scarlet pimpernel

What I’ve Been Reading [Open Book December 2017]

Carolyn Astfalk has a first Wednesday of the month book review linkup!

an-open-book

Sabbath Rest Book Talk: a monthly live interactive event where we talk about the value of fiction in developing compassion, empathy, and healthy relationships

The aforementioned Carolyn also joins me and Rebecca Willen every month for Sabbath Rest Book Talk, which will return Sunday, February 4, 2018!

Keep an eye out here for the reading selections for next year, and if you want quarterly reminders of what we’re reading, please subscribe to my newsletter.  That free book on Dominican prayer is coming.  I promise.  For notifications that each month’s SRBT is available for viewing/listening, subscribe to my YouTube channel.

Plus, click here to check out our NEW GOODREADS FEATURE! It’s a list! On Goodreads! Vote for books we’ve already featured and add any books you think we should discuss in the future!

Okay, finally, all that’s done.  Here’s what I’ve been reading (or hearing).  It’s a lot, so don’t expect lengthy descriptions.

The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas

Online Bookseller Blurb:

An Open Book: Book Reviews through December 2017 at Erin McCole Cupp's blogThe Three Musketeers tells the story of the early adventures of the young Gascon gentleman, D’Artagnan and his three friends from the regiment of the King’s Musketeers – Athos, Porthos and Aramis. Under the watchful eye of their patron M. de Treville, the four defend the honour of the regiment against the guards of Cardinal Richelieu, and the honour of the queen against the machinations of the Cardinal himself as the power struggles of seventeenth century France are vividly played out in the background. But their most dangerous encounter is with the Cardinal’s spy, Milady, one of literature’s most memorable female villains, and Dumas employs all his fast-paced narrative skills to bring this enthralling novel to a breathtakingly gripping and dramatic conclusion.

Got this from the library as a summer road trip listen. Loved it.  Humor.  Adventure. Romance.  Tragedy.  Justice.  What’s not to love? Warning: our heroes are not exactly saints. Everybody’s got a mistress. Revenge sullies justice.  And so and so.  4.5/5

Beowulf: An Illustrated Edition, translated by Seamus Heaney

Online Bookseller Blurb:

An Open Book: Book Reviews through December 2017 at Erin McCole Cupp's blogComposed toward the end of the first millennium, Beowulf ?is the elegiac narrative of the Scandinavian hero who saves the Danes from the seemingly invincible monster Grendel and, later, from Grendel’s mother. Drawn to what he has called the “four-squareness of the utterance” in ?Beowulf ?and its immense emotional credibility Seamus Heaney gives the great epic convincing reality

But how to visualize the poet’s story has always been a challenge for modern-day readers. In Beowulf: An Illustrated Edition, John D. Niles, a specialist in Old English literature, provides visual counterparts to Heaney’s remarkable translation. More than one hundred full-page illustrations―Viking warships, chain mail, lyres, spearheads, even a reconstruction of the Great Hall―make visible Beowulf’s world and the elemental themes of his story: death, divine power, horror, heroism, disgrace, devotion, and fame. This mysterious world is now transformed into one of material splendor as readers view its elegant goblets, dragon images, and finely crafted gold jewelry against the backdrop of the Danish landscape of its origins.

Our homeschool is doing Story of Civilization, Volume 2: The Medieval World this year, so for literary study, I’m keeping us in that era.  Because I was a lazy teen, I could have taken AP English but opted instead for Track 1, so I wouldn’t have to read stuff like Beowulf.  Well, Teen Erin, that was a stupid choice.  Middle Aged Erin is love, love, loving Beowulf.  This illustrated edition is especially delightful; it’s like an archaeology magazine with a freaky storybook inside. Let it be known, however, that I’m the weird sort who prefers the Silmarilion to The Lord of the Rings, so take my feedback in that context.

What’s more is my 7 year-old struggling reader is digging Beowulf, too.  We got the audiobook out of the library (a little gruesome, of course, but she survived), we did the Rosemary Sutcliff version for readaloud, and she took this graphic novel out of the library at least two times and read it independently.  5/5.

The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy, narrated by Stephen Crossly

Online Bookseller Blurb:

An Open Book: Book Reviews through December 2017 at Erin McCole Cupp's blogBy 1792, the idealism of the French Revolution has degenerated into a Reign of Terror. Ruthless mobs rule the streets of Paris, and each day, hundreds of royalists are sacrificed to the guillotine, with hundreds more condemned to follow. Their only hope lies in rescue by the Scarlet Pimpernel, the daring leader of an English faction that spirits aristocrats across the Channel to safety. This historical adventure tale first appeared in 1905, but its irresistible blend of romance, intrigue, and suspense renders it timeless. Readers thrill to the gallantry of the Pimpernel, whose nom de guerre derives from the wildflower he employs as a calling card. A scourge to the French authorities, the Pimpernel is the darling of the people — particularly Marguerite Blakeney, who scorns her foppish husband, Sir Percy, as ardently as she admires the Pimpernel. The basis of a classic film, this ever-popular story has recently been adapted as a musical, to the delight of Broadway audiences.

We’ll be reading this one for SRBT next year, so I wanted to get a jump on it.  I am so glad I did. Listen to November’s SRBT and you’ll find out why Marguerite SanJust and her adventure to save her beloved Scarlet Pimpernel were the reason we had to postpone that ‘cast for a week and why I had to spend 20 minutes pushing a grocery cart around a dark parking lot in the pouring rain.  If Amazon/Goodreads had a 6th star, TSP would get it.  6/5

Julia’s Gifts by Ellen Gable

Online Bookseller Blurb:

Julia's Gifts by Ellen Gable (WWI Clean Romance--Great War, Great Love)As a young girl, Julia began buying gifts for her future spouse, a man whose likeness and personality she has conjured up in her mind, a man she calls her “beloved.” Soon after the United States enters the Great War, Julia impulsively volunteers as a medical aid worker, with no experience or training. Disheartened by the realities of war, will Julia abandon the pursuit of her beloved? Will Julia’s naïve ‘gift scheme’ distract her from recognizing her true “Great Love?” From Philadelphia to war-torn France, follow Julia as she transitions from unworldly young woman to compassionate volunteer.

WWI has the best fashions.  Right, not the noblest though I could’ve voiced about The Great War.  Anyway, Ellen Gable has a new series of sweet romances set in this era, and Julia’s Gifts is the first.  If you’re looking for a clean read with a darling, heartlifting ending, this would be for you.  Look for more installments in this series coming through, each a standalone but of the same period and flavor of romance.  I received a free copy in exchange for an honest review.  4/5

The Grace Crasher by Mara Faro

Online Bookseller Blurb:

An Open Book: Book Reviews through December 2017 at Erin McCole Cupp's blogArmed with a floral-print Bible cover, Julia must pretend to be “born again” for her Christian housemates–cute EMT Mark and his church-lady mom. Their place is walking distance (cough, stalking distance) from Dylan, her latest musician crush.
Mark knows she’s faking her faith. But he needs someone like her to crash his dull routine. So he protects her secret and brings her to his Evangelical church. Hiding her Catholic past, she bumbles her way through hand-raising worship. Other times she sneaks into Mass. Meanwhile, Mark explains how to be “saved.” (Sure, she needs saving–from her alcoholic dad, her copier-jamming job, and Mark’s suspicious mom.) But does he just want to save her? Or date her?
Then Dylan sings her a song at open mic. Suddenly she’s torn between two guys, flubbing her way through three different churches, and completely confused about life. Will it all crash down around her, or will she crash straight into grace?

Would you like to pick up what looks like a big bag of pink cotton candy only to have that fluffy confection plunge a knife into your heart and twist it around multiple times, leaving you wrung out on all the best, deepest, most bittersweet emotions? If you’re anything like me, then your answer is, “Yes!” In that case, The Grace Crasher will be your kind of novel. In this debut, Faro delivers unexpected depth and heartrending drama. Julia’s path is a relatable one, and in her flaws and the flaws of the characters around her, we see ourselves and our own brokenness with delightful clarity. This is at its heart a story of the lies we tell ourselves and each other–and of the Truth that pursues us in spite of it all. I’m a believer in The Grace Crasher! 6/5

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Online Bookseller Blurb:

An Open Book: Book Reviews through December 2017 at Erin McCole Cupp's blogIt’s the year 2045, and the real world is an ugly place.

Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes his grim surroundings by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia that lets you be anything you want to be, a place where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets.

And like most of humanity, Wade dreams of being the one to discover the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this virtual world. For somewhere inside this giant networked playground, OASIS creator James Halliday has hidden a series of fiendish puzzles that will yield massive fortune—and remarkable power—to whoever can unlock them.

For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that Halliday’s riddles are based in the pop culture he loved—that of the late twentieth century. And for years, millions have found in this quest another means of escape, retreating into happy, obsessive study of Halliday’s icons. Like many of his contemporaries, Wade is as comfortable debating the finer points of John Hughes’s oeuvre, playing Pac-Man, or reciting Devo lyrics as he is scrounging power to run his OASIS rig.

And then Wade stumbles upon the first puzzle.

Suddenly the whole world is watching, and thousands of competitors join the hunt—among them certain powerful players who are willing to commit very real murder to beat Wade to this prize. Now the only way for Wade to survive and preserve everything he knows is to win. But to do so, he may have to leave behind his oh-so-perfect virtual existence and face up to life—and love—in the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.

A world at stake.
A quest for the ultimate prize.
Are you ready?

A rip-roaring adventure that reminded me of plowing through Snow Crash and Neuromancer while riding the train to work back-in-the-day and getting ticked off when the train had to pull into the station and I had to stop reading.  To call this one a page turner would be a gross understatement.  Be warned: this book is not for the reader without a well-formed conscience; there’s a bit too much secular preaching for my taste, not the least being the main character’s treatise on how much technological progress must needs rely on the rich value of masturbation.  But if you already know that our bodies mean something–which, funny enough, is what Ready Player One starts showing and proving on its very last page, for those who have eyes to see–you’ll be okay with this book.  I got my copy from the library (which made the world’s best librarian ask, “You haven’t read this yet?!?!”) 4.5/5

Deep Work by Cal Newport

Online Bookseller Blurb:

An Open Book: Book Reviews through December 2017 at Erin McCole Cupp's blogIn DEEP WORK, author and professor Cal Newport flips the narrative on impact in a connected age. Instead of arguing distraction is bad, he instead celebrates the power of its opposite. Dividing this book into two parts, he first makes the case that in almost any profession, cultivating a deep work ethic will produce massive benefits. He then presents a rigorous training regimen, presented as a series of four “rules,” for transforming your mind and habits to support this skill.
A mix of cultural criticism and actionable advice, DEEP WORK takes the reader on a journey through memorable stories-from Carl Jung building a stone tower in the woods to focus his mind, to a social media pioneer buying a round-trip business class ticket to Tokyo to write a book free from distraction in the air-and no-nonsense advice, such as the claim that most serious professionals should quit social media and that you should practice being bored. DEEP WORK is an indispensable guide to anyone seeking focused success in a distracted world.

A convincing manual for why and how you should reduce distractions in your life (ahem, social media addiction) in order to pursue a more peaceful, fruitful, productive life.  I borrowed a copy from the library and then asked for (and received) a copy for my birthday, I loved it that much and know I’ll need to return to it regularly. 5/5

Caveats:

  • The testimonies and lives are overwhelmingly those of men or, infrequently, of women who are not working from home with the children (and their incessant interruptions) present, awake, and in need of tending through the majority of the day.  Those of us who are in the Deep [House]Work category will need to take his suggestions and modify them to be reasonable for our current state in life.
  • While Newport does bring in psychology and even some very even-handed, secular-friendly spirituality (including a mention of The Intellectual Life by Fr. Sertillanges, OP), the perspective is slanted towards making your life more productive in a secular sense.  Proceed accordingly.  Don’t turn this into a bible for the worship of Productivity.

The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher

From Online Bookseller’s Blurb:

Benedict Option…Rod Dreher argues that the way forward is actu­ally the way back—all the way to St. Benedict of Nur­sia. This sixth-century monk, horrified by the moral chaos following Rome’s fall, retreated to the forest and created a new way of life for Christians. He built enduring communities based on principles of order, hospitality, stability, and prayer. His spiritual centers of hope were strongholds of light throughout the Dark Ages, and saved not just Christianity but Western civilization.

Today, a new form of barbarism reigns. Many believers are blind to it, and their churches are too weak to resist. Politics offers little help in this spiritual crisis. What is needed is the Benedict Option, a strategy that draws on the authority of Scripture and the wisdom of the ancient church. The goal: to embrace exile from mainstream culture and construct a resilient counterculture.

The Benedict Option is both manifesto and rallying cry for Christians who, if they are not to be conquered, must learn how to fight on culture war battlefields like none the West has seen for fifteen hundred years. It’s for all mere Chris­tians—Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox—who can read the signs of the times. Neither false optimism nor fatalistic despair will do. Only faith, hope, and love, embodied in a renewed church, can sustain believers in the dark age that has overtaken us. These are the days for building strong arks for the long journey across a sea of night.

Yes, the widely celebrated instruction manual on how to build an ark for you and your children to face the coming tsunami that will wipe out Christian culture in the so-called West.  Yes, the tsunami is coming, but this manual will build you an ark full of holes.  What do you actually do with your children once you’ve holed them in up in your small, rural manufacturing community where prices are low and somehow magically going to stay that way?  Benedict Option claims to take the long view, but it rings more like a short-to-mid-range view that has called upon limited resources: can we learn nothing from our African and Asian siblings in the faith who’ve maintained their churches in the face of far deeper persecution than we’ve faced of late?  There’s gotta be a better way.  I borrowed this book from the library.  3/5

Funny in Farsi by Firoozeh Dumas

Online Bookseller Blurb:

FunnyInFarsiFunny in Farsi chronicles the American journey of Dumas’s wonderfully engaging family: her engineer father, a sweetly quixotic dreamer who first sought riches on Bowling for Dollars and in Las Vegas, and later lost his job during the Iranian revolution; her elegant mother, who never fully mastered English (nor cared to); her uncle, who combated the effects of American fast food with an army of miraculous American weight-loss gadgets; and Firoozeh herself, who as a girl changed her name to Julie, and who encountered a second wave of culture shock when she met and married a Frenchman, becoming part of a one-couple melting pot.

In a series of deftly drawn scenes, we watch the family grapple with American English (hot dogs and hush puppies?—a complete mystery), American traditions (Thanksgiving turkey?—an even greater mystery, since it tastes like nothing), and American culture (Firoozeh’s parents laugh uproariously at Bob Hope on television, although they don’t get the jokes even when she translates them into Farsi).

Above all, this is an unforgettable story of identity, discovery, and the power of family love. It is a book that will leave us all laughing—without an accent.

A memoir made up of a series of essays on growing up in America as an Iranian immigrant.  Full of giggles and tender sentiment by turns.  Balances a wry eye with a compassionate view–always the best kind of balance, if you ask me.  I’d feel comfortable letting junior highers and up read this.  Borrowed from the library.  5/5

Finding Patience: The Adventures of Faith, Hope and Charity by Virginia Lieto

Online Bookseller Blurb:

An Open Book: Book Reviews through December 2017 at Erin McCole Cupp's blogFor children, waiting for anything seems endless! Faith Livingstone would agree, having just moved to a new town and about to enter a new school. Faith wants so badly to make new friends. She wants to feel like she belongs in her new surroundings. It all can’t happen fast enough for Faith! Journey with Faith as she struggles to make new friends; yet, learns the value of the virtue of patience in the process.

Sweet little story book for the child in your life who may be facing a new situation and having to make new friends…and learning patience in the process.  I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.  4/5

Cinder Alia by Karen Ullo

Online Bookseller Blurb:

CINDER ALLIA by Karen Ullo: Cinder Allia has spent eight years living under her stepmother’s brutal thumb, wrongly punished for having caused her mother’s death. She lives for the day when the prince will grant her justice; but her fairy godmother shatters her hope with the news that the prince has died in battle...Cinder Allia has spent eight years living under her stepmother’s brutal thumb, wrongly punished for having caused her mother’s death. She lives for the day when the prince will grant her justice; but her fairy godmother shatters her hope with the news that the prince has died in battle. Allia escapes in search of her own happy ending, but her journey draws her into the turbulent waters of war and politics in a kingdom where the prince’s death has left chaos and division.

Cinder Allia turns a traditional fairy tale upside down and weaves it into an epic filled with espionage, treason, magic, and romance. What happens when the damsel in distress must save not only herself, but her kingdom? What price is she willing to pay for justice? And can a woman who has lost her prince ever find true love?

Surrounded by a cast that includes gallant knights, turncoat revolutionaries, a crippled prince who lives in hiding, a priest who is also a spy, and the man whose love Allia longs for most—her father—Cinder Allia is an unforgettable story about hope, courage, and the healing power of pain.

The fairy tale retold in a way you’ve never imagined, with more medieval zombies than fairy dust, more angst than froth. Nonstop action, rich detail, twists and turns to keep you guessing up until the very end.  Highly recommended.  I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.  5/5

 

What’s your #OpenBook?

Don’t forget to link up YOUR #OpenBook reviews over at Carolyn’s!

 

 

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