definitely a warrior you want on your side. Oisin, Finn's son, was another favorite, along with warm-hearted Osca, his grandson. 
Now for legends in general.

If you're comfortable with King Arthur, you'll love Finn. If you're a little leery of King Arthur, you'll find the exact same things to be leery about here. 

Finn's stories have pathos and love, sacrifice and friendship, fostering and family and hearth fires. They have battle and glory and dedication, hard work, brotherhood, undying loyalty, and affection. These are themes that any Christian can take delight in and see as good things from God. All good stories, or all good elements in stories, come from God himself, for He is the source of all good. 

But Sutcliff's retellings also include other things that aren't so glorious. Some things are just plain odd. This is one of those books where selective reading is probably the best way to handle it--pick out the good, read it, rejoice in it, and let your soul glow with the last stand of the men of the Fianna. And then when you come to the pages about fairies dancing spells around pools of water--it's up to your personal convictions whether you'd prefer to skim or whether you'd like to read those parts too. There is no explicit magic detail; Sutcliff tells it gently and thoughtfully. But you can't get away from the fairy detail altogether. 

If anything, the legends of Finn are like any other author--Tolkien, Lewis, Spenser--they have elements that make you laugh and cry with sheer wonder, and others that leave you with a raised eyebrow wondering "Why did they put that in?" 

I chose to read Sutcliff's stories of Finn for several reasons. First of all, her version does not contain gods and goddesses; that would have been farther than I was comfortable taking it at present. It had some fantasy elements, definitely, but they were within my boundary line. Actually, part of the thing to realize about Finn is that he lives with his men in pre-Christian Ireland, and therefore, lives in a culture of bondage. They believe in superstition because the gospel has not yet reached their land, and they have darkness, yet time and again you see God's law of right and wrong written on their hearts, and the Fianna are blessed or destroyed as they keep or break that law. 

Second, I wanted to get a basic introduction to Irish culture. It seemed appropriate, as part of their history, just like it's appropriate to be familiar with Arthur and Robin Hood, who have so fundamentally shaped British culture. These stories wouldn't endure for so long if there wasn't a reason to make them last, and it is through the legends or stories of a people that you learn what they love and value most. In the legends of Finn MacCool, I see a culture longing desperately for a mighty king and savior. Oftentimes authors create in their stories what they are missing in real life, and these unevangelized Irish people were writing stories about a Captain who could lead them to peace and happiness. Jesus Christ is the Captain of our salvation and the King of Kings, but they didn't know that, and so they created a misty shadow of what they needed until Patrick came with the real Gospel and the real King to set them free. 

And thirdly, I wanted to use it as a springboard to start the conversation with friends of how Christians should view legends. For the purposes of today's post, I'm defining legends and myth as ancient stories of mighty deeds, that may contain some fantasy elements.  The discussions have been fruitful, and I'm glad for them. Not everyone may get the same benefit out of Finn MacCool; some may get much more than I did. That's for you to wrestle out for yourself, looking to Scripture for guidance.

Legends still exist because we long to be creators. Many people write stories about the world that already exists, but legends allow humans to make something new. Taking the material that God places in our minds and hearts that is fresh and awe-inspiring and goes straight to the heart and soul. We want to imitate our Father--and even those who don't know their Heavenly Father still are created in his Image with some of the same characteristics. Creation is something imprinted on everyone's heart, an inescapable part of humanity. Granted, those who don't know God can only create flawed legends at best, and even those who do know the Lord still are subject to error. And that is why we must sift and sort and evaluate that which is good and that which is not according to our foundation, the Word of God.

I could go to greater length into the nitty-gritty of reading legends. But there are others who can cover legends much better than I can, and I hope to be revisiting the knotty whys and wherefores of this subject in future. For now, this was my second introduction to Sutcliff and my first introduction to some ancient Irish culture. Both were beautiful; and someday I want to read them again. 

And Finn turned about and saw them all round him, closing in with spears raised to strike; and he knew that the end was come. He let his shield that could not face five ways at once drop to his feet, and stood straight and unmoving as a pillar-stone....~The Legends of Finn MacCool, Sutcliff

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Our Mutual Friend, by Charles Dickens

Anyone following my various social media accounts might have noticed stray mentions of reading Dickens over the last couple of months. It felt wonderful. I haven't read a full-length Dickens novel since reading Martin Chuzzlewit aloud to the family (2014, I think?) and reading Oliver Twist in the same year.

Pretty shocking for my favorite author. (Yes, I read A Christmas Carol last year, but I don't really count that as full length.)

It was with great anticipation I picked up Our Mutual Friend. I had heard excellent things about the movie, but with Dickens I always make myself read the book first, so I determined that since 2016 was the Year of Big Books, I would choose a Dickens for my first one.

The Book

Wealth is not always a good thing.

Rich Mr. Harmon is dead, and leaves all his property to his son, John Harmon, on condition that John will marry Bella Wilfer. If he will not marry Bella, the estate will revert to Mr. and Mrs. Boffin, an older couple of simple good-heartedness and no aspirations.

Then John Harmon is found murdered, and Bella Wilfer is left without husband and prospects.

The Boffins, generous people, take Bella Wilfer in to share their wealth. They meet a new tier of society, from the scheming Lammles to the ambitious Veneerings, and in their efforts to live up to their station, start getting seriously mixed up. Bella Wilfer rejects the suit of a good man for the pursuit of a wealthy husband, and Mr. Boffin shows signs of growing miserly with his windfall of cash. John Harmon's murderer is still unknown, and people suspect a Themes corspe robber, Gaffer Hexam, of doing the deed. Lizzie Hexam, the daughter of Gaffer Hexam, is striving her best to live decently in spite of the cloud of her father's actions, an unwanted suitor, and a suitor she thinks she can never deserve. With blackmail on the tail of the Boffins, and murder threatening the person Lizzie Hexam holds dearest, they desperately need a savior who can help them out of their predicaments. Our Mutual Friend is a tale of love, murder, intrigue, and the corruption of money--Dickens' last completed novel.

*collapses because book synopses of Dickens are exhausting*

My Thoughts 
While I enjoy a chunky book and have no complaints to make about Dickens in general, I thought that Our Mutual Friend could have benefited from having a few thousand words shaved off. It took me over two months to read, due to life circumstances that made concentrating for long periods of time extremely difficult. For that reason, I give my criticism lightly knowing that the fault may have rested with me. However, I think he didn't have enough big plot points and tension to carry the first half of the book, though the second half, and especially the last quarter, improved considerably in the pacing department. There were sometimes in the first sections that I was downright bored.

In spite of my pacing complaints, the characters and redemption in this book are some of the dearest and best of his novels. Dickens seems to have grown gentler in his latter days, and in all his books, he can have some incredibly sweet and lovable characters. Our Mutual Friend is no exception. Because of the twisting of the plot I can't talk about my favorite characters in a review like I could in other books, but I was heartily glad at the romances, redemption, and downright shocking twists in the character arcs of the people I cared most about. I can say though, that I was deeply glad for Mr. Wilfer's finding happiness in spite of his less than ideal home life.

Dickens primarily addresses the issue of money in this book: how money can falsify friendship, corrupt ambition, and destroy character. But in his side plot, he addresses the issue of workhouses, in the character of old Betty Higden. Betty is terrified she'll end up in the workhouse one day and does everything she can to keep herself and her grandchild from that dreadful fate. Dickens uses her fear and wretched life as a rebuke to the lack of reform and good care to be found in the workhouses of his day.

Also, as an interesting side note, Dickens' portrayal of Jews in this story is an extremely positive one, much different from Fagin in Oliver Twist. Some people think Fagin revealed Dickens as an antisemite, but after he disabused that notion, Riah is believed to be his way of portraying the Jewish people positively in his stories.

While I wouldn't suggest choosing Our Mutual Friend first if you've never read a Dickens, I highly recommend reading it after you have a few of his novels under your belt. The characters are worth knowing, the story is a heartwarming and engaging one, and I can't wait to see the movie version soon of which I've heard such high reports.

My next Dickens will probably be A Child's History of England. Since I need to do some research on the 100 Years' War, I'm greatly looking forward to digging into this book sometime in 2016!

But Ben Hur is my next Big Book in the queue.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Lost Lake House, by Elisabeth Grace Foley

Hey folks! I'm here with another review of an upcoming novella release, this time by Elisabeth Grace Foley! I first read Elisabeth's books last year, and heartily enjoyed Wanderlust Creek, Corral Nocturne, and Christmas Camouflage. Elisabeth's stories always contain an endearing cast of characters, a thoughtful character journey, and most of them have a fun Western backdrop, which always adds to the charm. :)

This time, though, it's not a Western! It's a 1920s tale about a girl and a dancing hall in the Jazz age--and once again, it's another favorite.

The Book

The Twelve Dancing Princesses meets the heady glamor and danger of the Jazz Age.

All Dorothy Perkins wants is to have a good time. She’s wild about dancing, and can’t understand or accept her father’s strictness in forbidding it. Night after night she sneaks out to the Lost Lake House, a glamorous island nightclub rumored to be the front for more than just music and dancing…in spite of an increasingly uneasy feeling that she may be getting into something more than she can handle.

Marshall Kendrick knows the truth behind the Lost Lake House—and bitterly hates his job there. But fear and obligation have him trapped. When a twist of circumstances throws Dorothy and Marshall together one night, it may offer them both a chance at escaping the tangled web of fear and deceit each has woven…if only they are brave enough to take it.

Novella, approximately 26,000 words.

My Thoughts
This story is great fun to curl up with for an afternoon. Elisabeth Foley gives me everything I'm looking for: good quality writing, a dash of sweet romance, and a thoughtful character arc. It's a well-executed story with a vivid backdrop set during Prohibition, and it handles themes like dancing, drinking, and parent-child relationships in a mature way. I love how Elisabeth doesn't give simple answers to the problems she raises. She gives a multi-layered perspective that remains faithful to biblical principles of honor and gracious to the stages of life the characters are at. The lessons are woven effortlessly into the story and characters, leaving the reader to draw out appropriate conclusions.

Marshall and Dorothy make a sweet couple. I enjoyed their interactions--both lending a helping hand to each other in situations that neither of them want to be in. The side characters make a fun (and sometimes frightening) supporting cast, and the setting of Maurice Vernon's house on the island where young folk go for clandestine fun paints a wonderful and very different backdrop than most I've read lately.

The character arcs, though, are my favorite. Elisabeth always writes character arcs and interactions well. In Lost Lake House she sets up a tough situation and surprises me with how smoothly she guides her characters to a satisfying conclusion. I love the contrast she paints between Marshall and Dorothy's choices--same choice, but different reasons and justifications for what they did. As a reader, I find reasons to sympathize with many of the characters, whether or not I always agree with them.

Deeply satisfying and enjoyable. I highly recommend picking up a copy as soon as it releases on March 16th! In the meantime, don't forget to add it on Goodreads and check out Elisabeth's other work on Twitter and her blog.

I received a free ebook of this story in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

6 Ways to Encourage the Creative Process in Writing

When Emily Hayse gives writing advice, she knows what she's talking about. She's a fantastic writer of novels, novellas, and short stories, with a determined work ethic and a thoughtful creative vision. Her stories contain a bold love for adventure and noble-hearted characters, and her latest novel, which I had the pleasure of beta reading, has been the biggest treat yet. I asked Emily if she would come to My Lady Bibliophile for a guest post. Welcome, Emily!

Keeping your creativity can be a tricky thing. After all, writing is a constant act of producing: pouring everything you’ve got onto that page. On top of that, it is easy to fall into writing ruts, to form clich├ęs, and to burn yourself out. And yet we are expected to be fresh, original, and entertaining all the time. All of us experience those moments where we can’t seem to put anything worthwhile on the page. It feels like our well of inspiration has simply dried up. While sometimes that just happens (we all have our bad days), here are a few tips to make those times fewer and farther between.

Surround yourself with quality. When I read a good book, or even watch a well-made film, nine times out of ten my first urge is to write, whereas if I’ve read a cheap book I feel at best nothing, and at the worst. I am sapped of both inspiration and energy. What you read shows in your writing. And the quality of what you read will (eventually, if not immediately) affect the quality of what you write.
Challenge yourself. In his book The Art of War for Writers, James Scott Bell talks about challenging yourself in areas where you are weak, and he says this: “…be sure to push yourself beyond what is comfortable. Well beyond. Because you can always scale back later. But if you don’t allow yourself the fullness of exploration up front, you may miss the rich vein waiting for you just a few more steps ahead.” Great plots, characters, and books don’t come from writers staying inside their comfort zone.

Choose the unexpected. When you think of a plot, a character, or a circumstance, choose of the option that the readers would least expect.  What if the little old lady next door wasn’t really going to the bridge club every week…what if she was planning a robbery?

Enjoy other things deeply. Strangely, for a profession that is portrayed as (and often looks like) a person sitting alone at a desk, writing is far more about living life than most jobs. If you are out loving other things, you will rarely lack the passion it takes to write well and to write creatively.

Try new things. Some of my greatest creative breakthroughs have come when I’ve been brave and tried something new. At times it is attempting that story concept even when I’m not quite sure I can pull it off, or engaging in games I have never played, or trying food I have never eaten. More than once I’ve had a film I wasn’t very interested in watching totally open up a new story or plotline.

Learn (or utilize) a different art form. I play a few different instruments, and I enjoy drawing, horseback riding, and dancing, among other things. Something I’ve learned from years of participating in other arts (and trust me, riding dressage is an art!) is that it works almost like cross-training. When you learn and create art in other forms it stretches creative muscles that aren’t used as often in writing and stimulates your creative juices in general. And the good news is, you don’t even have to be all that good at any of these other art forms for it to work. The simple act of participating is enough to get your brain stimulated creatively.

What inspires your creative process? Thanks for coming on today, Emily! Be sure to check out Emily's blog over at The Herosinger and follow her on Twitter for more creative inspiration. :)

Monday, March 7, 2016

You May Have Been Wondering...

...where I've been this last week!

At home.

Sucking cough drops.

I was floored with a terrifically awful cold, and everything came to a grinding halt, including blogging and writing. I am so sorry to leave you all like that. I did, however, enjoy finishing Our Mutual Friend (happy sigh) and can't wait to review that soon for you all! Also, Elisabeth Grace Foley is releasing The Lost Lake House next week, and I'll be posting a review this week about this fun novella you won't want to miss. :)

There are book reviews, character letters, articles, and a new blog design all in the planning stages--and now that I'm starting to get on my feet again, we'll be going full steam ahead!

And tomorrow, we'll be having a very special guest post from Emily Hayse on writing and creativity. Be sure to stop back to check it out!

What have you been reading this week? What do you think of it? I'd love to know!
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