International Travel Through Literature: The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series

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“The quality of the idea, the skill of the plot, the depth of the characterization, the distinctive style of the author – that’s the best I can do by way of defining a good book. When you find one, you recognize it.” Gladys Hunt, Honey for A Child’s Heart

One of the primary reasons I read fiction and go to the movies is so that I can travel. Vicariously of course. I used to actually go to foreign places: Brasil, Honduras, Israel, to name a few. Now I am bound to American soil with many responsibilities so I “go places” through books and film. Recently, one of my favorite literary trips has been to Botswana, Africa.

The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency is a series set in this southern African country and first published in 2007. The first book in the series, entitled The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency starts a wonderful journey into the fascinating world of memorable and humorous characters.

The series is fairly slow-paced, avoids gruesome descriptions of murders, and does not thrill with conspiracies and thwarting “take-over-the-world” type villains. However, it is appealing because it takes the reader deep into the world of cultural Botswana.

Bestselling author Alexander McCall Smith, born in Zimbabwe and a law professor in Scotland, worked for a time in the setting where he helped set up a law school at the University of Botswana.

Though not necessarily a series only for women, the main character, Precious Ramotswe, is a middle-aged woman who opens a detective agency because “a woman sees more than a man sees”. In her own words, Mma Ramotswe claims: “It is my duty to help…. my brothers and sisters…solve the mysteries in their lives. That is what I am called to do.” (The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, p. 4)

One of the cultural treasures I received from these stories is how Mma Ramotswe and her rich cast of supporting characters show the universal need for kindness and courtesy in human relationships. My teenage daughters and I greet each other in the morning now with the customary Batswanan words: “Have you slept well, Mma?” a greeting that is used whatever time of day a stranger, acquaintance or friend is encountered.

To my delight, Alexander McCall Smith is a prolific author.  He continues to write stories in this lovely series.

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A film adaptation, directed by Anthony Minghella, and produced by the Weinstein Company, premiered on HBO in March 2009. I am frustrated that nothing more has been produced, since this first effort was excellent! Jill Scott is wonderfully cast as Mma Ramotse.

Categories: Chick lit, Humorous, Inspiration, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

Lark Rise to Candleford: Food for the Soul

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I invite you to enjoy this guest post by my dear friend and college roommate, Wendy Robinson of Virginia:

Lark Rise to Candleford is part memoir, part history, and a lovely tale of growing up in the English countryside. The volume contains three books: Lark Rise, Over to Candleford, and Candleford Green.

The story celebrates all the tiny details of nature, first through a child’s eyes and later through those of a young woman. The author, Flora Thompson, relished and observed all the little things in the hedgerows, and in the woods, and in village life before the turn of the century. She understood this village life on an intimate level, both the harshness of poverty, having lived alongside it, and the beauty of its industrious, self-sufficient inhabitants, and she wrote beautiful descriptions of the surrounding landscapes and farms that tie the book together like a thread.

It begins in a hamlet called Lark Rise where a young girl named Laura lives with her brother in the ‘end house’:

“Looking at the hamlet from a distance, one house would have been seen, a little apart, and turning its back on its neighbors, as though about to run away into the fields. It was a small grey stone cottage, with a thatched roof, a green-painted door and a plum tree trained up the wall to the eaves.”

Laura’s world moves from this isolated hamlet to the larger town of Candleford and eventually to a village called Candleford Green as we see her become a young woman through the three stories.

This was a time when men worked on the land, sang at their work and, for the most part, enjoyed their labor:

“There was a good deal of outdoor singing in those days. Workmen sang at their jobs; men with horses and carts sang on the road … even the doctor and parson hummed a tune between their teeth. People were poorer and had not the comforts, amusements, or knowledge we have to-day; but they were happier. Which seems to suggest that happiness depends more upon the state of mind — and body, perhaps — than upon circumstances and events.”

For modern day readers it is a beautiful picture of life right on the edge of the Industrial Revolution. On this side of it, we see all that we have lost. For an older reader like myself it is to be reminded of my own grandmother’s stories from her childhood only a few decades removed from Laura’s. I was surprised to see that many of the songs and games the children played were the same ones Grandma taught us. She also told similar tales of the wild outdoor freedom and responsibilities (and dangers) that children enjoyed – and today’s children may never know. I was blessed to grow up in a small semi-rural town where it was safe to explore the woods and meadows, and I love this book because it took me back to those memories. In these living history essays, you may even be able to trace shades of the old ways through your own family’s story.

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George Vicat Cole “A Surrey Countryside”

The book brims with the domestic details of everyday life and vivid descriptions of the hamlet homes:

“Old Sally’s was a long, low, thatched cottage with diamond-paned windows winking under the eaves and a rustic porch smothered in honeysuckle.” Her kitchen: “…with pots & pans and a big red crockery water vessel at one end, and potatoes in sacks and peas and beans spread out to dry at the other. The apple crop was stored on racks suspended beneath the ceiling and bunches of herbs dangled below”

“Inside Freddy Ashley’s home all was peace and quiet and spotless purity. The walls were freshly whitewashed, the table and board floor were scrubbed to a pale straw colour… Freddy was helping his mother make biscuits, cutting the pastry she had rolled into shapes with a little tin cutter. Their two faces, both so plain and yet so pleasant, were close together above the pasteboard, and their two voices as they bade Laura come in and sit by the fire sounded like angels’ voices after the tumult outside. It was a brief glimpse into a different world from the one she was accustomed to, but the picture remained with her as something quiet and pure and lovely. She thought that the home at Nazareth must have been something like Freddy’s.”

The author’s descriptions of their vegetable and flower gardens are also charming and poignant:

“The garden was a large one … Nearer the cottage were fruit trees, then the yew hedge, close and solid as a wall, which sheltered the beehives and enclosed the flower garden, Sally had such flowers and all of them sweet-scented! It seemed as though all the roses in Lark Rise had gathered together in that one garden.”

“As well as their flower garden, the women cultivated a herb corner, stocked with thyme and parsley, and sage for cooking, rosemary to flavor the home-made lard, lavender to scent the best clothes…”

While the first book, Lark Rise, is full of images of everyday life, the second book, Over to Candleford, depicts how Laura’s world opens up when she begins to spend her summer holidays with her cousins in a neighboring town, eight miles away. The final book, Candleford Green, sees Laura off to her new life as an assistant in a village Post Office.

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first published in 1939

But Laura never loses her love for her humble upbringing or her heart for nature; she moves out into the world with youthful hope, never forgetting what it was to have her shoes ‘powdered yellow with buttercup pollen’, to see the copses full of bluebells and the water-meadows with cowslips or the warm-hearted faces of the people she knew. She carries the picture with her and is able to call up at will the beauty maybe only she recognized there.

Read it slowly, outside in the warm sunshine, where you can hear the wind in the trees and you may be able to catch a glimpse of it, too.

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Flora Thompson 1876-1947

“ Flora Thompson’s Lark Rise to Candleford is a much-loved classic that has been read in various ways. For some it is an artless childhood memoir set in an Oxfordshire village in the 1880s. For others it is a lament for England’s peasantry, destroyed by mechanisation and modern farming. Richard Mabey’s expert, exploratory book sees it, rather, as a sophisticated work of fiction, part-fact, part-imagined, that was the crowning achievement of a self-taught working-class woman who transformed herself, by sheer determination, into a successful author. (“Dreams of the Good Life: The Life of Flora Thompson and the Creation of Lark Rise to Candleford by Richard Maybe”,  review  by John Carey, The Sunday Times, London, UK, February 23, 2014)

 

Categories: British novels, Classics, Girl Fiction, Historical Fiction, Inspiration | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Novels Written in Epistolary Format:The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

The_Guernsey_Literary_and_Potato_Peel_Pie_SocietyRecently, I found “a window into reality” by means of the novel The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, a heart-warming novel written in epistolary form (written correspondence between the book’s characters). The setting is the Channel Island of Guernsey immediately following World War Two. Novelist Mary Ann Shaffer, an American from Martinsburg, West Virginia, first encountered Guernsey on a vacation trip. She fell in love with its charming beauty and discovered that, shockingly, this small piece of British soil was occupied for five horrific years by the Nazis.

Shaffer thoroughly researched this dark period in the history of the Channel Islands and the result is this eye-opening account of the oppression that the Guernsey islanders experienced under the cruel hand of the Third Reich. Mixed in with the bitter tragedy is plenty of humor, however. The Guersney Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (GLAPPPS) began as a cover for an illegal pig roast which some islanders didn’t want the Nazis to discover. The plot develops as the main character, Juliet Ashton, known in London as a light-hearted journalist, seeks a new book idea. Juliet has just experienced her first literary success with the publication of Izzy Bickerstaff Goes to War (a collection of her weekly newspaper columns written during the war).

What begins as a self-centered career opportunity to observe and write about the Guernsey islanders becomes much more as Juliet’s heart is drawn irresistibly into the lives of the unlikely comrades of the GLAPPPS. The book includes letters from numerous members of the Society to Juliet describing the wrenching deprivation, starvation conditions, and mistreatment during the occupation. The quirky characters and sense of community pour off the pages of the letters, as do the sweetness of loving sacrifice and romance.

Author Mary Ann Shaffer lived much of her life as a librarian and editor. This is her first (and last) novel. The book still needed revisions when Mary Ann became terminally ill. Annie Barrows, the author’s niece, stepped in to finish the manuscript for the publisher. Sadly, Ms. Shaffer passed away in February 2008 at the age of 73 – able only to see the publication of her novel in England; not in the United States. Ms. Barrows describes her aunt’s choice of the letter form for her novel:

“My aunt thought it would be easy and those are the types of books she liked to read. We loved reading people’s letters and diaries. I think we were born snoops. And of course, writing the book did not turn out to be easy.” (The Journal [Martinsburg, West Virginia] August 2008)

guernsey #6Another notable epistolary novel is The Screwtape Letters. Author C.S. Lewis masterfully composed letters from the fictional demon “Uncle Screwtape” to his nephew “Wormwood”. Screwtape offers diabolical advice on how to tempt Wormwood’s human assignment. Lewis writes letters solely from Screwtape’s perspective and cleverly alludes to what Wormwood has written. In 2009, Focus on the Family produced a wonderful Radio Theatre edition of The Screwtape Letters with the vocal talents of Andy Serkis (Gollum).

Guernsey #3On a more light-hearted note, the children’s book, Little Wolf’s Book of Badness (the first book in a series by Ian Whybrow) is a collection of hilariously misspelled and illustrated letters home from a well-behaved little wolf cub who is sent away on purpose to become “bad” – as wolves should be – at Cunning College for Brute Beasts under the tutelage of Uncle Bigbad.

In addition, non-fiction books that are records of written correspondence are another excellent way to see into the lives of people. I recently re-read a novel published in 1970 which chronicles twenty years of actual correspondence between New York screenwriter Helene Hanff and the London antiquarian bookstore staff members who helped her find out-of-print books. 84, Charing Cross Road is full of humor and pathos.guernsey #5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My renewed interest in epistolary books also reminds me to read my Bible epistles as letters. They were composed to someone and I dearly wish we had access to some of the answers the biblical authors must have received. For example, the apostle Paul’s response from his letter to the Philippians (Chapter 4) may have run something like:

“Dearest Paul, Euodia and I have made up and have started a weaving business together… Love, Syntyche”.

 

 

Categories: Historical Fiction, Humorous, Inspiration, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

I Want to Meet Jan Karon

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I am a fan.  I hope not a crazy one, but I do have favorite celebrities that I follow and admire. As often as not, they are authors, not actors (though I have my preferences in that category, too).

Jan Karon is at the tippy top of my list.  She began writing her Mitford novels later in life, and it shows – they run over with her wisdom, humor, and pain.

I thought she had wrapped up the stories, but miracles do still happen and Ms. Karon began to write again in 2014 (Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good).

For you Mitford fans out there, you will understand the great joy I experienced knowing that I would finally learn what happened to Dooley and Lacy.  They deserve their own story and so, it was with intense delight, that I breezed through the most recent Mitford novel, published in 2015, entitled Come Rain or Come Shine in which they are the key characters. Good old Father Tim is still front and center, like a well-loved grandfather.  Cynthia still sparkles, but Dooley and Lacey “take the cake”.

I offer no plot description.  I can’t breathe a word more in case I would spoil it for you.  Just read it.  Catch up with the series first, of course.  I order you to do so.

Summer is coming and these books are perfectly designed for the open reading venues of beaches, hammocks, and lakeside docks.

Karon’s Mitford novels also got me through some hard times.    I have inhaled five in a row this Spring after a  complicated surgery and a long rehabilitation. They are the best medicine I know for sorrow, disillusionment, or illness.

Enjoy! Happy Reading!

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Categories: Chick lit, Christian Fiction, Humorous, Inspiration, Read Aloud, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

The Silver Chair – A Newcomer Arrives in Narnia

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The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe may be the most familiar of the seven Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, but it is not necessarily the most thrilling. That honor belongs to The Silver Chair, the sixth book in chronological order, a tale of daring rescue, escape from man-eating giants, and being in over one’s head to fulfill a call.

In this Narnia adventure, the four Pevensies (Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy) have not been drawn by Aslan in His world; instead their unappealing cousin, Eustace Scrubb, enters the magical land with his classmate, Jill Pole. As you may know, Eustace in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader made a complete change and has become a new person. This has become evident to his school acquaintance, Jill, and is expressed by Eustace himself in the following humble and humorous fashion: “Then wash out last term if you can,” said Eustace. “I was different then, I was –gosh! What a little tick I was.”

This pair of unlikely heroes is joined by a new creature -one from C.S. Lewis’ fertile imagination, a Marsh-wiggle named Puddleglum from Ettinsmore who is all gangly limbs and pessimistic predictions.

 

silver chair 4The trio’s impossible mission is to locate the missing Prince, heir to the throne of Narnia and son of the aged King Caspian.   But Rilian disappeared without a trace over ten years earlier and their quest is fraught with mystery and both subtle and horrifying dangers.

Jill Pole as a newcomer to Narnia has no experience with Aslan, the Lion who rules this world. He is not a tame lion and she knows this instinctively in her first face to face encounter with Aslan.  His prone and majestic form lies between her and the stream she so desperately needs to drink from:

“If you are thirsty, you may drink.” …and the voice was not like a man’s. It was deeper, wilder and stronger; a sort of heavy, golden voice. It did not make her any less frightened than she had been before, but it made her frightened in rather a different way.”

“I daren’t come and drink,” said Jill.

“Then you will die of thirst,” said the Lion.

“Oh dear!” said Jill, coming another step nearer; “ I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.”

“There is no other stream,” said the Lion.

Once she approaches and drinks, Aslan gives her the instructions for the quest: “I lay on you this command, that you seek this lost prince until either you have found him and brought him to his father’s house else died in the attempt, or else gone back to your own world.”

Jill is given the responsibility to remember four signs to guide the rescuers in their quest. Aslan gives Jill a stern command: “Repeat the signs to remember them. Say them to yourself when you wake in the morning and when you lie down at night, and when you wake in the middle of the night. And whatever strange things may happen to you, let nothing turn your mind from following the signs.”

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As you might imagine, Jill does not have the maturity or faith to fulfill her duty and what happens next is a series of misadventures that ultimately lead them into great peril. Join Puddleglum, Eustace, and Jill as they encounter giants from the House of Harfang, the sinister Lady of the Green Kirtle, a mysterious knight in black armor, and gnomes from the Land of Bism.

I recommend the trade paperback edition (256 pages) published in 2000 by Harper Collins with its beautiful full color illustrations by Pauline Baynes.

The Narnia Chronicles in chronological order: The Magician’s Nephew, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, The Horse and His Boy, Prince Caspian, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Silver Chair, and The Last Battle.

The Silver Chair was originally published in 1953 and is 4th in publication order. The website http://www.narnia.com features an interview of C.S. Lewis’ step-son Douglas Gresham who gives an update about the movie version of The Silver Chair.

 

 

Categories: British novels, Children's Books, Christian Fiction, Classics, Fantasy, Humorous, Inspiration, Read Aloud, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Adventure on the High Seas: Horatio Hornblower saga

11334531-_uy200_Are you ready to enter the naval world of the Napoleonic Wars between England and France? Sea battles, duels of honor, consummate seamanship, and heroic deeds leap from the pages of C.S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower saga.

It is 1793 and 17-year-old Horatio Hornblower is an untried lowly midshipman in Her Majesty’s Navy. His first adventures at sea, in Mr. Midshipman Hornblower, quickly reveal his dauntless courage and lightning quick strategic thinking. In his eleven-volume saga, C.S. Forester develops this fascinating main character and reveals the complexity of French and British conflicts during the Napoleonic Wars. This complex yet compassionate character has endeared himself to many readers.

Written in the early part of the 20th century, how did C.S. Forester (1899-1966) reconstruct British naval life so realistically? The Library of Congress article on the author’s life offers an answer:

“In 1927, C.S. Forester purchased three volumes of The Naval Chronicle from 1790 to 1820. For the Chronicle, officers of the Royal Navy wrote articles on strategy, seamanship, gunnery, and other professional topics of interest to their colleagues. The Chronicle for those years covered the wars with Napoleon. Reading these volumes and traveling by freighter from California to Central America allowed the germination of the character Horatio Hornblower as a member of the Royal Navy in the late eighteenth century.

By the time Forester’s journey brought him home to England, the former medical student-turned-writer had plotted Beat to Quarters, and it was published in 1937. A Ship of the Line and Flying Colours were published soon after, and in 1939 all three appeared as Captain Horatio Hornblower. Forester’s interest in the Romantic period and the political and military maneuvers of the early 1800s continued, and the Hornblower saga was produced.

Subsequent volumes in the series were sequels to the original trilogy or filled in its gaps. The episodic quality of the novels is due partly to their having appeared serially in magazines, primarily the Saturday Evening Post.” https://www.loc.gov/nls/bibliographies/minibibs/horatio.html

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Reading historical novels set on the sea can be a challenge with so many unfamiliar, almost archaic, English words embedded in the text. However, it is possible to avoid referring to one’s dictionary when the reader’s “comprehending in context” skills are put to use. My 17-year-old daughter, Rachel, explained her ability to understand the first book’s language:

“Within the context it was like I was constantly learning the words, and it almost always made sense. I understood what the seaman was doing with the ship’s rope and which way the ship was moving. I loved this book because it was an unusual setting and the adventure was so delightful.”

In 1951, an original motion picture, Captain Horatio Hornblower, starring Gregory Peck, was produced. More recently (1998-2003) A & E created an 8-part series of the stories with Ioan Gruffudd, the British actor, cast as the beloved hero.

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The Hornblower Saga in chronological order: Mr. Midshipman Hornblower, Lieutenant Hornblower, Hornblower and the Hotspur, Hornblower During the Crisis, Hornblower and the Atropos, Beat to Quarters, Ship of the Line, Flying Colors, Commodore Hornblower, Lord Hornblower, and Admiral Hornblower in the West Indies.

 

Categories: British novels, Classics, Historical Fiction, Inspiration, Romantic Fiction, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

The Witch of Blackbird Pond – Historical fiction for young and old

witch of blackbird pond“No, writing is not lonely. It is a profession crowded with life and sound and color. I feel privileged to have had a share in it.” —Elizabeth George Speare

Elizabeth George Speare was born in Melrose, Massachusetts, on November 21, 1908 and lived all her life in New England. She described her early writing days and the development of her first novel, The Witch of Blackbird Pond (the 1959 Newbery Award winner):

I turned naturally to the things which had filled my days and thoughts and began to write magazine articles about family living. Then one day I stumbled on a true story from New England history with a character who seemed to me an ideal heroine. Though I had my first historical novel almost by accident it soon proved to be an absorbing hobby.” Elizabeth George Speare (1908-1994)

The result was a deeply layered reading experience with a vivid heroine, Kit Tyler, who is imperfect and endearing. In1687, Kit, an orphan, loses both home and guardian when her grandfather dies and his estate on the Caribbean island of Barbados defaults to his creditors. She must sail to Connecticut colony to live with her Aunt Rachel who has married a staunch Puritan, Matthew Wood.

On the voyage up the Atlantic seaboard, Kit makes friends with the sea captain’s son, Nat Eaton, as well as a serious young minister, John Holbrook, also heading for the same town. Later, William Ashby, son of the richest man in town becomes a suitor approved by Kit’s Uncle Matthew.

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I remember thoroughly enjoying the romance woven into the tale when I first read the novel as a young teen. Recently, when I read the book to my own daughters, I found myself using the story and its characters to give them a life lesson on finding a compatible marriage partner.

Despite the kindness of her relatives, willful, spoiled, lonesome Kit cannot seem to adjust to Puritan life and suffers greatly. She finds solace in the meadows outside the town, and soon meets Hannah, an old Quaker woman who has been ostracized for her different beliefs and lives a serene and misunderstood life far from the town and surrounding farms.

“Tis a strange thing, that the only friends I have I found in the same way, lying flat in the meadows, crying as if their hearts would break.” (Hannah)

While their friendship brings Kit much joy, it also later leads to peril as Kit is accused of witchcraft.

The Witch of Blackbird Pond is not a historical lesson on 17th century witch hunts disguised as fiction. The setting and time period are well researched, but the complex plot and the characters’ growth brings this young adult novel to life and earns it my highest rating and recommendation for children 10 and older and adults who either missed it in their youth or want to re-read it.

Other young adult fiction titles by Elizabeth George Speare:

The Bronze Bow

The Sign of the Beaver

Calico Captive

Categories: Children's Books, Classics, Girl Fiction, Historical Fiction, Romantic Fiction, Uncategorized, young adult fiction | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Are You Ready to Be Scared? Fantasy by Jonathan Stroud

Lockwood and Co.“Between the ages of seven and nine I was often ill, and spent long periods in hospital and at home in bed. During this time I escaped from boredom and frustration by reading furiously: books littered my bedroom floor like bones in a lion’s cave. I tended to enjoy stories of magical adventure more than ones about real life – I think this was because they provided a more complete escape. Around this time I fell in love with fantasy.” Jonathan Stroud (www.jonathanstroud.com)

Jonathan Stroud is a wonderful wordsmith and a skilled world maker. His two fantasy series, Lockwood & Co. and The Bartimaeus Sequence, employ supernatural beings that frighten and intrigue the reader.

I’ve read The Screaming Staircase and The Whispering Skull in the Lockwood & Co. series and am looking forward to getting my hands on the third novel, The Hollow Boy, which has just been published.

Mr. Stroud uses his home turf, the City of London, as his setting, but has masterfully altered it to create a fantasy world in which “The Problem” has occurred, an invasion of ghostly hauntings that frighten and often kill the human residents. A culture of children and teen warriors has arisen to do serious battle with these malevolent apparitions.

Anthony Lockwood, Lucy Carlyle, and George Cubbins make up the members of the maverick agency Lockwood & Co. that dares to venture out at night to solve ghostly hauntings without the supervision of adults. Lucy, a teen girl with the dubious gift of hearing ghosts joins in the adventures of the two boys who inhabit a rambling three-story house in the city.

I am not a believer in ghosts, but I found myself irresistibly pulled into the world Mr. Stroud created.  Swords at their sides, intrepid “agents” risk their lives locating the source of the ghosts – often a burial ground, beloved object, or murder site. Ancient wrongs are righted, people are protected, and human evildoers are unmasked. Weapons that work on the supernatural creatures include salt bombs, magnesium flares, iron chains, and silver rapiers.

I was introduced to Jonathan Stroud’s writing in his earlier New York Times bestselling series: The Bartimaeus Sequence: The Amulet of Samarkand, The Golem’s Eye, Ptolemy’s Gate, and The Ring of Solomon.

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In the Bartimaeus books, the people who sought to harness the power of demons have become evil themselves (which is a fair warning to resist summoning evil spirits). These demonic slaves nurse an abiding hatred for their human masters and ceaselessly seek to escape – to destroy, kill, and then return to their hellish home. Nathaniel, an inexperienced, yet arrogant magician’s apprentice, encounters Kitty, a member of the Resistance, and finds himself rethinking his role in the governmental system that has placed power in the hands of corrupt officials who use it to further their own selfish interests.

Both the Lockwood and Co. Series and the Bartimaeus Sequence contain story lines and world building that are based on a view that the occult world, be it demonic or ghostly, is dangerous and opposed to the wellbeing of humans.   This was comforting to me because I threw away my ouija board as a teenager, and as an adult, continue to have nothing to do with contacting the evil spiritual world. I would like to point out that the demon Bartimaeus is a sympathetic character that incongruously develops some concern for his human counterparts. This puts him in an odd “good demon” category.

As a fantasy author, Mr. Stroud never opens a window into the Heavenly realm, nor does he bring in the helpful services of angels or the power of a benevolent God to work on behalf of the beleaguered people in his stories.  It is best lockwood & co. 3if the reader enters Mr. Stroud’s fantasy worlds without expecting a Christian worldview.  Taking that into consideration, these two series are delightfully scary, interesting and penned by an excellent storyteller.

Categories: British novels, Children's Books, Fantasy, young adult fiction | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Inspirational Stories: The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom

hidingplace4Elderly watchmaker, Casper ten Boom and his middle-aged spinster daughters, Corrie and Betsie, lived a quiet life in Haarlem, Netherlands at the time of the Nazi invasion in 1940. The ten Booms joined the Dutch resistance and built a hiding place in their home for Jews sought by the Gestapo, a stop on a twentieth century “underground railroad”, manned by Gentiles who would not bow to the occupying force.

It is estimated that 800 Jews were housed, fed and moved to safety through this family’s efforts, until they were betrayed in February 1944 and subsequently imprisoned, first in a local jail and ultimately in concentration camps.

Corrie ten Boom survived Ravensbruck and told her story in gripping detail in The Hiding Place, co-authored by Elizabeth and John Sherrill, first published in 1971 and reprinted in 2006 by Chosen Books in a 35th Anniversary edition.

Casper ten Boom, Corrie’s father, was a man of 84 at the time of his arrest by the Gestapo. He was truly remarkable – a compassionate and uncompromising Christian who took heroic measures to save Jews in the face of great pressure to mind his own business.

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Corrie recounts this excerpt of the interrogation her father’s underwent after his arrest:

“The Gestapo chief leaned forward. I’d like to send you home old fellow,’ he said. ‘I’ll take your word that you won’t cause any more trouble.’

I could not see father’s face, only the erect carriage of his shoulders and the halo of white hair above them. But I heard his answer.

‘If I go home today,’ he said evenly and clearly, ‘tomorrow I will open my door again to any man in need who knocks.’” (The Hiding Place)

In The Hiding Place, heart wrenching reality mixes with hard won faith to inspire the reader.

The State of Israel honored Corrie ten Boom for service to the Jewish people by issuing her an invitation to plant a tree in the Avenue of the Righteous at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum near Jerusalem. http://www.yadvashem.org/yv/en/righteous/

A worthwhile tribute to Corrie ten Boom is found on the following blog: https://unexpectedincommonhours.wordpress.com/2015/04/16/corrie-ten-boom-i-remember-you/

This amazing survivor traveled the globe speaking about God’s love and the power of forgiveness, often accompanying Dutch countryman, Brother Andrew whose story is told in God’s Smuggler also co-authored by Elizabeth and John Sherrill. She authored more than 25 books before her death on April 15, 1983 at the age of 82.

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In the final pages of the Hiding Place, Corrie issued this challenge and encouragement:

“And so I discovered that it is not on our own forgiveness any more than on our own goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on His. When he tells us to love our enemies, He gives along with the command, the love itself.” (The Hiding Place)

Keeping the inspiring story alive in the 21st century, volunteers give free tours of the ten Boom house in Haarlem, Holland only thirty minutes by train from the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam.hidingplace3

Categories: Autobiography, Biography, Inspiration | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Jungle Jam and Friends The Radio Show – Laugh out Loud Fun for Families

jungle jam  1-pineneedlesLaughter is good medicine and kids stay so healthy because they take huge doses of it daily. The under-marketed audio series I recommend in this blog post offers a cure for adults as well, since the stories are designed to delight young and old. Listen with the young people in your life and have a blast as you LOL.

“Jungle Jam and Friends” began as a radio program, with humorous plots teaching fundamental life lessons such as sharing, friendship, procrastination, and facing fear. About twenty years ago, creative giants Phil Lollar (of “Adventures in Odyssey” fame), Nathan Carlson, David Buller, and Jeff Parker collaborated in an effort to create colorful audio stories of an imaginary jungle world populated by animals with memorable voices and personalities which first aired in 1993.  Jean-Claude the flying squirrel, Millard the Monkey, Gruffy Bear, and Sully the Aardvark are all voiced distinctively and with great wit.

A parallel set of characters and stories is set on Razzleflabben Island to which human children, Marvy Snuffleson and his sister Katie, are sent to learn life lessons the funny way with the help of the island’s endearing and whimsical inhabitants, the Razzleflabbens. Our family listened to every Jungle Jam story and we are still quoting favorite characters years later. An added bonus in the Jungle Jam experience is the musical contribution of songwriting team Buddy and Julie Miller.jungle jam 2 - pineneedles

Jungle Jam fans wrote in the website guestbook: “My favorite character from Jungle Jam and Friends the Radio Show is Millard J. Monkey. He is to Jungle Jam what Daffy Duck is to Looney Tunes: egotistical, self-absorbed, and hilarious. I love how he makes such a good foil to the mild-mannered, sweet-natured, naive Sully the Aardvark.” Rebecca “My favorite character is Sully – his funny dialogue with the other characters, his naiveté. We love “Where the Bears Are”. My husband & I laugh a lot at that episode and are always taunting each other Gruffy/Sully style when we play a game (“You’re goin’ down, Bear”, “You’re gonna cry in your lemonade, Aardvark”). We’ve listened to Jungle Jam in the car for ages, but now that our son is old enough for the stories, we listen to them as part of bedtime routine.” Tammy

It is my understanding that the stories are only available now as downloads online, although some gently used CD sets may be still floating around for purchase. These stories are a must for children 4-12 years old and their parents and grandparents. I can not comment on the quality of the books that were produced after the audio stories, since we never read them. Suffice it say that the vocal talents and witty dialogues of the audio stories must not be missed! My favorite stories are: “ Sully Makes a Friend”, “Pogo A-Go-Go & The Terrible Truth About Lying”, and “The Great Coconut Clunking Debate”.www.fancymonkey.com

In my opinion, the best endorsement of this audio series comes from Katie, a mom of four active boys, who says: “…my favorite thing is that no one is fighting or talking because they’re listening to Jungle Jam!”

I am hoping against hope that my granddaughter will love these stories too, when she is old enough to listen.

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