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 19, 2014

Meet Dorcas

About a month ago, we got a new stray kitten.  A straggly, skin-and-bones, strangely colored, yet adorable kitten.  She was about 4 weeks old and had just a few teensy weensy teeth that were definitely not ready for grown-up food.  She was named Dorcas, after the small town near where she was found.

Fast forward another 4 weeks and Dorcas is still adorable, but now her little tummy pooches out and she had grown a nice thick, outdoor-kitty coat.  I made fudge and, while it cooled on the porch, I had my (at least 3 times daily) visit with Dorcas.  I snapped pictures while I was there.  I have to say, kittens are not easy to photograph and this kitten is even harder.  She's much more attached to us than previous strays have been, which means that, as soon as she sees a person, she wants to climb all over them and snuggle up for a nap.  Nevertheless, I managed to get a few good-ish pictures.

I keep finding myself making excuses to go out and visit this charming little bundle of fur.

The box that was her shelter when she was littler.  Now it's
just a climbing structure.
This picture is to display Dorcas's tail.  Her ears and her tail
are a striking charcoal against her otherwise black fur.




 The picture above comes with a story.  While I was busy taking pictures of Dorcas, Olive, the plump, elderly cat who has been surprisingly calm about Dorcas joining her in living on the porch, came up to me.  She touched the camera with her nose and then headed over to these plants...




...and posed for me.  And what could I do but take a picture.



Saturday, October 18, 2014

Library Loot- 10/17/14


Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Linda from Silly Little Mischief that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library.
I have a library loot post for you all today.  I haven't done library loot in ages, and since I just stepped in the door from the library, it seems fitting that I post this today!  I've had lots of little library trips-a one book drop off here, an interlibrary loan pick up there, but this time I got a serious haul!

Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote- A classic that I have never read.  The book obviously doesn't have Audrey Hepburn's fabulous clothing, but I think I'm going to like it.

True Sisters by Sandra Dallas- The story of 4 Mormon converts in 1856 traveling together to Iowa City from Salt Lake City.

The Persian Pickle Club, also by Sandra Dallas- What can I say?  I was standing by this author and she's got a pile of things she's written.  This is about a young farmwife in the 30s in Kansas.

My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff- This was on the new book shelf.  It's memoir about being in literary New York in the 90s.  I've heard good things about this book.

Royal Flush by Rhys Bowen- I was standing in the stacks and realized that I hadn't read anything by Rhys Bowen in the longest time.  I read the first two of the Royal Spyness books and greatly enjoyed them, but then promptly forgot all about them.

Paris Letters by Janice MacLeod-Another memoir-this one about a young woman who gives up her job in LA to travel to Paris.  I started this book and I think it might be a little on the smarmy side….we'll see.

The Bachelor by Stella Gibbons- Set in the 40s.   This is about a bachelor brother and his spinster sister and their eccentric cousin, who all live in the suburbs together during WWII.  They decide to take in boarders, which include the brother's old flame, an immigrant family, and others.

Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth- This is a historical novel, something that I almost never read, but this one looked good.  It's a weaving together of 3 stories-that of a French novelist who writes a story about a young girl, and her father who steals parsley from another woman, Selena Leonelli, who threatens to cut his hands off.  Okay, that made absolutely no sense.  Go read the synopsis somewhere else.  Basically, this story is a re-imagining with a historical background about the Rapunzel story.

So that's my loot for the weekend and the week ahead!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Listening

Here's what I'm listening to while I sit working at the computer.  I thought I would share:
And this piece:

I've loved Old Crow Medicine Show for a while, but just now realized what great Get-Stuff-Done-To-Music it is.  Has anybody else noticed that there is music you can work to and music you can't work to?  I love this group.  Happy Listening!

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.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Book Lovers Cookbook

I've missed you, dear readers.  After a rather hectic start of October, I'm looking forward to settling done and (hopefully!) getting a good amount of blogging done.  I have two posts lined up for today and tomorrow, so you can get your blog fix this weekend.

Last night we went to a movie and, of course, I kept up my bad habit of tucking a book under my coat. You know, just in case.  Have I ever mentioned this little quirk about myself?  It's true, I very frequently will carry a book with me into the movie theater, particularly if it's a very gripping book that I can't. stop. thinking. about.  Usually I don't need the book, but once that book-under-the-coat move saved me.   It was somebody else's idea to go see the latest Spiderman (can't remember who, but they should thank me for forgetting).  The ending was truly awful and after about five minutes of that nonsense, I quietly pulled my book out and started reading by the flickering of the screen.

Anyway, last night, we got to the theater early and there were those obnoxious ads playing before the trailers start.  I was so thankful that I had along a book-The Book Lover's Cookbook-to read so I didn't have to have my brain melt in puddles around my feet over dumb ads.

I think this cookbook might have been written for me, I mean, a cookbook that is about books?!  I can't think of anything lovelier.  This cookbook did not disappoint.  Most of the recipes were very basic things that you could find in pretty much any cookbook, but there was something so special about having these recipes linked to some of my absolute favorite books.

Each recipe starts with a few paragraphs from the book about that particular dish and then the recipe.  And, of all cool things, some of the book authors actually helped write the recipes like they had imagined.  It rather thrilled me to know that I was reading a recipe for fried green tomatoes written by Fannie Flagg herself.

This book made me exceedingly hungry to read, but it also gave me some great book recommendations.  Just from reading an excerpt from a book, I could pretty much tell whether I would like the book or not.  So now I've added some more books to my TBR list.

I really liked this book.  I think that you would, too if you like cookbooks, books, or both.  Enjoy!

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.