Friday, July 22, 2016

Cozy Mystery Challenge

I didn't hear about this Cozy Mystery reading challenge till today, so I'm 7 months behind. Still, I am pretty sure I can reach level two by the end of the year because I've already read a few mysteries this year and have a few more on my TBR shelf.

You can sign up for "Cruisin' through the Cozies" here:

Here are the rules...

1. Choose the level you wish to participate:

Level 1 - Snoop - Read at least 6 books
Level 2 - Investigator - Read 7-12 books
Level 3 - Super Sleuth - Read 13-20 books
Level 4 - Sleuth Extraordinaire - Read 21 or more books

2. The challenge runs from January 1, 2016 and ends December 31, 2016.

3. You don't have to choose your books in advance. If you do, you can change your list at any time during the year. Books can overlap with other challenges.

4. Books can be in any format - paper, audio, all counts!

5. You don't have to post a review, but I'm sure others would love to know about the books you are reading and may even want to add it to their reading lists.

NOTE: If you don't have a blog and want to participate, that's fine. You don't have to have a blog, just post in the comments section as you finish books. If you belong to a site like Goodreads and review the books there, that's fine too. Just leave us the link.  I also have a group for this challenge on Goodreads and you can sign up by clicking here.
Have fun! Yvonne

(There are two separate places to add links on Yvonne's web page. First comes the link to your intended book list, and below that a link to each book review.)

 I plan to read at least 8 of these titles in 2016:

They Found Him Dead by Georgette Heyer (free for Kindle unlimited)
The Corpse of St. James's by J.M. Damms
The Thirty-Nine Steps by Buchan (free on Kindle)
Without a Trace by Colleen Coble
The Singing Sands by Josephine Tey
Brat Farrar by Josephine Tey                                                
The Man in Lower Ten by Mary Roberts Rinehart (free on Kindle)
Sidney Chambers and the Peril of the Night by Runcie    
Picture Miss Seeton by Heron Carvic (99 cents for Kindle)
The Christie Curse by Victoria Abbott
Murder Underground by Hay (free on Kindle unlimited)

Friday, July 15, 2016

The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan

A novel that keeps being made into a movie clearly has captured popular imagination. The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan was filmed in 1935, 1959, 1978, and 2008. And according to IMDb it's scheduled for another remake in 2018.

This first book in the Richard Hannay series was published in 1915 and recounts the adventures of 37-year old Hannay on the eve of WWI. It has implausible twists, yet the hero is so endearing and earnest that you root for him from start to finish.

Chapter One opens with these droll comments: I returned from the city about three o'clock on that May afternoon pretty well disgusted with life. I had been three months in the old country and was fed up. If anyone had told me a year ago that I would feel like that I should have laughed at him. But there was the fact. The weather made me liverish. The talk of the ordinary Englishman made me sick. I couldn't get enough exercise and the amusements of London seemed as flat as soda water that has been standing in the sun.

The suspense mixed with British understatements had me chuckling with glee throughout. When Hannay discovers a murdered man in his apartment, he says, I had seen men die violently before. Indeed, I had killed a few myself in the war. But this cold-blooded indoor business was different.

And from Chapter Five: His name was Marmaduke Joppley and he was an offense to creation. He was a sort of blood stock broker who did his business by toadying elder sons and rich young peers and foolish old ladies. Marmy was a familiar figure at balls and polo weeks in country houses. He was an adroit scandal monger and would crawl a mile on his belly to anything that had a title or a million. . . . The snobbery of the creature turned me sick. I asked a man afterwards why no one kicked him out and was told that "English men reverence the weaker sex."

Stella Rimington, former head of MI5, Britain's Secret Service, wrote a fine article on why Buchan's books retain their popularity. I've included a few of her key points below.

[His books] have been compared to the James Bond books, and they certainly include plenty of expensive cars and other magnificent machines. . . . But Bond is a paid killer and a womanizer; patriotism does not obviously feature in his make-up. Richard Hannay is, above all, a patriotic, public-spirited gentleman, and that fact is key to Buchan’s purpose in writing the books and reflects his own social and political philosophy.
Against those nightmarish possibilities [of anarchy, enemy invasion, etc.], Buchan champions the things he thinks best in British civilization – education, gentlemanly and ladylike conduct, honesty, an adventurous questing, a self-sacrificing spirit and plenty of fresh air, long walks and cold baths. Could it be that these unfashionable virtues are what accounts for his enduring appeal?

This is a rollicking good tale mixed with wonderful "unfashionable virtues" and a large dose of good humor. There are free e-copies all over the internet, but I particularly enjoyed the version by David Thorn for $4.95.

Of the movie adaptations, the best was done by Alfred Hitchcock (although it includes a female who is nowhere in the book.) This 1935 version is in the public domain and can be watched on YouTube.

Friday, July 8, 2016

The Blood of Christ by Andrew Murray

I read The Blood of Christ in preparation for Lent, but rather than being a morbid journey through Christ's pain, the book was a source of joy and unceasing delight as I pondered the precious gift of His blood.

As a teacher of the Old Testament I have understood the need for blood sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins but never gave much thought to the cleansing aspect of the law. I figured that the clean/unclean regulations were pretty much from "olden times" and had expired with the cross. But Murray's observations brought me up short. First, I never thought about the implications of someone touching a dead body and the fact that they would be unclean for seven days. I never stopped to think what that said about death. Murray writes, Death, as punishment for sin, made everyone who came in association with it unclean. Death was so repugnant to God, so outside of His plan, that someone could not even touch a corpse without becoming contaminated. Living in the post-cross era, I had forgotten how horrible death is. It was the chief result of sin.

Second, Murray talks about the need not just for forgiveness (the blood on the altar) a work done FOR us, but that there must be a work done IN us, which the cleansing laws clearly reveal. Clear statements such as this, God's objective is to abolish sin in our lives, were astounding. It should not be a distant hope but a present reality. The unbroken fellowship that God desires with each one of us is a real possibility because of Christ's work on the Cross. Sanctification was the great object of the suffering of Christ.

Another astonishing fact that Murray brings out is that Christ suffered the horrors of the cross because of his love for ME! Not just out of obedience, or love for the Father, but FOR ME! To think that Jesus loved ME so much that he gave himself willingly, has been a thought that has blessed me anew. The Cross is the full revelation of true love...The Cross tells us that He loved us so much that this love surmounted every difficulty - the curse of sin, the hostility of man, the wrath of God....What we need is a proper view of Jesus and of His all-conquering eternal love.

One final point that blessed me: Murray writes that with His blood Christ purchased every man from every tribe, language people and nation. Thus we must take Him to the nations because the power of the blood has far-reaching effects on the world. That blood gives us the courage we need to enter enemy territory and also the love needed to go and take the Good news to others.

This has been a life-changing book for me. It has renewed my faith, my heart and my love for the Savior who has done so much for me.

(Guest post from my sister, Grace Ensz, fellow missionary, Christ-follower and book lover.)

Friday, July 1, 2016

Betsy-Tacy by Maud Hart Lovelace

Lately I’ve been looking to Christian fiction for light, quick reading, but surgery without anesthesia would have been less tortuous than the contrived plots, poorly developed characters, wooden dialogue and  tacked-on Christian platitudes found there.

So, after looking for love in all the wrong places, I picked up the children’s classic, Betsy-Tacy, and breathed a sigh of relief. This is the first in a series of books about two little girls living in Minnesota at the turn of the 20th century. Tacy (short for Anastacia) and Betsy are five when they meet and soon become inseparable; each chapter is a vignette of their imaginative adventures.

The stories are sweet in a way that you won't find in most modern children's lit, but they are not syrupy since the children experience the real-life trials. In the midst of these challenges Betsy and Tacy and their families demonstrate patience, kindness, faith, and friendship.
Chapter 8, "Easter," was my favorite because of the natural, tender way in which death and resurrection are discussed by the girls. After Tacy’s baby sister dies, the two walk and talk together early in the morning. Their conversation is clearly a mixture of things they've heard from their parents and their own childish understanding of heaven. 

They went up the Big Hill until they found a tree with branches low enough to reach, and they climbed that and sat there. Somewhere a bird was singing a little up and down song. They couldn’t see him but they could hear him. His busy up and down song was the only sound in the world. Hill Street was still sleeping, but the color in the sky was spreading. Gold sticks in the shape of a fan were sticking up over the hill.
            After a while Tacy said, “It smelled like Easter in the church. Baby Bee looked awful pretty. She had candles all around her.
            “Did she?” asked Betsy.
            “But my mamma felt awful bad,” said Tacy.
             Betsy said nothing.
             Of course, said Tacy,” you know that Bee has gone to heaven.”
             “Oh, of course,” said Betsy.
             But Tacy’s lip was shaking. That made Betsy feel queer. So she said quickly, “Heaven’s awful nice.”
            “Is it?” asked Tacy, looking toward her. Her eyes were big and full of trouble.
            “Yes,” said Betsy. “It’s like that sunrise. In fact,” she added, “that is heaven. We can’t see it during the day, but early in the morning they let us have a peek.”
            “It’s pretty,” said Tacy staring.
            “Those gold sticks you see, those are candles,” said Betsy. “There’s a gold-colored light all the time. And there are harps to play on; they’re something like pianos. But you don’t need to take any lessons. You just know how to play. Bee’s having a good time up there,” said Betsy, looking up at the sky.

The Betsy-Tacy books would make wonderful read-alouds for little girls. They are a calmer version of the Anne of Green Gables’ books. The subtle messages of family, friendship, and imaginative play along with light-hearted, well-written prose make them a treat.

I've only read one other Betsy-Tacy book, Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown, but I hope to read all the others in the series someday. Delightful.



Friday, June 24, 2016

Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell

Some books make your heart race like a shot of caffeine. Others, like Elizabeth Gaskell's Cranford, are as soothing as a cup of hot chocolate. Do not read it unless you are perfectly relaxed or you won't be able to appreciate these simple, witty vignettes of small town life in 19th Century England.

The novel centers on the lives of half a dozen spinsters who live in genteel poverty. (The Cranford ladies have only an occasional little quarrel, spirted out in a few peppery words and angry jerks of the head; just enough to prevent the even tenor of their lives from becoming too flat. p. 2) It tells the story of their bravery and faithfulness to one another in the face of life's trials. The main characters are Miss Deborah Jenkyns, and her sister Matilda. "Miss Matty" has always lived under the shadow of her strong-willed sister and defers to her opinions in everything - even after her death.

Although na├»ve about finances, men, and the world in general, Miss Matty has a strong sense of right and wrong and is unshakable in her integrity. When she opens a small tea shop, she is determined not to take business away from Mr. Johnson's general store. Before she could quite reconcile herself to the adoption of her new business, she had trotted down to his shop, unknown to me, to tell him of the project that was entertained, and to inquire if it was likely to injure his business. My father called this idea of hers 'great nonsense' and perhaps it would not have done in Drumble, but in Cranford it answered very well; for not only did Mr. Johnson kindly put to rest all of Miss Matty's scruples, and fear of injuring his business, but, I have reason to know, he repeatedly sent customers to her, saying that the teas he kept were of a common kind, but that Miss Jenkyns had all the choice sorts. (p. 219)

Miss Matty, while considering herself completely inadequate, is at the same time a rock in the community because of her unwavering principles and her kindliness. Although I was frequently exasperated with her lack of gumption, I was finally won over by her quiet dignity and moral equanimity. She is proof of what George Eliot wrote in her closing lines of Middlemarch:

“the good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and [the fact] that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life....”

Miss Matty and her companions fail to live up to popular ideas of success and adventure, but they infuse their uneventful days with the joys of friendship and sacrificial love. I felt quite privileged to catch a glimpse of their richly mundane world.

This quiet little classic has been made into a lovely DVD series, which you will especially enjoy if you are familiar with the cream of the crop of the BBC's actors and actresses. Judi Dench plays Miss Matty, and the wonderful Jim Carter ("Mr. Carson" from Downtown Abbey) has a small role.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Anecdotes of Destiny by Isak Dinesen

Isak Dinesen is the pseudonym of Karen Blixen (1885-1962), a Danish writer best known for her biographical work, Out of Africa. Her writing reminds me of Flannery O'Connor because of cryptic themes and disturbing imagery, but she is not nearly as gritty as O'Connor.

Anecdotes of Destiny contains five short stories. The first, "The Diver," is about a man who achieves unusual success as a pearl diver because he makes a bargain with the fish. There are many other confusing themes and sub stories in this one.

The next story, "Babette's Feast" is the most well-known story in the book and the least enigmatic of the five. A mysterious woman appears at the cottage of two spinsters and asks them to take her in as their maid/cook. The themes and sub-themes are decidedly Christian. I've seen the movie half a dozen times and have loved its message of lavish grace. The film and the story vary in only a few small points. What is explicit in the book is implicit in the movie and it works better that way because the powerful images require less words.

"Tempests" is the third story and is about Herr Soerensen and his acting troop. Malli Ross is preparing to play the part of Ariel in Shakespeare's "The Tempest," but a real shipwreck turns her into a true life heroine. She even refers to herself as the "resurrection and the life." I was very bewildered by most of this story

I am a happily married woman who knows all about the birds and the bees, but my reading life is so chaste that I struggled through the fourth tale in which a man and a woman are paid to sleep together. "The Immortal Story" reveals no unsavory details, but it was an effort to keep reading.

Fifth, and last, is "The Ring." I actually liked this story more than most of the others because its message was more pointed. A young, radiant bride discovers that marriage is not all happiness when she loses her wedding ring under strange circumstances.

Dinesen has been on my radar for years because Elisabeth Elliot mentions her in some of her books. Although "Babette's Feast" is one of my all-time favorite stories, I have to be honest and say that I did not enjoy the rest of the book. I kept hoping some of the hinted-at themes would make themselves clear. But, alas, that was not to be.

Every serious reader should be familiar with Dinesen's "Babette's Feast," so feel free to skip the other stories and enjoy her magnum opus.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Book Giveaway Winner

Marjie Tuckerman, you won the drawing for the Green Money giveaway. I've tried to reach you via Facebook, but to no avail. Please contact me so that I can get your address to send you the D.E. Stevenson book.