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Monday, January 27, 2014

The Body in the Library, by Agatha Christie

The Body in the Library is the second Miss Marple mystery that Agatha Christie wrote. It was published in 1940, a full twelve years after the first Miss Marple mystery.

I read this book because, as a youth, I loved Hercule Poirot, but disdained Miss Marple. I don't know that I've ever read all of the Poirot mysteries, but I knew I had not read more than one Miss Marple mystery. I decided to rectify that, and this was the handiest title available at the library when I made that decision.

Close friends of Miss Marple's awake one morning to the discovery of the dead body of a young woman in their library. Police suspicions naturally fall on the man of the house to begin with, and the lady of the house calls on Miss Marple to help solve the crime and confirm her husband's innocence.

I enjoyed Miss Marple more than I would have expected when I was a young lady. Agatha Christie writes enjoyable mysteries. Presumably you are already familiar with her work, so, if you like Christie's books, you'll probably like The Body in the Library. If you don't like her books, you won't like this one either.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Welcome to Fred by Brad Whittington

Welcome to Fred is a short, comic, crisis-of-faith, coming-of-age Christian novel.

When the book opens, Mark Cloud, the first-person narrator, is settling his father's estate, putting him in a nostalgic frame of mind. He finds a hand-written definition of "Adolescence: Insanity; a (hopefully) temporary period of emotional and mental imbalance. Symptoms: mood swings, melancholia, rampant idealism, insolvency. Subject takes everything too seriously, especially himself. Causes: parents, raging hormones. Known Cures: longevity, homicide. Antidotes: levity, Valium." This launches him into narrating his own adolescence in Fred, Texas to us.

I enjoyed this book and would recommend it to those who enjoy reading comic Christian novels. The narrator uses big words throughout, which I appreciated most of the time, but which sometimes seemed a little too big.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Sunday Sampler

Psalm 111: "Praise the LORD! I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation. Great are the works of the LORD, studied by all who delight in them. Full of splendor and majesty is his work, and his righteousness endures forever. He has caused his wondrous works to be remembered; the LORD is gracious and merciful. He provides food for those who fear him; he remembers his covenant forever. He has shown his people the power of his works, in giving them the inheritance of the nations. The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy; they are established forever and ever, to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness. He sent redemption to his people;he has commanded his covenant forever. Holy and awesome is his name! The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever!"

Selections from All Things for Good, by Thomas Watson:

"What a blessed condition is a true believer in! When he dies, he goes to God: and while he lives, everything shall do him good. Affliction is for his good. What hurt does the fire to the gold? It only purifies it. What hurt does the fan to the corn? It only separates the chaff from it."

"God never uses His staff, but to beat out the dust."

"Poverty shall starve our sins; sickness shall make grace more helpful. Reproach shall cause 'the Spirit of God and of glory to rest upon us.' Death shall stop the bottle of tears, and open the gate of Paradise. A believer's dying day is his ascension day to glory. Hence it is, the saints have put their afflictions in the inventory of their riches."

"God sweetens suffering with joy…"

"To them that are godly, evil things work for good; to them that are evil, good things work for hurt."

"The common mercies wicked men have, are not loadstones to draw them nearer to God, but millstones to sink them deeper to hell."

"God enriches by impoverishing; He causes the augmentation of grace by the diminution of an estate."

"Through indiscreet passion, we are apt to find fault with things that happen: which is as if an illiterate man should censure philosophy, or a blind man find fault with the work in a landscape."

"Discontent is an ungrateful sin, because we have more mercies than afflictions; and it is an irrational sin, because afflictions work for good."

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Sunday Sampler

"God is our Fortress To the Choirmaster. Of the Sons of Korah. According to Alamoth. A Song. Psalm 46. God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns. The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah. Come, behold the works of the LORD, how he has brought desolations on the earth. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the chariots with fire. "Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!" The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah."

I am now reading All Things for Good by Thomas Watson, an exposition of Romans 8:28: "We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose." Here are some quotes from his book:

"If it is good for us, we shall have it; if it is not good for us, then the withholding of it is good."

"The mercies of God make a sinner proud, but a saint humble. The mercies of God have a melting influence upon the soul; they dissolve it in love to God. God's judgments make us fear Him, His mercies make us love Him."

"Why should a Christian destroy himself? Why should he kill himself with care, when all things shall sweetly concur, yea, conspire for his good?"

"…and here we shall show that both the best things and the worst things work for their good."

"How is a weak Christian able, not only to endure affliction, but to rejoice in it? He is upheld by the arms of the Almighty."

"The power of God subdues our corruptions. 'He will subdue our iniquities' Micah 7:19."

"He shows mercy, not because we deserve mercy, but because He delights in mercy."

"(The Lord's Supper) is an emblem of the marriage-supper of the Lamb."

"When a Christian is weak, and can hardly pray for himself, Jesus Christ is praying for him; and He prays for three things. First, that the saints may be kept from sin…Second, for His people's progress in holiness…Third, for their glorification."

"Christ comes, and picks away the weeds, the sin of our prayer, and presents nothing but flowers to His Father, which are a sweet smelling savor."

"Or as in a watch, the wheels seem to move contrary one to another, but all carry on the motions of the watch: so things that seem to move cross to the godly, yet by the wonderful providence of God work for their good."

"No vessel can be made of gold without fire; so it is impossible that we should be made vessels of honor, unless we are melted and refined in the furnace of affliction."

Friday, January 10, 2014

Listen by Rene Gutteridge

What happens when gossip goes too far? Rene Gutteridge explores an answer to that question in this book. A website pops up on which private conversations have been typed up and can be viewed by anybody. Anger erupts, and a small town with a spotless record (it's been a good 20 years since a serious crime has been committed in it) exposes its violent side.

I appreciated that the characters seemed believable, and there were tiny details of daily life included that set the scene, and could sometimes bring a chuckle. I appreciated that the problems were not too tidily solved and wrapped up. But, this book was not as suspenseful and thrilling as the other book by Rene Gutteridge which I've read, Misery Loves Company, and it was a bit more preachy (a novelized sermon against gossip).

I did not enjoy it as much as Misery Loves Company. I would neither recommend it, nor against it. I do not regret reading it. I am willing to read other books by Rene Gutteridge.

Lie Down in Green Pastures, The Psalm 23 Mysteries by Debbie Viguie

I didn't expect much of this book because I thought the title was a bit hokey, and because I was recently disappointed in a different Christian mystery I read. I was pleasantly surprised by this book. This is the third Psalm 23 Mystery, and I will be searching out the other two.

The writing was good, the plot engaging but not too quickly moving (I still very much have Relentless in mind when I write that). The characters were interesting and quirky. The two main sleuths are a Rabbi, and a church secretary from a church that sits next door to the Rabbi's synagogue. The whole situation was a bit far-fetched, but the way the characters behaved in the situation seemed believable, and the author refrained from making things too tidy. In other words, her characters had flaws, which is good.

The Rabbi, Jeremiah, is on his way to work one morning when he is rear-ended. He glances in the rearview mirror at the driver of the other car as the accident is about to happen, and thinks "He's already dead!" The church secretary, Cindy, is the first person on the scene to lend aid. Cindy proves to be very tenacious at tracking down the truth.

My only disappointment with the book was the rapidity with which the bad guy confessed to the crimes. Aside from that, I thoroughly enjoyed the book. I was pleased that there was more of a mystery and more solving of that mystery than in Good, Clean Murder (the mystery that disappointed me recently). There was more depth. The only hokey-ness was the rapidity of the confession. There was no smut.

I would recommend it to readers of mysteries.

Relentless by Robin Parrish

I was excited to read Relentless because I really enjoyed reading Offworld by Robin Parrish. Relentless disappointed me though.

A man steps off the bus one morning on his way to work, only to see himself across the block. How can this be? He starts to follow himself, only to catch sight of his own reflection. He is not the man he was when he woke up! How can that be? Through a series of events, he comes to understand that he has undergone The Shift. But why? Why him? Who did this to him? Are there are other shifted people out there?

This book moved rapidly, from one significant change to another significant change. I would have preferred to have a few more pages with each change to digest and absorb and ponder what the newest revelations meant. But my biggest problem with the frequent changes was that I did not know whom I could trust. With every new revelation, my opinions of all the characters shifted, and that made me uncomfortable. I couldn't root for anyone, not longer than for a couple pages, at any rate.

I made it to the end of the book, but I will not follow up by reading the other books in this trilogy. I won't even recommend it, though I suppose there is a certain type of reader who would like it. I am willing to try some other title by Robin Parrish.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Sunday Sampler

Today I finished reading Christianity and Liberalism by J. Gresham Machen. Here are some selections from that book which I thought were important:

"According to the Christian conception, a creed is not a mere expression of Christian experience, but on the contrary it is a setting forth of those facts upon which experience is based."

"If Christ provides only a part of our salvation, leaving us to provide the rest, then we are still hopeless under the load of sin."

"'Christ died' - that is history; 'Christ died for our sins' - that is doctrine. Without these two elements, joined in an absolutely indissoluble union, there is no Christianity."

"The narration of the facts is history; the narration of the facts with the meaning of the facts is doctrine."

"Here is found the most fundamental difference between liberalism and Christianity - liberalism is altogether in the imperative mood, while Christianity begins with a triumphant indicative; liberalism appeals to man's will, while Christianity announces, first, a gracious act of God."

I am in Job in my Bible reading right now. Which Christian could fail to love this passage?

"For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another." Job 19:25-27

This time around I was struck by the context of these verses. Job is proclaiming his innocence against the false accusations of his 'comforters.' He here claims a Redeemer, implying that his innocence is not his originally but has been given to him, and he here maintains his complete confidence in his Redeemer. May God give to us a faith like Job's, a faith in the goodness of God.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

CREATE: Stop Making Excuses and Start Making Stuff, by Stephen Altrogge

CREATE is a short, swift kick in the pants to stop offering excuses and to get started creating. Stephen Altrogge is a pastor and firmly roots his advice in the Scriptures, pointing out that Christians have their identity in Christ and therefore do not need to fret about their identity as creative artists, and that Christians are accepted by God the Father because they are in union with God the Son and therefore do not need to fret about popularity with a human audience.

Pastor Altrogge offers such sage advice as get started, plod along, short but consistent periods of creativity trump infrequent outbursts of creativity, be okay with being okay, and serve others with your creative gifts (in this his book reminded me of Edith Schaeffer's Hidden Art of Homemaking). He quotes from Douglas Wilson, Anne Lamott, and Stephen King, among others.

I would recommend this book to people who wannabe creative, no matter their area of creativity, but who haven't quite launched yet, who are still dithering about whether, and when, and how.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

A Few More Books I Read in 2013, But Forgot When I Blogged Yesterday

Over the course of this last year I lost the habit of immediately recording the titles and authors of books I finish. I am sad at this. It had been my habit for 12 years before I lost it. One result is that I didn't actually blog about all the books I read in 2013 when I wrote up yesterday's list. I also read:

The last three volumes in Susan Wise Bauer's The Story of the World. I read the first one in 2012. I read these out loud to my children for their history curriculum last school year. I do like them. I like narrative history. However, in my opinion, they do not rise to the same level as Olive Beaupre Miller's A Picturesque Tale of Progress. I think the best possible course is to read both of these narrative history series, but if you can only choose one, go with A Picturesque Tale of Progress.

I read The Wonder Clock by Howard Pyle. I can't say enough in praise of Howard Pyle's beautiful use of the English language. It is almost as lyrical as Shakespeare. Almost. I love reading his writings out loud to my little children. It often takes me a little while to adjust to his different rhythms.

I read A Cast of Stones by Patrick W. Carr, the first in a series called The Staff and the Sword. I received this as a review copy, but never offered my review, as a result of which I stopped accepting review copies. This was a very exciting fantasy novel. I would highly recommend it to readers of fantasy.

I read The Trouble with Islam Today: A Muslim's Call for Reform in Her Faith by Irshad Manji. Ms. Manji is a Muslim lesbian, a combination I did not expect to encounter. In this book, she details problems she sees with Islam. At the end she decides to remain Muslim, but with the hope that Islam will work out these problems she has identified. I found it an eye-opening book and recommend it to people who like to read about Islam.

I read all three books in the Call the Midwife series by Jennifer Worth. I liked them, but found the description of prostitution hard to read. With that one caveat, I would recommend these books to people interested in birth stories and mid-century Britain.

I read The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. This was a sad and hard read, but in the end a hopeful book. It was an impressive debut novel.

I read The Self-Propelled Advantage by Joanne Calderwood. This was a good read. I would recommend it to home schooling mothers who feel pressured to provide every atom of their children's education.

These are all the books I've recalled reading last year since I wrote yesterday. They bring my total up to 75 books for 2013. I would like to reach 100 in 2014. I've never done that many in a year, since I started keeping track.

Books Begun But Not Completed in 2013

This is an odd list, perhaps, but one I thought I might enjoy writing. Even just a few years ago I could not set aside a book. I could not. It was almost a physical impossibility. I had older reading friends who would set aside books with abandon (maybe not with abandon, but to my OCD must-read-every-word-printed-in-every-book-I-pick-up eyes, it seemed like it). I was aghast at those older friends. Now that I am growing older, I find it not only possible but sometimes even advisable to set aside books I've started. I also merely skim some books, rather than reading them deeply. I can hardly believe how much I've changed. I hope for the better.

I started Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. I never thought I would start this book, and I probably wouldn't have, if it hadn't been for the gentle but continued urging of a reading friend over the course of a couple years. Even after I borrowed it from her it took me a couple months before I opened the book. Then my husband saw me reading it and asked me not to. I stopped reading to honor him. Sadly, I was far enough in to the book to have begun to care about the characters.

I started reading Little Britches by Ralph Moody out loud to my children. I started it twice. I haven't finished it once. This is a book that receives high reviews from other home schooling families. My own children really enjoyed the limited part they got to hear. I, however, simply could not get enough into it to continue reading it. If I don't enjoy a book enough, I won't keep reading it out loud. Sadly, I have not started reading another book out loud to them since setting aside Little Britches the second time. Poor children. Next week, next week.

I started reading Lorna Doone: A Romance of Exmoor by Richard Doddridge Blackmore. A reading friend encouraged me to try this book, and I was about halfway through it, enjoying it. Everything was going swimmingly. Until my Kindle acted up and wouldn't let me access it for a long time, long enough that when I did get to return to Exmoor I couldn't decide whether to pick up where I left off, or begin again at the beginning. Now it has been long enough that I intend to try again, from the beginning, this time with a hard copy that the reading friend generously loaned to me.

I started into two separate Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell mysteries by Laurie R. King. I just did not cotton to them. I was sad about this, because I thoroughly enjoyed the first such mystery about Sherlock Holmes and his wife Mary Russell that I read, which involved a movie set for the Pirates of Penzance.

I started reading The Awakened City by Arturo Miriello, Volume One of Swords of Men and Angels. I wanted to like this one, but the first several pages were rife with grammatical and syntactical errors. I could not go on.

I started reading Saving Leonardo by Nancy Pearcy. I think I need to give this one another try. I think I wasn't thinking deeply enough about what I was reading in the book when I started it, giving it cursory but not deliberate and intense attention.

I started "Don't Make Me Count to Three!" by Ginger Plowman. I had long wanted to read this book, but when I actually began it I decided the advice it contains is not advice I need. Doesn't that sound horribly arrogant of me?

I started Dark in the City of Light by Paul Robertson. I wanted to like this one, too. I suppose, in a sense, I want to like all the books I start. If I didn't want to like them, I wouldn't be likely to start them, would I? I had a very difficult time following the action in the first few pages. I was lost.

There might have been others, too. These are the ones I can recall starting but not finishing. What about you? When do you not complete a book you start, and why?

The Midwife's Here! The Enchanting True Story of One of Britain's Longest Serving Midwives, by Linda Fairley

Linda Fairley began her training to become a nurse right out of high school. She nearly decided to give up on her dream of becoming a nurse about halfway through her training, when her Matron at the hospital steered her in the direction of becoming a midwife. Linda finished her training as a nurse as a prerequisite for training as a midwife. She went on to become one of Britain's longest serving midwives, spending more than 40 years as a midwife at the same hospital, Ashton General, later renamed Tameside.

This book details her three years training as a nurse, and a year training as a midwife. She has a gift for describing characters. Her mentor midwife is a hoot. Mrs. Fairley does not include salacious details, making her book an easier and more comfortable book to read than the Call the Midwife series of books (at least the section describing prostitution in detail). I would be comfortable allowing my children to read The Midwife's Here!, but not comfortable allowing them to read Call the Midwife.

I really enjoyed this book, and the glimpse of life in mid-century Britain it offers. I like reading birth stories, and it is interesting to reflect on how many practices have changed since the period the book talks about (such as the rate of breastfeeding). Mrs. Fairley has a sequel to this book, and I look forward to reading it.