Saturday, February 25, 2017

Review: Anne of Green Gables

Book: Anne of Green Gables by L.M. (Lucy Maud) Montgomery
Prompt: Read a book with a female heroine
Pages: 308

When my sister and I were little, we were OBSESSED with the 1980s movies Anne of Green Gables and Anne of Avonlea (also known as Anne of Green Gables: The Sequel) and the corresponding TV show Road to Avonlea.  I don't remember reading the book, however.  In any case, I had a beat up hand-me-down copy of the book on my bookshelf, so I added it to this list for nostalgic reasons.  That turned out to be a wise choice.

Anne tells the story of the charming eponymous orphan, who by mistake is sent to live with middle-aged siblings Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert.  As we soon learn, "mistake" might very well be Anne's middle name.  The starry-eyed dreamer finds herself in numerous scrapes and mishaps, from baking a cake without flour (due to daydreaming) to nearly drowning while acting out Tennyson's "Lancelot and Elaine" (due to a leaky boat).  I literally laughed out loud numerous times while reading Anne, and that is something I rarely do, at least with books.

But Anne is as much a story about Anne's mishaps as it is her story of growing up.  I think lots of us can commiserate with Anne when she is mocked for her bright red hair, even if we were never mocked about our hair specifically.  Even if you didn't have bright red hair and freckles, or have to cling to the piles of a bridge to avoid drowning, or crack a slate over someone's head because they called you a name, we most - if not all - of us have experienced something similar.  And that is why Anne - both the character and the book - is such an enduring favorite.  She's not us - but she is us at the same time.  Anne is a novel about real life that is still relevant today, 100+ years later, and without feeling dated.  Montgomery writes about her characters with such warmth and energy that they feel like family.  Maybe it's the nostalgia talking, but I feel like I know Anne and Marilla and Gilbert and Diana and Matthew.  

I hadn't gotten halfway through Anne when I had to order the complete series.  I look forward to reading the other seven/eight books in the series. (The box set I got only has eight books, including Anne, but many people consider The Blythes Are Quoted/The Road to Yesterday as the ninth book in the series.  And then there are Chronicles of Avonlea and Further Chronicles of Avonlea that take place in the same universe, but feature Anne and the others mostly in the background.  In case you were wondering.)  I also found the 1980s movies again (thanks, random poster on YouTube who has probably had his account suspended already!) and had to watch them again. (On that note, skip The Continuing Story, the third movie.  It's not that great, and doesn't fit the timeline).

Recommendation: Read it, read it, read it!  Read it, and read the rest of the books, and watch the 1980s movies.  I loved it, and I think you will too!  Unless you don't have a soul.  And/or a heart.  Then you might not like it.  But I think everyone who has a heart and a soul will like it.  How could they do otherwise?

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Review: The Secret Keeper

Book: The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton
Prompt: Read a book you learned about from this challenge
Pages: 496

I found this book when looking at tags of this challenge from Instagram.  So quite literally, I learned about this book from the 26 Books Challenge.

In any case, Kate Morton's The Secret Keeper is a tripartite story focusing primarily on three women: Laurel, Dorothy, and Vivien.  In 2011, Laurel is taking care of her dying mother, Dorothy.  Meanwhile, she is trying to find out about her mother's life during World War II and how it links to the mysterious man that her mother killed in self-defense when Laurel was 16.  The other two stories take place in the years leading up to and including the London Blitz.  It isn't easy to have a cohesive story with three different heroines (much less, switching back and forth between them), but Morton does it with ease and a much-appreciated lack of disjointedness.

I don't want to spoil any plot details, but let me just say that this book contains one whopper of a plot twist.  I didn't see it coming, and I think even the most savvy reader could easily be blinded by it as well.  I think I literally said, "What?!" when I got to that part.

But the thing about that plot twist is that it doesn't feel forced at all.  Looking back, I can see how I as the reader made assumptions about what was meant or implied by a character or narration but how something else entirely was meant.  I hate hate hate when plot twists or major plot developments feel forced or like a stunt (*cough*Divergent series*cough*).  But that's not what happened here.

Now, for something more amusing.  Kate Morton is an Aussie, and this book takes place in England, with English characters.  I never fully believed in the "two (or three) people separated by a common language" joke about American English vs. British English (and, I think, vs. Australian English) until I read this book.  Besides the numerous food and drink types and brands that I didn't recognize (Spangles, Anzac biscuits, billy tea, etc.), I had to look up words like chilblains, truncheon, kirby grips, tommies, haversack, fine fettle, het up, and silverside.  I also learned that "my shout" means "my treat" and court shoes are tennis shoes/sneakers.  But by far the funniest was when a character was described as having "a ladder in her stockings."  By the time I got past the hilarious mental image of a 12-foot ladder being in her stockings, I realized that it meant she had a run in her stockings.  In any case, I found it amusing.

Recommendation: Read it!  It is long, and the pacing is a bit slow, but it is well worth the read!  I wouldn't recommend it for anyone who isn't maybe a junior in high school or older due to some adult content.  It's not terribly mature content, but it is a little risque.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Review: Onward: Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel

Book: Onward: Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel by Russell Moore
Prompt: Read a book you pick solely because of its cover
Pages: 224

First, the cover.  I mean, the cover is why I picked this book for the 26 Books Challenge.  You see the front cover above.  But what is really cool about this cover is the inside-dust jacket cover.  Check it out!

I love love love this quote!

I first learned of Russell Moore last year, when then-candidate Donald Trump called him 
“truly a terrible representative of Evangelicals and all of the good they stand for. A nasty guy with no heart!”  Needless to say, I had to find out who this evangelical leader who drew Trump's ire was.  And I loved that after the fact, Moore added "nasty guy with no heart" to his Twitter bio - that cracked me up!  (PSA: For the mental and emotional well-being of myself and everyone who might be reading this, I will refrain from discussing Trump further.)

In Onward, Moore shares what he thinks American Christians need to do to "keep Christianity strange."  The crux of his argument is that Christianity's uniqueness from secular culture is what draws people to it.  And that makes sense: why would people see the need to join a religion if the people in the religion are exactly like them?  Most American Christians would agree that the culture is rapidly moving further and further away from the values expressed in the Bible.  You'd be hard-pressed to find anyone in the realm of Christian thinking that disagrees with that.  But where Moore differs from many of his contemporaries is on the question as to whether we were ever really a Christian nation after all.

Sure, we were founded on Judeo-Christian principles, and many of our founders were Christians, to varying levels of devoutness.  But a "moral majority" does not equal a Christian one.  Indeed, the fact that many churches, especially in the South, refused to speak out against slavery or the resulting Jim Crow laws, or reassigned those who did.  My dad went to tech school with the Air Force in Biloxi in the 60s.  A local Methodist preacher spoke out in support of the civil rights movement and against segregation and was promptly transferred to a church in the north.  But I digress.

In several chapters, Moore exposes the conflation of Christian values (or cultural Christianity, if you will) and a political solution.  As Christians, it's fine to be engaged politically and to work for political ideas and solutions.  What is not okay is to elevate politics - or politicians - to the same level as Jesus.  For me, that is part of what was so disappointing about this last presidential cycle.  In some cases, people threw away their beliefs - or worse, their consciences - for political expediency.  But again, I digress.

Moore proclaims that "We can be Americans best if we are not Americans first."  That is, we can best serve our country if we regard Jesus as more important than the United States.  If we serve King Jesus before we serve the federal government, our country is best served.  If we carry forth those beliefs in inherent human dignity - of all people, no matter what their life circumstances - and freedom and kindness and selflessness and so much more, the country will be better for it.

Recommendation: As you may be able to tell, I loved this book.  It gave me so much to think about, especially as I've been ruminating on many related topics through the course of the last year or more with the recent presidential election.  It's well worth a read, and is, compared to other books like it, comparatively easy without being shallow.  Read it!