Chick lit

Books for Girls: Timeless Virtues

Pineneedlesandpapertrails

One of my personal tests to determine whether a book heroine is “timeless” is if you, as a reader, remember her name, not just what she did.

For some of our most beloved female protagonists we even know the last name: Sara Crewe, Kit Tyler, Christy Huddleston, Jo March,  Anne Shirley, Laura Ingalls, Lucy Pevensie. Mary Lennox, Maria Merryweather, Fern Arable and Charlotte the Spider.  I feel as if I know these characters. 

As my daughter Rachel says, “They are like real people that I have in my cell phone contact list.  I feel as if I could call them up to ask them for advice”.

Fiery-tempered, imaginative Anne  (“with an e”) of Anne of Green Gables finds what her hearts longs for -belonging in her adopted family and community.  She wins the life-long friendship of Diana, whom she calls her “bosom friend”.  We watch Anne grow up and see…

View original post 478 more words

Advertisements
Categories: Chick lit, Classics, Girl Fiction, Inspiration, Read Aloud, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Vicarious Heroism – Daughter of China

We can strip the knight of his armor, to reveal that he looks exactly like us, or we can try on the armor ourselves to experience how it feels.  Fiction provides an ideal opportunity to try on the armor.”  C.S. Lewis

Nineteen year old Mei-lin, the fictional hero of Daughter of China, lives in a modern-day rural village.  She faces fierce persecution and demanding personal choices as her story unfolds.  The author, C. Hope Flinchbaugh, based her novel on true testimonies of persecuted Christians in China and that authenticity shines out of every page.

Although it was published ten years ago (Bethany House, 2002), Daughter of China is not just a banner waved and then furled; it still speaks profoundly to us about religious persecution and the repression of the one child policy in China.   Mei-lin pursues her beliefs in a government system that does not offer religious freedom.  Her heroism is striking due to her youth; all her life is before her, and yet she continually risks her safety to follow her conscience.

My pet name for this type of fiction is a “hero book”.  We, as Americans,  will most likely never travel in the flesh to these places, nor live in the time periods of hero books set in the past.  It is vitally  important that we open our eyes and our hearts through stories like this so that we are stretched and move beyond our current culture and lifestyle.  This type of vicarious living is definitely not escapism.  This novel made me ask myself: “What would I do if it were me in that time and place?”  I am convinced that we, as readers, can try on C.S. Lewis’  “armor” through any genre of fiction or non-fiction as long as we have the “knight”!

Thankfully there is a sequel, because Mei-lin was a heroine I didn’t want to be parted from.  Across the China Sky (Bethany House, 2006) chronicles Mei-lin’s continued struggle in her native China.  Hope Flinchbaugh’s third novel, I’ll Cross the River (Destiny Image, 2008), brings the reader into current day North Korea and the plight of those locked into the suffering created by a corrupt communist system.  I have the honor of knowing Hope Flinchbaugh personally as a member of my local church. She is a hero in her own right telling t,he world of the persecution of our international brothers and sisters through her writing and publishing.

http://www.historymakerpublishing.com

http://lenanelsondooley.blogspot.com/2014/01/across-china-sky-c-hope-flinchbaugh-one.html

Categories: Chick lit, Children's Books, Girl Fiction, Historical Fiction, Inspiration, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Have You Been Home Lately? – At Home In Mitford by Jan Karon

at-home-in-mitfordAlmost twenty years ago, successful advertising executive, Jan Karon left behind her fast-paced life in the city and moved to Blowing Rock, North Carolina to pursue her childhood passion of writing.  What she created is a contemporary classic. The Mitford Series is made up of ten novels written in a vignette format that intertwine the stories of finely-drawn characters who inhabit the fictional mountainous town of Mitford, North Carolina. The first in the series, At Home in Mitford, became a new York Times bestseller the same year my first child was born.  I waited impatiently for each new novel’s publication and was always rewarded with another charming, humorous installment.

Father Timothy Kavanagh, the central character in the beloved Mitford series, epitomizes the Mitford town motto – “We take care of our own.”  His parish is wider than the Lord’s Chapel where he is the Episcopalian rector.  His heart reaches out to anyone he encounters, proven by his daily waking prayer: “Lord, make me a blessing to someone today. Through Christ our Lord, Amen”.   Delightfully, Father Tim is also intelligent and well-read; his speech flows with literary quotations and references.

The world of Mitford may be charming, but it is not idyllic.  Difficulties afflict Father Tim: loneliness, physical disease, doubt, and clinical depression; yet a message of hope is woven throughout each novel which reflects the author’s worldview. Because he loves us, God works things together for our good.  The personal  hardship experienced by author Jan Karon creates a depth to the stories: “There was a lot of brokenness in my family,” she observes. “Writing is a way of processing our lives. And it can be a way of healing.” (Star Tribune, Minneapolis-St. Paul).  Karon married young and was divorced soon after, raising her daughter for many years as a single parent. Karon describes herself as having been “. . . driven to the wall by the circumstances and tragedy of life” which led her to embrace Christianity (Christianity Today’s website). Another good interview on Jan Karon’s life and faith journey can be found here: http://aredeemedlife.wordpress.com/interviews/on-the-road-with-jan-karon/

Father Tim is joined by a cast of endearing characters that populate Mitford and its surroundings. Our hearts are irresistibly drawn to Dooley, the lovable, yet unloved young boy who comes to Father Tim’s back door looking for a place to “take a dump”.  (Yes, that is what the author means!) Endearing toothless Uncle Bill – long-suffering husband of a mentally ill wife, Miss Sadie Baxter – sweet-tempered, aging spinster, Percy Mosely – owner of the Main Street Grill, all these characters are seen through the eyes of Father Tim.  “He sees these diamonds in the rough with compassionate love. Without fail, he lives out the kind of love that sees the potential of others and never gives up on them,” states my friend Joy – an avid Mitford fan.

The romance in the series captivates readers.  Doris, my best friend from childhood, told me, “I am amazed that Father Tim, a bachelor at the age of 60, would take a chance at loving someone romantically.  In my mind he was very brave to be open to this new life.” Although Karon offers a variety of romantic intrigues throughout the series, Father Tim and Cynthia Coppersmith steal the romantic spotlight at their advanced ages, which is fairly unique in modern fiction.

I have finished all ten novels and found comfort, hope, and a lifting of my heart. The only complaints over the years from friends who didn’t like the series include “too sweet” and “too slow”.  If you have already read the books, please comment about your experience in Mitford. As Jan Karon says on her website: “My character driven work seeks to give readers a large extended family they can call their own.”

The Mitford Years: ten novels in order of publication:

At Home in Mitford (1994)

A Light in the Window (1995)

These High, Green Hills (1996)

Out to Canaan (1997)

A New Song (1999)

A Common Life (2001)

In This Mountain (2002)

Shepherds Abiding (2003)

Light From Heaven (2005)

Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good (2014)

Jan Karon continued Father Tim’s story in his later years in settings beyond Mitford in the Father Tim novels: Home to Holly Springs, and In the Company of Others.  More information at http://www.mitfordbooks.com.  My favorite comment by a pineneedlesandpapertrails reader is Mimiswardrobe@wordpress.com: “I love the Mitford books, and I’m delighted to see that I missed the last one so I still have a new one to enjoy!  Yes, they are slow, but like many slow rivers, they run deep!  Rapids may be exciting, but they don’t give you much chance for introspection.  What is wonderful about Jan Karon’s books is that her characters seem so real that reading one of her stories makes us feel like we’ve been to Mitford on vacation.”

Categories: Chick lit, Classics, Humorous, Inspiration, Romantic Fiction | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 27 Comments

City of Tranquil Light – A Story of Unfailing Love

city of tranquil light“A woman of forty-seven who has been married twenty-seven years and has six children knows what love really is and once described it for me like this: ‘Love is what you have been through with somebody.'” James Thurber

The publishing industry floods us with romantic fiction.  Hollywood movies too, are so often either thrillers or romantic comedies.  These matchmaking novels and movies entertain us and have the additional value of showing us whether or not two individuals are well-suited, though sometimes I feel compelled to yell at the protagonist in frustration: “He’s not the right one! Don’t choose him!”

Match making is a fairly harmless natural instinct. It’s even possible to find novels in this genre that avoid descriptions of sexual encounters which is where my my personal moral bar is set.  My complaint is that the stories are so one-dimensional and only take us on the attraction journey between people.  It can easily become a mono diet of romance that ends only in a wedding ceremony.  I need more than that. I need answers to the question of how do I live in love for a lifetime with one flawed person? Or on the flip side, how does my spouse live with my immaturity and shortcomings?  Deeper romance books are helpful too, for young people waiting to make the decision to marry, and the many who have been married and divorced.

I believe the novel City of Tranquil Light offers an answer.  The author, Bo Caldwell, researched the history of her grandparents’ lives as missionaries in China that gives this story a wonderful realism. Poignantly, Caldwell describes China in the 1920s and the resultant suffering as the Communists defeat the Imperial government.  Along with their Chinese friends, the missionary couple of the story endures this troubled period in an ancient and beautiful land. The opening chapters detail the couple’s initial meeting, but the majority of the book takes place as they walk out their married life together.  Author Bo Caldwell documents a tender, enduring love between Katherine and Will in adversity.

I gave this novel to my reading club friend April, to test out if it was “bloggable”  Putting into words why she loved it, April wrote: “I loved this book because I was drawn to the story of this couple following God’s call on their life. Even though they experienced many hardships, and the personal cost was great for them, they didn’t feel it was a sacrifice. Their obedience to God and their love for each other and the people and country of China was very inspiring.”

The Kiehn’s married relationship echoes the marriage vows so many of us are familiar with “for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until we are parted by death”. p 427 Book of Common Prayer. (BCP) Less well-known are the powerful words in the BCP which describe the purpose of marriage: “The union of husband and wife in heart, mind, and body is intended by God for their mutual joy; for the help and comfort given one another in prosperity and adversity; and when it is God’s will, for the procreation of children and their nurture in the knowledge and love of the Lord.” p 423.

If we remove for a moment the consuming occupation of nurturing our children, a deeper layer of bonding in marriage becomes more visible: a shared mission.  In the case of Katherine and Will Kiehn, each individually goes to China to serve as a missionary. They meet and marry “on the mission field”.  Serving as missionaries together as a married couple certainly isn’t the only way to share a “mission”.  Katherine and Will, by the way, have very different abilities and gifts which they exercise while in China.  In our case, my husband is a skilled family and marriage therapist and an athlete.  I am a writer, homeschool teacher and women’s group leader.  But we share the same mission to show others the reality of a loving God.

So put aside the other type of romantic novels, and check out City of Tranquil Light

Many novels depict interesting married couples including:

Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, Strong Poison, Busman’s Honeymoon by Dorothy Sayers – four of her mysteries recount the courtship and marriage of Lord Peter and Harriet.

Father Tim and Cynthia, At Home in Mitford, A Light in the Window and the other “Mitford” novels by Jan Karon

Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes, The BeeKeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King. King has written twelve novels that showcase their partnership to solve crimes and bring the guilty to justice.

Benjamin January and Rose, A Free Man of Color and other novels by Barbara Hambly – a fascinating mystery series set in New Orleans in the 1830s.

Categories: Chick lit, Historical Fiction, Inspiration, Romantic Fiction, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Yada Yada Prayer Group

“I solve problems in my life by sharing in the lives of others.  I grow spiritually by encountering the wisdom of people who have thought through issues that still cause me to struggle.” Gladys Hunt, Honey for a Woman’s Heart

Sometimes I avoid Christian fiction because I am held back by my personal bias that their plots are superficial or formulaic; i.e. too much romance, problems solved too easily.  But I also crave hope and strength from the books I read.  I certainly don’t want a “gray” book, which offers only hopeless tragedy or no answers to life’s problems!

The Yada Yada Prayer Group by Neta Jackson (Integrity Publishers, 2003) may have a bright neon-colored cover but what lies between the pages is not a “light” read.  The main character, suburban elementary school teacher Jodi Baxter, encounters real-life issues and problems when she gets assigned to a “random” prayer group at an urban Christian Women’s Conference.  Her reluctance and naiveté are not enough to keep her from becoming sucked into the vortex of the lives of eleven other women who are culturally diverse, but in need of the genuine caring of one another.   In Jodi’s own words: “We were a drawer of mismatched socks if ever there was one –I wasn’t sure we even liked each other.  But we were Prayer Group Twenty-Six and we had the chance… to give God a sacrifice of praise and love a young woman who was fresh out of prison.”

What results is an amazing journey of true heart connections.  As the reader I related to many of the book’s characters; even those who were so different from me.  The author describes two women in the prayer group: Avis (the classy principal of the elementary school): “she had a kind of authority — not bossy, just firm, confident — that gathered up the loose ends and knotted them so they wouldn’t fray any further.” (p. 27) and Florida (5 years saved, 5 years sober) : “Our lives were about as different as two people’s could be, but I liked her.   Really like her.  I could only imagine everything she’d been through, but she was so upbeat.  So close to God.  Where did that come from?” (p. 84)

Jodi’s spiritual journey drew me right in.  Her connection with God and the prayer group women keep her from drowning when faced with a horrific personal crisis.  I truly learned from this story: to pray more in faith, to leave assumptions of others at the door, to persevere in friendship when others are in trouble.  I don’t know how autobiographical this story is, but the dedication page may indicate that author Neta Jackson learned some of these lessons herself:  “To my sisters in the women’s Bible studywho loved me anyway and stretched my faith.

If the story and the characters grab hold of you, six more Yada Yada Prayer Group books await.  My friend Heidi, a die-hard non-fiction reader, succumbed to the book series’ appeal and is currently reading book #4.  Learn more about the author: http://daveneta.com/index.htm.

I had the fun experience of hearing back from Neta Jackson by email, thanking me for my positive blog post about the Yada Yada Prayer Group series.  She has written another wonderful series – the first title  is Where Do I Go?

Categories: Chick lit, Humorous, Inspiration, Romantic Fiction | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency

“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

So what is the difference between review and recommend?  In this blog, I hope to do the latter; not try to analyze a long list of works of fiction for their merits, but tell the world about the books I already love and why I love them.  Have you ever loved a book so much that after reading it you wanted to buy everyone a copy, secretly place the book on  the welcome mats of special friends, just to give them joy?

You can pick up a true treasure, a series set in Botswana, Africa 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.  To my delight book #13 was published in April 2012, The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection. It was just as wonderful as the previous twelve. Now I am on the library waiting list for the most recent title in the series The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon.

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)

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

Mma Precious Ramotswe and her rich cast of supporting characters show us 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.

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 as Mma Ramotse

A quick disclaimer: It is undeniable that we have different tastes in fiction.  That means some of my readers will not like what I like.  The books recommended today address some weightier social ills and unlovely personal life choices, but all within a context of characters who, I believe, leave us with a true residue of goodness and inspiration.  “Take what you like and leave the rest” as they say in Al-Anon and Happy Reading!

Categories: British novels, Chick lit, Humorous, Inspiration, Mystery, Romantic Fiction | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: