Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Book Review - Jane Austen Sequels

I had a lot of good intentions to write on my blog more, but so far they've fallen by the wayside.  Which confession makes me feel especially like Emma Woodhouse right now.  Rather apropos since this post is about Jane Austen!  I've recently read some "sequels", or perhaps more accurately stated as Jane-Austen-from-a-different-angle books.  I quite enjoyed both of them - they were fun, light, quick reads.  As I only borrowed them from the library, I think I will have to watch out for them in the bookstore sometime so I can have them to re-read them at will later.  Anyway, without further ado - here are the reivews:

Mr. Darcy's Diary  by Amanda Grange
Amazon link

I wasn't sure what to expect when I picked up this book. I've seen a lot of both really positive and really negative reviews. As to whether someone will like it or not, I think it really boils down to your expectation. We all have our own opinions, ideas, and expectations for exactly who each character is, how they should act or not act, and what is an acceptable outcome for them. If the books lines up fairly well with your personal opinion of the characters, it will likely be enjoyable. But that's such an individual qualification that it's impossible to make a blanket statement on whether or not someone else will really enjoy it like you do.

I personally really enjoyed this book. I loved getting some more insight into other characters and "watching" Pride and Prejudice from a different angle. For the most part, I thought the characters stayed true to my idea of who they are. The writing is definitely not Jane Austen, but then, it's not supposed to be. 

I enjoyed "getting to know" Mr. Darcy better. It was fascinating to see his character grow through the book and to see the life and energy that Elizabeth gave to his life. He stayed true to who I think he is - a gentleman raised and confined in a certain level of society that led to his pride, yet with a caring and tender nature for those close to him, someone who seems aloof but realizes the great need for laughter and fun to lighten one's life a little. I felt like he changed his opinions a little too suddenly to fit his character (he had several "lightbulb" moments) but it wasn't major enough to hurt my enjoyment. I felt that he mentioned Elizabeth a little too much perhaps in relation to his other activities, but then again, he is a man infatuated/in love. My least favorite part in the movie was his first proposal to Elizabeth. It goes into much more detail than either the book or the movies and frankly, I thought it was horrible. I know it's meant to be arrogant and proud, but I thought it was overdone here.

Charles and Caroline Bingley fit my ideas of them almost exactly, with Caroline being a little more bitter and acidic than is evident in P&P. Lady Catherine was all pomp and arrogance. Georgiana was a little more shy and timid than I imagine her to be, and the scene at the beginning was rather awkward and almost laughable to me. But her character really blossomed at the end. Wickham is just as base as ever, though I was a little surprised by how base and moral-less Lydia was shown to be. I had always seen her as more vain and naive. I was delighted to see more of Colonel Fitzwilliam as I dearly loved him in P&P and was always wanting to know more about him. I was most surprised by Anne de Bourgh - her character turned out quite different than I ever imagined or is ever shown in the movies, but in the end I enjoyed seeing her in a different light. Overall, I loved the book and seeing a beloved story from a different angle.

Mr. Knightley's Diary by Amanda Grange
Amazon link

I think it's worth repeating that what your personal opinions and ideas are about these beloved characters - who they are and how they should act - will tell whether or not you enjoy the book. 

I had more misgivings about this book than the one on Mr. Darcy. Emma happens to be my favorite Jane Austen novel and I feel few people have done it true justice. So I was rather anxious to see what the author would do with this book. Overall, I enjoyed it. It was a nice, light, quick read. I will say that because of the very limited perspective of this book as opposed to Austen, since this is only from the vantage point of Mr. Knightley, it is a rather slow and dull read until about a third into it when the crisis with Mr. Elton comes to a head. 

In my mind, there wasn't enough new information or a new side of Mr. Knightley to be found as there was with Mr. Darcy. I don't feel that I learned anything new about him or his character. I feel though that Mr. Knightley's character was perhaps more developed and propounded on than other leads of Austen's, so there wasn't as much new insight to offer. I was a little troubled by Mr. Knightley's desire and looking around for a wife. That seemed rather out of character to me. I also thought his dislike of Frank Churchill didn't start soon enough compared to Austen's description. But otherwise, I thought he remained fairly well in the character that I think of him. I particularly enjoyed his dawning realization of his love for Emma and his blindness of Harriet's "attachment" to him. It was charming to watch him fall in love, or rather, awaken to see his love for Emma. 

All the other characters I felt were represented very close to character. I was surprised to find several new characters introduced in the story who played some minor, but not insignificant roles. I can't quite decide if I like it or not, but as it caused a happy ending for another character in the story I don't think I'll begrudge the addition. One always likes happy endings.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Book Review - The King's Daughter

"The King's Daughter" by Pansy (Isabella MacDonald Alden)

When Dell's mother died, she was raised by her uncle and aunt in Boston in a strong Christian and temperance home.  After years away from home, she's called back to help her father with the housework.  Her father runs a hotel and saloon in a run down, dreary town.  Even though Dell is the daughter of a liquor seller, she works incessantly for the temperance movement.  This book is the story or her work, her setbacks and discouragement, and ultimately her faith that brought her though it all.  It's a great story and wonderful encouragement if you're dealing with very challenging circumstances that don't seem to change.  However it ends feeling unfinished and you're told that the story continues in another book.  After digging around a little, I believe the semi-sequel is called "Wise and Otherwise".  (which, if you've read more of Pansy's books, is also the sequel to the book "Julia Reid")  That being said - there's a major concern with the book.

This book focuses on the temperance movement.  However, it goes beyond a strong stance on temperance to being very legalistic about it.  A large part of the movement revolved around signing the total abstinence pledge.  It was made to seem almost as a judgement of your salvation as to whether you signed it or not.  This is concerning because your salvation doesn't rest on whether you sign a pledge or drink or not.  And your salvation isn't dependent on whether or not you become drunk afterwards.  The author often seemed to view drinking of alcohol and drunkenness as the same thing.  This isn't an accurate or biblical perspective as the Bible doesn't condemn all drinking.  There was a lot of judgmentalism coming from Dell concerning her strong temperance views, and also some less than gracious attitudes at times.  She was very passionate about her beliefs - a very admirable quality - however it can be very uncomfortable when you see it used for something extra-biblical and legalistic.  I have a personal commitment to not drink alcohol so I appreciate aspects of the temperance movement and I generally think it's a wise thing to follow.  I was just disappointed and uncomfortable to see the undue emphasis that was placed upon it in this book.  It's still a good book - I would definitely say it's worth reading if you can look beyond the legalism.  But if it's your first time to read a Pansy book, I'd recommend starting elsewhere.  My personal favorite is "Four Girls at Chautauqua".

Monday, April 9, 2012

Book Review - Forever

"Forever: Why You Can't Live Without It" by Paul Tripp

I bought this book at the Liberate Conference in Ft. Lauderdale.  (the bookstore at the conference had me drooling all over the place!)  Having gone through loss, Heaven and forever is suddenly a big topic of interest for me so the book and it's description really grabbed my attention.

The book is about forever - eternity - and how our view of it impacts our lives.  Most notably that we don't even think about it at all in our day to day existence.  We have, as the author frequently states, "eternity amnesia".  The book describes our neglect of eternity and how that neglect shapes the way we think and how we live.  It was very eye-opening for me.  I had no idea how vast and deep a difference having and living with a right perspective of eternity makes on your everyday life.  We generally acknowledge that our understanding of forever affects our view of death and loss, but how many of us really think that it also affects our frustrations, broken relationships, or our sense of identity?

Starting from a biblical foundation and understanding of eternity, Mr. Tripp takes us on a spiritual journey to flesh out all the ways forever shapes our lives.  We come to see how much we struggle when we live only with the here and now in view, and then see how much life and freedom there is in viewing life from Heaven's vantage point.  This book is deeply practical because it digs down into your heart, to the beliefs that root your life and your thoughts.  By focusing on the heart, you get to the heart of the problem and not just the affects of the problem. I found this book to be immensely encouraging, comforting, and challenging.  I absolutely loved it and wrote down lots of quotes that really touched my heart.  I rarely ever re-read books because I have so many new books to delve into, but this most certainly is a book that I want to read again.  It has a message I desperately needed to hear and one I definitely need to keep hearing as I fight the constant battle of living for forever against the here and now of a broken world.

To close, I wanted to post a few of my favorites quotes from the book - this is just a sampling of the wonderful teaching in the book!

Many of us treat the here and now as a destination. Whatever our confessional theology says about eternity, at the functional level we live as if this is all there is.  We live with a destination mentality instead of a preparation mentality. (p. 34)

As we begin to realize that in this broken world we cannot look for reliable hope horizontally, we are at the edge of what we were designed to do: hope in God.  And as we begin to place our hope in God, we get connected to the promise of eternity, where all that is broken will be fixed and made new again.  And as we do this, we look at life in a radically new way.  We no longer ask the broken people, places, and things to be the source of our hope.  We know they can't be, because they are broken and in need of renewal just like we are. (p.100)

When you look back on life from eternity, you begin to understand what you desperately need and what God is doing.  The result is a way of living that is different than you have ever known and a rest of heart that is more steadfast than you have ever experienced. (p.204)

Monday, March 5, 2012

Liberate - the Conference

A week and a half ago we went to the inaugural "Liberate" Conference in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. It was an absolutely amazing event! As part of my "processing process" (ie. I'm a slow thinker and it takes me awhile to process things ;)) I thought I would share about the conference here. I haven't quite decided *how* I will do that yet - whether just general remarks about the whole conference or sharing my notes and thoughts on most of the sessions... But something will be coming in the near future! (if you have a preference as to which would be most encouraging, let me know)

Book Review - Amazing Grace

"Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery" by Eric Metaxas

I recently saw a video of Mr. Metaxas' speech at the national prayer breakfast in Washington D.C. I really enjoyed what he had to say - how he was able to mix humor and truth. When I heard that he had written some books, I knew I had to check them out. This book on Wilberforce happened to be a much more manageable size than his one on Bonhoeffer so I chose to start here.

I found this book to be very well written and gripping. I read good chunks of it on a flight recently and had a hard time putting it down to step off the plane! Unlike the title may suggest, the material covers more than just Wilberforce's work on slavery. It's really a comprehensive biography of his life, his faith, and his two "great objects". I found it fascinating to see how people's lives intertwined during that era. William Carey met William Wilberforce and Wilberforce later led the charge to allow missionaries (and subsequently Christianity) to enter into India. The last letter John Wesley wrote was to Wilberforce, encouraging him in the long hard fight for abolition and emancipation.

When Wilberforce's father died, he was sent to live with his aunt and uncle who were Methodist. In this era, Methodism was looked on with disdain and Christianity in general was a dying religion. But his relatives exposed him to the teachings of George Whitefield and John Newton. In fact, John Newton became a close friend to Wilberforce who viewed him "as a parent when I was a child." Odd as it seems to us today, his mother was appalled at his turn to Methodism and tried to do all she could to bring him out of it. It worked and it wasn't until his early 20's and not too long after his entrance into Parliament that he truly came to faith in Christ.
He had lived so long for his own ambition that to live for God, as he now longed to do, was a foreign and strange proposition and would take time to work out. (p.63)
I found that sentiment to be very encouraging - sometimes it takes awhile for us to figure out how to live for God and what He'd have us do. As well as the following quote by Wilberforce's friend, William Pitt when Wilberforce was considering leaving government work after his conversion -
Surely the principles and practice of Christianity are simple and lead not to meditation only, but to action.

The book dealt openly and honestly with the slave trade and some of the atrocities that were committed in the trade. It was very heartbreaking to see the rampant devaluation of human life. Yet it caused me to think - what lives does our culture today devalue? And am I as grieved and broken over that sin as that which was committed years ago?

One of the fabulous things about well written biographies is that you feel like the person is your friend when you get to the end. I longed to hop on over across the sea and meet this incredible man of faith! One of the things I found intriguing about Wilberforce is his ability to speak passionately - to take a strong stand for truth - but to still speak with grace and kindness.
Wilberforce's faith had given him first and foremost a painful but very real knowledge of his own sinfulness, and when he now spoke, he did so with remarkable generosity and graciousness.

His faith impacted every area of his life. It not only affected his policies and practice in government, it affected his relationships and his life outside of his job.
He wrote that he look to God in this battle now 'for wisdom and strength and the power of persuasion, and may I surrender myself to him as to the event with perfect submission and ascribe to him all the praise if I succeed, and if I fail say from the heart they will be done.' (p.144)

Wilberforce would prepare lists of his friend's names and next to the entries make notes on how he might encourage them in their faith, if they had faith, and toward a faith if they still had none. (p. 164)

I found this book to be very encouraging and inspiring. Wilberforce's faith challenged me to press on in my faith and to pray for areas to be passionately on fire for God. I borrowed this book from the library, but loved it so much it will be on my list to buy soon!
The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses from all sin and there is the comfort which combines the deepest Humiliation with the firmest Hope.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Book Review - First Family

"First Family: Abigail and John Adams" by Joseph J. Ellis

This book offers a fascinating look into the lives, ambitions, and marriage of one of the foremost families of the Revolution era. I found it to be particularly fascinating because it isn't just a re-telling of their life - it offered a sort of "behind-the-scenes" look into their thoughts, attitudes, and motives through use of their copious amounts of letters and journals. As the reader, you aren't just walking through the events of their life, you're journeying into their heart. I also found the book to be very well-written - the words and thoughts flow so nicely together that it made reading both easy and very stimulating.

The book is about 250 pages with only seven chapters - so needless to say, the chapters can be lengthy. There are quite a few sub-headings in each chapter though so it's fairly easy to find a good stopping point. I haven't done much reading or studying on this family of the Revolution so I was very interested to learn more about them and they era they lived through.

One of the main currents of the book (because it was also the main current of their lives) was the preoccupation with fame. John Adams didn't care to have spiritual goals or be consumed with the pursuit of wealth.
"Mere worldly success in terms of wealth was never enough for him; indeed, it was actually dangerous, since wealth inevitably corrupted men and nations by undermining the disciplined habits that produced the wealth in the first place. Making wealth your primary goal, as he saw it, was symptomatic of a second-rate mind destined to die rich but unfulfilled."
Instead of pursuing wealth, John wanted fame. He wanted to be acknowledged as one of the key leaders of the Revolution and founding of this new country. He adamantly considered himself to be such and took issue with anyone who tried to lessen or demean his impact on history. He spent his entire life grasping after what he never could attain - partially because his reputation was damaged by self-centered, egotistical pursuit of his own fame. That passion also took a turn into angry, almost malicious writing when he came across people who either stood in his way or demeaned his impact on society. On his "villians" list were such notable persons as Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, and Thomas Jefferson. (though he later reconciled with Jefferson near the end of his life)
It was sad to see his relationship with his children. He was away most of their formative years and without the benefit of modern communication, they lacked a strong bond and friendship. His children lacked his fatherly guidance through much of their young lives. His two younger sons, though showing early promise, ended their lives in dissolution and lost to alcoholism. All the weight of carrying on both his father's mantle of fame and the great family name and legacy rode on the shoulders of their oldest son, John Quincy. Ironically, late in his life, the elder John Adams tried to dissuade his son from following in his footsteps that had led to such turmoil and dissatisfaction - but by then it was too late.

I found the look into Abigail Adam's life quite intriguing. She wasn't confined to society's views of women. She was very educated and well-read for her day and she kept up with and understood politics better than most men of her day. She was an apt helpmate for John, readily able to understand and discuss any policy or opinion of the day. They were true partners together. She also tempered his personality when they were together - she knew how to handle his rantings and oftentimes overly-hard pursuit of fame and a good name. At the same time, Abigail fully embraced her role as wife and mother. She readily accepted her domestic duties and had to run both the family and her household and farm while John was away. At the same time, she never lost her opinionated mind or her personal independence that led her to do things her own way and not always be dictated to by society. While her parenting may not have been the best and her family later fell apart, I found her ability to fully embrace her roles as homemaker and wife while still retaining her personal opinions and individuality to be a great example.

My favorite quote from the book came from Abigail Adams.
"My pen is always freer than my tongue, for I have written many things to you that I suppose I never would have talked."
As an introverted, reflective person that quote really resonated with me. I've often said similar things. If I didn't have the ability to communicate through written word, there would be a lot that I would simply find very difficult or impossible to communicate. For some reason it's easier to write than to talk for me. So I enjoyed that quote - I'm going to have to put it somewhere!

In ending, I really enjoyed this book. It goes much deeper than regular biographies by digging into who they really were and why they were like that while at the same time giving you plenty of information about all the various events that were taking place and shaping their lives. It was a fascinating look into John and Abigail's life and the Revolutionary era and beyond that they helped mold. I would highly recommend this book.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Book Review - William Carey

"William Carey: Father of Modern Missions" by Sam Wellman (part of the Heroes of the Faith series)

I picked this up to read even though it's a pre-teen/teen level biography. I've seen this series at homeschool bookfairs for years so I thought I'd give it a try.

I enjoyed this book for what it was. It is pretty well written and easy to read. It was a nice broad overview of William Carey's life, but being a pre-teen book, didn't stay too heavily on the details. I enjoy a lot of in depth details about people's lives, so this book felt more like an appetizer rather than an entree. Also because it's geared toward a younger crowd, I thought some things were over simplified and over-interpreted. (for example, there are lots of made-up/hypothetical conversations) The author was able to keep my interest throughout the book and I really enjoyed getting a look at this great man of faith. My interest in Carey's life has been piqued. I will be on the watch now for a biography that delves a little further and deeper into his story and his unique and pioneering ministry.