Beginnings for a New Year -- Part Two

A baker's dozen of first lines to inspire your reading list in 2010, cont.
A guest post by Betsy Jordan.

"'Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents,' grumbled Jo, lying on the rug." I grew up reading Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, and went on to enjoy many of her other books as well. In my opinion, though, Little Women is her opus - an enduring gem worth treasuring. Also check out the 1994 movie version for a terrific screen adaptation.

"The nurse walked out of the room, closing the door behind her, and Mrs. Pollifax looked at the doctor and he in turn looked at her." After finding out that there is nothing at all wrong with her except for a middle-age-crisis, Mrs. Pollifax decides to follow through on a lifelong dream - she walks into the CIA and announces that she wants to be a spy. Dorothy Gilman's The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax takes women's mysteries to a whole new level. This book (and the subsequent series) is highly recommended to someone who is looking for something new to fall in love with in the new year.

"It was difficult, later, to think of a time when Betsy and Tacy had not been friends." Maud Hart Lovelace wrote an amazing series about three childhood friends. The first few books start out short and written for a somewhat younger audience, but they age (and lengthen) along with the characters. Betsy-Tacy is the first book in the series that culminates with Betsy's Wedding. While the books will probably be most appreciated by girls, there is no reason that an adult can't fall in love with these books as well. (And yes, just in case anyone wondered, I was named after the main character in this series and was even given Betsy's Wedding as a wedding gift.)

"Once upon a time, sixty years ago, a little girl lived in the Big Woods of Wisconsin, in a little gray house made of logs." This is another one of those books that I think everybody should read. They're not just for girls, either - my father enjoyed them a lot and even read this series out loud to us as children. Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House in the Big Woods is full of memorable moments, great characters, and a family that I always wished was my own. No offense, Mom!! 
(None taken. :) )

"Here is Edward Bear, coming downstairs now, bump, bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin." A. A. Milne's original Winnie-The-Pooh, before it was turned into a children's cult classic, will actually be enjoyed more by adults than by children. While it is about certainly about a child and his toys, its many inside jokes and humorous incidents will endear it to any grown up looking to recapture their own childhood.

"This is not the way to spend a beautiful spring morning! Elena Klovis thought, as she peered around the pile of bandboxes in her arms." So begins Mercedes Lackey's fantastic retelling of the classic Cinderella story in The Fairy Godmother. NOT a children's book, this is a great journey into the mythical world of the Five Hundred Kingdoms where fairy tales are lived out every day, from a master in the art of writing great fantasies. If you're familiar with Lackey's Valdemar series, you'll know what to expect in terms of great characters, amazing depth and detail, and the extensive worlds the author creates. If you're not, try this book and you may have a new favorite author on your shelf.

"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." Whether you are a religious person or not, I don't think anyone can deny the impact that the Bible has had on the world over the past 2,000 years. No other book has been printed more or banned more often. No other book has inspired such dedication and such controversy. So, if you haven't read it yourself, find a nice readable version (New International Version, The Message, Young Readers Version, etc.) and see what all the fuss is about.

I hope you enjoyed this look into some of my favorite books, and that it inspires you to find some new books for the new year!

Read Well, Friend

More about Mrs. Polifax here --  http://abookwithaview.blogspot.com/2009/08/dear-mrs-pollifax.html
To see the first half of this post, scroll down or click here -- http://abookwithaview.blogspot.com/2009/12/beginnings-for-new-year.html
Another review by Betsy -- http://abookwithaview.blogspot.com/2009/09/oh-to-be-ordinary.html

A Quick Book Look -- Pain and Loss

I occasionally receive free books to read and review. I will be bringing you these reviews, some in more depth than others. I hope they're helpful to you.

Having recently placed my Mom in a seniors' home and lost both my father and husband, I feel qualified to comment on the book Finding Purpose Beyond our Pain, by Paul Meyer and David Henderson, both Christian psychiatrists. The book is divided into sections of four chapters each, one section devoted to each of seven issues: injustice, rejection, loneliness, loss, failure, discipline, death. According to the authors these are life’s most common struggles; I suspect they are correct in that. At the end of each section there are several pages of practical steps to take, points to remember, and questions to contemplate. I always appreciate a self-help book with a feature like this. By the time you’ve studied several chapters on a topic, it’s easy to lose track of the forest for the trees.

Of course, I was especially interested to read the authors’ take on the subject of loss. Interestingly, it deals with several kinds of loss, including time, significance and control. They go on to look at what we can gain through the experience of losing something important. I was a bit surprised, but pleased, to see they also discussed the issue of whether what can be gained is worth the suffering. Most writers, especially Christian ones, would automatically assume it is, but even the strongest person can find themselves asking “Is it really worth it?” during tough times.

Each topic is treated with this same thoroughness and honesty. The complete, if brief, coverage of topics here makes this book useful for those who work with or know someone who is struggling with the problem of pain. The honesty makes it a book that challenges but never condemns. While it is a christian book, it doesn't push religion until the final section on fear of death, so it could be used by non-Christians, too. All in all,  I'd recommend this book to anyone interested in the topic. It should be useful to individuals, and would make an excellent resource for those who deal with people, whether as a counselor, pastor, or friend.


Beginnings for a New Year

A baker's dozen of first lines to inspire your reading list in 2010.
A guest post by Betsy Jordan.

"In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit." Honestly, if you haven't read
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, I don't think you can say that you are a reader at all! This is the classic book that laid the foundation for the blockbuster Lord of the Rings trilogy. It's much more approachable than LOTR, so if you haven't yet read it - do yourself a favor. Read it!!

"They didn't say anything about this in the books, I thought, as the snow blew in through the gaping doorway and settled on my naked back." Thus begins the account of the daily life of a new veterinarian in rural England. James Herriot's
All Creatures Great and Small is a fascinating - and often hilarious - memoir written by a man whose arm is up a cow. Literally.

"It was raining. A soft, silvery drizzle sifted down out of the night sky and wreathed around the blocky watchtowers of the city of Cimmura, hissing in the torches on each side of the broad gate and making the stones of the road leading up to the city shiny and black." I love this book! And the series that followed it.
The Diamond Throne by David Eddings is full of well developed characters, intricate plot lines, and incredible readability that should put this delightful fantasy at the top of anyone's reading list.

"It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife." Jane Austen's
Pride and Prejudice is definitely one of my favorite books. It can be difficult to read at first though, as she has so many characters. So, feel free to watch the A&E miniseries of the same name for a great intro to this classic. Then, go tackle the book. You won't regret it!

"'Elnora Comstock, have you lost your senses?' demanded the angry voice of Katharine Comstock while she glared at her daughter.'"
A Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton-Porter is over 100 years old now, but has lost none of its charm. A coming-of-age tale about a young girl and her mother, it follows Elnora through high school and into womanhood against the fascinating backdrop of the Indiana woods.

"Squire Trelawney, Dr. Livesey, and the rest of these gentlemen having asked me to write down the whole particulars about Treasure Island, from the beginning to the end, keeping nothing back but the bearings of the island, and that only because there is still treasure not yet lifted, I take up my pen in the year of grace 17-- and go back to the time when my father kept the Admiral Benbow Inn and the brown old seaman with the sabre cut first took up his lodging under our roof." This may well be one of the longest first lines ever, and it does demonstrate Robert Louis Stevenson's wordy writing style, but
Treasure Island should not be discounted because of it. It's a grand adventure that is just as much fun read aloud as it is read privately.

Read Well, Friend

She's good, isn't she? Tune in soon for the rest of Betsy's list. In the mean time, read another review by Betsy here. http://abookwithaview.blogspot.com/2009/09/oh-to-be-ordinary.html


More "Can't-Miss" After Christmas Reading

“One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town corner now and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.” So begins the magic that is Dylan Thomas’ A Child’s Christmas in Wales. Originally written as a radio play, he later published it as a story. This short piece isn’t about any particular holiday, but the memories of many magical Christmases as recounted to a young child.

The narrator clearly remembers the overwhelming joy of his childhood holidays, and his young listener responds enthusiastically. There are stories of pelting cats with snowballs and the dining room catching on fire. “Something was burning all right; perhaps it was Mr. Prothero, who always slept there after midday dinner with a newspaper over his face. But he was standing in the middle of the room, saying, ‘A fine Christmas!’ and smacking at the smoke with a slipper.” The only presents our narrator ever received, it seems, were “useless” sweaters, mufflers, and “And pictureless books in which small boys, though warned with quotations not to, would skate on Farmer Giles' pond and did and drowned; and books that told me everything about the wasp, except why.”

Every year I look forward to the childish joy in both narrator and listener, particularly the insistence that it always snowed at Christmas, and the snow was infinitely better than the kind that falls now. "Our snow was not only shaken from white wash buckets down the sky, it came shawling out of the ground and swam and drifted out of the arms and hands and bodies of the trees; snow grew overnight on the roofs of the houses like a pure and grandfather moss …” Now that I think of it, the same is true of the snows from my childhood Christmases. Thomas’ story ends with the magical sleep of the night after Christmas. “I could see the lights in the windows of all the other houses on our hill and hear the music rising from them up the long, steady falling night. I turned the gas down, I got into bed. I said some words to the close and holy darkness, and then I slept.”

Merry Christmas, Friend


Some “Can’t Miss” After Christmas Reading

Here are my choices for great post-Christmas reading, when there's finally time to pick up a book again!

We all have Christmas traditions, and some of them are so important it wouldn’t be Christmas without them. When I was a girl the youngest in our family always read Luke’s account of Jesus’ birth. Since I was always the youngest, it didn’t take me long to begin saying it from memory every year. When Bill and I married, we began our own annual reading, taking turns reading aloud from Dicken’s
A Christmas Carol. Later we added The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, by Barbara Robinson. These are my first two recommendations for your holiday reading. It would be especially cozy to enjoy them by the fire with a mug of apple cider or hot cocoa. However, I’ve never had a fireplace, so I can vouch for their value wherever you are.

“The Herdman’s were absolutely the worst kids in the world.” Meet the six Herdman kids of Barbara Robinson’s
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever-- so wild and mean that their own mother would rather work at a shoe factory that stay home with them, and every teacher passes them from one grade to the next just because there’s another one coming. First they steal a chemistry set, mix all the chemicals together to see what happens, burn down a shed, and then scarf all the donuts sent to the men putting out the fire. Personally, I love the description of them walking their cat on a length of chain. The local mailman insists it’s not a regular cat at all, but a bobcat. “’Oh, I don’t think you can tame a wild bobcat,’ my father said. ‘I’m sure you can’t,’ said the mailman. ‘They’d never try to tame it; they’d just try to make it wilder than it was to begin with.’” Take one church Christmas program, throw in six wild kids, and you get smiles, chuckles, and a fresh look at the Christmas story. The ending has stuck with me since the first time I read it. “And I thought of the angel of the Lord -- Gladys, with her skinny legs and her duty sneakers sticking out from under her robe, yelling to all of us, everywhere: ‘Hey! Unto you a child is born!’”

“Marley was dead to begin with.” He wasn’t the only one, though. That Ebenezer Scrooge was spiritually and emotionally dead is established from the very beginning of Charles Dickens famous novel. “The cold within him froze his features, nipped his nose, shriveled his cheek, made his thin nose blue, and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice. He carried his own low temperature always about him, and didn’t thaw it one degree at Christmas.” How many versions of A Christmas Carol do you think you’ve seen? From classic black and white movies, through the Muppets, dogs, George C. Scott, the Jetson’s and Mr Magoo, to Disney’s new version with Jim Carey, it’s been interpreted so many times we know it by heart. But have you read the book? If you do, you’ll see that it’s more than a fun story of ghosts, Tiny Tim, and the softening of a hard heart. From the beginning Scrooge’s attitude is contrasted with his nephew’s, “What reason do you have to be merry? Your poor enough,” he tells his nephew. “What reason do you have to be dismal? You’re rich enough,” is the reply. So is established one of Dicken’s themes, the emptiness of a life lived only for material gain. Ebenezer despises carolers, men collecting contributions for the poor, even innocents who merely wish him a merry Christmas. For me, one of the most chilling statements in literature comes when Scrooge castigates men asking for money to help the poor. “Are there no poorhouses?“ he asks. Told that many would rather die than go there, he declares they should be allowed to die, and “decrease the surplus population.”

As much as I love some of the dramatic versions of A Christmas Carol, I think the impact is more profound in the written story -- especially when it’s read aloud. Even when the same passages are used in plays, they tend to fly by, lost in the visual effects and dialogue. When you read you can contemplate. And there’s much worthy of contemplation here. “’There are some upon this earth of yours,’ returned the Spirit, ‘who lay claim to know us, and who do their deeds of passion, pride, ill-will, hatred, envy, bigotry, and selfishness in our name, who are as strange to us and all our kith and kin, as if they had never lived. Remember that, and charge their doings on themselves, not us.’”
"It is always the person not in the predicament who knows what ought to have been done.” "‘It is required of every man,’ the ghost returned, ‘that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellow-men, and travel far and wide; and, if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death.’ So many passages like this, as well as Dicken’s own words telling the story, make A Christmas Carol worthy of rereading every year.

"And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!”

Read Well, Friend

Tune in tomorrow for two more books to enjoy this holiday season.
I hope all of you have a blessed Christmas/Holiday season, wherever you are and whatever your beliefs. And peace on earth, good will to men. Teri K.


A True Story in Song

Come, Thou long-expected Jesus, born to set Thy people free; from our sins and fears release us; let us find our rest in Thee. Israel’s strength and consolation, hope of all the world Thou art; dear desire of every nation, enter every waiting heart. Born thy people to deliver, born a Child and yet a King; born to reign in us forever, now Thy gracious kingdom bring.
O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appears. O come, thou root of Jesse, free Thine own from Satan’s tyranny; from depths of hell Thy people save and give them victory over the grave. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!

Lo, how a rose e’er blooming from tender stem hath sprung! Of Jesse’s lineage coming as men of old have sung. It came, a flower bright, amid the cold of winter, when half-spent was the night. Isaiah ‘twas foretold it, the Rose I have in mind; with Mary we behold it, the virgin mother kind. To show God’s love a-right she bore to us a Savior, when half-spent was the night.
O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see Thee lie! Above the deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by; yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light; the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight. For Christ is born of Mary; and gathered all above, while mortals sleep the angels keep their watch of wondering love. How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given! So God imparts to human hearts the blessing of His heaven.
Silent night! Holy night! All is calm, all is bright ‘round yon virgin mother and child, holy infant so tender and mild, sleep in heavenly peace. Silent night! Holy night! Son of God, love’s pure light radiant beams from Thy holy face, with the dawn of redeeming grace, Jesus, Lord at Thy birth, Jesus, Lord at Thy birth.

Away in a manger, no crib for a bed, the little Lord Jesus laid down his sweet head; the stars in the sky looked down where He lay, the little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay.
What Child is this, who, laid to rest, on Mary’s lap is sleeping? Whom angels greet with anthem sweet while shepherds watch are keeping? Why lies He in such mean estate where ox and ass are feeding? Good Christian, fear for sinners here the silent Word is pleading. This, this is Christ the King whom shepherds guard and angels sing; haste, haste to bring Him laud, the Babe, the son of Mary.

Angels we have heard on high, sweetly singing o’er the plains, and the mountains in reply echoing their joyous strains. GLORIA, GLORIA IN EXCELSIS DEO!
The first Noel the angel did say, was to certain poor shepherds in fields where they lay keeping their sheep, on a cold winter’s night that was so deep. “Noel, Noel, born is the king of Israel.”
While shepherds watched their flocks by night, all seated on the ground, the angel of the Lord came down, and glory shone around. “Fear not!” said he, for heavy dread had seized their troubled mind, “Glad tidings of great joy I bring to you and all mankind. To you, in David’s town this day, is born in David’s line, the Savior, who is Christ the Lord, and this shall be the sign: the heavenly Babe you there shall find to human view displayed, all meanly wrapped in swathing bands and in a manger laid. All glory be to God on high, and to the earth be peace; Goodwill henceforth from heaven to men begin and never cease.”
Break forth, O beauteous heavenly light, and usher in the morning; ye shepherds shrink not from affright, but heed the angels warning. This child, now weak in infancy, our confidence and joy shall be, the power of Satan breaking, our peace eternal making. He comes, a Child, from realms on high; He comes the heaven’s adoring; He comes to earth to live and die, a broken race restoring. Although the King of kings is He, He comes in deep humility, His people to deliver, and reign in us forever.
Hark! The herald angel’s sing, glory to the newborn king!

Bring a torch Jeanette, Isabella, bring a torch, come hurry and run. It is Jesus, good folk of the village, Christ is born and Mary’s calling. Ah, ah, beautiful is the mother; ah, ah, beautiful is the Child.
O come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant, O come ye to Bethlehem; come and behold Him born the King of angels. O come let us adore Him. Yea, Lord we greet Thee, born this happy morning. Jesus, to Thee be all glory given; Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing; O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.

Joy to the world! The Lord is come; let earth receive her King; let every heart prepare Him room, and heaven and nature sing. Joy to the earth! The Savior reigns; let men their songs employ; while fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains repeat the sounding joy. No more let sin and sorrow grow, nor thorns infest the ground; He comes to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found. He rules the world with truth and grace and makes the nations prove the glories of His righteousness, and wonders of His love.
Good Christian men, rejoice with heart and soul and voice! Give ye heed to what we say, Jesus Christ is born today! Man and beast before him bow, and He is in the manger now; Christ is born today, Christ is born today!

Merry Christmas to All!