Saturday, December 31, 2016

Reading Goals for 2017

I don't often join book challenges because I like to read where my whims take me, but I know that joining a few of them (Classics Club and Cozy Mystery) has made me more intentional in my reading habits. I wish someone would start a Christian non-fiction challenge so I would read more of that.

Anyway, based on what I read in 2016 here are some of my loosely planned goals for 2017.

1) No more Christian fiction unless the author can convince me in the first 20 pages that it's worth my time.

2) 15 non-fiction books by Christian authors

3) One Charles Dicken's title

4) C.S. Lewis' On Stories - because my husband read it this year and I was so jealous.

5) The last five titles in my Classics Club Challenge list: Jane Eyre, Eugenics and Other Evils, Silas Marner, Pilgrim's Inn and Heart of the Family

6) 10 audiobooks - because I own over 40 that I haven't listened to.

May your new year be replete with good food, good books, good company, and God's blessing.


Friday, December 30, 2016

Reading Year in Review - 2016

I read over 90 books this year, but can't gloat over that accomplishment since 28 of them were Christian fiction (i.e. inconsequential fluff)  that I read during times of stress. They caused me to add a new category to my Goodreads bookshelves ("dud"), but the year was not a total failure. Here are the gems:

Classics that I loved: To Kill a Mockingbird, North and South

Classics that I expected to dislike, but enjoyed: The Great Gatsby, Age of Innocence

Best new (to me) author: Jamie Langston Turner for Winter Birds. One of the few Christian authors I can recommend.

Favorite non-fiction: Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies

Favorite Children's Lit: Betsy-Tacy by Maud Hart Lovelace

Books with the most long-term influence (that I keep quoting or using): Counterfeit Gods by Tim Keller, Technopoly by Postman, and An Approach to Extended Memorization of Scripture by Davis

It was my slowest year yet for the Classics Club Challenge, but I managed to check off five titles from my list: Gaskell's Cranford and North and South, The Great Gatsby, Pilgrim's Progress and To Kill a Mockingbird.

I managed to get in my 8 mysteries from the Cozy Mystery Challenge.

Goodreads has a fun app that shows all the covers of  the books I read in 2016.

Looking forward to more good reading in 2017!


Friday, December 23, 2016

Relationships: A Mess Worth Making by Tripp and Lane

Because of the semi-fluffy title, Relationships: A Mess Worth Making, my expectations for this book were low. As I worked my way through the book, however, I was pleasantly surprised by the solid, biblical advice for strengthening relationships.

Healthy friendships are costly. They require much more than we can humanly give if they are to flourish. And that is why Tripp and Lane emphasize the need for God's grace to pervade our lives in order for it to pervade our difficult relationships. And they are not talking about the flimsy interpretation of Mark 12:31 (that self love is necessary before you can love your neighbor.)

This quote sums up their philosophy:
Already Jesus has come to provide salvation for us, but his saving work is not complete.
Already the power of sin has been broken, but the presence of sin has not yet been eradicated. Already we have grown and changed in many ways, but we are not all we will be in Christ.
Already we have passed through much difficulty, but we have not yet climbed our final hill.
Already we have learned many lessons of faith, but we have not yet learned to trust God fully. Already God has established his kingdom in our hearts, but that kingdom has not yet fully come. Already we have seen the defeat of sin in many ways, but its final defeat has not yet taken place...

Our job is to learn how to best live in the middle. So we live as broken people who are being repaired, among neighbors in the same condition - always thankful for what has already been done, but ever aware of our need for more grace. (p. 108)

My favorite chapters were Chapter 10 on hope (especially the idea of a "sanctified imagination") and Chapter 12 on mercy, but the whole book is excellent. Each chapter begins with real-life examples of relationships in crisis, which I could have done without. But I can see how they would help readers (to whom these concepts are new) to understand them. This would be a good book to study with a small group.

Blessings,

Friday, December 16, 2016

Worthwhile Movie #16 - The Nativity Story

Just in time for Christmas, I'm reviewing one of our very favorite films. It's the only one that my husband and I watch every single year. The Nativity Story (2007) was never a box-office smash, but it beautifully portrays the events leading up to the birth of Christ. Perfect for Advent season.

Its "G" rating is dubious because the movie opens up with Herod's soldiers killing babies (not graphic, but still frightening). Later scenes show both Mary and Elizabeth in childbirth, and there are crucified bodies displayed on the road to Jerusalem. But it would be good for ages 12 and up.

No big names light up the screen, unless you count Ciaran Hinds as Herod. The acting is good. The script is great. The sets and costumes are fantastic.

The casting is spot on. The shepherds look weather-beaten. Joseph and Mary are completely believable in their parts. There is an authentic feel to the film because Mary is actually a very young girl, and the characters all look Jewish (unlike many other Bible-based films).

The movie follows the biblical narrative pretty closely; the few additions are not heavy-handed. The writer/director took the most liberty with the three wise men, using them for comic relief. I know that sounds awful, but we LOVE the wise men and chortle through their scenes.

What I appreciate most about the movie is how the relationship between Mary and Joseph is portrayed. It shows how their affection for each other grows while they are also learning to trust God with the gift of His son. It shows Joseph's very human reaction to the news that Mary is pregnant. It reveals the possible insecurities they may have felt as future parents of the Messiah. In one scene Joseph wonders, "Will I even be able to teach him anything?" Their humanness juxtaposed with their faith is very touching.

The Nativity Story has all the beauty and subtlety that was lacking in The Bible mini series. I have a hunch the writer of this movie, Mike Rich, might be a Christian. (He did a wonderful job intertwining scripture into the movie Secretariat.) This is not your typical hokey Christian movie. Highly, highly recommended.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Simple Christmas Music

I'm sure it's a sign of my age, but I am getting tired of frantic songs about sleigh bells.  So I hopped over to Amazon and perused some of their classic Christmas albums. I was delighted to discover a few new albums with rich voices and minimal orchestration.

A Hollens Family Christmas by Peter Hollens and Simply Christmas by Leslie Odom, Jr. were pleasant surprises.

Other songs that are simple and beautiful: Sarah Brightman's "Silent Night" (Winter Symphony album), Julie Andrew's entire album devoted to songs about the Christ Child, and Bocelli's "Cantique de Noël." The acapella group Straight, No Chaser is generally rambunctious, but I enjoy their modest renditions of "Sweet Little Jesus Boy" and "Hark the Herald Angels Sing."

 




I got a kick out of an album called Christmas at Downton Abbey, partly because some of the songs were awful (but were thought acceptable since they were sung by people in the cast), but partly because one of the actors (Julian Ovenden) really can sing. Who knew? Some of the choral pieces done by the Choir of Kings College were quite beautiful and Jim Carter reading "The Night Before Christmas" is a real treat.

I'd love further suggestions for meditative and acoustic Christmas albums.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Why Beauty Matters by Roger Scruton

This may be the first and last time that I review a YouTube video, but I couldn't let this one go by without comment.

Honest folks will admit that much that passes for modern art is an assault on the senses, but what has worried me more in recent years is the way that the world is teaching our children to embrace ugliness through their play. Many cartoon characters are distorted human figures. Hideous monster dolls are sold alongside the Barbie dolls. School backpacks are covered in skulls. The princess turns into an ogre in the Shrek films because that's more politically correct.

Where is the beauty? Who will show it to future generations?

Enter Roger Scruton, a British writer and philosopher who has been writing about this subject for forty years. His one hour lecture (6 ten-minute videos) on "Why Beauty Matters" touched on some of my questions and worries.

Although not a Christian, Scruton readily admits that beauty brings us into the presence of the sacred and that our need for beauty is something deep in our nature. He argues that proponents of modern art mock the pursuit of beauty because in a godless world there is no longer a valid definition for it. "Their willful desecration is a denial of love, an attempt to remake the world as though love were no longer a part of it." (He is not talking of sexual or romantic love, but of a purer, higher love. To those of us who are believers, this would be God.) "The chief characteristic of the post-modern world," he says, "is this lack of love. Artists are determined to portray the human world as unlovable."

He makes an articulate appeal for us to return to real art. "The sacred and the beautiful are not rivals. They stand side by side, two doors that open into a single space. And in that space we find our home."

If you have an hour, I highly recommend this lecture. Two related links are Budgeting for Beauty, (at Coffee, Tea, Books and Me) which has nothing to do with physical beauty, but instead recognizes that humans have needs beyond mere survival.  And Matt Capps at Gospel Coalition writes about how the Church has neglected this important topic.

Two books that helped me to think about this subject are: Art for God's Sake by Ryken, and Wisdom and Wonder by Kuyper. Do you have any other books to recommend on the subject?

Friday, November 25, 2016

Technopoly by Neil Postman

This is one of the hardest book reviews I've ever written. I had pages and pages of relevant quotes that I had to keep culling out. They were so helpful and so good that it hurt to cut them away.

Though not as readily accessible as Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman's Technopoly has a lot to add to the discussion of the surrender of culture to technology (the book's subtitle). I expected it to be dry, but found many nuggets of truth that kept me eagerly reading. I skimmed the chapters that were outdated, but those were very few because this book is more about the philosophy rather than the mechanics of technology.

Postman is not a Luddite who disdains all technological advances. But he wants us to be very careful to realize the difference they will make in our lives. "Their gifts are bountiful, but not without cost." He describes America as a Technopoly (the submission of all forms of cultural life to the sovereignty of technique and technology) because of our unquestioning acceptance of all technological advances.

We are currently surrounded with zealous prophets who see only what new technologies can do and are incapable of imagining what they will undo. (p. 5)

How did Technopoly find fertile ground on American soil? Postman gives four interrelated reasons. The American distrust of restraints (our "Anything is possible," can-do mentality), the exploitative genius of technological pioneers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. (Morse, Rockefeller Alexander Graham bell, Edison, Ford, etc.), the successes of technology in providing Americans with convenience, comfort, speed, hygiene, and abundance. (Why question it?), and the devaluation of traditional beliefs brought on by a growing faith in science to solve problems. (p. 53-55)

We scoff at Luddites, but fail to see that they are calling us to re-evaluate how various technologies dehumanize us. Postman prefers to call those who abstain from adopting every new technology as "resistance fighters" and points out that their resistance is a thoughtful and careful rebellion in order to preserve that which really matters.

I've been quoting this book non-stop since finishing it three weeks ago. A very worthwhile read.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Book Loot & Book Report

I just returned from a whirlwind visit to the U.S. to visit my mom and my sons, so no book review today. When I wasn't visiting family, I was scouring stores for book bargains for Dan and me, as well as looking for gifts and prizes for a women's retreat I'm leading next week. A good time was had by all.

Some of the titles I bought: 3 Betsy-Tacy novels, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh, P.D. James' book on detective fiction, Pen of Flame (about Salvation Army poet/hymn writer, Catherine Baird, and a new Killer Sudoku book. For my husband, I brought Saving Eutychus, The Sky is Not Falling by Chuck Colson, What Works by Cal Thomas, AND the three volumes of The Lord of the Rings.

While traveling I finished Wiersbe's Be Basic (on first 11 books of Genesis). I also read Escape from Colditz, Rescuing Finley, and made it halfway through The Spy Who Came in From the Cold. (I'm not sure what I think about it since I'm reading it in Portuguese and get about 75% of what's going on.)

 I also cringed through Summer's Fury, a Christian Fiction novella that suffers from the usual ills of that genre: unlikable characters, choppy writing and a heroine who "just happened" to know how to set a horribly broken leg even though she is an absolute wimp.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Worthwhile Movie #15 - The Railway Man

I rarely like a movie more than the book on which it is based, but Railway Man is one exception. I read the book a few years ago and felt the conclusion was flimsy.

It tells the story of a young soldier in WWII, tortured by his Japanese captors. After the war he spends many years planning how he will take revenge. But when he finally meets his arch enemy, things turn out quite differently. Yet the motivation for forgiveness is never quite clear.

That's where the film fills in the blanks. The movie invents quite a bit of drama regarding the reconciliation of Lomax and Takeshi, which makes the reconciliation more believable.

I like films that are more cerebral than action-packed and this one does not disappoint. (Although mercifully few, the flashbacks of torture scenes are very violent. Pressing the mute buttons helps me to get through them.) The filming is excellent, the dialogue good, and the acting understated. I've heard mixed reviews on Colin Firth's acting ability, but he plays the silent sufferer to perfection. Nicole Kidman is quite good even though the film makers were unsuccessful in making her look like a plain housewife.

Unbroken, To End All Wars and Jacob De Shazer's personal testimony are more satisfying stories than the one by Lomax, but I highly recommend this film to fans of WWII POW history for it's fine filming, excellent dialogue and redemptive truths.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Books I Read in October

October was a great time to finish up three books that I'd been reading for many months: A Year with G.K. Chesterton (reviewed here), Chesterton's perplexing book of poetry, and Amy Carmichael's classic on pain, Gold by Moonlight (reviewed here).

Christian fiction continues to disagree with me: I read (and did not enjoy) 2 CF titles: Roanoke by Hunt, (free) and The Pursuit of Lucy Banning by Newport.

I got a kick out of the 1970's Library Fuzz stories which were a spoof on the detective fiction of the 40s and 50s. (99 cents)

I squeezed in one vintage fiction novel, Who Was the Heir? (1890) and one brief Bible commentary on the book of Esther, Be Committed, which was not my favorite Wiersbe title.

To Kill a Mockingbird was the highlight of the month (maybe the year). Reviewed here.

Looking forward to more reading in November!

Friday, October 28, 2016

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

The only thing I knew going into this book was that it was about a white lawyer defending a black man in the South. I expected it to be gritty and so held my breath for the first half of the book; If I'd known that the trial would not be as tawdry as expected, I would have enjoyed the book that much more.

Atticus Finch is a small-time lawyer in the fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama. He is a gentle, book-loving widower who never sets out to promote himself. But because of his firm conviction that all people are created equal, he takes on the "lost cause" case of Tom Robinson who is accused of raping a white woman. Finch is the hero of the novel, but there are many others who are equally as heroic in their quiet ways. In fact, I don't think Atticus is the main character as much as a mirror from which we see reflected all the other characters.

Scout and Jem's mother has passed away and their absent-minded (but loving) father spends little time on developing their manners and social graces, much to the horror of his sister Alexandra. I tried my hardest to hate the small profanities coming out of Scout's mouth, but the more I read, the more I saw how pitch perfect Lee's writing was in giving voice to a young motherless girl growing up without much parental intervention.

Scout may not have had a lot of input from her daddy on how to speak like a lady, but the book makes it very clear that he had a powerful influence of another kind. Because of his strong stance on helping the weak, both of his children learn hard lessons about human nature. When Jem  (the older brother) is "forced" to read to a cranky elderly lady as a punishment for ruining her flowers, he begins to learn compassion. Jem's coming-of-age through various difficult events was one of my favorite parts of this book.

Through Atticus the children learn that:

(1) People aren't always as bad (or good) as they seem.

(2) Life isn't Fair - though Atticus had used every legal tool available to save Tom Robinson, he could not influence the secret courts of men hearts. (p. 241)

(3) Courage is not a man with a gun in his hand - It's when you know you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. (p. 112)

Harper Lee introduces us to many brave people who will work their way into your heart. No wonder this book is considered a classic. I'm still astonished that Lee could write such a sad story with so much humor, wisdom, pathos and beauty. Remarkable. 

Keep in mind this novel was banned for its use of the N word, but much like Huck Finn, the word was used to reflect the times, but not the author's view which is clearly against racial inequality.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Gold by Moonlight by Amy Carmichael

Amy Carmichael (1867-1951), missionary to India, lived with severe pain most of her life. Gold by Moonlight was written to encourage fellow sufferers to persevere in the faith. The title is taken from a quote by Reverend Samuel Rutherford and means that with God's help gold can be found even in the dark. Carmichael shows how illness can bring a clearer understanding of God's love and mercy. She walks a very fine line between gentleness (allowing for the fact that pain often brings irrational thinking) and no-nonsense advice (discouraging all self-pity.)

At times the language in the book is difficult and the prose is dense. Sources (most unnamed) are as varied John Buchan novels, Pilgrim's Progress, Victorian poets, and missionary biographies of a hundred years ago. Because of the antiquated language this book needs to be read slowly. Because of it's unflinching call to Christian maturity, it also needs to be read prayerfully.

A major theme in the book is submission to God's will, but this is no wimpy resignation. God does not ask for the dull, weak, sleepy acquiescence of indolence. He asks for something vivid and strong. He asks us to cooperate with Him, actively willing what He wills, our only aim His glory. (p. 40)

 I have many favorite quotes but I'll try to limit myself to just a few:

God forgive us for the strange coldness of so much of our love. The calculating love of Christians is the shame of the Church and the astonishment of angels. (p. 139)

Before the peace which passeth understanding can be ours, there must be a renunciation of faithless anxiety. (p. 81)

And my very favorite: We live a double life. Forces of distress may assail us (as they continually assailed our Lord), and we are called to labor from the rising of the morning till the stars appear, and yet all the time in the inner life of the spirit we are marvelously quickened, and raised up and made to sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. (p. 218)

A very worthwhile book for patient readers, especially those who are feeling side-lined by difficult circumstances.






Friday, October 7, 2016

Humility by Andrew Murray


I first read Humility thirty years ago and I still remember being in awe of its revolutionary and uncomfortable truths. It's author, Andrew Murray (1828-1917), was a well-known writer and pastor from South Africa whose many books emphasize the deeper Christian life.

According to Murray, humility is the attribute that most Christians need but that most don't want. It's the "forgotten" virtue that enables us to be most like Christ. True humility involves dying to self and letting Christ live in you. A common misconception of "death to self" is that it annuls one's personality, but just the opposite is true. Murray says that the "death-life" enables us to be our true (as we were meant to be) selves because as we become less, we actually become more as Christ dwells in us in His fullness. Throughout the book he makes references to the idea that the main attribute of Satan was pride and the main attribute of Christ was humility. 

The life God gives is not all at once, but moment by moment, through the unceasing operation of His mighty power. Humility, the place of entire dependence on God, is the first duty of the creature, and the root of every good quality. Likewise, pride, is the root of every sin and evil. It was when the Serpent breathed the poison of his pride - the desire to be as God - in the hearts of Adam and Eve, that they fell from their high position into all the wretchedness in which mankind is now sunk.

Another misconception about humility is that it makes us door mats. But as I think of the people I know who are truly surrendered to Christ, there is nothing "door-matty" about them. They have an inner strength and purpose that enables them be "careless" about what others think of them.


When we see that humility is something infinitely deeper than regret [over past sins], and accept it as our participation in the life of Jesus, we will begin to learn that it is our true goodness. We will understand that being servants of all is the highest fulfillment of our destiny as men created in the image of God.

Don't look at pride only as an unbecoming temper, nor at humility only as a decent virtue. The one is death, and the other is life.

This is a book to be read slowly, to savor and to pray over. It is not your average Christian self-help book because of it's emphasis on Christ presence and power in our lives rather than living  the Christian life by our own efforts. It's interesting that when I read this book a second time, I noticed this theme in Scripture everywhere. I'm glad Murray opened my eyes to it.

The version of Humility that I've linked to above was free at the time of this post. Previous Murray titles that I've reviewed are The Two Covenants, The Blood of Christ, and A Life of Obedience.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Books I Read in September

I have been trying to give Christian fiction a go this year. I've read 21 titles and only one author, Jamie Langston Turner, succeeded in impressing me. Most were okay but a couple were so dreadful that I've decided to give up the effort to find diamonds among the coals. It's just too much work for too little pay off.

Here's what I read this month:

1) Insight by Deborah Raney (better than most CF)
2) Sixteen Brides (mediocre CF, What can I say? The cover snookered me in.)
3) Paper Roses (horrific CF)
4) Arsene Lupin & Herlock Sholmes by Leblanc (nice little mysteries, free for Kindle)
5) Rules of Murder by Deering (clean mystery/romance, a little too heavy on the romance for me, but very well written, free for Kindle at the moment)
6) Lifted Veil by George Eliot (bleak sci-fi short story, free for Kindle)
7) Crispen's Point  by Reardon (ugh! I'm tired of CF heroines who swoop into town and fix everything)
8) The Age of Innocence by Wharton (definitely not Christian, but more satisfying because of good language and having to wrestle with important ideas WITHOUT simple solutions.)

The only title I reviewed on the blog was Age of Innocence. The others I reviewed at Goodreads.

Friday, September 30, 2016

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

I knew from earlier experience (Ethan Frome) that Edith Wharton could be heavy and gloomy, so I braced myself for The Age of Innocence.

Sure enough, Wharton paints a vivid tale of the empty lives of upper crust New Yorkers in the 1880s. The story is written so well that it won the Pulitzer prize for fiction in 1921 - the first time that prize was accorded to a woman.

Young Newland Archer is a rich, semi-employed lawyer (he doesn't really need to work, but he goes through the motions) who is in love with beautiful socialite May Welland. They are unquestioningly following all the conventions for their crowd when suddenly May's "bohemian" cousin, Ellen Olenska arrives from Europe.

Madame Olenska is fleeing an abusive husband and seeking divorce. Newland is persuaded by the family to talk her out of it since they want to avoid scandal and unpleasantness at all costs. As his relationship develops with Ellen he reconsiders all of his former values.

Wharton convinces the reader that throwing caution and convention to the winds is the surest road to happiness, but will our protagonist be brave enough to do it? As a believer in the sanctity of marriage vows, I was in constant agony throughout the book that he would leave his "dull"  wife and flee with the exciting cousin. Thankfully, Wharton does not give us a fluffy Hollywood ending. And, frankly, I was stunned by the clear-sightedness of the women in the story who had a firmer grip on reality than Archer, who thought his love for Ellen was the only "real thing."

I couldn't help but compare this book to Tuck Everlasting, a story in which a young girl chooses a prosaic life over one of adventure and it is seen as the more noble act. In Age of Innocence, the domestic life is seen as the cowardly choice.

This book is masterfully written, deeply disturbing, and surprising in its insights.


Friday, September 23, 2016

A Year With G.K. Chesterton: 365 Days of Wit, Wisdom and Wonder

I've written before that Chesterton is good in small doses. His genius is so far beyond me that I'm happy when I understand a tenth of what he is saying. So, a daily "bite-sized" devotional book is a clever, manageable way to become acquainted with his way of thinking. Each reading includes a verse, two short paragraphs from his writings (strangely, the source of the first one is never given) and a "this-day-in-history" entry showing what G.K. was doing on that particular day (lecturing, releasing a book, traveling, etc.)

A Year with G.K. Chesterton is not a typical devotional in the sense that it gives daily inspiration from Scripture. Because of his strong Catholic beliefs, his essays presuppose the existence of God. But many readings are critiques of writers such as Dickens, Milton and Bunyan.

So why read it? Frankly, because a daily dose of sparkling lucidity braces you to face the ever increasing foolishness of our culture and our world. Somehow the air I was breathing felt clearer after a page of  G.K. His fierce optimism and childlike wonder were a daily uplift. As was his beautiful language.

On the trinity: God himself is a society. It is indeed a fathomless mystery of theology. Suffice it to say here that this triple enigma is as comforting as wine and as open as an English fireside. This thing that bewilders the intellect utterly quiets the heart.

On how fairy tales reflect the gospel: In the fairy tale an incomprehensible happiness rests upon an incomprehensible condition. A box is opened, and all evils fly out. A word is forgotten, and cities perish. A lamp is lit, and love flies away. A flower is plucked, and human lives are forfeited. An apple is eaten, and the hope of God is gone.

A lovely book. If you adjust your expectations to this as a "devotional" (as something mentally rather than spiritually invigorating), it would make a great addition to your daily quiet time.

One of Chesterton's critic's described him well: His wordy rockets soar desperately into the dark, pause, break into a cascade of stars, and, there, to our astonished gaze, lie momentarily revealed the peaceful landscape of simple truth.

Friday, September 16, 2016

An Approach to Extended Memorization of Scripture by Andrew M. Davis

Who knew that this 30 page booklet would cause a quiet revolution in my life? For years I've been wanting to memorize poems and larger chunks of scripture, but the busyness of life kept me from taking steps to actually do so. Some books I read on memorization (featuring mnemonics where each word is an outlandish mind picture) didn't appeal to me because that system robbed the literary pieces of their beauty.

Enter Andrew M. Davis. In his book An Approach to Extended Memorization of Scripture, he gives tips for perseverance rather than mind tricks. With his system you choose a passage and decide how many days it will take to memorize it. (I chose Psalm 103 and scheduled in five minutes a day for 30 days.) You begin the first day reciting the first verse 20 times. The second day you recite it ten times and then add the next verse. So simple!

I have to admit I hit a wall with by verse 16 (of 22) so I spent an extra week on those initial verses before going on to the final ones. I'm still a bit shaky with the last six verses but I'm in phase two of the passage, which is to say the whole thing out loud for the next 20 days. I'm confident I will have it well in hand by the end of the month.

Like a good meal, a good workout, or a good book, Bible memorization leaves you feeling fortified, energized and satisfied. I knew it would be work, but I didn't realize how rewarding it would be. 

By the way, I've tried memorization before by placing a poem on my Kindle cover or in my purse to look at in off moments, but making the piece to be memorized a part of my daily devotions has made all the difference in going from haphazardness to consistency.

Worth every penny of the 99 cents I paid for it.

Footnote: For my own personal records I'm listing my completed projects.
Aug/Sept 2016 - Psalm 103
Oct 2016 - God's Grandeur by Gerard Manley Hopkins
Nov/Dec - Psalm 23 in Portuguese
Jan/Feb 2017 - Land of Storybooks by R.L. Stevenson

Friday, September 9, 2016

The Golden Road by L.M. Montgomery

The Golden Road (The Story Girl, book 2) cannot be read as a "stand alone," since Montgomery takes little pains to reintroduce the characters from the previous book. Many former adventures are referred to so it would be good to read Story Girl and Golden Road back to back.

In the first book I laughed unkindly at the ever practical Felicity in comparison to the whimsical, delightful Sara Stanley. But in the second book I saw how important she was to balance out the wildly imaginative characters. Because she was less vocal in the second half of book two, it was too sentimental for my tastes.
But the humor was still there. One of Peter’s New Year resolutions is to refrain from unkind remarks to his sister, but what he does instead is laugh-out-loud funny.

And the beautiful writing: Our summer was over. It had been a beautiful one. We had known the sweetness of common joys, the delight of dawns, the dream of glamour of noontides, the long, purple peace of carefree nights. We had had the pleasure of bird song, of silver rain on greening fields, of storm among the trees, of blossoming meadows, and the converse of whispering leaves. We had had brotherhood and wind and star, with books and tales, and hearth fires of autumn. Ours had been the little loving tasks of every day, blithe companionship, shared thoughts, and adventuring. Rich were we in the memory of those opulent months that had gone from us – richer than we then knew.

We don’t really find out what happens to the children when they grow up except through the Story Girl's shrewd predictions. We can assume things will play out as she suggests, but the open ending left me a little sad. Maybe that was what Montgomery wanted to convey. The Golden Road of innocent and carefree youth must have its end.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Books I Read in August

Now that we've practically given up T.V., I'm reading two to three books per week. But since we've had a stressful year, I've read a lot more fluff than usual (free Christian novels). Here's a recap of August:

Guarded - Correll (superior Christian fiction for 99 cents)
The Recipe - Candice Culvert (a pleasant, short book which was free, but is now $2.50)
The Little Duke - Charlotte Yonge (YA vintage fiction, free for Kindle)
The Wedding Invitation - A. Wisler (okay Christian fiction, unappealing protagonists, but great sub-characters)
Wisdom and Wonder - Abraham Kuyper (a gentle introduction to "common grace", 99 cents)
Rasberry Jam - Wells (okay vintage mystery, free for Kindle)
The Story Girl by L.M. Mongomery (excellent vintage YA fiction, free for Kindle)
The Christian Book of Mystical Verse - Tozer (hymns and poems, some gems, $2)
The Golden Road - L.M. Montgomery (free for Kindle, sequel to Story Girl)
Humility - Andrew Murray (outstanding book on the beauty of a surrendered life, free for a limited time)
The Measure of Katie Calloway - Miller (far superior to most Christian fiction except for the unnecessary references to bodily functions, free for a limited time)

Titles in purple were (or will be) reviewed on this blog. All the others were reviewed by me at Goodreads.

Also, I post links almost daily on the Worthwhile Books Facebook page for free or reduced e-books.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Wisdom and Wonder by Abraham Kuyper

I'd have to write a very long post to do Wisdom and Wonder justice, but I'll be as brief as I can. 

Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920) was a Dutch theologian and political leader who wrote tirelessly on the necessity of integrating faith and life. One of his most famous themes was common grace: 

Common grace responds to the question: "How does the world go on after sin's entrance and how is it possible that 'good' things emerge from the hands of humans within and without a covenant relationship with God?" Common grace is God's restraint of the full effect of sin after the Fall.

Because of common grace, secular scientists and artists can honor God in how they pursue their fields. Kuyper's definition of science is broader than our present day view because in that term he includes all reason, knowledge, and truth. Divine thinking is embedded in all of creation. All things have proceeded from the thinking of God, from the consciousness of God, from the Word of God. God created in human beings, as his image-bearers, the capacity to understand, to grasp, to reflect, and to arrange within a totality these thoughts expressed in creation. The essence of human science rests on these realities.

Kuyper is occasionally dry, but he is never boring. He asks thought-provoking questions such as, "Would there have been art without the fall?" (Since the fall made a strong contrast between the beautiful and the ugly.) He breaks beauty down into three types: the perfect beauty of Eden, the marred beauty of this present world and the glorious beauty of Heaven. He says we get glimpses of all three kinds in our lives. Have you ever wondered why some things are so beautiful that it hurts? That is a glimpse of heavenly beauty that our human bodies can't adapt to yet.

In writing about art, he writes that it cannot be disconnected from specific standards, disproving the adage that "beauty is in the eye of the beholder." According to Scripture, beauty cannot be separated from God. Glory is, in fact, nothing other than the highest degree of beauty. Art cannot be excused from following God's law, and art disgraces itself by seeking that freedom.

On the danger of less noble forms of art (in plays, books, music, or paintings) he says, Repeated exposure to such surface sensations leads our emotions into a discordant condition, weakens our capacity for genuine sensations, and ultimately damages our emotional life.

Not an easy read, but worth the effort to wrestle with these important ideas. Though $15 for the hardcover, it's only 99 cents for Kindle.

Friday, August 26, 2016

The Story Girl by L.M. Montgomery

I confess, I was halfway through The Story Girl before it really grabbed me. At first I thought it was because I had a hard time connecting with childish ways of thinking and talking, but that doesn't make sense since I loved Betsy-Tacy. Then I thought it might be for lack of plot. The book follows half a dozen children through their summer activities and is interwoven with the tales told by the enchanting Sara Stanley. Cousin, Beverly King, and his brother Felix are visiting for the summer and Bev is the narrator/onlooker of interactions between siblings Felicity, Cecily and Daniel, as well as the hired boy Peter, and two neighbor girls, Sara Ray and, of course "the Story Girl."

The more I read it, the more I grew attached to the characters. I appreciated their very honest, child-like opinions and their questions about faith and prayer. This was not the tacked-on religiosity of most Christian novels. These children were brought up in a time when respectable families attended church, and when the adults around them discussed these things. It was very natural for them to parrot the  grown-ups while at the same time pondering the truths behind their words and practices. Delightful biblical allusions are sprinkled throughout such as when one of the aunts "brings tidings of great joy" at Peter's recovery from illness and Beverly responds by saying they had been "given beauty for ashes."

Although fourteen-year old Felicity is the clear favorite with the boys for her beauty and her cooking ability, the (much plainer) Story Girl captivates them with her charm. I cannot describe [her voice.] wrote Beverly. If voices had colors, hers would have been like a rainbow. It made words live.

Which brings me to another highlight of the book - its lovely writing.

Haylofts are delicious places, with just enough shadow and soft, uncertain noises to give an agreeable tang of mystery.

The rain was weeping on the roof as if it were shedding the tears of old sorrows.

The Story Girl sighed again. She loved expressive words, and treasured them as some girls might have treasured jewels. To her, they were as lustrous pearls, threaded on the crimson cord of a vivid fancy.

And I can't fail to mention the gentle humor: I don't suppose your Aunt Jane knew all the rules of etiquette, said Felicity, designing to crush Peter with a big word. But Peter was not to be so crushed. He had in him a certain toughness of fiber, that would have been proof against a whole dictionary.

This was a thoroughly delightful book and I look forward to plunging into its sequel, The Golden Road. (Both the books I've linked to are free for Kindle.)





Friday, August 19, 2016

Miracles from Heaven - Worthwhile Movie #14

Christian movies tend to be as hokey as Christian novels, so I never thought I'd be recommending one of them here. But last weekend we watched Miracles from Heaven with Jennifer Garner and Martin Henderson and I have to admit it is better than most films in the genre.

Christy and Kevin Beam and their three daughters are a traditional church-going family. Suddenly ten-year old Anna is diagnosed with a disease requiring complex medicines and frequent doctor's visits. The family's faith is put to the test as they learn that there is more than one kind of miracle.

The acting is terrific. Jennifer Garner (Christy Beam) and Kylie Rogers (her sick daughter, Anna) are superb in their roles. The movie shows Christians in a realistic light. Some with deep faith, some with little faith, and some who are just nasty.

The humor is not dorky, unless you count the doctor who acts silly to make his patients laugh. (I thought he was wonderful.) Many Christian films tend to shy away from using the name of Jesus, and this one is no exception. There was lots of talk of the importance of faith, though. And one of the characters wears a cross necklace which is one of the plot points.

I loved the ending of the film followed by the extra clips of the actual Beam family. A heart-warming worthwhile film.


Friday, August 12, 2016

Simplify Your Life by Marcia Ramsland

As we grow older, we (hopefully) grow wiser. One of my favorite post-parenting lessons has been to learn to cut back on the busy activities that drain me and to increase the tasks and ministries that bring me joy. That's why I appreciated both of Marcia Ramsland's books Simplify Your Life and Simplify Your Time.

In Simplify Your Life, Ramsland encourages list makers (like me) to live horizontally rather than vertically. A vertical person looks at a long "to do" list from top to bottom and becomes overwhelmed. A horizontal person looks at a calendar ("the big picture") and sees where active days have to followed up with lighter ones. I started doing this even before reading about it in her book. Programming quiet and alone time after days of heavy social interaction has been revolutionary for me.

An overcommitted calendar is the quickest way to drain all the enthusiasm and momentum from your life, as well as the lives of your spouse and children. (p. 23)

She gives many suggestions for time management, but for me her best tip is to plan something into every day that gives you a deep sense of satisfaction. This would be different for everyone, but some of the things that I do are: Bible journaling, killer sudoku puzzles, read a good book, or bake bread. Or drink a cup of tea in a beautiful tea cup.

The second book, Simplify Your Time, centers more on reaching your goals. Denise Waitley says, "A goal is a dream with a date attached." Without attention to your personal goals, you will never find the time to do the things you really want to do. This is another practice that I've begun in the last few years that has made a big difference. With personal deadlines written into my calendar, an overwhelming project became do-able. And dreams that are always on the back burner start to happen.

None of this is rocket science, but every year I read at least one book on time management to make sure that I'm on track. Both of these books were helpful.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Guarded by Angela Correll

Annie is a world-traveller who loses her job and has to move back to a small town in Kentucky to live with her grandmother. She meets up with an old friend and their relationship quickly turns into something more. While renovating an old house, old letters are found beneath the floor boards. Guarded is the story of secrets and hidden fears that come to the forefront.

Frankly, my expectations were low because most Christian fiction is hard to swallow. But Correll's book was a nice surprise. Unlike most Christian novels, the writing was good, with nary an awkward sentence to make my scratch my head and wonder where her editors were.

People have Bibles, go to church, and pray, but faith is never forced or awkward. There is romance, but it isn't the only focus of the story. The lost/found letters lead to an adventure for Annie and her grandmother that brings healing to old hurts, which makes this light read very satisfying.

The story was engaging and the characters likable. I have to admit at floundering a few times with knowing who was who. It might have been helpful to have read the first book, Grounded, but it was not essential.

This is a nice deal: 99 cents on Kindle.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Be Satisfied by Warren Wiersbe

Whenever the book of Ecclesiastes comes up in my Bible reading cycle, I take a deep breath and prepare myself for a dismal few days at the hands of an embittered king. Now, thanks to Warren Wiersbe's commentary, Be Satisfied, I love Ecclesiastes.

Baptist Pastor Wiersbe has been pastoring, speaking and writing for sixty-five years and is best known for his "BE" series on every book of the Bible; he has the gift of being literate and theologically sound while at the same time being clear and accessible.

I appreciated how he treated the book in the context of the whole Bible. He combines Solomon's perspective from the book of Proverbs with his "changed" perspective in Ecclesiastes, along with a rich dose of New Testament passages to help readers grapple with how to find satisfaction in a world of troubles and discontentment.

The famous phrase, "Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die" is nowhere in Ecclesiastes unless you interpret the book (as I used to) as a diatribe against life. Wiersbe points out that the "Eat, drink, and be merry" phrase is actually, "Eat, drink and be merry, for every good thing comes from God's hand." (Some form of that phrase appears six times in the book.) He asserts that Solomon found no lasting pleasure in his power, riches and wives, but learned that true enjoyment came from accepting life's simple joys as gifts of a loving Father. Wiersbe concludes, We will be satisfied to the extent that we see everything we have as a gift from God.

It is not enough to possess things; we must also possess the kind of character that enables us to use things wisely and to enjoy them properly. (p 46)

In addition to biblical insights, I loved all the literary allusions and the explanations of certain Hebrew words (including puns that are not evident in the English.) Sometimes I felt that he forced an applications onto the text, but I have been guilty of that myself on occasion.

With world news the way it's been lately, it was interesting to read these Bible passages about a man who found that life "under the sun" didn't seem worth living. It's too easy for me to become discouraged with disastrous events, the loss of freedoms that American Christians are facing, etc. How can we find hope and joy in the midst of it all? Not only was I encouraged by the book of Ecclesiastes, but I also appreciated this post by Joy Clarkson called "Sensible and Human Things."

Whenever Wiersbe's books are free, I post a link on my Worthwhile Books Facebook page, so be sure to check there for upcoming deals.

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, ebooks...it 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                                                
Arsène Lupine versus Herlock Sholmes - Maurice Leblanc
Sidney Chambers and the Peril of the Night by Runcie    
Rules of Murder by Deering (free for a limited time)
Laws of Murder by Charles Finch
Murder Underground by Hay (free on Kindle unlimited)
Rasberry Jam - Carolyn Wells (free for Kindle)
The Spy Who Came in From the Cold - Le Carré

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 Audible.com 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 naïve 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.