Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Bookshelf Tag



I found this through Birdie over at Lady of the Manor and enjoyed reading hers so much that I decided to do it too. I wish I could say some of my books are in Dutch like hers, but sadly, that is not the case. I am a singularly English reader. *sighs*



Describe your bookshelf (or wherever it is you keep your books-it doesn't actually have to be a shelf!) and where you got it from:

So, the bookcase itself came from some store or other, likely Walmart or Target. The pile of books beside it is, sadly, homeless at the moment because my space is very limited and I just don't have room for a bigger bookcase. The little table on the far right was a birthday present some odd years ago from my parents. I love it because my books fit perfectly on the wooden brace in the center and the top of it is a lovely marble. It's a delightful little end table. When I have my own place, I'm upgrading to two full-size bookcases with lots of space to grow!

Do you have any special or different way of organizing your books?

I organize first according to size and then according to genre. All my small books go on the short shelf on top, starting with classics and finishing with Heartsong Presents romance novels that I never read anymore, but can't bear to part with yet. The second shelf is entirely comprised of Christian fiction, all paperbacks, and my collection has outgrown that shelf, hence the stack on the floor. The bottom shelf is mostly classics, but with some oddities thrown in like my David Pirie novels about Arthur Conan Doyle and Dr. Bell that really fit nowhere else. I'm dreaming about those two big bookcases right now!



What's the thickest (most amount of pages) book on your shelf?

My most impressive copy of The Lord of the Rings is this one, all in one volume, and illustrated by Alan Lee. Needless to say, it has a TON of pages.


What's the thinnest (least amount of pages) book on your shelf?

This little book is actually a poem by Christina Rossetti. Goblin Market is hardback, but doesn't have very many pages and is by far the thinnest book in this part of my collection.


Is there a book you received as a birthday gift?

My parents gave me the complete collection of Sherlock Holmes stories at least 10 or 12 years ago for my birthday. This is still my only complete set of his stories.



What's the smallest (height and width wise) book on your shelf?

That actually turned out to be my copy of Screwtape Letters. I thought for sure I had a smaller book somewhere, but apparently not on these shelves. 


What's the biggest (height and width wise) book on your shelf?

I'm going solely by height and depth. My copy of The Hobbit sticks out farther than The Lord of the Rings and is more than a scootch taller. It's a bit annoying, actually, because it makes the bookcase look lopsided.

Is there a book from a friend on your shelf?

I own a Michael Buble coffee table book and an I Love Lucy coffee table book, both given to me by very dear friends!

Most expensive book?

Probably my Lord of the Rings with Alan Lee illustrations. It was a Christmas gift from my parents, but I know it was a pretty penny.


The last book you read on your shelf?

It was The Covered Deep by Brandy Vallance. I'm afraid I crunched the edge of the book a little bt today, entirely on accident. Oops! You'll find the review in my last blog post.

Of all the books on your shelf, which was the first you read?

It's likely one of the Heartsong Presents romances. Either Edge of Destiny or The Rising Son by Darlene Mindrup. I loved those when I was a teenager, so romantic.

Do you have more than one copy of a book?

Yes, I did own multiple copies of some Jane Austen books, but no longer. Those extra copies went to the thrift store. I do, however, own three copies of The Lord of the Rings. My first paperback set that is now ragged and gnarly and not pictured here because it's in the basement, my 2nd paperback set that hasn't really been touched and my Alan Lee illustrated set that's heavier than you would believe.



Do you have the complete series of any book series?

Woohoo for Narnia by Lewis!


What's the newest addition to your shelf?

I add new books regularly since I blog for publishers, but it's probably On Shifting Sand by Allison Pittman, also reviewed this month on my blog. Just look back a few posts.

What's the most recently published book on your shelf?

It would be the same as above, the Allison Pittman book. Published this month, I think.


The oldest book on your shelf (as in, the actual copy is old)?

There isn't an actual date in my copy of Ivanhoe, which surprises me. It's not really an old book, but I'm assuming sometime in the 1950s or 60s. For me, that's old. We do have antique books downstairs, but those are mostly my sister's books.


A book you won?

A Match Made in Texas is a really fun read. It has stories by Karen Witemeyer, Regina Jennings, Mary Connealy, and Carol Cox in it, all delightful. And I did win it in a giveaway on Goodreads!


Most beat up book?

I'm not sure you can tell, but my copy of Fahrenheit 451 is pretty gnarly. The cover is hanging almost by a thread, but I can't stand to part with this copy. I love the book so much!

A book from your childhood?

I couldn't actually find it to take a photograph, which makes me sad, but I still have The Princess and the Goblin by George Macdonald that I loved so much as a child. What a precious story!

A book that's not actually your book?

Not in any of my photos, but my nightstand has a copy of Come Fly with Me by Beverly Delich about Michael Buble. My friend Lynn loaned it to me last month and this reminds me that I need to actually read it!

A book with a special/different cover (e.g. leather bound, soft fuzzy cover etc.)?

Nope, none that I could find. They're all basic books.


Book that's been on your shelf the longest that you STILL haven't read?

The road to hell is paved with good intentions, so they say. I still haven't gotten around to finishing Jane Eyre. Rochester started calling her Janet and that was all she wrote for me. I will try again someday, just not yet.

Any signed books?

My Brandy Vallance book is signed because I met the author at a Christian bookstore.

Book Review: The Covered Deep by Brandy Vallance ( 2014, 3 stars)

The Covered Deep
Brandy Vallance
Worthy Publishing
2014

I met Ms. Vallance at a book signing in a local Mardel bookstore, and since I love Christian historic fiction, I splurged and did something I almost never do, bought her book without reading it first. I can feel Ms. Vallance's passion for her work, and the eagerness with which she developed both her storyline and her characters. Her writing exudes a strong familiarity with scripture and a profound love of the Holy Land.

Now to explain the 3 stars, and I am being generous and forgiving because I realize Ms. Vallance is a new author and will, hopefully, continue to grow in her trade.

For me personally The Covered Deep just didn't work. It did up until the heroine, Bianca Marshal, met the hero, Paul Emerson. At that point, any common sense the young lady had previously exhibited flew out the window. Her journey to Israel, a place of incredible history, became merely a chance to win Paul's heart. That side of the story, which really is most of the story, truly disappointed me. I expected more depth, not merely a "he loves me, he loves me not" mentality. Bianca was every bit as frivolous, flighty, and emotionally overwrought as all of my least favorite heroines. She began her story with promise and quickly plunged off the abyss of absurdity.

The book itself, while mostly well-crafted and well-written, lost me during the climax. Everything culminated at once in ways that did not make sense and left me scratching my head in bewilderment as to why that plot thread ended there. Or why that character did this. I never did understand why a young woman who loves gothic novels as much as Bianca does could possibly have been so mortified at Paul's worldliness before he became a Christian. She was positively harsh and judgmental for no good reason. Christ had removed Paul's sins as far as the east is from the west, covering them with His shed blood, and so she literally had no right to behave in the manner she did, as if the very idea of sin shocked her. Come on, if you've read any of the Bronte novels, sin is prevalent in each and every one!

While the historic research performed was adequate in most instances, it's the little things that bothered me. Like using purse instead of handbag. This book takes place in the 1870s. I doubt they would have used the word purse, and even if they had, it's not a word modern readers connect to historic fiction. Also, I seriously doubt a young woman all trussed up in a corset could lift a full-sized horse's saddle and sneak off without waking up a man sleeping merely a foot away from it. But it was the Sherlock Holmes reference that troubled me the most. The beginning of the Holmes' saga is so easily researched. What year did the great detective first put in an appearance? A complete and full decade after the events of this book supposedly occurred. That's a 10 year discrepancy so easily avoidable.

Don't get me wrong. The writing is good. Ms. Vallance has skill for the trade. I just wish her to grow her skills in a positive way that includes better historic research and deeper depth of character. Once I realized the villain's motives, I lost all belief in the story because no one would possibly fund a trip to Israel just for that. I'm sure many readers will find great enjoyment from The Covered Deep, but I hope this book will pale in comparison to the ones she writes in the future. I do wish her the absolute best in her writing journey and will keep myself apprised of any upcoming releases.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Book Review: On Shifting Sand by Allison Pittman (2015, 4 stars)

On Shifting Sand
Allison Pittman
Tyndale House
2015

Official Back Cover Synopsis:

Long before anyone would christen the Dust Bowl, Nola Merrill senses the destruction. She's been drying up bit by bit since the day her mother died, leaving her with a father who withholds his affection the way God keeps a grip on the Oklahoma rain. A hasty marriage to Russ, a young preacher, didn't bring the escape she desired. Now, twelve years later with two children to raise, new seeds of dissatisfaction take root.

When Jim, a long-lost friend from her husband's past, takes refuse in their home, Nola slowly springs to life under his attentions until their reckless encounters bring her to commit the ultimate betrayal of her marriage. For months Nola withers in the wake of the shame she so desperately tries to bury, burning to confess her sin but wondering whether Russ's love will be strong enough to stand the test.

My Personal Thoughts:

This is my first time reading an Allison Pittman novel so I wasn't exactly sure what to expect. I did know what I was getting into, however, with the synopsis so nothing really surprised me. I knew Nola was going to be unfaithful to her husband. I knew they were living through the Dust Bowl, of which I knew practically nothing. And I knew that somewhere in this story, the seed of redemption and forgiveness would be planted. I was right on all three counts.

I suspect that a lot of readers will struggle with liking Nola and this book in general. I have a great deal of empathy for most hurting people, but she was starting to strain it about 2/3 of the way through the novel. As Ms. Pittman herself states, Nola is an unreliable narrator. She presents the reader with all these grandiose moments of suffering and sorrow and shame, but she continues on in her sin. She hates herself for it, and says she'll never do it again, but she does it again. It's painful to watch, doubly so because her husband, Russ, is affectionate and loving. And they are obviously, categorically in love. She never denies that point. So why the adultery?

Sometimes I think it is Nola living up to the expectations of her father. In his eyes, she will always be dirty, having sinned with Russ before their wedding. Yes, we have a preacher who slept with his girlfriend. I'm sure it's happened before and will happen again. Because her father had such low expectations of her and because Russ put her on such an impossibly high pedestal, all Nola wanted was to escape. So when Jim shows up in their lives, it was the ideal opportunity. Shame and guilt weren't enough to keep her from sinning.

There are so many nuances to this story. After she's committed adultery, Nola literally starves herself as a way to pay penance. She doesn't ever seem to have that specific a though about the starvation, at least not while she's undergoing it, but the reader knows that's why. And yet, even the starvation, is an act of selfishness, just like most of her other behavior. She would take from her children their mother and from her husband, his wife. All because she cannot handle the shame of what she's done. Nola even connects the dust storms that sweep through Oklahoma with her sin.

I can't say that I like Nola. What I can say is that Christians are not perfect, and even in her period of sin, she is still a Christian. She's walking in the desert of her faith, lost and searching, but unable to be honest with her family and with her God. So she's hiding, in the only place she knows, in her sin. This is not your typical feel good fare that usually adorns Christian bookstore shelves. It's honest and raw and very hard to read. There were times I wanted to grab Nola by her hair and shake her because she just wouldn't stop. And then I thought back to my own life and my own personal sins and realized that she and I aren't much different.

What I appreciated most is Ms. Pittman's absolute assurance that Nola is a Christian. She stumbles and falls, but God is there to pick her up once she genuinely reaches for him and stops hiding in her sin. It's beautiful. There is restoration at the end of On Shifting Sand, both of Nola with her husband, but also the promised restoration of the land. For people who have been there, in the valley of sin, I think this book will touch you in ways even you might not understand yet. God forgives and Nola is a prime example of that forgiveness.

When the opportunity presents itself, I will give Ms. Pittman's other work a try. I find she had a delightful and rare honesty in her work that strikes a chord in me as a reader. Even though On Shifting Sand focuses on a difficult topic, I found it made me pause and think, and give serious consideration to my own faith, how real it is, and what choices I need to make in deepening my relationship with my Lord and Savior. It was an excellent book to finish on Easter weekend.

~*~

These following questions are from an interview that Ms. Pittman gave, and I hope you take the time to read them.

1) The story is written from the perspective of Nola Merrill, who finds herself in an adulterous relationship. Why did you decide to write the story from the perspective of an unreliable narrator? 

I think we are all unreliable narrators in our own lives, especially when it comes to facing our sin. We justify our sin, proclaim ourselves victims, assign blame and downplay responsibility. We can bury ourselves so deeply in guilt, we’re blind to the idea of redemption, so we ignore what God tells us about confession and grace and mercy. We lie to ourselves the same way Nola lies to herself—and, thereby, to the readers. I have no doubt this character will make readers uncomfortable. She made me uncomfortable. They are going to be frustrated with her choices, disappointed by her actions, but I’m OK with that. I think Nola is the realest character I’ve ever created.

2) How does Nola’s Christian faith change throughout the story?

I think all of Nola’s faith has been something like Christianity by proxy. She’s been passive in her faith, relying on the judgment of her father and the spiritual calling of her husband to shelter her from facing her own need for a Savior. She knows the mechanics of confession and the concept of grace, but she doesn’t feel capable or worthy of either. As a result, her faith ebbs away, until she comes to the brink of losing her identity as a child of God entirely. Only when she chooses to face her sin, to confront it and confess it, do we see a true spark of faith, because she’s poised to lose everything she’s been trying so hard to hold on to.

3) Throughout the story we see Nola struggle with her desire for sin and her desire to be faithful to her husband. What do you hope readers will learn about the power of temptation and sin through Nola’s experience? 

I don’t know that I would say that Nola has a desire for sin—at least not that she would acknowledge. And that, I think, is the important lesson for readers. Nola would say that she was weak, that Jim took advantage of that weakness, that she fought her hardest to resist temptation, that God himself orchestrated the opportunity, that Russ, her husband, bears his own part of the responsibility. I think it’s a dangerous thing to deflect the acknowledgement of your sin. That’s what keeps us from true confession and redemption, and as long as we carry that burden, we’re just powerless. It creates a wedge between ourselves and our Savior. It chips away at our spiritual health, relational health and, often, our physical health. We lose ourselves, and we lose the person God desires us to be. He knows our sin; He knows our heart. He sacrificed His son to pay the price—to save us from all of the pain and heartache Nola endures. He gives us strength to overcome temptation; He lifts the burden of sin.

4) What truths do you hope readers will take away from On Shifting Sand

First, that you cannot run from your sin. You cannot hide from God’s ever watchful eye. You cannot commit any sin too grievous for His grace. You cannot thrive under the burden of guilt. Second, that you can learn from a character without necessarily loving her. Or liking her. You might not even believe that she deserves forgiveness—from God, or from her husband. But that is why I am so thankful to live as a child wrapped in God’s sovereign mercy.

* I received a free copy of On Shifting Sand by Allison Pittman from Tyndale House Publishers in exchange for an honest review, which I have given.

Book Review: Miss Kopp's Midnight Confessions by Amy Stewart (Kopp Sisters #3, 2017)

Original Summary Deputy sheriff Constance Kopp is outraged to see young women brought into the Hackensack jail over dubious charges ...