Three Children’s Books About Race

Recently, my daughter-in-law and I were discussing the lack of diversity in children’s books. Bible story books, in particular, seemed to draw Biblical people lily white, when in reality they would have been Middle Eastern in appearance.

Not long afterward, I came across What God’s Family Looks Like, a post from The Story Warren about children’s books that deal with race. I looked up the main book mentioned, then followed a rabbit trail of recommended reading. I ended up getting these three books.

Why be colorblind when we can be colorFULL insteadThe first is Colorfull: Celebrating the Colors God Gave Us by Dorena Williamson, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu. I love the tagline: “Why be colorblind when we can be colorFULL instead?”

The back of the book says this:

Imani and Kayla are the best of friends who are learning to celebrate their different skin colors. As they look around them at the amazing colors in nature, they can see that their skin is another example of God’s creativity! This joyful story takes a new approach to discussing race: instead of being colorblind, we can choose to celebrate each color God gave us and be colorFULL instead.

Imani’s Granny Mac helps gives the kids some perspective. My daughter-in-law said she wished adults would read this book, too.

When God Made You by Matthew Paul Turner, illustrated by David Catrow, doesn’t explain or emphasize race: the story just incorporates it naturally as part of who God made you to be. God planned each person with their particular gifts, appearances, personalities, etc. to reflect His image.

One line in this gave me pause: “Have faith but love more.” At first it seemed to downplay faith. But you could also read it as saying, “Have faith, but don’t stop there: love others.”

An inside page:

Trillia Newbell’s God’s Very Good Idea (illustrated by Catalina Echeverri) took several weeks to get here. I hope that means lots of people are buying it!

Trillia begins at the beginning: with creation. Making people, and making them in all different colors and varieties, was God’s idea. They would “all enjoy loving him and all enjoy loving each other . . . reflecting what God is like.”

But the first people chose to disobey God. That plunged all of us into sin. We don’t love God or each other as we ought. “Sometimes we treat others badly because they are different than us.”

But part of God’s very good plan was sending Jesus to come and live on earth, to show us how to love, to die on the cross so we could be forgiven, and to rise from the dead, and to give us the Holy Spirit to help us live for Him.

He also gave us the church as a foretaste of what it will be like in heaven some day, “lots of different people enjoying loving him and loving each other.”

I love that Trillia’s story is couched firmly in the Bible and the gospel. She gives an overview of creation, sin, and redemption in words a child could understand.

I didn’t get a chance to read these with my grandson. I sent him home with them. But I hope he enjoys them!

I believe children need to be taught early that God created all people in His image.

Now that I look again at the post I first mentioned, I see a whole list that I must have forgotten to look up when I got distracted earlier. So I will probably explore some of those. Now that we have some books with a good, Biblical worldview about race, I’d love to find some that just show kids of all different colors naturally as characters in a story.

Do you know of any good books for kids along these lines?

(Sharing with InstaEncouragement, Worth Beyond Rubies, Grace and Truth,
Hearth and Soul, Senior Salon)

Remembering the Relationship

“It’s not a religion; it’s a relationship.”

Christians often say this when sharing the gospel with unbelievers. We want them to understand that Christianity isn’t just a matter of changing churches or habits or rituals.

We enter into a relationship with God when we repent of our own way and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. We actually become God’s children.

Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). (See What does it mean to be a born again Christian?)

And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3).

This relationship changes everything, and we spend the rest of our lives growing in it and learning the implications of it.

The main way we grow in that relationship is the same way we grow in other relationships: communication. We read the Word God left here for us, the record of what He wants us to know and practice. We talk to Him in prayer.

Because we’re human, we set up habits and routines to helps us incorporate prayer and Bible reading into our everyday lives. We find a Bible reading plan or study book that works with our schedule. We stake out a serviceable spot and assemble tools: good lighting, highlighters, pens, journals.

And then life happens. We wake up too late one morning. Or we wake up early because we have to be somewhere. Or someone is sick or company comes. Or we don’t feel inspired.

If our time with any other member of the family gets disrupted, what do we do? We touch base as we can and make arrangements to talk one-on-one another time.

When our time with God gets disrupted, what do we do? We feel nagging guilt because an item on our to-do list didn’t get crossed off. We forget the relationship aspect of it

I love what Sue Donaldson says here: “We don’t worship the habit, but habits help us worship.” We set up the habits in love, in order to foster our relationship with God. But then we devolve into just keeping up the habits and forget what they’re for.

We often approach our devotional time out of duty rather than anticipation of spending time with God. A quiet time begun as a sense of duty can turn into something that touches out hearts and draws us close. Remembering our purpose will motivate us to look for Him rather than just dragging our eyes across the page.

We don’t always feel warm fuzzies when in any relationship. But love isn’t always warm fuzzies. Sometimes it’s doing for another when we don’t “feel” like it. A mom awakened at 2 a.m. by her baby’s cries might not feel warm and nurturing at first. But she gets up out of love for her child, and the warm feelings kick in later. Remembering our purpose, our history, and the relationship can help restore the warm feelings.

There are other ways we often lose the focus of our relationship with God:

  • When we have a need, we look for verses to plug into it rather than remembering, “This is what my Father said about this issue.”
  • We avoid sin to avoid punishment or protect our reputation rather than, like Joseph, cringing at the thought of acting unseemly toward God. He’s done so much for us. How can we disregard Him or do things that hurt or displease Him?
  • We set up our ministries and cram all of our service into that time slot, thinking we’re “off” the rest of the time. Instead, we should remember God’s family is our own, and we minister by His grace whenever a need comes up.
  • We treat prayer like a vending machine—insert request, receive answer—rather than a conversation with our God.
  • We witness for Christ during our official church visitation time instead of looking for ways to point people to Him all through the day.
  • Modesty becomes rigid standards for hairlines, hemlines, and necklines rather than a heart attitude to please and rightly represent God.
  • We feel we’ve had a great worship experience because we knew all the songs or sang our favorites, even if we didn’t have a conscious thought of the greatness of God while singing.

Israel was rebuked all through the prophetical books for forgetting their why and their who. Their habits and rituals then became empty, a weariness. It wasn’t too long before idolatry provided a seemingly more exciting alternative.

But they weren’t the only ones. The Pharisees in Jesus’ day stressed God’s law, but missed its heart and purpose. The church in Ephesus did all the right things outwardly but had left their first love.

How can we guard against just going through the motions? How can we keep a warm, nurturing, and loving relationship with God at the forefront of all we do?

God gave Ephesus a twofold instruction: “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first” (Revelation 2:5a).

Remember. Remember how God saved us. Remember what our life was like before: “separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12). Those who were saved very young can think about what life might have been like if you hadn’t heard the gospel from your earliest days.

Remember our “Ebenezers,” those times we especially saw God’s hand at work. Remember prayers God has answered and how He has led in the past. “I remember the days of old; I meditate on all that you have done; I ponder the work of your hands” (Psalm 143:5).

Remember and meditate on His attributes. Focus on Him in our Bible study and worship. Perhaps go through a book like Jen Wilkin’s None Like Him and In His Image.

Read though some psalms or other Bible passages that especially drew us close to God’s heart in the past.

Repent. We pray and ask His help to love Him as we ought.. We reverse the list above. We go back and evaluate all those activities and relationships in light of our relationship with God.

There for me the Savior stands,
Shows His wounds and spreads His hands.
God is love! I know, I feel;
Jesus weeps and loves me still.

Pity from Thine eye let fall,
By a look my soul recall;
Now the stone to flesh convert,
Cast a look, and break my heart.

Now incline me to repent,
Let me now my sins lament,
Now my foul revolt deplore,
Weep, believe, and sin no more.

From “Depths of Mercy” by Charles Wesley

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Laudable Linkage

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Here are some of the good reads that caught my eye this week:

The Quiet Power of Ordinary Devotions, HT to Challies. “If we are reading our Bibles rightly, in fact, we should expect many mornings of ordinary devotions: devotions that do not sparkle with insight or direct-to-life application, but that nevertheless do us good. Just as most meals are ordinary, but still nourish, and just as most conversations with friends are ordinary, but still deepen affection, so most devotions are ordinary, but still grow us in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ.”

A Dangerous Trend. “Whether you’re a new believer or seasoned saint, don’t fall prey to the danger of replacing the Scriptures with other books. Let your love for God’s Word be rekindled as you come to the Word afresh to see, meditate, and delight in God’s glory. Don’t read the Bible merely to acquire knowledge or be challenged. Come to meet with God. ”

That Time I Went After an Older, Godlier Man. I’m thankful for this confession and the questions that arose from it.

People Need the Lord. How a pastor renews his compassion for people. Good not just for pastors.

Love What’s Near. “I now look askance at anyone who seems to speak primarily in the abstract: ‘fixing the economy,’ or ‘changing the culture,’ or ‘loving humankind.’ Why? Because it’s easy to succumb to self-righteousness when you pursue utopian visions in regard to great and massive things. It’s when you are faced with the smaller things and the people nearest you where you begin to spot your own flaws and diagnose your lovelessness.”

How to Explain to Your Kids Why Social Justice Warriors Hate Christians So Much. “Events like these that suddenly and explicitly pit Christianity against the cause of many Social Justice Warriors (“SJWs”) are the tip of an ideological iceberg that many Christians are (to a large degree) unaware of.”

Alone Against the Mob: Crowds, Cancel Culture, and Courage. “There really is nothing new under the sun. Today’s issues, as desperate as they can be, were first yesterday’s issues. This means one convenient and profound truth for the Christian: the solutions have not changed.”

How to Be Consistent in Memorizing Scripture. Great tips!

Are You Having Doubts? The doubts in question are whether/when/how this COVID thing is going to end. But I love the example of turning away from fears and frustrations and turning toward tangible ways to help others.

Finally, this almost made me cry: a baby sees her mother clearly for the first time:

Happy Saturday!

Friday’s Fave Five

On Fridays I like to press the pause button for a few moments with Susanne and friends to reflect on some of the blessings of the week.

1. A quiet week after a busy one.

2. A portable phone charger. My phone battery needs recharging in the middle of the day. Our chargers are in hard-to-unplug places behind end tables and nightstands, so I couldn’t easily transfer them to my desk or the kitchen. I’ve had to leave my phone in another room to recharge during the middle of the day. I asked for and received a portable phone battery charger to use at my desk. Works great!.

3. Pink charging cables. My husband knows my pink-loving heart.

4. Encouragement from a more experienced writer.

5. Sleep, for whatever reason, is sometimes elusive in “middle age.” But this week I’ve fallen asleep early most nights and gotten back to sleep pretty easily after waking up during the night.

What’s something good from our week?

Book Review: Chasing Jupiter

I enjoyed Rachel Coker’s debut novel, Interrupted: A Life Beyond Words, so much, that after finishing it I immediately looked up her second book, Chasing Jupiter.

In this book, Scarlett Blaine is a teenager in Georgia in the 1960s. Her parents are busy fighting and going to political meetings, so Scarlett becomes the main cook and caregiver for her elderly grandfather and younger brother. Her brother, Cliff, has some kind of unnamed mental or processing disorder. Not as much was known about such things then, so he’s just generally regarded as “different.” Partly out of standing up for him, Scarlett takes on the mantle of being “different,” too—not in a mental way, but just in her personality.

Cliff has decided he wants to build a rocket to go to Jupiter. Scarlett knows they can’t build a real one, but she helps Cliff raise money for materials. They decide to make and sell peach pies, with the help of the local farmer’s son, Frank.

Scarlett grows to like Frank, but Frank has eyes for Scarlett’s wild sister, Juli.

Scarlett’s pastor’s wife hears about her culinary skills and invites her over to help make food for the church’s shut-ins. Scarlett is reluctant at first, but then enjoys getting to know the pastor’s wife.

A series of family tragedies shakes Scarlett’s faith. Her pastor’s wife tells her, “The beauty of salvation and God’s grace isn’t in him solving all of our problems instantly, like a magic genie. Its beauty comes in the assurance that he has a greater plan for you.” Can Scarlett trust Him with all the problems and find peace in the midst of them?

Rachel has written another beautiful story. It took me just a bit longer to connect with Scarlett than Allie in the previous book. But I could empathize with much in her situation.

This book was written in 2012, and I’ve seen nothing from Rachel since these two books. There’s nothing on her Facebook page since 2017, when she was newly married. Looks like she went into photography for a while, but that sight has not been updated since 2016. Perhaps everyday life precluded her writing. But I hope she finds her way back to it some day.

(Sharing with Booknificent)

Shining light in a dark and drowsy world

The room is just the right temperature. The covers are the perfect weight. The lights are off, your body relaxes, and you’re just about to drop off to sleep.

What’s the last thing you want to happen in that moment?

Someone to shine a light in your face.

It might help to remember, when we’re trying to let our light shine in this world, that some people don’t necessarily want to be awakened.

And this is the verdict: The Light has come into the world, but men loved the darkness rather than the Light, because their deeds were evil (John 3:19).

Many missionaries have heard calls to the field telling the woes of people who have never heard the gospel and are crying out for someone to come. They invest a great deal of time and money preparing to uproot their families, leave their loved ones, and go to a faraway country, full of hope and big plans. But then they find no one is really crying out in need. No one wants their message. Everyone seems pretty self-satisfied. It’s no wonder that some missionaries of old who blazed the trails, like Adoniram Judson, went for seven years in Burma without any response.

Does that mean we don’t shine our lights? No, Jesus told us to:

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven (Matthew 5:14-16).

But we understand that people might resist, even reject it at first. We try to make the message as inviting as possible, but we understand that others consider the cross itself foolish, or even an offense, no matter how unoffensively we try to present it.

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Corinthians 1:18).

Sometimes we need to wake people up in a hurry due to an emergency or danger. Or some don’t wake up to a gentle approach. Some people need a sudden Damascus Road experience like Paul , where the light suddenly shines forth in such brightness that they’re blinded. And only then, the scales fall from their eyes and they begin to see.

But many people experience more of a slow dawning. The light of the world we share is Jesus. As they see glimpses of Him and His truth, they are drawn to Him.

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).

In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:4-5).

When I am trying to fall asleep, light is an irritant. When I lay down on the couch for a nap, the overheard light in the living room or dining room is right in my eyes. Then I have to wrestle with getting up to turn it off, which will wake me up more, or trying to ignore it to go to sleep.

And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your heart (1 Peter 1:19).

But once I am awake, I am thankful for the light that drew me from drowsy darkness, even if I was irritated and grumpy at first. Sometimes I even berate myself for not responding to the light earlier.

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:19).

We shine our lights by using the Word of God.

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path (Psalm 119:105).

We shine our lights by how our transformed conduct differs from the world.

For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them (Ephesians 5:8-11).

Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain (Philippians 2:14-16).

The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires (Romans 13:12-14).

We shine our lights by pointing back to our light Source.

I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in Me should remain in darkness (John 12:46).

We try to stress the urgency of waking.

Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed (Romans 13:11).

Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning— lest he come suddenly and find you asleep (Mark 13:35-36).

We hope, we trust, we pray that the Light will chase away the shadows and drowsiness, and draw the spiritually sleepy to the joys of the full light of day.

For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light (Psalm 36:9).

For it is you who light my lamp; the Lord my God lightens my darkness (Psalm 18:28).

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Hearth and Home, Senior Salon,
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Laudable Linkage

A collection of good reading onlineHere’s my latest collection o good online reads:

The Song That Was Sharper Than Sting. This is a lovely piece of writing, referencing Tolkien and Lewis and the Bible about songs of Home that encourage us in the darkness.

Redemption May Be Closer Than You Think. “I have learned not to lose heart when everything around me crumbles. God is working. I can trust Him. It may be that what looks dead is about to spring to life.”

The Day I Scheduled God Out of My Life, HT to True Woman. “Your schedule will be different, and you’ll have a choice: to let your schedule dictate the depth of your relationship with Christ, or to let Christ dictate your schedule.”

Carrying a Knapsack, HT to Challies. Thoughts from Galatians 6 about what it means to bear burdens and carry our own load while relying on God’s grace to do so. “Problems arise when people act as if their ‘boulders’ are daily loads and refuse help, or as if their ‘daily loads’ are boulders they shouldn’t have to carry. The results of these two instances are either perpetual pain or irresponsibility.”

Be Quiet: Cultivating a Gentle Spirit in a World That Loves Noise. “Quiet, they claim, is weakness. Being still and speechless is no longer an acceptable option in a culture that values its own noise above all else.”

10 Awesome Art Appreciation Book Series for Your Homeschool (or to supplement whatever kind of schooling you do), HT to Story Warren. This is an area I wished we’d had more time for. These books would have helped.

Since we had two birthdays in our family this month, here’s Happy Birthday in 12 major keys and different styles:

Friday’s Fave Five

I’m glad to join Susanne and friends today to note some of the blessings of the week. It has been another full one.

1. Family time. My oldest son’s visit extended through last weekend. We had such a great time together as a family with everyone here. I wrote more about it on my end-of-the-month post yesterday. We added two more new games to our repertoire: Click Clack Lumberjack and Incan Gold.

2. My birthday was just beginning when I posted for FFF last Friday. I wrote more about this yesterday, too, but I appreciate all the effort my family puts into making it a special day for me.

3. A special gift from Timothy. He made a bracelet for himself and me.

And he also made his own card! It’s me with a hat on. 🙂

And he wrote his name on the back just like I do with the cards I make.

4. Reading with Timothy. We don’t read together often—he’s usually pretty busy when he’s here. But one day last week, his mom and dad had to go pick something up and he stayed here. He picked out a couple of books, and we cozied up under the throw blanket to read. I not only enjoyed the time with him, but it brought back a wave of nostalgia, remembering reading with my boys when they were little.

5. Sheltering a bunny. One day during a rain shower, we noticed a bunny taking shelter under a tree in our yard. So cute!

What’s something good from your week?

End-of-August Reflections

August ReflectionsAugust was a full month for us, physically and emotionally.

Train travel—A First!

A first for any of us, anyway.

My oldest son was able to come for his annual August visit. He usually comes in April and December, too. He’d had to cancel his April visit due to COVID, and we were hoping he wouldn’t have to cancel this one. None of us was comfortable with flying or hotels yet, though. But one of my husband’s colleagues mentioned going somewhere in a sleeper car on a train. A toilet was in the “roomette,” and he hardly saw anyone else the whole trip. The chairs converted to beds, and he was able to stretch out for the night. So we checked into prices and stations and asked my son, Jeremy, what he thought. He decided to try it.

He reported that he liked everything about train travel better than air travel—except the length. The train trip was about 20 hours including a short layover, whereas the plane trip can vary from 6-9 hours or more, depending on whether there is one layover or two and how long they are.

He was in business class the first leg, but there was only one other person in his car. But he had plenty of leg room. The roomette was tight quarters: much smaller than a hotel room, but of course more room than business class. There were two chairs facing each other that made into a bed when folded out. And there was an upper berth, so technically two people could fit into the roomette. But I think it might be uncomfortable for two adults. It might work well for a parent and child.

This gives you an idea how tight it is. The toilet is right next to the chair (the backpack is on the lid) and the square above opens up a sink.

So it’s convenient to have a toilet right there—but it is right there!

Amtrak does have some bigger sleeper rooms, but I am sure they are more expensive.

I don’t think the price was any less than airfare, especially with airlines lowering process to attract travelers right now. But it is private. Someone came to the sleeper car duly masked to see what Jeremy wanted for dinner and then to deliver it, but that’s the only person he interacted with. He did have a short layover in Penn Station, but they had masks and social distancing rules in place.

Birthday Season and Staycation

Four of us have birthdays between mid-July and mid-September, so we’ve always called this time of year Birthday Season. Jeremy’s birthday and mine are six days apart, and often when he comes for his, the dates work out that he’s here for mine as well. That happened this year.

We celebrated his with homemade lasagna and Boston cream pie.

My husband took the week off as well. We couldn’t really go anywhere, with COVID restrictions in place. But Jason and Mittu and Timothy came over almost every day, and of course Jesse was here (still working at home). We played lots of games, talked, ate lots of good food, showed each other favorite videos. We had dinner in a park one evening and lunch in another park on Saturday.

When we (or rather, they) had camped out in the back yard a few weeks ago, they wanted to do that again when Jeremy was here. So everyone except Jesse and me did that Thursday night.

Friday was my birthday, and Jason and Jesse had taken the day off. Mittu made biscuits and gravy and Jim made bacon, sausage, and eggs on the grill for my birthday breakfast. Then everyone scattered for showers, rest, and birthday preparations. In the evening, Jim grilled his awesome teriyaki chicken and Mittu made two kinds of potatoes, salad, and my favorite Texas Sheet Cake for my birthday cake.

We got some family photos in, too. This was one of my favorites.

We had such a great time with all the family here. Both weekends were pretty busy, but we had some days in the middle of just hanging out. It’s always sad to say good-bye. But my heart was full.

Creating

This card was for a young man at church who was leaving for college. Inside I put Psalm 16:11, my favorite verse for graduations.

This card was for Jason and Mittu’s anniversary, cut out with the Cricut (as was the road in the card above):

This was for Jeremy’s birthday. He likes foxes, and this fox was a 3-D, multi-layer sticker. I did the balloons on the Cricut and used a sticky pad so they were as raised as the fox.

Timothyisms

Timothy asked his mom one day, “Why don’t we call forks mouth rakes and spoons food shovels?” 🙂

Watching

I worked through some good movies this month while riding my exercise bike, which distracts me and keeps me there for the designated time. All of these were amazingly clean. I watched them via Amazon Prime, but they may be available in other venues.

The Railway Children was based on a book by E. Nesbit (whom I have never read and was hardly even aware of) and a remake of a few earlier movies. This one came out in 2000. It involves a family in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century whose father is wrongly imprisoned. The mother and children have to move to a small cottage, and the mother tries to support them by writing stories. The children roam around and make friends with the railway workers, help a Russian immigrant and an injured boy. Sweet story! I’ll have to look up the book some day.

The Lady Vanishes has been filmed several times, once by Hitchcock. This version came out in 2013. A spoiled young woman is helped by an older lady on a train leaving the Balkans. But when the younger woman awakes after a nap, the older woman is gone and everyone says they haven’t seen the older woman. The girl tries to figure out what happened, with a couple of Americans trying to help and everyone is suspect.

The Secret Handshake is a little quirky. A middle-aged man’s daughter is being harassed by a boy with a crush. First, the yard is TP’d, then antics escalate. The man steps in to intervene, learns the boy’s father has died, and decides to take him on a camping trip to teach him about becoming a man. But nothing goes as planned. The description called it a “rollicking comedy.” I wouldn’t call it rollicking. But it was a nice film and ended up in a good place.

It’s only coincidence that two of the films had to do with trains in the same month that my son was taking a train trip. 🙂

Reading

I finished some good books this month (titles link back to my reviews):

I’m currently reading:

  • Be Victorious (Revelation): In Christ You Are an Overcomer by Warren Wiersbe
  • In His Image: 10 Ways God Calls Us to Reflect His Character by Jen Wilkin
  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (audiobook)
  • Chasing Jupiter by Rachel Coker
  • Strong Poison by Dorothy Sayers
  • Write Better by Andrew Le Peau

I’ve got some new birthday books to dip into after those!

Blogging

Some of the posts this month, in addition to weekly Friday’s Fave Fives and occasional Laudable Linkages and book reviews:

  • God’s Word: Our Sure Guide. Just as a zoning board has to make decisions by their book of codes and regulations rather than emotions or sentiment, so do we need to go “back to the book.”
  • Mason Is In Heaven. A young grandson of a former pastor lost his battle with cancer; some thoughts on when a little one dies.
  • Blind Spots. What causes them, ways we can combat them.
  • Dwelling Richly. What does it mean to let God’s Word “dwell richly” with us?
  • God’s Efficiency. What might seem inefficient to us is working out His perfect will.

Writing

Not much this month, with everything else going on. But I got a little work done at the beginning of the month and am looking forward to digging back in.

Forgive me for this post being longer than usual—but, as I said at the beginning, it was a very full month!

How was your August?

(Sharing with Grace and Truth, Hearth and Home,
Senior Salon, InstaEncouragement)

Book Review: A Gentleman in Moscow

Amor Towles novel, A Gentleman in Moscow, takes place almost entirely within the walls of the grand Metropol Hotel in Moscow. Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov lived there in 1922, when he was convicted as an unrepentant aristocrat, declared a Former Person, and sentenced to house arrest. He was moved from his suite to an attic storage room and told that if he stepped out of the hotel, he would be shot.

Believing that “if a man does not master his circumstances then he is bound to be mastered by them,” the Count determines to make the best of his.

There are worse places to be confined than a Grand Hotel. But confinement is confinement, and it strains the count at times. In one of the best pieces of “showing, not telling” I’ve seen, the Count has been inside for about a year when he feels a blast of cold air in a hallway. Searching for its origin, the Count finds himself in the coat room, where someone has just come in in from outside. He also notices the smell of wood smoke on the coat someone has just left behind. The coat room girl finds him a few minutes later, holding the sleeve of the coat. It was such a poignant moment, made all the more so by the fact that Towles didn’t explain, “He missed the outdoors and the smell of winter and wood smoke.” He left the scene as is for the reader to infer why the Count lingered, holding the coat sleeve.

The Count hits a low point, and I love the scene that switches his thinking. But mostly the book involves the Count’s activities, friendships with members of the staff, interactions with a nine-year-old girl, a famous actress, an American journalist, Russian officials, and various others who come through the hotel.

We learn what kind of man the Count is. He’s in his thirties at the beginning of the novel and his sixties by the end. At first he is quite charming but almost flippant. He’s almost unfailingly polite. As he tells a little girl who asks about the rules for being a princess, “Manners are not like bonbons, Nina. You may not choose the ones that suit you best; and you certainly cannot put the half-bitten ones back in the box.” He’s not without thought for others, as we see in remembrances of getting his grandmother out of the country before his arrest, his care of his sister, his sacrifice for a friend. But we also see how he grows as a person over the course of the novel.

The narrator also lets us in on what’s going on in the country and how it affects the Count even inside a hotel. This was a time of great change in Russia, after the revolution, spanning two world wars, famines, the Stalinist era, and more.

A few of my favorite quotes:

“A king fortifies himself with a castle,” observed the Count, “a gentleman with a desk.”

But imagining what might happen if one’s circumstances were different was the only sure route to madness.

It was, without question, the smallest room that he had occupied in his life; yet somehow, within those four walls the world had come and gone.

I also enjoyed a section where he talked about names in Russian novels—how difficult they are, and how several names can be used for the same person with nicknames, honorifics, etc. I smiled because I had thought that very thing when reading Russian novels.

This is not an action-packed, plot-driven novel (though the action picks up and becomes quite suspenseful in the last few chapters). It’s more of a quiet, thoughtful book. This doesn’t often happen, but I didn’t start another book for more than a day after finishing this one, just to sit with my thoughts about it a little longer.

Towles said he got the idea for the novel when, traveling for business overseas. He noticed some of the same people every time he visited certain hotels. He wondered if some of them lived in the hotel, and that started his thoughts around a character who did live at a hotel, but not by his own choice.

I loved Towles’ writing. One thing I especially liked was the way he took details of a previous scene that I thought was finished and brought them up again later. For instance, in an early scene, the Count has some fennel sent to his friend, the chef at the hotel restaurant. I got the idea that fennel was hard to come by, and the Count was a nice guy to get some, and he still had the connections to do so. But then the purpose for the fennel comes out in a much later chapter, a delightful surprise.

I normally avoid most current secular fiction because there’s almost always some language issues and/or sex scenes. I don’t recall many language problems–a couple of “damns,” one instance of taking the Lord’s name in vain (though the author sometimes told us someone did without subjecting us to the sound of it). There are a couple of sexual encounters, but no steamy, explicit scenes.

I enjoyed going down the rabbit hole of Towles’ web site for the book. He shares some information on the Metropol (a real hotel) and its history, interviews about the book, some questions he receives and their answers, a reader’s guide (though I’d advise not reading the latter two until after you’ve finished the book to avoid spoilers). The structure of the novel hadn’t dawned on me until I read the guide Towels’ mention of it n the guide: the first few chapters cover a day, then a couple of days, gradually increasing. Tthe middle covers years, and the last chapters hone in on days again. I was also surprised that one of the most-often asked questions concerned who the person was in the last scene with the Count. That person was always described throughout the novel with a particular adjective that’s also used at the end, so that was no mystery to me. I enjoyed learning what some of the scenes were based on.

I listened to the audiobook superbly read by Nicholas Guy Smith. He did a wonderful job giving each character distinctive  and apt voices.

Have you read A Gentleman in Moscow? What did you think?

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