Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Book Review: The Little White Horse

The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge
Puffin Books, 2001 (originally published 1946); 238 pages

This is an absolutely delightful book--I loved the descriptions of the food and the scenery in particular. I really do wish I had read this as a child; I know I would have loved it even more then.

In The Little White Horse, Goudge tells the story of Maria Merryweather, an orphan who must leave London to live with her great-uncle at his country estate of Moonacre. Because of centuries-old feud, Moonacre is not the peaceful place it once was, and it is up to Maria to set everything to rights.

The Little White Horse was made into a movie, The Secret of Moonacre, which is entertaining, although not nearly as good as the book. The costuming is fabulous, though.

Monday, September 30, 2013

You know you're a reader when...

You see a Half Price Books truck out on the road and you immediately wonder what it would take to hijack it.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Has it really been *that* long?!?!?

Or, my poor, neglected blog! How I lament thee!

I didn't exactly mean to quit writing. I just got really, really busy. I spent most of my summer at work, covering for everybody else's vacations, which meant far more hours than usual (and a far bigger paycheck--yay!), but didn't leave a lot of time for everything or anything else. But now things have evened out a little, so I'm going to try to get back to regular posts on here.

Today I went to the grocery store and bought ALL THE VEGETABLES!!!!! Not really, but that's kind of what it feels like. My plan is to make a big old salad, add in a bunch of veggies, some herbs--dill is my most favorite ever!--and make some kind of vinaigrette. I'm also roasting chickpeas and caramelizing some bacon for the salad. (I'm roasting/caramelizing beets as well, but not for the salad. Just because I love beets.)

I also bought the ingredients for this pasta. I got the recipe from Bon Appetit, and it could very well be my favorite food ever. I love pasta anyway, and I love leeks, and bacon, and cream sauce, and so what's not to like here? This time around, though, I'm adding roasted grape tomatoes, fresh basil, fresh parsley, and mushrooms cooked in a bit of white wine (a mixture of Gew├╝rztraminer and Vinho Verde, because that's what I've got in my freezer; also, I had to type "Gewurz..." whatever into Google five different ways before Google even knew what I wanted). This is for tomorrow, and work lunches after, because this pasta is much better after it sits overnight.

Just for the record:

Food Purchased Today:

  • cucumbers
  • parsley
  • frisee
  • lemons
  • dill
  • beets
  • radishes
  • green onions
  • leeks
  • chickpeas
  • avocados
  • radicchio
  • grape tomatoes
  • sugar snap peas
  • white button mushrooms
  • bell peppers

Recipes Used/Consulted:

Monday, June 17, 2013

Young Marrieds vs. Old Unmarrieds

Lately I've read several blog posts and editorials devoted to marriage, specifically the benefits or whys and wherefores of marrying young. (The Common Room, The Atlantic, Life in a Shoe, Stephen Miller, and more I can't find at the moment) They've been interesting, honestly, and speaking as someone who's wanted to be married ever since I was a little girl, I'm kind of surprised that willfully deferring marriage has become enough of a "thing" that people feel a need to write about it. (Clearly I need to get out more.)

However, I'm here today with a different take on the issue. I am a woman, 26 years old, trying to get a career off the ground in a brutal job market. I don't know if I'm still "young," but I'm not married or engaged or dating or interested in someone. Nor have I ever been any of the above. Heck, I don't even have any male friends at the moment. (I said I need to get out more.) Anyhow, my piece today could be called Reasons Why People Should Stop Fretting about the Marriage Age of Others.

1. Believe me, we know we're not married and we know we're not getting any younger.

Nuff said.

2. All people are not unmarried for the same reasons.

Apparently some of us are so selfish and misguided that we avoid such a wonderful thing as marriage (and children) so that we can have a career or nice stuff or a villa in Tuscany. (Why else would so many people write on this subject?) Others put off marriage out of a nebulous sense of unreadiness, ignoring the fact that no one is ever 100% ready to get married. Still others are waiting for Mr./Miss Perfect Prince(ss) Charming, and we just won't admit that he/she is a figment of our imagination that no real person could ever hope to match. But some of us wanted to be married 10... 20... 50 years ago. We want it desperately to this day. We pray for a spouse like Hannah prayed for a son. For whatever reason that has nothing to do with our self-centeredness or poor decisions we haven't gotten married and here we are. Personally, being a wife (and hopefully mother) is my dream job, as in "drop everything, move around the world, and give up all kinds of perks" dream job. I'm only starting a career because somebody's got to pay the bills, and it's not going to be the cat.

3. Not everyone meets someone at the same life stage.

I expected I'd meet my husband in college. I mean, it happens all the time, right? During those four years, I met a lot of people. Most of them, although adults in age, were still "boys." The few men I met were already married or in a deep relationship heading toward marriage. I don't want to marry a boy, so I didn't date in college. My senior year, my brother started his freshman year at the same university. His first day on campus, before classes had even started, he met a girl and said to himself, "I want to marry her." He'd just met her five minutes previous! Anyhow, they dated for four years, married at the age of 22, and recently celebrated their first wedding anniversary. In the same time span, I finished college, finished grad school, and still haven't met anyone.

4. Thinking that other people think we should have been married already amplifies the (admittedly irrational) doubts and worries we already dwell on too much.

It goes something like this: So if I'm not married, it must not be God's will for me to be married. Is that His will for now or for always? If I'm never going to get married, why can't He just tell me so I can stop praying for a husband and wasting both our time? Maybe I just need to pray harder. Does my lack of a husband really have anything to do with God, or am I just not pretty enough? Maybe I need to change my personality or something. Should I act dumber and less independent? Pretend I like sports but not books when it's really the other way 'round? But I like me the way I am, so why can't a guy? I just need to pray more and have more faith. God will provide... unless He doesn't.

So my proposal is that instead of focusing on how old people are when they get married, we should encourage young people (and everyone else) to seek the will of God and to trust that God's plans are for the best, even when we don't get what we want. Because if people are truly striving to live according to God's will for their lives, then every last one of them will get married at exactly the right age for them. For some people, that means marriage at 19, for others, marriage at 50, and for others, never marrying. And that's okay.

Postscript: In all actuality, I do believe there are benefits to marrying young. (See cited posts/articles for some of the reasons.) But to go around saying that people need to quit delaying marriage (with the implied, "just go get hitched already," as if it's that easy) assumes a lot.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Calvin's Institutes, Chapter Five

The Knowledge of God Conspicuous in the Creation, and Continual Government of the World

Section One

  • The whole of the universe speaks to the existence and glory of God

Section Two

  • Anyone with a liberal education can see even more clearly the proof of God through science and medicine

Section Three

  • Man himself is quite an example of God’s power, wisdom, and goodness
  • We know God is our creator because of the gifts He gives us—no one would follow God willingly if he did not know already the goodness of God’s love

Section Four

  • Although our bodies and our talents are a testament to God, men become proud in themselves rather than worshipful of God
  • They use their God-given abilities to suppress God; they use the excellence of creation as proof that it came to be through chance or nature

Section Five

  • [Calvin assigns the functions of our brain, intellect, and memory to the soul, not the body. Was this common at the time?]
  • The creation becomes, to many, either god or its own creator. Nature is a work of God, not god itself

Section Six

  • The power of God in nature is visible to Christians and non-Christians; it is this power that leads us to other of God’s attributes, as only a self-existent and eternal being could cause the existence of all other things
  • We can also see that God is good because of how He sustains and preserves His creation, and this ought to be enough to cause us to love Him

Section Seven

  • God’s perfection is also evident in His other works (besides creation/nature)
  • As He conducts the affairs of men, He dispenses justice and mercy perfectly
  • Although evil may flourish, and good suffer, God will always dispense justice in His own good time
  • When God punishes one sin, it is evidence that He hates all sin [How/Why?]

Section Eight

  • What men call luck is actually the providence of God
  • So many are blind to the wonders of God, but that does not mean that God does not show His power

Section Nine

  • We don’t need complicated arguments to prove God; there is proof enough all around us

Section Ten

  • From what we see of God now, we can assume that there is more to know of Him in the future (Heaven), because not all goodness is rewarded on this earth, and not all sin punished [I’m not sure this argument works. Maybe this is a random and arbitrary universe.]

Section Eleven

  • Although the manifestations of God are obvious, people are so stupid that they don’t see them

Section Twelve

  • Nearly everyone has substituted their own conception of God for the real God

Section Thirteen

  • Man cannot invent correct religion
  • God has to bear witness to His own truth, since who’s going to follow a religion because tradition says so?

Section Fourteen

  • Creation shows the glory of God, but does not show us the path to Him
  • We need faith through “internal revelation” [the Holy Spirit] to be able to see beyond creation – we cannot do it with our own intelligence
  • Creation does not lead to faith, but does make us without excuse [cites Acts 17:27, but if creation tells us that God exists, but doesn’t impart knowledge of Christ, how can mere knowledge that there is a God make us without excuse for knowledge of Jesus? It’s possible that after we become aware of God, we should seek how best to know Him and through His word find Christ – but how do we be sure that we have the correct God (obviously the Holy Spirit, but what if we don’t have Him?)?]
  • God bestows so many kindnesses upon us all, yet so many continue to live according to their own ways

Section Fifteen

  • We cannot know God using our intellectual capabilities, but because the problem is within us, we cannot make excuses
  • We cannot plead ignorance, despite our stupidity, because nature shouts of God
  • Most people see nature but still don’t get it
  • People see nature, get a vague idea of God, and go off to create idols

Quotes from the Chapter

“What shall we say but that man bears about with him a stamp of immortality which can never be effaced? But how is it possible for man to be divine, and yet not acknowledge his Creator? Shall we, by means of a power of judging implanted in our breast, distinguish between justice and injustice, and yet there be no judge in heaven? Shall some remains of intelligence continue with us in sleep, and yet no God keep watch in heaven? Shall we be deemed the inventors of so many arts and useful properties that God may be defrauded of his praise, though experience tells us plainly enough, that whatever we possess is dispensed to us in unequal measures by another hand?”

“Let each of us, therefore, in contemplating his own nature, remember that there is one God who governs all natures, and, in governing, wishes us to have respect to himself, to make him the object of our faith, worship, and adoration. Nothing, indeed, can be more preposterous than to enjoy those noble endowments which bespeak the divine presence within us, and to neglect him who, of his own good pleasure, bestows them upon us. In regard to his power, how glorious the manifestations by which he urges us to the contemplation of himself;”

“[…] how richly does he supply us with the means of contemplating his mercy when, as frequently happens, he continues to visit miserable sinners with unwearied kindness, until he subdues their depravity and woos them back with more than a parent’s fondness?”

“And here we must observe again that the knowledge of God which we are invited to cultivate is not that which, resting satisfied with empty speculation, only flutters in the brain, but a knowledge which will prove substantial and fruitful wherever it is duly perceived, and rooted in the heart. The Lord is manifested by his perfections. When we feel their power within us, and are conscious of their benefits, the knowledge must impress us much more vividly than if we merely imagined a God whose presence we never felt.

"It therefore becomes us also diligently to prosecute that investigation of God which so enraptures the soul […]”

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Book Review: The Shield of Achilles

The Shield of Achilles by W. H. Auden
Random House, 1955 (first edition); 84 pages

I love W. H. Auden.

And that is all.

(No, really, I could get into why he wrote these poems (some in response to the rise of the modern state and others for Good Friday), and the symbolism, and so on and so forth, but really, he just has an amazing way with words and you should read some Auden. Preferably today.)

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Book Review: The Beekeeper's Apprentice

The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R. King
Picador, n.d. (originally published 1994); 346 pages

The first book in a series, The Beekeeper's Apprentice documents how Anglo-American Jewish orphan Mary Russell came to be the apprentice (and later partner) of the ostensibly retired Sherlock Holmes.

I've been a Sherlock Holmes fan for a very long time, and when I ran out of Holmes canon, I naturally moved on to Holmesiana. Of what I've read (which really isn't much), Laurie R. King has done the best job at recreating Holmes. Beekeeper's Apprentice is a great book, not just because it is about Sherlock Holmes, but because it's a good mystery with a great female protagonist as well. I highly recommend the Mary Russell series to everybody (seriously, just ask my friends, since I hound them until they read it), although the first ten are better than the later books.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Sunday Word Study: alexipharmic

alexipharmic: (uh-lek-suh-far-mik) (noun) an antidote to poison

< Ancient Greek alexein "to ward off" + pharmakon "drug"

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Book Review: The Cat of Bubastes

The Cat of Bubastes: A Tale of Ancient Egypt by G. A. Henty
Preston Speed Publications, 1998 (originally published 1889); 339 pages

I'm continuing my reread of childhood favorites (dangerous move, that) with a Henty novel. George Alfred Henty wrote children's historical fiction in the latter half of the nineteenth century, and his books are now somewhat popular in the homeschooling community (which is why I read them as a child). Personally, I thought some books were far superior to others, and The Cat of Bubastes was one that I loved.

This is the story of Amuba, Prince of the Rebu, who is captured in war by the Egyptians and made the slave of the high priest of Osiris. The priest is a kind man, and Amuba becomes a companion to the priest's son. The first half of the book moves slowly, introducing the main characters and describing various aspects of Egyptian culture. The story picks up when the priest's son accidentally kills a cat that is intended to become the sacred cat of Bubastes. The high priest is killed, and his son and Amuba, along with the high priest's daughter and Hebrew servant must flee Egypt. They decided to return to the home of the Rebu and to try to establish Amuba as king. Crazy adventures follow, including a rather forced and out-of-place cameo by Moses, who is still living as an Egyptian prince at the time of the story.

I can see why I loved this book as a child--it has high adventure and lots of big, old-fashioned words. (I was such a nerdy child.) But as an adult, I also see some flaws. I think Henty made up the Rebu people, as I haven't been able to find any reference to them, at least not on the internet. According to Henty, the Rebu live on the west coast of the Caspian Sea, which would place them in modern-day Iran, Azerbaijan, or Russia. The book speaks of Persians, but makes it clear that the Rebu are not Persian. Did the Egyptians conquer as far northeast of their own land as the Caspian Sea? I'm not sure that they did, but I'm no expert in Egyptian history, either.

Another problem I have with the book pertains to religion. Several of the characters come to the conclusion that there is one true God, but that He can be worshipped through the Egyptian gods, because each of these gods represents an attribute of the true God. If this is the case, then why did God prohibit idol worship throughout the Old Testament?

Finally, the Moses character says that he is called "Moses" because that name was found pinned to his basket when the princess found him floating down the Nile. According to the Bible, Moses is so-named because he was drawn out of the water. Historical and biblical accuracy is important, Mr. Henty.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Sunday Word Study: quiddity

(Sorry this is a day late. It didn't seem to want to post correctly.)

quiddity: the essential quality of a thing; a trifling distinction, quibble

< Middle French quiddité < Late Latin quidditas < Latin quid "what" + -itas "-ness"

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Book Review: The Inheritance

The Inheritance by Louisa May Alcott
Dutton Books, 1997 (first edition; posthumous); 188 pages

I first read The Inheritance in 1997 or 1998, when I was about twelve. I loved it--forbidden love, secret inheritance, unknown heirs, and conniving rivals. If you're a pre-teen girl, what's not to like? Since I'm currently trying to read through my personal library (not every book, just the unread and the unrated, plus anything that catches my eye), I thought I'd reread this one.

It's not a terrible book. You can tell that Alcott had talent, even at 17. However, it's not a great book, either. The plot is so simplistic that I can't provide too much of a summary without revealing everything, and it's very melodramatic. The characters are mostly too good to live and the bad guys aren't really bad.

Assuming you're not a pre-teen girl, an Alcott scholar, or an Alcott completest, you can probably skip this one.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Sunday Word Study: grimoire

grimoire: (greem-WAHR)(noun) a textbook of sorcery and magic

< Old French gramaire "grammar" < Ancient Greek grammatikos "knowing how to read and write"

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Calvin's Institutes, Chapter Four

I suppose I should take a minute to say that these posts on John Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion are intended to be an unbiased summary of what Calvin says, and not a wholesale endorsement of his theology, philosophy, worldview, or thought processes. Calvin's work is quite dense, and his vocabulary is impressive, and he often refers to previous chapters in a sort of shorthand, as if the reader is supposed to remember all of his arguments as well as he does. I started writing bulleted summaries so that I did not have to do as much rereading, then decided to share these summaries, in case anyone else out there ever started Calvin and got bogged down in his style. I do, however, sometimes provide my own commentary in bracketed italics, particularly if I think Calvin is wrong or if he is making too many assumptions. For example, in the early chapters, I'm noticing that Calvin had no conception of life outside a society where more or less everybody was Catholic or Protestant (aka some kind of Christian), and it shows in his arguments concerning what "everybody" knows about the existence of God.

Anyway, on to the summary:

Section One

  • Although everyone has some innate grasp of religion, few cherish this knowledge, and fewer still mature in it
  • There is no true godliness anywhere in the world; everyone is degenerate
  • Vanity and pride lead men into superstitious belief, as well as into perceiving God by their own ideas of what He is like
  • When they worship God according to the dictates of their own hearts rather than according to His standards, their worship has no value in God's sight

Section Two

  • Those who become hardened against God often forget Him entirely
  • They believe in a God who exists, but who is powerless to act in the world, for punishment or for good gifts

Section Three

  • They say that it is enough to have some sort of religion, ignoring God’s will in matters of worship and belief
  • God cannot be changed to fit the whims of each individual; to attempt to do so is to mock Him
  • Those who seek to worship God according to their own standards are actually worshipping themselves—they would not even attempt such a thing if they had not already redefined God according to their whims
  • At that point, it doesn’t matter whether you believe in one God or many; false worship is false worship, idolatry is idolatry

Section Four

  • When they do think of God, it is because of fear of punishment, not because of reverence
  • They turn to meaningless religious rituals as a means to propitiate God
  • They do end up seeking God when tough times come, but laugh at Him in the good times

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Book Review: The Breaking Point

The Breaking Point by Mary Roberts Rinehart
Public Domain Books, n.d. (originally published 1922); 311 pages

Classic Rinehart here: mistaken identity, amnesia, public scandal, mysterious deaths, true love, and changed lives. In some ways this was like a Grace Livingston Hill novel, except without the exceedingly legalistic religiosity. The ending was not quite fulfilling. It ended exactly the way I wanted it too, but rather abruptly and without details or flourish.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Book Review: Dangerous Days

Dangerous Days by Mary Roberts Rinehart
Public Domain Books, n.d. (originally published 1919); 335 pages

Available as a free Kindle ebook.

I started Dangerous Days expecting it to be like other Rinehart novels I've read: a light, fluffy mystery with a bit of romance. Instead I got a commentary on modern society (modern as of 1919, although many of the points still apply today). The book is set just before the entry of America into World War I and focuses on the Spencer family. Clayton Spencer owns a munitions factory and makes good money shipping weapons to the Allies in Europe, while his wife Natalie spends the money almost as fast as he can earn it. Their adult son, Graham, has a job at the factory, but spends much of his time running with a "fast" set and flirting with his secretary. On the outside, the Spencers have a perfect life, but inside they are falling apart as individuals and as a family. Clayton is married to his work and neglects his wife and son. Natalie is shallow and immature and keeps her son tied fast to the figurative apron strings. Graham does not care for hard work and just wants to play and pursue pretty women.

Everything changes when America enters World War I. Graham wants to join the army and fight, but his mother exacts a promise that he will never go to war, because she is terrified that she would lose him forever--either through death or because he would become an independent man who no longer relies on his mother. Clayton, on the other hand, wants Graham to join the army because he sees how Natalie has infantilized their son and he wants Graham to get away from his mother's influence and from a romance with a woman of weak character. In response to the stresses on their marriage, Clayton pursues a widowed friend, while Natalie takes up with her interior designer. In the end, Graham goes to war, marries a good woman, and becomes a mature adult, while one of his parents tries to heal their broken marriage and the other does not.

Dangerous Days is a wonderful, amazing book. Rinehart documents in great detail the slow destruction of a marriage and the results of poor parenting on a child. She emphasizes that honor, virtue, and love are important in every facet of life and that in relationships there is no room for selfishness. The entire book is simply beautiful in the explication of what love looks like and how loving people should behave. The history depicted in the book is also fascinating, particularly since Rinehart wrote the book just two years after the period in which it is set.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Book Review: The Drunken Botanist

The Drunken Botanist: The Plants that Create the World's Great Drinks by Amy Stewart
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2013 (ARC); 366 pages

Note: I received this book as part of LibraryThing's Early Reviews program.

The Drunken Botanist is essentially an encyclopedia of the most common and interesting plants used to make alcoholic beverages, covering history, botany, zymology, and the culinary arts. However, the entries are far more interesting than your typical reference guide, making this a highly-readable book. Stewart opens with a section on the plants used to make alcohol, from grains like barley and rye to fruits such as grapes and apples and even vegetables such as potatoes. The second section covers the herbs, spices, and other plant material used to flavor alcohol, including commonly-recognized fruits such as oranges and lemons as well as lesser known plants such as mauby and quandong. Finally, the third section covers common garnishes. The book is also full of recipes featuring the beverages and plants mentioned in each section. The historical stories that Stewart tells are fascinating, as is the information on the production of alcoholic beverages.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Book Review: The Princess Bride

The Princess Bride by William Goldman
Harcourt, Inc., 2007 (originally published 1973); 414 pages

(Sorry this is so long. The book made me mad.)

I've long held to the belief that the book is always better than the movie. Always. Well, thanks to William Goldman, I'm going to change to the book is generally better than the movie in most cases. Essentially, I like the film The Princess Bride so much that I've saved the book for a while now, because I knew, due to the aforementioned rule, that the book had to be brilliant. The basic plot was quite good, but the writing style really ruined the book.

Goldman starts the book an introduction (which may be only in the 30th anniversary edition; I'm not sure)about how his almost illiterate father read this story to him when he was a kid, and then when he was an adult and in the hospital and dying, his wife read him this book and it saved his life, and then when he gave the book to his son, his son hated it, and that's when Goldman realized that his father had edited the book, because Morgenstern had actually written a political satire, but Goldman's father skipped all the lengthy, boring, historio-political parts. And so Goldman edited the original book into its current form so that everybody could read it and love it as much as he does. When I finished the introduction, I thought, "Aw, that was a nice story about his father and stuff." And then I think, "Wait, but Goldman really wrote this, I mean he made up the story and pretended it's an abridgment. So what's all this stuff about his father?" So essentially, that whole long story about his father, his wife, and his son is all made up. Goldman doesn't even have a son. That kind of lost me right there, because who writes a fake introduction with that much detail (and believe me, it's very detailed)? On the other hand, Goldman writes very convincingly. I knew that really he's the author of the story, and I still believed the story about his father.

So onward to the actual story, which is more or less just like the movie, with a bit more background on all the characters, the sort of background that it's not convenient to give in movies without being boring. So I'm not going to give a plot summary, because if you've seen the movie, you know all about it, and if you haven't seen the movie, you should. In the book, however, Goldman inserts many, many, many fake editorial comments--not footnotes, but actual bracketed comments in the text. At the worst points, he's got at least one comment per page. It totally interrupts the narrative flow and makes the book difficult to read. It's not at all like the dialogue between the boy and the grandfather in the movie, which is just cute. (Another reason the movie is better--it has Peter Falk.)

Finally, as a note, this isn't exactly a children's book--there are several violent/disturbing scenes, some swearing, and some totally unnecessary racial epithets.

And so, that's my review. Now go watch the movie.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Cataloging Oddities

In the Dewey Decimal System (1922 edition, because that's the most recent out of copyright version), 394.8 covers social customs of both dueling and suicide. No idea why.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Romances

Hosted by The Broke and the Bookish

I'm guessing that Top Ten Favorite Romances means romance novels, but since I rarely read romance, or at least anything that's specifically intended to be romance as opposed to books that happen to have romance as one element, I'm going to list my ten favorite fictional romances (as in romantic relationships) instead. So, in no particular order:

1. Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes from the Mary Russell series by Laurie R. King: Because King's version of Holmes is true to Conan Doyle's Holmes, yet it's easy to see why he would abandon his dislike of women in order to marry Russell.

2. Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe from the Anne series by L. M. Montgomery: Does this really need any explanation?

3. Jo March and Professor Bhaer from Little Women by Louisa May Alcott: Because of all the men in Little Women, Jo married the best one.

4. The Swamp Angel and Freckles from Freckles by Gene Stratton-Porter: A completely unrealistic and somewhat one-sided romance, but as shown in A Girl of the Limberlost, Freckles did indeed marry his Angel.

5. Harriet Vane and Peter Wimsey from the Lord Peter series by Dorothy L. Sayers: Because marching up to a woman who's been accused of murdering her lover and telling her that you're going to get her off and that you want to marry her is always *such* a good idea...

6. Jane and Mark Studdock from That Hideous Strength by C. S. Lewis: Yes, they're already married before the book starts. But this is the story of a married couple who learns what a marriage relationship should really be like. Lewis, more than any author I've ever read, understands love and relationships.

7. Kitty and Levin from Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy: Because in the end, they're the only ones with anything remotely resembling a good relationship, and because they both learned to stop being so selfish and to really love one another.

8. Margery Fleming and John Knox from The Window in the White Cat by Mary Roberts Rinehart: This is actually a mystery novel, but romance plays a big part, as Knox struggles with whether he should invent a case against Fleming's fiance while investigating her father's disappearance, just so he can marry Fleming himself.

9. Guinevere Pettigrew and Joe Blomfield from Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson: My opinion of this romance is somewhat colored by the movie of the same name, but Guinevere and Joe are just so perfect for each other. Plus, it's nice to see a romance between people who aren't twenty-somethings.

10. Tuppence and Tommy from the Tommy and Tuppence series by Agatha Christie: This five-book series traces the lives of Tommy and Tuppence from carefree youths to elderly retirees.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Book Review: Pardonable Lies

Pardonable Lies by Jacqueline Winspear
Henry Holt and Company, 2005 (first edition); 342 pages

Private investigator Maisie Dobbs is hired to determine whether a man declared missing in action, and later dead, during World War I is actually dead.

Essentially, I like the Maisie Dobbs series, and I have no idea why. Maisie is such a Mary Sue (although she's slowly getting better): she's mildly psychic, she has genius skills to rival Sherlock Holmes, she's pretty, she has rich friends who give her everything she could need or want, and she's got more than one eligible young man chasing her. Really.

While reading the book, I called every plot point a mile out. When I read mysteries, I don't try to solve them. If a clue jumps out at me and I happen to guess the culprit or motive, great. But more often than not, the ending comes as a total surprise. But with Pardonable Lies, I knew exactly what happened to the missing man before I was even a quarter of the way through the book. Still, I plan on continuing on with the series, mostly because I like interwar fiction.

Click and drag cursor over text below to see the crucial plot point.

Start here: When the man (I can't even remember his name now) was said to be a "sensitive young man who didn't like playing rugby" I said to myself, "He's gay, he changed his identity, disappeared during the war, and now lives in France with his boyfriend." Why'd I pick France? No clue. But I was right.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Book Review: Thirteenth Child

Thirteenth Child by Patricia C. Wrede
Scholastic Press, 2009 (first edition); 344 pages

Set in an alternate-history America, this is the story of Eff (short for Francine), a thirteenth child. In this magical culture, birth order is commonly thought to affect one's life, with a seventh son considered lucky, the seventh son of a seventh son extremely lucky, and a thirteenth child cursed. People are so biased against Eff that her family moves West, where no one knows that she has the potential to become a very bad person. (Eff's oldest siblings were married and didn't move, so people couldn't just count children and figure it out.) In the West, Eff grows up and learns about herself and the person she is meant to be.

More than any other part of this book, I want to know more about the alternate history. Why was the Civil War fought in the 1830s? Why did the Lewis and Clark expedition fail? Why are mammoths and saber-toothed cats not extinct? It's not that Wrede does a bad job of explaining her alternate history, it's more as if the characters don't think to explain because to them nothing is different. To them, their history is real and ours is the alternate, so they just talk about things matter-of-factly and in passing, as if we all know what they're talking about. It really adds to the realism, but it's also frustrating.

As for the rest of the plot, I found it a bit dull. Thirteenth Child covers quite a few years of Eff's life at a very rapid pace, not really allowing for a lot of character development beyond what's necessary for the plot. If I hadn't been so interested in the history, I probably would have found the book harder to finish. However, my younger self would have loved it.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Book Review: Plenty

Plenty: Vibrant Vegetable Recipes from London's Ottolenghi by Yotam Ottolenghi
Chronicle Books, 2011 (originally published 2010); 288 pages

I always feel a bit weird writing cookbook reviews when I haven't made any of the recipes. Considering how messy a cook I am, I don't like to cook from borrowed cookbooks.

The number one thing I noticed about Plenty is the sense of joy that pervades the entire book. Every couple of pages, I kept turning back to the picture of some sort of uncooked greens on the title page, because the picture was so beautiful and just made me so happy (I'm a sucker for photographs of green plants... don't ask). There's just such a sense that food is meant to be enjoyed with all the senses, that beautiful, good-tasting foods provide a sustenance beyond mere nourishment, that makes this such a brilliant cookbook.

As I took notes for this review, I think I used up my entire quota of exclamation points for the next three months. A brief sample looks something like this:

Garlic and goat cheese tart!
Harissa! Not since that little Middle Eastern restaurant in Paris!
And a whole section on mushrooms!

I also like that the recipes don't look overly difficult, although some reviewers said they did look difficult, so I guess everyone should judge for themselves. Personally, I emulate Julia Child, who said "The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you've got to have a 'What the hell?' attitude." I'm really quite fearless in the kitchen, which is funny, because I'm not at all a risk-taker in any other aspect of life. But when it comes to food and cooking, I'll try anything once.

In one of the recipes in the book, I saw a vinaigrette that called for capers and maple syrup. I have no idea what that vinaigrette tastes like, but I love capers and I love maple syrup, and I really want to try that recipe. Ottolenghi does a lot of "odd" combinations in the book; pairing foods and spices from different cultures that seem strange, but grow on one. He even makes eggplant, zucchini, and sweet potatoes look appetizing (and I don't really care for the last two, and I HATE eggplant with an unspeakable passion). There's this recipe where an eggplant is broiled, and in the picture it looks more like fresh beef liver than anything else, and that intrigues me, because (like I said) I hate eggplant, but I love beef liver, and I love working with raw liver (I don't eat it raw--too bloody--but I like cutting it up because it's so smooth and shiny and smells funny... and is rambling on about raw meat weird? Because I like raw meat. I promise I'm not a psychopath and I'm not going to move on from cutting up chickens to cutting up people...

Okay, so that got a bit off topic. Anyhow, Plenty went on my Wishlist, because it is just that good, and I'm picky about cookbooks, so that's saying something. I guess I should also note that it's a vegetarian cookbook. I'm not vegetarian, and neither is Ottolenghi, but I really think if I were vegetarian I would have gone online and ordered the cookbook the minute I got done reading it. It's seriously that good, and books are one of the few things I don't impulse buy (which is weird, but good for my budget).

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Calvin's Institutes, Chapter Three

The Knowledge of God Naturally Implanted in the Human Mind

Section One

- Everyone is endowed by God with the idea that there is a God and He is his [man's] maker [This explains false religions, but not atheism]

Section Two

- While there are certainly false religions and practices intended to give power over many to a devious few, the idea of religion was created because there is a God, not because of crafty men

- False beliefs "work" because people already believe there is a God and they are looking for Him

There are atheists, but even they feel that there actually is a God [Calvin does not explain how he knows this of every atheist--he says it's because atheists are fearful, whatever that means]

Section Three

- "All men of sound judgment will therefore hold, that a sense of deity is indelibly engraved on the human heart." [I happen to agree that if one honestly examines the evidence, one will conclude that there is a supreme being of some sort. But there's no reason to be so uppity about it.]

- Our whole purpose in life is to know God, so those who don't know God don't fulfill their purpose on earth

Friday, January 11, 2013

Friday Arts Feature: "No One" by Stefanie Heinzmann

I love all the random places I find new music, like movie previews, TV commercials, and even computer games. Stefanie Heinzmann is a blues and pop artist from Switzerland. I first discovered her through The Sims 3: World Adventures, as she recorded one of her songs in the fictional language Simlish. The first video, however, is an acoustic version of her song "No One."

The Simlish (and non-acoustic) version:


Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday: Bookish Goals for 2013

Hosted by The Broke and the Bookish

1. Read at least 60 books

2. Read more nineteenth century novels to fill in the gaps in my "Read at least one work of fiction from each year, 1800-2013" project: I've actually already read at least one book 1900-2013, so really I just need to read fiction 1800-1899.

3. Finish Institutes of the Christian Religion: It's long and dense and difficult and I'm not sure I've got the clearest translation, although it's likely the most literal. But it's a good exercise in thinking and I agree with a good portion of Calvin's theology, so I am enjoying myself, after I figure out what exactly he's saying in a given passage.

4. Reread some childhood favorites: Mostly stuff by L. M. Montgomery, Louisa May Alcott, Elizabeth Enright, Elizabeth George Speare, and Jules Verne

5. Read some of the books I own but have never read: According to my catalog on LibraryThing, I own 83 unread books.

6. Post something about every book I read: I may not post a review of every book (some books are too meaningful for one of my simple reviews while others are over-written-about already--I love Harry Potter, but does the world really need another Sorcerer's Stone review?), but I would like to say something about each book, even if it's just "Hey world, I read this book."

7. Read more often: I tend to read in fits and starts, reading three books in one day and then not reading anything for two weeks. But I've found my brain runs more smoothly when I spend more time reading quality literature and less time piddling around the internet, so I need to read more... and somehow make this work with Goal #6.

8. Read more non-fiction: (including cookbooks)

9. Read more poetry: For years I thought I didn't like poetry; it turned out I just didn't like the poetry I was reading. I'd like to read more T. S. Eliot and W. H. Auden in particular, although I may pick up some Edgar Lee Masters, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and William Stafford along the way.

10. Read the six books assigned to me by my best friend in our "must-read book list exhange": Essentially, we each picked six books we'd read that the other hadn't that we each thought the other would like. I'm to read the following:
The End of the Affair by Graham Greene
The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
Descent into Hell by Charles Williams
The Silmarillion by J. R. R. Tolkien
Revelations of Divine Love by Julian of Norwich
Adam and Eve after the Pill by Mary Eberstadt

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Book Review: Equal Rites

Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett
HarperTorch, 2000 (originally published 1987); 213 pages

High in the Ramtop Mountains of Discworld, a dying wizard seeks out the eighth son of an eighth son upon whom he can bestow his power before he dies. Unfortunately, the son turns out to be a daughter, and women can't be wizards; the Lore of the Unseen University forbids it. So what's a girl with magical power to do? Travel across the Discworld and demand entry to the University, of course!

Plot-wise, Equal Rites is my favorite Discworld novel yet (mind you, I've read only three of them). I like Esk (the female wizard) well enough, but Granny Weatherwax steals the show. She's a witch (certain types of minor household magic are all that women are supposed to do) and she's hysterical, although she's certainly not trying to be, and she would probably be horribly offended if she knew I was laughing at her. I loved the story of Granny and Esk's travels to Ankh-Morpork and all the trouble they got into along the way.

However, the timing of the plot rather overshadows some of the events. There were multiple times where time jumped forward several months or years or the location of the story changed within the course of two paragraphs without any indication that this was the case. Since there are no chapters in the book, not even a chapter break gave any indication of changes in time or place. It did make the book a bit confusing and made it feel a bit rushed in certain sections.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Calvin's Institutes, Chapter Two

What It Is to Know God---Tendency of This Knowledge

Section One

- Knowledge of God = not just knowledge that there is a God, but what we can know of (concerning) God

- Does not mean knowledge of God as Redeemer through Christ, but knowledge of God as Adam knew Him before the fall

- Without Christ, man sees only God as Creator

- All goodness comes from God, so we must ask all things from Him and give thanks for what we have

- Piety = reverence and love for God inspired by knowledge of His goodness

- People will not willingly follow God until they realize that they owe everything to Him

Section Two

- It is in our best interest to know what sort of person God is and what makes Him happy

- Because of knowledge of God, we should learn reverence and fear, ask every good thing from Him, and ascribe all to Him
It is not clear whether Calvin means that we should ascribe all good things to God, or all things period

- Knowledge of God must lead to the idea that because He made us, He is our authority by the laws of creation, and by the same laws our lives are His and He should be central to all that we do
cf. C. S. Lewis, Perelandra: "'I am His beast, and all His biddings are joys.'"

- It is our depravity that keeps us from perfectly following God once we understand the goodness of His nature

- The pious person has no idols, nor does he give God any false attributes. He diligently avoids leaving the path of God. He trusts God implicitly in all situations. He fears God as Judge, loves God as Father, and honors and obeys God as Master

Quotes from the Chapter

"... your life is sadly corrupted, if it is not framed in obedience to him..."