Friday, July 28, 2017

The Drumberly Series by D.E. Stevenson

Years ago I read Shoulder the Sky by D. E. Stevenson. It was third in a series but was easily read as a stand-alone. This summer I decided to read the whole trilogy and I'm so glad I did.

In the first book, Vittoria Cottage, we are introduced to Caroline, a widow with three grown children. WWII has been over for a number of years, but food shortages are still in effect all over Britain. Robert Shepperton is a veteran who lost everything in the war and comes to Drumberly looking for healing. Their friendship makes up the bulk of the story, but there are several delightful secondary characters. In spite of heart aches and misunderstandings, there is an underlying kindliness and humility in the protagonists that makes them endearing literary companions.

In book two, Music in the Hills, Caroline's sister Mamie and her husband Jock take the stage.
Caroline's son James returns from the war with a desire to learn farming from his Uncle Jock. Mamie is considered the least intelligent of the four sisters, but it is soon clear that she is wonderfully perceptive in things that matter. James is a wonderfully drawn young man: sometimes brave, sometimes insecure, but always kind and manly. Several women are after his heart, but who will get it?

Book three, Shoulder the Sky, begins with James and his wife settling into Boscath Farm House. Darling Mamie and Jock are nearby. Minor characters from the previous books take on larger roles. There is more drama in the third installment with snow storms, uncovered secrets, dastardly property owners, etc. and if you read my original review, you know that the necessity of a divorce bugged me. Although this is my least favorite of the three books, I enjoyed the trilogy very much.

As with Stevenson's other novels there are delightful descriptions of people and places. Some of her regular themes appear: houses with personalities of their own, friendly lovers, and deep appreciation of the land. Literary allusions abound to Shakespeare, Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, Hercule Poirot, Edith Nesbit, and poets such as Browning, Tennyson, A.A. Milne and A.E. Housman.

Gentle humor, fine writing and clever vocabulary were the icing on the cake. My favorite new words were: emoluments (profit/payment), exiguous (scanty), pawky (having a sly sense of humor), ichor (fluid that flows like blood in the veins of the gods), sedulous (diligence), cynosure ("the center of attention"), soignée (elegant), and glumphy.

P.S. I read these for free with my Kindle Unlimited trial, but they are the least expensive of Stevenson's e-titles at $3.99 each.

Blessings,

Friday, July 21, 2017

Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod

 
Miracle Morning can be summed up in Elrod's own words: "Don't wait to be great!"

The miracle morning involves getting up one hour earlier than usual in order to take responsibility for a successful future. Elrod says that when you sleep until the last minute and drag yourself off to school or to work, you are being controlled by life’s circumstances. When you get up earlier and attack your goals, you become master of your circumstances.

He walks the reader through six areas (Life S.A.V.E.R.S), each of which will aid in personal development. “Your level of success is always going to parallel your level of personal development.” The secret, he says, to overcoming the mediocre life is to live a life of purpose. His definition of purpose is “to become the best version of yourself.”

Basically, his book has been a tremendous success because it has given thousands of people a reason to get up in the morning. First, because of the focused attention on their souls (meditation/prayer, etc.), their bodies (1/2 hour of exercise) and their goals. In this crazy, digitalized, break-neck-paced world, who wouldn’t benefit from such an hour? Second, because they actually visualize their goals and read books to help them achieve them, they no longer feel trapped. This is not rocket science, just a good kick in the pants that most people need.

Since I am a Christian, I differ with the author’s view of success. Happiness does not come from achieving all of your life goals. If those goals are not in line with what God has planned for you, they could leave you empty and miserable. Many of Elrod’s ideas come from the book The Secret that teaches the “law of attraction”. It instructs you to think positive thoughts (and affirm them verbally to the universe) in order to reap countless blessings. I’m all for cutting out negative and defeatist self-talk, but I don’t believe that an impersonal universe has my best interests at heart. Only a loving God does.

Finally, “You can do anything if you set your mind to it is,” a very American concept. But, sadly, it
has led talentless teens to try out for American Idol, and people who can’t write to self-publish awful books. There is a limit to what you can do in certain areas if you have no talent in those areas.

Ironically, I read The Cozy Life: Rediscover the Joy of Simple Things just after Elrod’s book. It also recommends meditation, yoga, and books, but Edberg’s premise is that personal development isn't part of the plan. It is the plan. In her mind, personal contentment (rather than success) is the key to happiness. Again, her world view, as a non-Christian, falls short of what I would consider a fulfilled life: knowing, loving and serving the true and living God.

Blessings,

Friday, July 14, 2017

The Magic Apple Tree by Susan Hill

Some books can be devoured in a couple of sittings and others are meant to be savored slowly. The Magic Apple Tree by mystery writer Susan Hill falls into the latter category. In it she recounts a year of living in the English countryside. It was a perfect follow-up to the two Thrush Green books I had just read.

She begins with winter, introducing the tree (The trunk is knobbly and each branch and twig twists and turns back upon itself, like old, arthritic hands), Moon cottage, and her daily routines.

In winter, I often spend all day in the kitchen, it is in winter that I love it best, and it is then that I most enjoy my own particular sort of cooking best, too, for one of the richest pleasures of domestic life is, and has always been, filling the house with the smells of food, of baking breads and cakes, bubbling casseroles and simmering soups, of vegetables fresh from the garden and quickly steamed, of the roasting of meat, of new-ground coffee and pounded spices and chopped herbs, of hot marmalade and jam and jelly.

I am not a gardener, but I enjoyed her anthropomorphic descriptions of plants: I always grow a lot of leeks, those entirely easy-going creatures, pleasing to behold as soldiers in the ground, resistant to all diseases and pests, tolerant of any soil, long-lasting, reliable.

Most French beans are low-growing. But I find them horribly neurotic; they hate the cold, in the air or in the soil, refuse to germinate for the slightest of reasons, then refuse to flower, or crop sparsely, or wilt suddenly, when six inches high, for no discernible reason, or collapse on to the ground after heavy rain.

In the spring section she writes more about her gardening techniques, eschewing all the gardening books by “experts” because of her non-typical garden (high winds, clay soil, etc.) I enjoyed reading how she adapted her expectations to fit her reality. Plenty of good life lessons there.

The cadence of the writing and of the seasons is gentle and soothing. As Hill finds sanctuary, so do we.

Spring so often promises what in the end it never pays, spring can cheat and lie and disappoint. You can sit in the window and wait for spring many a weary day. But I have never been let down by autumn. To me it is always beautiful, always rich, it always gives in heaping measure, and sometimes it can stretch on into November, fading, but so gently, so slowly, like a very old person whose dying is protracted but peacefully, in calmness.

At the end of this day [of berry picking and canning], I am stung, scratched, sore and stained, and the kitchen smells marvelous. There are rows of glowing jars on the dresser shelves, like so many jewels, deep red, orange, burgundy, pale pink, pale green, purple-black. I label them, before carrying them upstairs to the store cupboard.... When I have lined them up, I gaze in deep satisfaction. I feel as if we shall indeed be ‘preserved’ against the ravages of the coming winter, and go off to a long, hot, soothing bath.

A delightful book!

Blessings,

Monday, July 10, 2017

Books I Read in June

I'm slogging through a couple of dense books (Christian Theology by Alistar McGrath and The Living God by Thomas Oden) so I've been escaping into light stuff in between. From worst to best...

Regarding the spoiler alerts... Apparently if I like a book I'm content to give you a light overview and let you discover the story for yourself, but if I DISLIKE a book I rant and rave and give the whole story away.

Charity's Cross by Tyndall (reviewed here, spoiler alert)
Mrs. Budley Falls from Grace by Marion Chesney (reviewed here, spoiler alert)
O Little Town by Don Reid (reviewed here, spoiler alert)
The Hollow Needle (reviewed here, spoiler alert)
Life of Mrs. Humphry Ward by J.P. Trevelyan (reviewed here, spoiler alert)
Rainbow Valley by L.M. Montgomery (reviewed here)
81 Famous Poems (audiobook, reviewed here)
Thrush Green by Miss Read (reviewed here)

(Titles in yellow are free for Kindle.)

Friday, July 7, 2017

Worthwhile Movie #17 - Denial

My husband and I rarely go to the movie theater since modern films are too crass for our tastes. But when WORLD magazine reviews an exceptionally good film, we  stand up and take notice. That's how we recently watched and (surprise!) thoroughly enjoyed Hidden FiguresQueen of Katwe, and Denial. Since the two first two films are more well-known, I'll be focusing on the last one.

Interestingly, Denial was the least entertaining of the three. The subject was heavy and the characters were not necessarily endearing. BUT the theme of the movie is an important one for our times. Though the characters smoke and drink, and although there are two outbursts of strong profanity, I highly recommend this film.

Storyline: Deborah Lipstadt is professor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies at Emory University. In her book, Denying the Holocaust, she calls out David Irving as a false historian and liar for teaching that the holocaust never happened. He sues her for libel. In cases of libel in England the accused is guilty until proven innocent, so Lipstadt has to go to England to defend herself.

My thoughts: The theme of rewriting history to fit one's own personal views couldn't be more relevant to our times since reality is more and more defined by feelings rather than facts. Lipstadt wasn't so much on trial as was the historicity of the extermination of 6 million Jews during WWII. How was her legal team to prove that it really happened? The answer seems obvious to simple-minded mortals like myself (What about all those books that were written by eye-witnesses?), but you have only to hear the wiley arguments of David Irving to see that it wasn't going to be quite that simple.

This is a court room drama with a great script and good acting. Tom Wilkinson does a wonderful job as Lipstadt's lawyer. Only one thing rankled me about the film. Near the end Lipstadt recites a list of undeniable historial facts, and slips in a reference to a specific scientific theory as though it were equally irrefutable, which seemed a little shoddy in light of the rest of the film.

I guess it only adds to the discussion of truth and how to defend it.

Blessings,