Showing posts with label All-time favorite books. Show all posts
Showing posts with label All-time favorite books. Show all posts

Friday, February 13, 2015

3 Quick Book Reviews and an Update

Hello, dear readers.  I am still here, lest you thought I was frozen into the side a snowbank, never to appear again.

In spite of my lack of blog activity, I have been up to a lot of things, some reading related.  I have 3 books on the reading pile, two of which I have finished.

1. Don Quixote-
My latest Classics Club read.  It's funny and enjoyable and the translation done by Edith Grossman is great.  I've been enjoying just a few chapters every evening by the fire with hot Earl Grey tea, my new favorite.  I usually make the tea into a London Fog-with lots of steamy hot milk.
But back to the book, there is something so eerily amazing about reading a book that is so old.  I'm quite enjoying it and there will be a full-fledged review, once I've finished it.

2. Small Victories by Anne Lamott-
I love Anne Lamott's writing and this is her latest book.  I have about 5 pages in the book and I can't wait to get a review up about it.  Lamott has had a strange, at times pretty rackety life, but the thing that strikes me reading her books is her incredible grace and wisdom through all kinds of scenarios that I am not entirely sure how I would handle.  If you haven't read anything by Lamott, this is definitely a must-read.

3. The Nutmeg Tree by Margery Sharp-
This is a re-read, but I do love Sharp's incredible sly wit.  The Nutmeg Tree is about a young, irrepressible widow who is left in the early days of WWI with a baby.  After a dreadfully boring stint as a respectable young widow, she leaves the baby with her kindly in-laws and heads to the city. Susan, the baby, grows up dull and respectable, until she falls in love with an unscrupulous man and Julia has to help her get out of the mess.  It's really funny and was a very quick read.

In addition to all of this reading, I'm working and doing as little outside as I possibly can (which usually means just the once-a-day trudge to do the animal chores and then scurrying inside as quickly as possible).  I'm also dreaming of summer through a big stack of summer clothes that I have waiting at the sewing machine.  So see?  I haven't turned into a frozen brick of ice.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Thoughts on Narnia

(Girl With Her Head in a Book did a lovely post on Top Ten Irritating Book Characters.  One of the characters she listed was Susan, the responsible big sister in Chronicles of Narnia.  And that is how this train of thought started.)

Narnia is a series that I remember so fondly.  Throughout my elementary school years, my dad was primarily the evening read-aloud parent and we plowed through so many classic children's books together-Alice in Wonderland, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer, A Wrinkle in Time and Meet the Austins, Matilda, and so many more.  And, of course, The Chronicles of Narnia made it onto the list.  I remember loving them.  I wept bitterly through Aslan's death and resurrection and laughed at dear Mr. Tumnus and all of the other wonderful characters.  Narnia is one of those books that will live on in my memory probably forever.  Then I picked up the books again at some point recently (maybe 2 years ago?) and I began to notice new elements.

Of course, by the time I read the books again recently,  I was well acquainted with C.S. Lewis and had enjoyed The Great Divorce and the Screwtape Letters and Mere Christianity and all of those books.  And I really do admire Lewis as a thinker and a Christian.  However, I also came to realize that he was very much a man of his time and his opinions come through loud and clear.

Of course, it's a pretty much universally known piece of information that Narnia is one great biblical analogy.  The books are about the Christian story, starting with the new worlds created when Edmund and Lucy jump into the pools in The Magician's Nephew and ending with the Book of Revelation-filled The Last Battle.  Aslan is, of course, Jesus and the four children are everyman/everywoman/other biblical characters as needed.  The evil white witch is, I suppose, Satan.  You could go into a whole analysis of why the representation of evil is a human female and I know that many people have.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The thing that drove me wild while reading these books recently was that C.S. Lewis was sexist as all get out.  I think it's interesting that this came out most in a children's book.  It didn't cross my mind when I was reading, say Mere Christianity, but the message is loud and clear throughout most of the book.  I think that we can say very mildly that Lewis did not, ahem, have a very contemporary view of gender and race.

Susan, in particular, bothered me.  She goes from being the personality-less big sister whose sole purpose in life is being the stable Martha-like (as in the Mary and Martha story) character to being cast out of Narnia because she has become interested in makeup and parties.  This struck me as so strange and I will confess to be annoyed to no end on behalf of all big sisters everywhere. And then there's the white witch and her other evil counterpart who appears in The Silver Chair, The Lady of the Green Kirtle, or the Emerald Witch.  There were some weird comparisons to Eve in the Garden of Eden at the beginning of The Magician's Nephew.  Those are just a few off the top of my head.

The other thing I cringed over was the racism in the Horse and His Boy.  I mean, it was bad enough that I was cringing while reading.  Sheesh, did he really just say that?  And that does make a book uncomfortable to read.  The portrayal of the Calormens is hard to take at best; they are every Middle Eastern stereotype you've ever heard.  And the way that they are constantly contrasted with the fair people of Narnia made me gag.

It gives me a bit of a pang to admit all of this.  See, I still absolutely adore Narnia.  The imagery is some of the best out there, the characters are all lovable and the plot is perfectly crafted.  I would be loath to tell any parent not to read these books to their children.  On the contrary, if I were running the world, I would insist on every parent reading these books to all of their children, simply for the beautiful storytelling.  There are some pretty wonderful truths throughout the books that I think everybody should hear, like sibling loyalty and the importance of a culture and, oh, a thousand things.  I could write a whole series of posts on things that Narnia taught me.

So I wonder, am I overreacting?  Should I treat Narnia like I would any old book-appreciating the good stories and the wonderful things they have to offer, while also acknowledging that we have moved on in some ways in our modern world?  And the thing is, all authors are human and, therefore, all authors are flawed and products of their times and places.  Can any book ever be perfect?

I'm not sure why this book struck me particularly.  Perhaps because it was such a crucial book in my childhood, or maybe just because it's such good writing.  Maybe if the writing were less that perfect, I would be willing to write off the author's flaws more easily.  Is it because C. S. Lewis is such a good, good writer that it is harder to acknowledge his personal flaws?

So those are my Narnia musings, all set off by a simple comment and having read the books recently.  Now, tell me, what are your thoughts on Narnia?  Should it get a free pass on any kind of scrutiny because it is such beloved and wonderful writing?  Should we just throw it out and stop romanticizing over the writing?  Or should we strike some kind of happy medium of acknowledging it's problems while also accepting that this is some of the loveliest children's fiction out there?

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Meet the Austins by Madeleine L'Engle

As part of giving up library reading for the month of January, I've been spending lots of my perusing my own bookshelves.  I have quite a collection of children's books from my own childhood and one that I re-read on a whim during this Christmas vacation was Meet the Austins.  Pretty much everybody I know has read and loved this dear book by Madeleine L'Engle.  If you haven't read this, I am, frankly, shocked.  You must go at once and read it.
I think this might be an original.  See the 60s hair and the mother below in her 60s swing coat?



Meet the Austins is narrated by 12 year old Vicky Austin.  Right on the cusp of adolescence, Vicky, along with her charming family-Her father, mother, older brother, John, younger sister, Suzy, and younger brother, Rob, as well as a kindly bachelor uncle and a doting adopted aunt-experience a whirlwind series of events.

It all starts after a description of a lovely day that completely convinced me of L'Engle's writing powers before the book really started.  This description was so lovingly written that I instantly flashed back to so many evenings like this in my own childhood.  Everybody roaring around, dinner cooking, the mad race to the telephone every time it rings.  And then everything comes to a standstill when Aunt Elena, mother's roommate from boarding school, calls and tells them that her husband is dead in a plane crash, along with his copilot who has left a little girl.

Of course, the Austins agree to take in the little girl, Maggy, since Elena, who was made her godmother, is a concert pianist about to go on tour.  Maggy completely upsets the family's daily life by turning out to be a train wreck of a child.  But, over time, she comes to find a home with the loving Austins.

Along the way, there are funny and charming family stories.  There is one, in particular, that made me laugh out loud in which the whole family dresses eccentrically to shock one of the uncle's snobbish girlfriends.  The Austins have all kinds of adventures while getting used to the shell-shocked Maggy, from picnics to stargazing to a trip to see the grandfather who lives in a barn.

One of the reasons I love this book so much is that it is a direct refutation of Hemingway's famous quote about unhappy families, "All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."  This book shows that, no, happy families are different and interesting and absorbing.  To be miserable does not necessarily mean that one is romantic or interesting or enjoyable to read about.

The story is also interestingly written.  It's written exactly like a child telling you a (slightly longwinded) life story.  Of course there's a plot and direction and flow to the book in a way that a child's story wouldn't, but there is something about the quality of the writing that is so childlike.  For one thing, everything is presented exactly at face value without a lot of analysis on the part of the narrator.  Also, the sentences are kind of run-on.  It's not in a bad-writing-run-on-sentence kind of way, but in a child talking kind of way.  Just think about the last conversation you had with a 12 year old.  That's what the book reads like.  But trust me, it's charming, not annoying.

Some interesting things stood out reading this book this time through.  The main thing was my perception of Maggy.  Now, realize that I last read this book in 6th grade, maybe.  I absolutely despised Maggy and was truly enraged at how she consumed the Austin family life.  This time around, I ached for her lack of family and her brattiness simply read as a very sad, neglected little girl.  Also, there were some pretty dated discussions and references (this book was published in 1960) that I thought were funny reading this time around that I never would have thought to notice back whenever I first read this.

This book is so beautifully told, so funny and poignant, there is just no way you can go through your whole life and not pick up this book at least once.  If you have a child in your life, this would make an absolutely marvelous read aloud.  And if not, or even if you do, you must read this for yourself.


Wednesday, December 31, 2014

What I Read in 2014

I read a lot this year.  I think I read so much because I had this blog that was quietly tapping me on the shoulder, reminding me to take the time to read and write on my blog.  Yes, there was my (brief) hiatus from blogging, back in the fall, but I could never completely leave this blog and, so, I'm committing to a brisker blog schedule and even more reading this year!  I thought I would compile a list of what I read this year.  I was so pleased, readers!  The list starts in March because that was when I started blogging and, honestly, I have absolutely no memory of what I read before that.

March

The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery (And my first blog post!)
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (Still one of my favorite works of fiction)
The Penderwicks Books by Jeanne Birdsall
Two Sherlock Holmes Books
Canterbury Tales
Kilmeny of the Orchard by L.M. Montgomery
Hotel Paradise by Martha Grimes
Don't Look Now by Daphne DuMaurier (NOT a hit!)
The Beginning of Flavia de Luce
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Everyman and Medieval Miracle Plays
The Life of Pi

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Gardening Reading

It's been so drearily bleak around here, but not cold.  It's my least favorite weather conditions-50 degrees and gray.  So, to distract myself from the less-than-ideal weather, I've come up with a nice big stack of gardening reading materials.  I'm already getting excited for the seed catalogues and gardening charts!

Here's my list:


  • Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver-I think this is my third time reading through this and I love it more each time I read it.  This does deserve its own review, so when I get around to it, I'll definitely write one.

  • How to Grow More Vegetables by John Jevons-Good, so far, although the man does seem to have a mad gleam in his eye.  I can't imagine doing all of the hoopla required for this kind of intensive gardening.  Interesting, though.

  • The New Kitchen Garden by Anna Pavord-A lovely, lovely book.  Not terribly informational, but full of gorgeous pictures and ideas for making beautiful little kitchen gardens with just a little bit of space.

  • The 12 Month Gardener by Jeff Ashton-A really great book all about gardening year round in a temperate climate.  Useful, interesting, and inspiring.
Now aren't you refreshed just looking at all those bright green books with the word "garden" in their titles?  I'm sure there will be more books like these as spring draws closer.  I'll be sure to keep you updated on what I'm reading.


Sunday, November 30, 2014

An Old Fashioned Thanksgiving by L.M. Alcott

This is a book that is neglected and forgotten about all too frequently.  We've all read, or at least read part of, Little Women and maybe and Old Fashioned Girl or Eight Cousins, but most people haven't ever read An Old Fashioned Thanksgiving, unless they know of it from the smarmy, schmaltzy tv movie that was done in the early 2000s.  Just in case you were wondering, that movie has absolutely nothing to do with the book by Alcott except for the title.

This book was also made into a picture book at some point, but this was a short story written by Alcott around the same time that she wrote Hospital Sketches.  In this story, the Bassett family is bustling around, getting ready for a big Thanksgiving feast when a carriage comes up to the gate, bringing word that grandmother is desperately sick.  The mother leaves, putting her 7 young children in charge of cooking the Thanksgiving meal.  There are all kinds of funny upsets and mishaps, including stuffing the turkey with truly nasty herbs (can't remember what they were....catnip, maybe?).

This book was been rather overlooked because it's not very long and it's very easily cute-ified, something that can very easily happen to holiday stories.  I think that Alcott originally wrote this as a children's short story, but I really enjoyed it, just as an Austen fan.  This was really very well written and gently funny.

There really isn't much else to say about this book.  It's got a lovely atmosphere about it and is, really, still very contemporary, as we could all imagine having an adventure like this.  Although can you even imagine leaving your 7 kids, all under the age of 16 at home to make Thanksgiving dinner?  Whew!

If you have any children in your life, go ahead and read this to them.  If you don't, but you're an avid Alcott fan, then go ahead and read this, too.  I think you'll enjoy it.

So there's my Thanksgiving post for the year.  I hope you all had a lovely Thanksgiving week!   I gathered with lots of extended family for lots and lots of good food.  It was lovely and now I'm ready for a normal week ahead and, hopefully, a few blog posts!


Saturday, November 22, 2014

In Which I Meet Amelia Peabody

Readers, I met Amelia Peabody and I do think that she is the most charming, fascinating, lively, and well-developed mystery heroine I have ever read in my entire life.

I discovered her after a friend very casually mentioned this fabulous mystery series by Elizabeth Peters about a Victorian archaeologist.  It didn't sound fabulous, but I trust this friend with book recommendations, so I checked the first one out and, oh, was I in for a treat!

The Amelia Peabody mysteries are about Amelia Peabody, a middle-aged, strong-willed, stubborn woman who spends her days charging through Egypt and working and learning at excavation sites.  Oh, and there are mysteries that she solves on the side, too.

This first book, Crocodile on the Sandbank, starts out with Amelia aboard a train, traveling to Egypt just after the death of her father.  While on it, she meets a waif-like woman named Evelyn Barton, who is fleeing her erstwhile lover and her tyrannical grandfather, who is enraged over the fact that she ran away with the lover in the first place.  Amelia firmly takes Evelyn under her wing and they proceed to Egypt, with a cousin-cum-prospective spouse for Evelyn in tow.  While there, they meet the Radcliffe brothers, who are an excavating team.  Sparks immediately start to fly between Evelyn and Walter, the younger brother, and Amelia and Emerson Radcliffe, the older brother, immediately decide to hate each other.  However, the whole party is thrown together after a walking mummy keeps making repeated, unfriendly visits.

The party knows that it has to be an Englishman, since only a person with Western influence would think to do such a thing and so they set out to find the strange mummy.  There are all kinds of adventures and near-misses and, meanwhile, Amelia and Emerson are growing strangely fond of each other.

This book really has everything-good characters with plenty of witty dialogue, an exciting plot, a smattering of romance, and a thrilling mystery.  I read the book constantly for 2 days and it went with me wherever I went.  This book is also responsible for a pot of soup burned to the point of inedibility.

The relationship between Emerson and Amelia was quite entertaining.  It was very reminiscent of the Darcy/Lizzie romance and countless others like it that have appeared in fiction ever since Pride and Prejudice made its way into the world, but at the same time, it was different enough to not be annoying.  Oh, and, spoiler alert, Amelia and Emerson do get married by the end of the book.  You knew it was coming, so that wasn't a terrible spoiler.

These books were first written in the 1970s by Elizabeth Peters and I am amazed at how historically accurate they were.  I think that 70s and 80s writing has a bit of a reputation as being sadly anachronistic, but there was nothing anachronistic about this writing.  It was perfectly done and very historically accurate.

I really, really loved this book and think that, if you are any kind of a reader, you will like this.  It was well-written and funny and exciting (oh, so exciting), and a million other adjectives, and I think that this series is something that pretty much anybody should at least read one of.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Mama Makes Up Her Mind

I loved, loved, loved this spunky, funny, classically southern book so much.  I really do love Southern books and this one, a memoir by Bailey White, a self-proclaimed spinster and her opinionated mother's adventures in northern Florida was priceless.

Bailey White came to public attention through NPR some time in the early 2000s.  I had heard her books recommended and widely praised for years and I finally decided that I needed to do something about the fact that I had never read anything by her.

This memoir is just collections of short stories loosely divided into categories.  The stories are funny and well-written and I felt that they were worth every minute of my time that reading them took up.  Bailey White still lives with her mother in the home where she was born.  Since writing this book, she has abandoned her job as an elementary school teacher to work on her writing.  This book is just stories of daily life that manage to be both hilarious and very commonplace at the same time.

I started the book somewhere public (can't remember where) and remember working very hard to keep from laughing out loud every 5 seconds.  You know that awkward sensation of realizing that pretty much everybody's eyes are on you as you sit grinning from ear to ear and chuckling to yourself?  Well, I had that sensation for pretty much the whole book.

The stories are varied-about White's old car that refuses to break down, about Mama, who finds a tick in her pantyhose on the way to a wedding and spends the whole drive there fussing about it, about the taxidermist next door who can't cook, so takes lessons from Mama.  Each of the stories are just a few pages, but this is not one of those books that you are going to read 5 pages of every day until it's finished.  Oh, no.  Be prepared to spend a large portion of your waking hours behind the covers of this book.

I think the best thing about this book is Bailey White's voice.  It is this voice that shines through in each story and it's the thing that draws all the stories together under a common theme.  It takes a lot of skill to develop a good writer's voice and I was impressed by how clear and likable White's was.

My favorite section was the category about White's teaching adventures.  I loved the story about teaching all of her students to read completely based on the story of the titanic.  Bailey White doesn't teach first grade anymore and I am sure that the loss of her presence at that school is felt.  I would have liked to see her in action, because, the way she talks, you can tell that she was truly devoted to her students and her job.

Southern books and southern writing is pretty prolific in the US.  There are always new southern novels and southern memoirs and southern cookbooks and southern...., but this one really does stand out.  I liked that the south was celebrated without being taken advantage or made fun of.  I think that Bailey White did a good job of this in large part because she lives there, she is an insider and, as such, knows all of the faults and gifts of the south.  It kind of drives me crazy when "outsiders" try to write Southern fiction.  It doesn't work and ends up either being condescending or just weirdly awkward.

If you like to laugh out loud and if you like good writing, then I urge you to please go and hunt this book out. I am only sorry that I am just now finding out about this wonderful writer.  I'm off to read Quite a Year for Plums, a work of fiction that Bailey White wrote.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Peggy Parsons at Prep School

My latest read has been a very indulgent one-Peggy Parsons at Prep School-one of those boarding-school-girl books from the teens and 20s that were a dime a dozen back in the day.  I have a certain fondness for these books and found this particular one in a dusty little, out-of-the-way bookshop that was housed in an old mill.  I think the charming setting went to my head, because I bought three or four of this genre of books, I read all of them except for this one, which I finally got around to reading just this past week.

Peggy Parsons, etc. etc. is, of course, about Peggy Parsons and her multitude of wholesome adventures at her charming prep school.  Of course, there are the characters who have to be won over by Peggy's charming personality.  And there is the problem that is cheerfully solved by the resourceful heroine.

In this book, the main problem is the joining together of a handsome college boy (who conducts a serenade with the glee club for the prep school girls in the first chapter, by the way…that part was pretty fabulous) and his long-lost,  gruff grandfather who has a soft spot for Peggy.  But, along the way, there are picnics and midnight fudge parties and matinee shows at the local theater and strict headmistresses to win over.

Here are two excerpts from the book, so that you get a picture of what this book is like to read:

"The domestic science class, well under way with an excellent teacher, decided to have a 'bacon bat', after the custom of the Smith College girls, all by themselves on some bit of rock that jutted into the river….There was a jar of bacon strips in a paper bag, the bottle of olives in another paper bag, and two dozen rolls, a generous supply in the biggest paper bag of all.  There was a tiny box of matches, too, that Peggy slipped into the pocket of her rust colored jacket."

And…one of those fudge scenes that are so frequently talked about in this type of book:

"The room, with the little whispering group of girls in it, some on couches and some on the floor, garbed in all the delicate shades of boudoir attire, pale blue, pink, and rose, saffron yellow, lavender, and dainty green; with the tiny spurts of golden candle flame dotted here and there on table and mantlepiece; with the hot, chocolate-smelling fudge bubbling away in the chafing dish, looking like some fairy meeting place…When the fudge was done they put the pan out of the window and hoped that it wouldn't fall down and all be lost.  It didn't, and before it had fairly cooled, they cut it and lifted the squares in their eager fingers and ate them with greedy pleasure, down to the last, last crumb."

The book by no means displays good writing and is quite formulaic, but there is something so charming about such adventures, full of pretty 20s clothes and archaic food the likes of which I have never heard or seen.

I don't quite know why these books hold such charm for me.  They are often sub-par-ly written and, after you've read one, you've read them all, but for some reason, that doesn't disgust me.  They were also obviously a huge money-maker (rather like the Nancy Drew books) back in the day and written in large part to secure the attentions of girls for years on end while more and more books were churned out.  In a modern book, I would not hold with any of these things and would firmly refuse to ever pick up such a cheap bit of book, but something about the age of this book keeps me from throwing it out or refusing to read it.

I wonder, did these boarding schools actually exist, or were they romanticizations of a certain school-girl lifestyle that rarely, if ever, existed?  I don't know the answer to this question, but I do know that these authors always present these stories as if every other girl was going to one of these boarding schools that are always full of fun and games and little education.

If this sounds like something that you would enjoy reading, purely for a little enjoyment and light reading, I highly recommend seeking one of this type of book out.  They are fast reads and are an interesting, much-forgotten bit of fiction.  Unless you just happen to stumble upon a few of these at some cheap bookshop, they can be very hard to find and, when found, ridiculously expensive.  Also, most libraries don't have them anymore.  So if you happen to find one, like I did, snap it up and enjoy yourself!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

A Place Called Hope

I really enjoyed this book.  A Place Called Hope by Philip Gulley is not the first thing that I've ever read by Gulley.  Philip Gulley is a Quaker minister and a writer of both fiction and nonfictional thoughts, mostly on Christianity and church life.  His portrayal of and insight into church life, both fictional and nonfictional is so very accurate and wise and funny that I can't help but love everything he has written.   And, of course, there is also the added benefit of the books being very, very well written.

The Harmony series is about a fictional series (although I think there's a lot of truth and almost-true events in the books) about a Quaker preacher and his wife and two sons who move home to Harmony where Sam, the main character, grew up.  There, Sam takes over preaching the small, fundamentalist, Quaker church where he spent his childhood.  Throughout the series, we are introduced to a number of characters in this small town-from the sensible church ladies on the Chicken and Noodles Committee to the raving conservative, Dale Hinshaw who manages to alienate almost everybody.   I'm sensing another post about this series coming on...

Anyway, this series is a spin-off of that series.  In this series, Sam and Barbara (his wife) are about to experience a change.  They have to leave their town of Harmony and Sam's pastoring position after an uproar occurs.  The Unitarian pastor in Harmony asks Sam to conduct a blessing at the end of a wedding.  To Sam's utter shock, the couple is gay.  And to add to the problem the local newspaper reporter is there.  When this news gets out, the church creates a complete uproar, fires Sam, and hires a fly-by-night pastor.

With no job and two sons just sent off to college, Sam and Barbara get ready to leave for new in Hope, Indiana, respectively, at a congregation of 12 people, and the school library.  They are happy there at this new church, with kind people and, of course, the few malcontents that accompany any church.  And this is the start of a new series.

I knew that I was going to like this book.  Philip Gulley is a very funny writer with a sense of the charming foibles and quirks that accompany church life.  It also makes me laugh at how universal some parts of church life are.  For instance, take this quote from the chapter in which Sam is being interviewed by the Search committee:

"'Now I'm clerk of the Limb Committee,' Hank said.  'Limb Committee?  What's a limb committee?' Sam asked.  'Just like it sounds.  I'm in charge of making sure th tree limbs get picked up.  Got a lot of trees here.  If we didn't have a limb committee, the yard would be a mess.'  'What other committees are there?' Sam asked.  'Well, let's see, we have the limb committee, the pie committee, the roof committee, the snow committee, the lawn-mowing committee, the kitchen committee, a funeral committee, a parsonage committee, and the pastoral search committee,' Hank Withers said.  'Don't forget the peace committee,' Norma Withers added.  'And technically, we have an elders' committee, but it doesn't meet regularly.'"

This sounds ridiculous to the average ear, but this passage so funnily captures that church-wide phenomenon of, "Have something to do?  I know!  We'll start a committee and stick a couple of people on it."

This is the brilliance of Gulley's writing- capturing the mundanities of church life and showing the true hilarity of some of the situations.

This book has also been rather controversial (at least, GoodReads seems to think so), because, by the end of the book, it's pretty obvious that Gulley is in favor of the church becoming more tolerant of homosexuality, something that, at least in the US, the majority of people are not.  I appreciated how he dealt with the topic with grace, humor, and kindness to both sides of the argument, something that is not often done.

This books is obviously a niche-novel.  It's written for a certain set of the population and the majority of the jokes are good-church-people jokes.   That said, if you've ever spent any time in a church setting (and, really, it can be pretty much any church), then I would definitely recommend this book.  It's a funny, kind, gentle book and a very fast read.  I enjoyed picking it up and reading about half of it over a lunch break and then the other half that evening.  I highly recommend it.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Homemaker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher

This book was fantastic.  It's written by Dorothy Canfield Fisher, who wrote fiction back in the 1920s.  She was quite controversial and, apparently, shocked quite a few people with her educational/political/philosophical beliefs.  This book, The Homemaker, amazed me at its surprising currentness.
I love this cover, by the way.  Isn't it cozy?

The Homemaker is about a husband and wife who both despise their roles.  Evangeline Knapp tries to be the perfect housewife-scrubbing everything in sight every minute, creating perfect meals, hating it all and, subsequently, being terribly mean to her 3 kids.  Lester Knapp works at a store in a job that he hates.  He has no freedom and what he really wants to do is read poetry and hang out with his children.   The children all have various health problems and are nervous wrecks.  After Lester is fired from his job, he falls off of the roof, breaking his back and forcing his wife to go out and get a job at the very store that fired him.  Evangeline finds out how much she loves working in the clothing department, advising people and organizing everything, and becomes generally a kinder and happier person.  After his back begins to heal, Lester realizes how much he loves being home and taking care of his family.

But once Lester recovers, the Knapps realize how much they love their new way of life.  They all have an unspoken dread of returning to the way things used to be, but they know that if Lester does not return to a new job and Evangeline does not come home, society will completely disapprove.

I'm not going to tell you the ending, but I promise that it's good.  This book amazed me with its modernness.  We have to remember that in 1924 this would have been a message that would have left most people reeling.  I can only imagine the shock that this book must have caused.  It's obvious that Fisher was well ahead of her time.

I loved this book for the cozy domestic details, the fabulous story line (Fisher is a fantastic writer), and the way that the characters were presented.  Fisher is very, very good at writing sympathetic characters that you instantly begin to identify with.  I grew to love these characters and genuinely hope that they would find a way to be happy.

I really recommend this book to anybody and, really, this book could still produce a thought-provoking discussion today about men's and women's roles and how they do and do not work.  The book is a very fast read (I read it in a day).  It's a perfect book to curl up by the fire with.  I highly recommend it.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Sarah's Story-First in Quantocks Quartet

I just finished up a lovely, lovely book.  It's called Sarah's Story by Ruth Elwin Harris.  It's set before and throughout WWI in a small English village and it's been called "the Little Women of our times."  While I wouldn't go that far (nobody can rival L.M. Alcott's perfect book), this was a fantastic book.

This series is very interesting because it records four sisters' tellings of the same story.  It's a brilliant way of writing and, as far as I know, it's the first time that this has ever been done in the world of fiction writing.  There are four Purcell sisters: Sarah, Gwen, Julia, and Frances. 

The story starts with Sarah-the youngest-nicknamed "Mouse".  She is the always-forgotten little sister.  The story begins just after the death of the Purcell sisters' mother.  A famous painter, as soon as her husband died, she lost the will to live.  The Purcells are taken under the wing of the kindly vicar, Mr. Mckenzie, and his domineering wife.  The Mckenzies have 3 sons, who feature heavily in this book. 

The three eldest of the sisters are all serious artists, but Sarah appears to have no talent, until she realizes how much she loves to write.  It is this love of writing that drives her to many new experiences.

The book was heartbreakingly sad at places-something that I don't tend to like-but for some reason I wasn't fazed in the least.  This book captured me and I fell in love at once. 

The sisters are wildly different.  Frances is tempestuous and the most brilliant painter of them all.  She fights constantly with her sisters, Mrs. Mckenzie, and her love interest, Gabriel Mckenzie.  We don't hear much from Gwen and Julia.  In fact, I'm looking forward to hearing more about them in future novels.  Sarah is, of course, the main character, so we hear quite a lot from her.

From her failed attempt at a boarding school to her adoration-from-afar of Gabriel Mckenzie, to her friendship with the family maid, Sarah is a lively, 3-dimensional character.  I think that Harris's gift may lie in writing truly brilliant characters.  Sarah and Frances, in particular, felt so alive to me as I read this story.

Harris's other gift is seamlessly incorporating fiction into history.  A main focus of the book is WWI.  The Mckenzie boys go off to the war and there is frequent mention of world events going on in the context of their little village.  There is a breathtakingly sad part where one of the Mckenzie boys tells Sarah about the horrible flashbacks he gets and the noises he hears- PTSD, although they didn't know about that at the time.  

This book did have a lot of elements that were similar to Little Women, but I wouldn't call it "the new Little Women".  For instance, the book is quite a bit darker than Little Women.  Although both were set during war times, the war was much more in the background in Little Women.  Also, this book had a more adult tone than Little Women, even though it was about girls.  The problems and events were adult-scale and even Sarah, who is 11 at the start of the book, is seen through grown up eyes.  But I still loved the book for itself.

I would recommend this book to anybody who likes a gently gripping life saga.  This story was pure enjoyment to read and I can't wait to get my hands on the second in the series.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Miss Read

I have been knocked out by the most awful head cold.  I'm left with watery eyes, a dripping nose, a sore throat, and a dull headache.  Gah.  And it add insult to injury, today was Music Sunday at church.  Every 5th Sunday, we have a gorgeous, completely music-centric church-service and today's was particularly gorgeous.  And, people, I couldn't sing.  I was disgusted.  I came home and brewed myself a cup of tea and pulled out a Miss Read novel while the rain gently drizzled down.  It was lovely to curl up with a gently gossipy novel and forget about my streaming head cold for a few hours.
Miss Read, otherwise known as Dora Saint.

Miss Read wrote these two cozy, gentle series about two English villages.  The stories are just daily life accounts, rather like having a long gossip session with a good friend.  The two series (Thrush Green and Fairacre) are both about small country villages full of eccentric characters who, in spite of their quirks and foibles, are lovable people.

The stories are told by Miss Read herself as though she is just filling you in on the town news.  Here's the excerpt from the back of the book, as the book itself isn't really summarizable (no, that's not a word, but I'm sick and my brain isn't functioning, so I'm allowed to make up words):

"This sleepy, pristine setting conceals a flurry of activity among the villagers.  Rumor has it that Mr. Venables is considering retirement just as the village's teacher is about to make an important decision. Molly Curdle prepares for a new baby.  The kindly vicar, Charles Henstock, works on his sermon-quite unaware of the disaster that will overtake him.  However, there is never any doubt that all will end well in this very English village."

There is nothing thought-provoking or challenging about these books.  They are simply stories about everyday people living everyday lives.  The goings-on are mild and rather uninteresting, if one is used to thrilling, action-packed, drama-filled novels, but that's really the charm of these books.  Their gentleness is what is so drawing about them.  

I think the last time I read one of these books was when I was sick.  These books are akin to a cup of hot tea or a very thick wool blanket (you know, the kind that is so heavy you can barely move your shoulders).  If you are suffering from any sort of ailment, pull yourself off of your sickbed and stagger to the library and pull one of the shelf.  If you aren't suffering from any ailment, just keep these books in the back of your mind for next time your nose runs.  They make being sick positively enjoyable.  


Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Language of God by Francis S. Collins

I read a really interesting nonfiction book recently.  I'm discovering something interesting about myself. My whole life, I've never really felt the need to read nonfiction.  Nonfiction just never spoke to my reading self.  However, recently, my reading tastes have broadened.  I am enjoying pretty much any nonfiction book.  In fact, my nonfiction reading tastes are much broader than my fiction reading tastes.  I credit my inner sociologist.  I have always been fascinated by people and why people do what they do and what they think and how they behave.  Nonfiction accounts of people's thoughts and inner workings perfectly feed that inner sociologist.

So anyway, my latest nonfiction book was The Language of God by Francis S. Collins.  It was recommended to me some time ago and I picked it up at the library the other week.  This book is written by the head of the Human Genome Project.  He also happens to be a devout Christian who was deeply inspired by C.S. Lewis's writings.  In fact, Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis was what brought him to Christianity.

In this book, Collins argues that Christianity and science are actually compatible, that the two do not need to have the discordant relationship that they have historically had, particularly in regards to evolution.  He starts the book by giving his personal journey of faith.  He grew up with two hippie, back-to-the-land, adamantly atheist parents who homeschooled him and his brothers.  He went to college and studied physics, before eventually meandering over to the field of medicine.  After talking to a dying patient who asked him about what he believed, he began to rethink everything he'd ever been taught, culminating in his reading of Mere Christianity.

Collins goes on to talk about the arguments that scientists/atheists pose against Christianity, from the argument that so much wrong has been done in the name of Christianity, to the argument that Christianity is not "smart" or "logical".  All of the common arguments were addressed very well.

Next, he talks about the warring viewpoints- creationism, atheism/agnosticism, intelligent design, and his own viewpoint, which he calls biologos, or theistic evolution.  I think that this was probably my favorite section.

I'll leave the rest of the book for you to explore, though.  You really must read it for yourself to get a true idea of what this book is about.

I think that Collins's most powerful argument is that we weaken God when we argue that God would not be real to us if the earth was not created in a literal 7 days, etc.  He talks about how we place this ridiculously human limitations on God.  Collins makes the point that God can, indeed be the master over all areas of science, that science is yet another language of God.  I found this to be a beautiful and poignant message.

This is probably the most controversial book that I've ever reviewed and it feels a little funny writing about something that is a rather tense issue right now.  But, I enjoyed this book and found it to be a thought provoking piece of writing.   If you're interested in this, Collins has also headed up a whole organization/website called BioLogos, or faith and science in harmony.   Here's the link:
http://biologos.org.

This book is for anybody who has ever thought about the rather fraught with tension issue of science and faith.  I think that this book perfectly addressed this issue, if only as a presentation of another position.  I highly recommend it.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home

Oh, readers.  I have fallen head over heels for this ice cream book.  Seriously.  I think it's the world's best ever ice cream book.  Ice cream books are definitely not a new phenomenon- from David Lebovitz's The Perfect Scoop to People's Pops (a hipster ice cream/popsicle cookbook).  But this cookbook is brilliant in a different way.

The thing that stands out to me is the fact that every single recipe I see in this cookbook sounds delicious.  I would happily eat any of the (sometimes unexpected and strange) flavors of ice cream enclosed in this book.  But here's the thing, these recipes aren't just bizarre for the sake of being bizarre.  Oh, no.  You know those recipes that are written simply for the sake of shocking and grossing out a large portion of the population?  While this cookbook has some interesting combinations, they are well-thought out and inspired, not just weird.

This cookbook is written by Jeni Britton Bauer, who started a small collection of ice cream stores all across Ohio.  As the restaurants grew in fame, Bauer began trying more and more combinations of flavors and found that the public was actually thrilled with this new, inspired flavors.  Bauer is a strong supporter of the local food movement and so the recipes are very conveniently arranged by season.  So you're not going to be making a roasted strawberry ice cream in January.

The photography is breath-taking.  I am completely in awe of people who can photograph food well.  The pictures are all beautiful and well-lighted and make the food look even better than I ever could.  Now that I think about it, it's probably because they don't just shove the random bits of household junk to one side of the table and then forget to turn on any lights while they take a few dimly lit pictures of a bowl of food.  Ahem.  But back to the book.  Each recipe is accompanied by a beautiful picture of a spoon full of ice cream.

As I mentioned earlier, the flavors are genius- things that would never cross my head.  Take this list that I made of a few of the ice cream flavors in this book:
-Wild Berry Lavender Ice Cream
-Bangkok Peanut Ice Cream (peanut butter ice cream with cayenne pepper, coconut milk, and honey)
-Gucci Muu Muu (a chocolate ice cream with curry powder)
-Sweet Corn and Black Raspberry Ice Cream

I'm currently waiting for a small, 1-quart ice cream maker to come in the mail.  We have the big gallon crank that you pull out for family gatherings and make a whole bunch of vanilla ice cream.  But, honestly, you don't want a gallon of celery ice cream with candied ginger.  But if a family of four each gets a small bowlful?  Perfect!  So once that comes, I will be celebrating the end of summer with lots of ice cream.

I sat drooling over this ice cream.  You simply must read this.  It doesn't involve turning on an oven.  All you need is a pile of dairy products, a couple other ingredients and an ice cream crank.  I know that you'll like this book.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Tales, Speeches, Essays, and Sketches by Mark Twain

My latest read was Tales, Speeches, Essays, and Sketches by Mark Twain.  Of course, I laughed my head off because it's dear Mark Twain.  I do love Mark Twain's writing style.  I'm in a bit of a dry spot, reading-wise and I've been aimlessly wandering around both my personal library and the public library feeling sorry for my book-less self.  Mark Twain stepped in and is helping me through this little bump and, oh, am I grateful to him.

This book is just a compilation of shorter writings that Twain wrote over the years.  In it is Letter from Carson City, A Dog's Tale, Story of the Bad Little Boy, and more.  The writings are contemplative, sarcastic, witty, biting...pretty much any descriptor that you could use for a book you could mention here.  And that's why his writing is so brilliant.  The skill of being able to effortlessly change tones and settings is something that few authors have mastered.

I have been reading Mark Twain since a little girl, but I never read this book.  Actually I was unfamiliar with a great number of the writings within this.  A lot of these writings are more obscure things that are not handed out to the average reader very frequently.  I felt like I got to know Twain in a new way as I read through this book.  My favorite was An Encounter with an Interviewer.  Twain managed to portray himself and the young interviewer in a sarcastic, hilariously funny light.  I have never read a piece of writing quite like this.  In this story, Twain is interview by a, "nervous, dapper,'peart' young man" who proceeds to assist him in holding a completely botched up interview.  I laughed and laughed and laughed.  Take this excerpt:

"Q. How old are you?
A. Nineteen, in June
Q. Indeed!  I would have taken you to be thirty-five or six.  Where were you born?
A. In Missouri.
Q. When did you begin to write?
A. In 1836.
Q. Why, how could that be, if you are only nineteen now?
A. I don't know.  It does seem curious somehow.
Q. It does, indeed.  Who do you consider the most remarkable man you ever met?
A. Aaron Burr.
Q. But you never could have met Aaron Burr, if you are only nineteen years-
A. Now, if you know more about me than I do, what do you ask me for?"

When you're done reading that (and have spent a good 5 minutes laughing), flip back a few pages and turn to The Story of a Bad Little Boy That Bore a Charmed Life.  And you will have had your amusement for the day.  I guarantee it.

Go read this book, dear readers.  You will quite enjoy it and you will be left feeling refreshed and ready to conquer any book.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Great Divorce

My latest read has been The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis.  I grew up with C.S. Lewis (particularly the Chronicles of Narnia, but other things as well, such as Screwtape Letters), so his writing is not new to me, but for some reason I had skipped this book.

The Great Divorce refers to a book called The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.  C.S. Lewis is replying to the assertion that parts of Heaven and Hell should be combined to make earth and instead calls for "a great divorce between heaven and hell," a return to an either/or stance rather than a both/and stance.  The story is an allegory, a sort of reflection on the nature of heaven and hell and how people participate in both realms on earth.  The story starts when the narrator boards a bus in a strange land where it is always grey and drizzly.  He goes on an incredible journey through heaven and hell with his complaining, griping, unsatisfied fellow travelers.  Lewis sums up the moral of the story in the introduction, "If we insist on keeping Hell (or even earth) we shall not see Heaven; if we accept Heaven we shall not be able to retain even the smallest and most intimate souvenirs of Hell."

It is no secret that Lewis is a highly revered writer and thinker, but this was especially impressed upon me in this book.  The way that important truths are presented in an unassuming, yet poignant way is impressive.  And it isn't every writer that can write a pressing allegory without it become a diatribe or a long-winded sermon.  I was encourage in my own faith by this book, but I was also challenged and convicted by it.  I think it's a good idea to read a book that makes one ever so slightly uncomfortable (in a good, spurring-on kind of way, of course) every once in a while.

I'm going to include a quote from the introduction of the book (which really was a sort of interpretation for the whole allegory).

"You cannot take all luggage with you on all journeys; on one journey even your right hand and your right eye may be among the things you have to leave behind."

I really enjoyed this book.  As you long-time readers know, I read a lot of lighter-end fiction and so it was quite refreshing to get out of a bit of a reading grove.  This book also has the advantage of not being a tome-like book.  It's something that can be read over a quiet weekend and the reader will be left with a refreshed, thoughtful feeling.  Of course, this is a Christianity-geared book, however, if you are a thinker and enjoy contemplating, I would highly recommend this book.  I really liked it.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Illustrated Letters of Jane Austen

This is a book that I have owned for years.  The title pretty much sums up what the book is about- letters that Jane Austen wrote throughout the years, most of them to her beloved sister, Cassandra.  Penelope Hughes-Hallett did a beautiful job of compiling these letters and introducing them.  Her voice comes through gently, without taking away anything from the beauty of Austen's writing.  So here, quickly, are some of my observations about this book:


  • I met Jane Austen in a new way while reading this book.  So often, we only read about Austen through somebody else's eyes.  Here, we can see Jane Austen herself, without any other author's interpretations or editing.  It's so refreshing!
  • The illustrations!  They are truly one of the highlights of the book.  I found that I am still a sucker for pretty pictures in books.  The illustrations are varied, from portraits that Cassandra, a budding artist drew, to little humorous sketches published in newspapers at the time to beautiful watercolor sketches done by famous people.  
  • The social rules fascinate me.  What accomplishments were expected of ladies, the proper way to accept a dance...the rules go on and on.  It's interesting, because Jane Austen, of course, accepts the rules as just the way things are.  So the reader picks up those social rules along the way through reading Austen's writing.
  • I am glad I don't have to wear regency dress.  I look at those pictures and hear Jane mention certain things about their clothes and I breathe a sigh of relief.  I am a dress-uppy kind of girl, but those teeny-tiny little plunging bodices and skirts that appear to be constantly sticking to ones legs does not sound pleasant.
  • For the first time, I got a very clear picture of the Austen family as a whole.  I have read biographies about Austen before, but this one is so interesting because it is Jane, herself, talking about her family and all of the little quirks that make up everybody.
  • Jane Austen was an observer, rather like me.  She writes to Cassandra all of her observations about people and the funny, strange, and interesting things that they do.  I think it's part of what makes her such a brilliant writer...that ability to observe something interesting, stow it away for future use, and then pull it out again and incorporate it into a novel.
This book was so wonderful, readers.  I think it was my favorite of my Austen in August reads.  I highly recommend it to any Austenites.  

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Life Among the Savages

Life Among the Savages made me laugh until I cried.  This story is written by the famous Shirley Jackson who is most well-known for her short story The Lottery.  But after writing such dark stuff, she went on to write a memoir about raising her children in an old, rambling, New England farmhouse.

Shirley Jackson, along with her husband, raised 4 children, all of whom appear to have been spunky, rambunctious, hilariously funny children (although now that I think about it, isn't that the definition of most children?).  The story starts when Ms. Jackson and her husband are house hunting.  They have been kicked out of their apartment and they are looking at houses to raise their baby and toddler in.  After months of searching, a raggle-taggle farmhouse that is lacking in pretty much any modern convenience is secured and the family moves in.  From the story of Laurie heading off to school and returning a changed, swaggering man to the birth of Barry, their youngest son, when Jackson shouted at all of the nurses because of her pain medication, the stories are all captivating and enjoyable.

Each chapter (they're very long) is an essay-type story about one of her children's exploits.  My absolute favorite story was of the middle daughter, Joanne, who had a vivid imaginary life, with complicated relationships and many children, whom she could also become at times.  One day, they head to the department store (I do so want to step back in time to a 1940s department store) with Joanne and her imaginary family in tow.  The results are disastrous (and wildly funny).

Knowing Shirley Jackson's previous writing, I am in complete awe of how she manages to write in such a different tone.  The tone in these stories is one of warmth and love and humor, rather than dark bitterness.  It is a truly skilled author who can switch between such different writing styles.

This is one of those books that I could not put down.  I read and re-read each word, so as not to miss any little bit of Jackson's writing.  Her style is so captivating.  I laughed and laughed and then read aloud sections to my (sometimes) listening family members.  I was torn between gobbling up the whole book in one sitting and reading about 5 pages so as to make the book last.  Isn't that the best kind of book?

Some of the books I review, I end up saying, "Well, this is a book for (blank) type of person, but if you're not (blank) type of person, don't bother reading this."  This is not that type of book.  These witty, charming stories could be enjoyed by anybody.  If you have ever spent even half an hour with a child under the age of 12, you will instantly recognize so many of the experiences and adventures.  Please, please go read this, my dear readers.  I guarantee that you will thank me.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Canning Tomatoes-An Excerpt from The Melendys

Today is the beginning of the canning extravaganza-where every surface is covered in pulp and seeds and we all collapse on random kitchen chairs at 7 pm, wearily watching the last canner.  Every year that I do this, I wonder why I think this is a good idea, but when I see the beautiful ruby red jars full of tomatoes sitting in the basement, I feel completely gratified.  The other thing that always crosses my mind is the story of the Melendys, written by Elizabeth Enright.  The Melendys have all sorts of adventures (see this post, where I wrote about them), but here's an excerpt from their canning adventure, accompanied by pictures of our canning mess.   Enjoy!
Onions in the food processor, for pizza sauce.  (Note the clean kitchen.
It's the last time you're going to see a tomato-less surface for the rest of this post)

So in summary, Cuffy (the kindly housekeeper) has left to take care of her sister-with-a-broken-leg, widower Father is on some vague business trip (he frequently is), and that leaves the four children at home, the oldest of whom is fourteen.  You heard that right, fourteen!  It's August and the garden is, of course, overflowing.  Mona (the 14 year old) is completely enchanted with cooking and proposes that she and Randy (the 12 year old) can the produce-

""We eat tomatoes for every meal except breakfast now," Randy said.  "And the cucumbers are just getting boring."  "Maybe we could sell them," offered Oliver helpfully.  "Nix, small fry.  In a rural community like this it would be coals to Newcastle."  "Canning is the answer," Mona said.  "Oh, if only Cuffy were here!""

"A moment later she looked up, striking the table with her mixing spoon.  "We'll do it ourselves!  We'll surprise Cuffy."  "O-o-oh, no!"  said Rush.  "And have us all dead with bottling bacillus or whatever it is.  No, thank you."  "Botulinus bacillus," corrected Mona.  "Oh, Rush, don't be so stuffy.  I'll get a book about it and do everything just the way it says.  I'll only can safe things like the tomatoes and I'll make pickles of the cucumbers."

"Mona slept an uneasy sleep that night, and her dreams were long dull dreams about tomatoes.  She rose early the next morning, got breakfast with Randy, and studied her canning book.  By the time the boys and Willy began bringing the vegetables, she knew it almost by heart.  She and Rand were enthusiastic about the first bushel-basketful of tomatoes, it seemed a treasure trove: an abundance of sleek vermilion fruit, still beaded with dew.  The second bushel also looked very pretty, the third a little less so, and by the time the fourth one arrived she stared at it with an emotion of horror.  "There can't be that many, Rush!"  "You asked for it, pal.  There's the living evidence.  And in twenty four hours, there'll be this much over again." …."The kitchen was swamped with vegetables."

"It was a long, hot, clumsy business.  Mona dropped sterilized lids on the floor, and they had to be sterilized all over again; Randy cut herself with the paring knife; Mona half-scalded her fingers getting the first jar into the boiler.  Randy skidded and fell on a slippery tomato skin which had somehow landed on the kitchen floor.  They lost two jars of tomatoes from the first batch when they were taking them out of the boiler.  The first was dropped by Mona when she thoughtlessly took hold of it with her bare hands.  The second exploded like a bomb, all by itself.  "I guess there was something the matter with it," said Randy brilliantly.

"Her [Mona's] face was scarlet with exertion.  Her hair was tied up in a dish towel, and her apron was covered with tomato stains.  Randy looked worse if anything.  There were tomato seeds in her hair and an orange smear across one cheek.  She was wearing nothing but a faded old playsuit and an apron.  "Gee whiz," she said.   "You know how I feel?  I feel like an old, old woman about forty years old, with fallen arches."

I hear ya', Randy, I hear ya'.

Still, later…"They look sort of nice.  The tomatoes, I mean, not your arches.  Look, Ran."  They were nice.  Sixteen sealed jars of scarlet fruit, upside down on the kitchen table.