The Pilgrim’s Regress

The Pilgrim’s Regress was the first fiction book written by C. S. Lewis after his conversion to Christianity. Lewis’ book is not a retelling of Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress: Lewis just borrows the allegorical format.

The book’s protagonist is John, a young man from a land called Puritania. The country is ruled over by a Landlord who is reportedly very good and kind but who will throw anyone who disobeys him into a black hole.

One day John catches a glimpse of a beautiful island through a window. The sight, sounds, and smells raise an ineffable longing to see the island again and even visit it.

John journeys towards the island, but instead finds different philosophers and detractors. He meets a “brown girl,” who assures him she’s what he really wanted. But she represents lust, and John eventually finds he’s dissatisfied with her. (This article makes a good case that Lewis was neither racist or misogynistic by designating lust as a brown girl).

John continues on and meets Mr. Enlightenment, the Spirit of the Age, Mother Kirk, Mr. Sensible, Mr. Neo-Angluar, Mr. Humanist, History, Reason, and others. Some say his island is an illusion. Others offers various suggestions for how to get there. Some argue for or against the against the existence of the Landlord. History tells John the landlord sent truths about himself in the form of various pictures. But many interpreted the pictures the wrong way.

Finally John understands the way to the island. Wikipedia says, “The Regress portion of the title now comes into play as John journeys back home and now sees everything in a new light and sees how the road he took is a knife’s edge between Heaven and Hell.”

In a preface to the third edition of the book, written ten years after it was originally published, Lewis apologized for the book. Although he hadn’t intended the book to be strictly autobiographical, he hadn’t realized that not everyone’s journey was quite like his.

On the intellectual side my own progress had been from ‘popular realism’ to Philosophical Idealism; from Idealism to Pantheism; from Pantheism to Theism; and from Theism to Christianity. I still think this a very natural road, but I now know that it is a road very rarely trodden. In the early thirties I did not know this. If I had had any notion of my own isolation, I should either have kept silent about my journey or else endeavoured to describe it with more consideration for the reader’s difficulties.

He says that in the new edition (online here), he added headlines before the different sections. He apologizes for doing so, but the headlines would have been a great help if I had read rather than listened to the book.

I think I would have gotten more out of the book of I had read an annotated edition, which explained more about the different references and philosophies (one GoodReads reviewer recommended C. S. Lewis and Narnia for Dummies as an aide). But I got the gist of the story and understood most of the discussions between characters. To me, this book illustrates what Lewis said in Mere Christianity:

If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.

Wrapping Up Two Christmas Reads

I just finished my last two Christmas novels and thought I’d review them together.

In Hope for Christmas: A Small Town Christmas Romance Novella by Malissa Chapin, Merry Noel (who insists her last name is pronounced Knoll, not No-el) is trying to close one last deal before Christmas Day. If she can’t get everything together for it, the client will call the deal off. But her office is in the midst of a Christmas party and she can’t get anyone to make copies or do the things needed to close the deal.

Even without the pressure of this last deal, though, Merry hated Christmas and wouldn’t be celebrating.

After a disastrous series of events, Merry ends up losing her job. She didn’t want to go home to Wisconsin, but she has nowhere else to turn.

Having gotten used to city life in Atlanta, Merry chafes at going back to the farm. And how crazy was it to come back when the whole town was in the throes of their annual community Christmas celebration.

But her mother’s new neighbor, time with her mother, a blizzard, and an unexpected visitor in need all help Merry face her issues.

When I first started reading this, I thought it was going to be a modern retelling of A Christmas Carol. A couple of Merry’s coworkers even call her Ms. Scrooge. But Merry’s motivations aren’t related to business or finance.

I very much enjoyed Merry’s journey and this story, which were both heart-warming and faith-filled.

Malissa is the author of a book I read and loved last year, The Road Home (linked to my review). She also wrote Murder Goes Solo: A Piper Haydn Piano Mystery, which I have not read yet. Cozy mysteries are not my favorite fare, but I do read them sometimes, so I probably will check this out at some point.

I had not heard of Beth Moran before. But I had finished my audiobook a few days before Christmas and wouldn’t get another Audible credit until the end of the month. So I looked around Audible’s “free with a subscription” selection, and Beth’s Christmas Every Day caught my eye. I’m wary of modern secular fiction because usually it has bad language or bedroom scenes. But I figured this was low risk–if I came across something objectionable, I could just delete it from my library.

Jenny is another Christmas-hater, but for different reasons. Since her parents’ divorce, she usually spent holidays alone. But in light of her impending engagement, she has every hope that she’ll spend Christmas in a lovely place with a real family this year.

But then her boss/secret boyfriend announces an engagement not with Jenny, but with her beautiful, popular twin sister.

Jenny leaves for an old cottage in Sherwood Forest that she inherited from her grandmother, who passed away six years earlier. She expected the place to need a little clean-up. But she hadn’t known her grandmother had become a hoarder or that the house would need so much.

She gets off on the wrong foot with her curmudgeonly neighbor, Mack. But slowly, she begins to form friendships with other people in the village and gets a job.

Then she’s invited to an unusual book club. A couple of the participants are so cantankerous that they can’t agree on what books to read. So the group decides to shift focus and work on a personal challenge for the coming year, reporting on their progress at the monthly meetings instead of books. A private investigator wants to learn to bake. A dying older woman has a list of daring feats she wants to accomplish. A single mom wants to find a good man with whom she can have a real relationship. A super-fan wants to find the location of a reclusive author said to live in their area and invite her to the book club.

As Jenny deals with the house, her new job of minding a lively family of five children, her neighbor, and her new friends, she finally learns what belonging and family are all about.

This story is funny in places and heart-warming in others. Jenny’s series of comedic disasters got a little old at one point—but I guess I got used to them, or maybe they just toned down a bit. They kept happening but didn’t seem so outlandish as at first.

Even though this is written from a secular standpoint, there was a really good section on forgiveness.

There was a smattering of bad words, but otherwise the story was very clean.

Helen Keely did a superb job narrating the audiobook. I had to slow down the narration just a tad, as the British accent spoken very quickly was hard to understand in places.

I liked this books so well that I am willing to try more from this author. And I hope Helen Keely narrates them all.

Books Read in 2022

It’s been another great reading year, with a variety of new and old, fiction and nonfiction, mostly good, a handful not so much. By my count, I’ve read 79 books this year—a smidgen fewer than the last couple of years.

I’ll post my favorites tomorrow. The titles link back to my reviews. (MTBR) at the end of some titles refers to the Mount TBR Reading Challenge, where we read books we already owned before the year began. I noted them here instead of making a separate list.

Nonfiction:

  1. 100 Best Bible Verses to Overcome Worry and Anxiety, a devotional book by various authors (MTBR)
  2. Aging With Grace: Flourishing in an Anti-Aging Culture by Sharon Betters and Susan Hunt
  3. Always, Only Good: A Journey of Faith Through Mental Illness by Shelly Garlock Hamilton
  4. Another Gospel: A Lifelong Christian Seeks Truth in Response to Progressive Christianity by Alisa Childers
  5. Be Alive (John 1-12): Get to Know the Living Savior by Warren Wiersbe (MTBR)
  6. Be Compassionate (Luke 1-13): Let the World Know Jesus Cares by Warren Wiersbe (MTBR)
  7. Be Courageous (Luke 14-24): Let the World Know Jesus Cares by Warren Wiersbe (MTBR
  8. Be Determined (Nehemiah): Standing Firm in the Face of Opposition by Warren W. Wiersbe (MTBR)
  9. Be Distinct (2 Kings and 2 Chronicles): Standing Firmly Against the World’s Tides by Warren Wiesrbe (MTBR)
  10. Be Encouraged (2 Corinthians): God Can Turn Your Trials Into Triumphs by Warren W. Wiersbe (MTBR)
  11. Be Free (Galatians): Exchange Legalism for True Spirituality by Warren Wiersbe (MTBR)
  12. Be Responsible (1 Kings): Being Good Stewards of God’s Gifts by Warren Wiersbe (MTBR)
  13. Be Restored (2 Samuel & 1 Chronicles): Trusting God to See Us Through by Warren W. Wiersbe (MTBR)
  14. Be Successful (1 Samuel): Attaining Wealth That Money Can’t Buy by Warren W. Wiersbe (MTBR)
  15. Be Wise (1 Corinthians): Discern the Difference Between Man’s Knowledge and God’s Wisdom by Warren W. Wiersbe (MTBR)
  16. Daily Light on the Daily Path compiled by Samuel Bagster
  17. “Don’t Call Me Spry”: Creative Possibilities for Later Life by Win Couchman
  18. The Enchanted Places: A Childhood Memoir by Christopher Milne
  19. Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown (MTBR)
  20. The Four Loves by C. S. Lewis (MTBR)
  21. Heaven and Nature Sing: 25 Advent Reflections to Bring Joy to the World by Hannah Anderson
  22. IBS for Dummies by Carolyn Dean and L. Christine Wheeler (MTBR)
  23. I Must Decrease: Biblical Inspiration and Encouragement for Dieters by Janice Thompson (MTBR)
  24. Jesus Led Me All the Way by Margaret Stringer (MTBR)
  25. Joy: A Godly Woman’s Adornment by Lydia Brownback (MTBR)
  26. Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle by Lady Carnarvon.(MTBR, audiobook)
  27. The Middle Matters: Why That (Extra)Ordinary Life Looks Really Good on You by Lisa-Jo Baker (MTBR)
  28. O Love That Will not Let Me Go: Facing Death with Courageous Confidence, complied by Nancy Guthrie
  29. The Path Through the Trees by Christopher Milne )Audiobook)
  30. Ten Time Management Choices that Can Change Your Life by Sandra Felton and Marsha Sims (MTBR)
  31. Treasures of Encouragement: Women Helping Women by Sharon W. Betters
  32. Where I End: A Story of Tragedy, Truth, and Rebellious Hope by Katherine Elizabeth Clark (MTBR)
  33. Women and Stress: A Practical Approach to Managing Tension by Jean Lush and Pam Vredevelt (MTBR)
  34. The Writer’s Desk by Jill Krementz (MTBR)

Classics:

  1. Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin (Audiobook)
  2. The Confessions of St. Augustine (Audiobook)
  3. Dracula by Bram Stoker
  4. Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope (MTBR, Audiobook)
  5. Hospital Sketches by Louisa May Alcott (Audiobook)
  6. The House at Pooh Corner by A. A. Milne (Audiobook)
  7. The Last Chronicle of Barset by Anthony Trollope (Audiobook)
  8. Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell (Audiobook)
  9. Now We Are Six by A. A. Milne
  10. The Small House at Allington by Anthony Trollope (Audiobook)
  11. The Story of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting (Audiobook)
  12. To Sir, With Love by E. R. Braithwaite (Audiobook)
  13. Victorian Short Stories of Successful Marriages by Elizabeth Gaskell, Thomas Hardy, and others.
  14. When We Were Very Young by A. A. Milne
  15. Winnie the Pooh by A. A. Milne

Christian Fiction:

  1. Bringing Maggie Home by Kim Vogel Sawyer (Audiobook)
  2. A Daily Rate by Grace Livingston Hill (Audiobook)
  3. Enchanted Isle by Melanie Dobson
  4. The Fifth Avenue Story Society by Rachel Hauck (Audiobook)
  5. Half Finished by Lauraine Snelling (MTBR)
  6. The Hatmaker’s Heart by Carla Stewart (MTBR)
  7. The Italian Ballerina by Kristy Cambron (Audiobook)
  8. Just 18 Summers by Michelle Cox and Rene Gutteridge (MTBR)
  9. A Lady Unrivaled by Roseanna M. White (Audiobook)
  10. Midnight, Christmas Eve by Andy Clapp (MTBR)
  11. The Lost Heiress by Roseanna M. White (MTBR)
  12. The Paris Dressmaker by Kristy Cambron (MTBR, Audiobook)
  13. The Reluctant Duchess by Roseanna M. White (Audiobook)
  14. The Road Home by Malissa Chapin
  15. The Search by Grace Livingston Hill (Audiobook)
  16. Shadowed by Grace: A Story of Monuments Men by Cara Putman (MTBR)
  17. Shadows in the Mind’s Eye by Janyre Tromp
  18. Snowed In for Christmas by Cami Checketts (Audiobook)
  19. Something Good by Vanessa Miller
  20. The Stranger by Melanie Dobson (MTBR)
  21. Three Fifty-Seven: Timing Is Everything by Hank Stewart and Kendra Norman-Bellamy (Audiobook)
  22. To Treasure an Heiress by Roseanna White (Audiobook)
  23. Worthy of Legend by Roseanna M. White

Other Fiction:

  1. Call the Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times by Jennifer Worth (MTBR, Audiobook)
  2. The Christmas Hirelings by Mary Elizabeth Braddon (MTBR, Audiobook)
  3. The Girl in the Painting by Tea Cooper (MTBR)
  4. The London House by Katherine Reay (audiobook)
  5. Mourning Dove by Claire Fullerton (MTBR)
  6. Once Upon a Wardrobe by Patti Callahan (Audiobook)
  7. The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow (MTBR, Audiobook)

And that just about wraps it up for 2022! I’m close to finishing a couple more, but I’ll save them to review at the beginning of next year so they don’t get lost in the shuffle.

Reading is one of my highlights, so I was very thankful to be able to make time for it.

How was your reading year? The number of books is not as important as whether the books are enjoyable and edifying. In that sense, I’ve had a great year indeed.

Reading Challenge Wrap-Ups

I enjoy participating in reading challenges and sharing books I have enjoyed. Most of these challenges involve the type of books I would be reading anyway. The only difficulty comes in the time it takes for record-keeping. I haven’t decided yet which challenges I will participate in next year. But I can recommend any of these.

Most of the challenge hosts require a wrap-up post at the end of the year. I shared my Back to the Classics Challenge Wrap-Up, hosted by Karen at Books and Chocolate here. But I decided to include all the rest in one post so as not to be tedious for readers.

Bev at My Reader’s Block hosts the Mount TBR Reading Challenge. The idea is to read books you already owned before the start of this year. Bev has made levels in increments of twelve, each named after a mountain, and we’re to choose a level to shoot for. Even though I’ve reached Mt. Ararat (48 books) the last couple of years, I decided to play it safe and stick with Mt. Vancouver (36 books).

That turned out to be a wise decision as I just made it with 38 books. Instead of making a separate list, I marked the books in this category with (MTBR) on my list of all the books I read this year.

Shelly Rae at Book’d Out hosts the Nonfiction Reader Challenge. She provided 12 categories of nonfiction, and participants chose which level they want to aim for. Thankfully, this year she has included a Nonfiction Grazer category where we set our own goals for how many and what kind of nonfiction to read. That worked best for me this year.

I read a total of 33 non-fiction books this year, which can be seen on my Books Read in 2022 post.

As to my personal goals for this challenge:

Even though I didn’t hit every category I wanted to, I did more in others, and I feel I had a rich and varied nonfiction reading experience this year.

The Audiobook Challenge is hosted by Caffeinated Reader. I aimed for the Binge Listener level at 20-30. I finished 30, so I was right on target. I also marked these on my list of books read this year. I posted what I had listened to through June at the check-in here. Here are the ones I listened to through the end of the year:

The Historical Fiction Reading Challenge is hosted by The Intrepid Reader. I aimed for the Medieval level of 15 books. I completed 22.

As you can tell, Roseanna M. White and Kristy Cambron are favorites in the category.

I’ve included split-time novels here, which have both a modern and a historic timeline. I’ve never been sure whether classics count—books written before our time but were modern in the time in which they were written. If so, I’d have eleven more.

And finally:

The Literary Christmas challenge hosted by Tarissa at In the Bookcase. For this I read:

I also started Hope for Christmas by Malissa Chapin, but haven’t finished it yet. Maybe I will by the end of the year.

I didn’t get quite as many in this category as I had hoped to, but we had a very busy December.

Whew. It’s been a good year of reading.

The Fifth Avenue Story Society

(I’m sorry not to have a “Laudable Linkage” post today. I just haven’t had time this week to do much online reading. But I did finish an audiobook I wanted to share.)

In Rachel Hauck’s novel, The Fifth Avenue Story Society, five New Yorkers receive a mysterious invitation to join said society at the library on Fifth Avenue.

Lexa is an executive assistant to the owner and originator of a growing fast food chain. She came up with her boss from the early days of the company to bring it into the limelight it enjoys now. Since she practically fulfills the CEO role, she pushes for that position. But her boss holds her off.

Jett is a college professor grieving over the loss of a marriage in which he’s not quite sure what went wrong. He’s writing his dissertation on his favorite author, determined to quell suspicions that the author is a fraud. But he secretly harbors his own doubts.

Chuck is an Uber driver. His angry response when he discovered his wife was cheating led her to acquire a temporary restraining order. Now he just wants to see his kids and be part of their lives.

Coral is the heiress and president of the multi-million dollar cosmetics company her grandmother founded. Coral became known publicly as the “panicked princess” when she fled her marriage to a prince at the last minute. And her first new product seems to be tanking, despite all the early promising test results.

Ed is an aging retired newspaper man. Now an apartment building superintendent, all he wants to do with his remaining time is write his memoir about his wonderful wife and the love they had together before she died.

When the five meet for the first time, no one knows who sent the invitation or why. After their initial wariness, curiosity and the need for friendship encourages them to continue.

Each is a wounded soul. Each has a dark, guarded secret they are not willing to share with the others. But as they get to know one another and their lives entwine, can they trust each other enough to share their deepest selves?

I had read only one Rachel Hauck novel before about nine years ago, and on purpose had not read her again. In that case, the story was mostly okay, but some of the writing grated. I did not see those problems with writing in this book. I enjoyed the characters’ stories quite a lot.

The one thing I didn’t like in this book was references to some of the characters’ intimate lives. There are no explicit sex scenes, but there are more references than I am comfortable with.

I’m also wary when both the author and one of her characters claim that God spoke audibly to them.

Also, each book had one mysterious character. The one in the previous book struck me as something of a fairy godfather. The one here merges as something akin to an angel in disguise, but is more likeable and believable than the character in the previous book I read. I don’t know if such characters are a hallmark of all this author’s books.

I had thought at first that this was a Christian fiction book, then thought that it wasn’t. But late in the story, one character does share her faith journey.

I’m left with mixed emotions. The overall story and the emerging of each character’s situation were very good. I was caught up in their lives and hoping for the best resolution for each of them. But some of these other elements put me off.

Three Short Christmas Book Reviews

I hope you’ll forgive all the book reviews this week. I happened to finish a few around the same time. Because of that, and because the first two books here are a little shorter than usual, I decided to review them together.

Christmas Hirelings

I first read, or rather listened to, The Christmas Hirelings by Mary Elizabeth Braddon a few years ago when it was free for Audible subscribers. I reviewed it here, so I won’t repeat all that. The condensed version: Sir John Penlyon is an old man in Victorian England who is not a Scrooge, but is a little gruff. He complains to his friend, Danby, that Christmas is boring. Danby replies that “Nobody knows how to enjoy Christmas if he has no children to make happy.” Then Danby proposes that they hire some children to come and stay at the manor over Christmas. He knows of a family with three children who have very nice manners but are reduced in circumstances. If Sir John would “hire” the widow’s children, it would liven up their Christmas plus be a help to the family.

Sir John thinks the idea is preposterous, but agrees as long as he doesn’t have to be involved other than paying for the experiment.

The children get off on the wrong foot with Sir John at first, but soon the children bring joy and life into the old house. Until tragedy strikes.

Sir John’s back story is quite touching. I loved listening to this again. I caught things I had missed the first time.

The audiobook is superbly narrated by Richard Armitage (Thorin Oakenshield in Peter Jackson’s Hobbit movies). I may make listening to this an annual tradition.

I got Snowed In for Christmas by Cami Checketts also through Audible. I don’t remember if it was free with my subscription or on a “2 books for 1 credit” sale.

Charlotte Oliver is a firefighter with a lifelong crush on her sister’s friend, Jace Mitchell. Charlotte suspected her sister, Virginia, and Jace were more than friends. But Jace left eight years ago to go into the military, and Virginia married someone else. Then Virginia and her unborn child tragically died in a car accident.

Now Jace is back in town, trying to establish a medical practice. Charlotte is as attracted as ever, but she thinks Jace probably still loves her sister.

Jace had always thought of Charlotte as a cute little sister, but now she’s grown up into a beautiful woman. But he knows a relationship with her is impossible. He’s sworn to secrecy over an event in his past, and he knows Char would never forgive him if she discovered it.

This book reminded me why I don’t usually read stories that are primarily romances. So much talk about kissing, anticipating kissing, remembering kissing. Sure, kissing is fun, but there is so much more to love than that.

The book actually got more interesting to me when Char did accidentally find out Jace’s secret, and they had to work through that.

I did not like how Char’s “Grams” handled things, but I don’t want to spoil the story by explaining.

If you like clean faith-based Christmas romances, you’d probably like this.

In Midnight, Christmas Eve by Andy Clapp, Brady Jameson was a high school junior out finishing some shopping on Christmas Eve when he saw a girl crying on a park bench. He approached her to see if he could help and discovered the girl was Sarah, the head cheerleader, girlfriend to the school’s best athlete. Brady provided a shoulder to cry on, and he and Sarah became friends.

Sarah’s boyfriend, Aiden, is not good for her, but she stays with him. Brady realizes Sarah has come to mean very much to him, but keeps his distance since she’s dating someone else.

After another chance encounter and another opportunity to comfort Sarah through another crises, she makes a proposition: that if neither of them are married within five years, they’ll meet at Christmas Eve at “their” bench and get married.

Brady agrees and shows up at the appointed time, but Sarah doesn’t. Their lives intersect at various times, but they never mention their promise. Brady comes every Christmas Eve, even when he tells himself he’s a fool for doing so. But Sarah never shows up.

Is Brady a picture of faithful love? Or is he deluded, letting life pass him by while he waits for an impossible dream?

I loved this book. It had me in tears in a couple of places. I appreciated that the characters’ faith was interwoven so naturally and seamlessly.

Though technically this was also a romance, it was so much deeper and so much more was involved than in the previous book I mentioned.

My Christmas reading is off to a good start!

Worthy of Legend

Worthy of Legend is the third installment in Roseanna M. White’s Secrets of the Isles trilogy. The first was The Nature of a Lady; the second was To Treasure an Heiress.

The Secrets of the Isles involves two different groups in search of legendary pirate treasure. One loves “the hunt” and the thrill of archeological finds. The other wants the fame and fortune of such discoveries and employs underhanded means in the race to discover treasure.

Lady Emily Scofield is good friends with the people in the first group. But her father and brother are the primary instigators in the bad group.

Emily has lived her entire life in the background of her brother, Nigel. Nigel was her father’s favorite, and his misdeeds were excused away. Emily is expected to desert her friends and show loyalty to her family. But she can’t.

Instead of writing off her family completely, though, she tries to show love to them. Her friends fear she’ll be taken advantage of again.

Bram Sinclair, Earl of Telford, is the brother of the heroine in the first book. He has had an interest in the King Arthur legends since childhood. As he and his friends piece together clues to the artifact that both groups are pursuing, he realizes what they are looking for might be related to King Arthur. They try to keep this information secret from the other group.

As Bram and Emily’s group works together, Bram is concerned for Emily. He recognizes her conflict with her family and her lack of confidence and self-esteem from having been dismissed and overlooked for so many years. As he tries to encourage her, he discovers a true treasure in her character and heart.

A secondary plot line involves Emily’s maid, Thomasina, who has, unknown to Emily, been violated by Nigel. When a young man from the islands becomes interested in Tommie, she feels he would not be if he knew what had happened to her.

A couple of my favorite quotes from the book:

And if she lost everything all over again . . . well then, she’d just have to trust that the Lord could do more with her shattered than He could with her as she was now, barely holding together. That He meant her to be a mosaic instead of a whole.

Your worth, Thomasina, rests on no one else’s opinion of you. It doesn’t rest even on you. It rests in the Lord. He sees your heart, your soul. And that is all the approval any of us needs.

Bram and Emily were background characters in the previous books, and I enjoyed getting to know them better. I also loved the humorous bantering between Bram and his friend, Sheridan.

I especially liked the fact that these books were in a place I had never heard of, the Isles of Scilly. Now I feel I know the isles and the people on them. And the time frame of the early 1900s isn’t one we see often in historical fiction.

I enjoyed these stories very much and am going to miss these characters.

Bringing Maggie Home

In Bringing Maggie Home by Kim Vogel Sawyer, Hazel DeFord was ten years old when her mother asked her to take her three-year-old sister, Maggie, to the blackberry thicket to pick berries for a cobbler. Hazel set Maggie down for just a moment while she chased a snake away from a baby bunnies’ nest. When Hazel came back, Maggie was gone. None of the volunteers could find a trace of Maggie besides her hair ribbon, shoe, and favorite doll.

Hazel felt incredibly guilty for leaving Maggie unguarded, especially while witnessing the downward spiral Maggie’s disappearance caused in her family. She resolved to be as good as possible so as not to cause them any more trouble.

When Hazel grew up and had her own family, she never told her daughter, Diane, about Maggie. She felt Diane would never be secure with her if she felt she couldn’t trust Hazel to take care of her.

But Diane resented and rebelled against Hazel’s perfectionism and over-protectiveness. Hazel’s concerns came across as controlling to Diane.

But Diane’s daughter, Meghan, loves her grandmother and spends several weeks with her every summer. Now grown and a cold-case detective, Meghan has survived a car crash with a severely broken ankle. She decides to go to her grandmother’s to recuperate and work on some photo albums for Hazel’s upcoming 80th birthday.

Jealous, Diane, decides to come, too, without being invited or letting anyone know. Meghan is wearied playing peacemaker between the two women.

Then an accidental discovery of a shoe box of old photos leads Hazel to tell her daughter and granddaughter the truth.

Meghan and her partner at work, Sean, decide to see if they can uncover any information about Maggie’s disappearance. With the case being 70 years older, older than any case cracked by their agency, solving it is a long shot. But they resolve to try.

I loved this book. I wasn’t sure I would at first, because Hazel’s and Diane’s bickering made me tense. Then I realized the problem was mainly Diane. Hazel’s issues were easier to understand and sympathize with. And Diane’s responses were understandable to an extent. But her bitterness and selfishness got to be a bit much. Still, I felt things would turn a corner at some point, so I persevered. I’m glad I did.

The point of view shifts from each of the women at different times in their lives, and occasionally to Sean’s viewpoint as well. I didn’t feel that the changing viewpoints, timelines, or locations were hard to keep up with at all.

I’ve often said that I appreciate Christian fiction that is unapologetically Christian. I know sometimes the message needs to be subtle, but sometimes subtlety turns into vagueness. It’s good to see an author getting down to the spiritual needs in a story without becoming preachy or beating people over the head with truth. I thought Kim did a great job both with the story and the spiritual issues underneath them.

I didn’t know, when I started this book, that it had a sequel: Unveiling the Past. I will probably be reading or listening to that some time soon.

I listened to the audiobook, nicely read by Barbara McCulloh. Unfortunately, the audiobook didn’t contain any back matter, so I am not sure whether any of the story was based on anything in real life.

Christmas Reading Challenges

I always enjoy reading books about or set during Christmas in December. There are a couple of reading challenges where we can share about the Christmas books we’ve read.

I’ve participated in the Literary Christmas Challenge hosted by Tarissa at In the Bookcase for a number of years. Details about this year’s challenge, which runs from now til Dec. 31, are here.

A new challenge to me is the Ho-Ho-Ho Readathon hosted by Caffeinated Reviewer. The challenge details are here. There will be prizes! 🙂 This one runs just from November 18-30—maybe to get us in the right spirit for Christmas?

I usually try to wait til Thanksgiving to read Christmas books, but I may start earlier this year.

I like to read some kind of Christmas or Advent devotional book in December, and Tim Challies shared a good list of some I don’t have. But I decided to try Hannah Anderson’s Heaven and Nature Sings: 25 Advent Reflections to Bring Joy to the World.

I’ve collected most of these on Kindle sales over the last few years. I don’t know how many I’ll get to, but some are novellas or novella collections.

Hope for Christmas: A Small Town Christmas Romance Novella by Malissa Chapin

It’s a Wonderful Christmas: Classics Reimagined by Julie Cantrell, Lynne Gentry, Allison Pittman, Kelli Stuart, Janyre Tromp

Midnight, Christmas Eve by Andy Clapp

Christmas in Mistletoe Square
by Cara Putman, Teresa Tysinger, Pepper Basham, Janine Rosche

Magnolia Mistletoe: An Edisto Christmas Novella by Lindsey P. Brackett

A Goose Creek Christmas by Virginia Smith

The 20th Christmas by Andrea Rodgers

A Christmas Snow by Jim Stovall

A Christmas Bride by Melanie Dobson

This one is a free audiobook for Audible subscribers. I’ve not heard of the author, but the reviewers say it’s sweet and clean.

Snowed In for Christmas by Cami Checketts

I might also listen again to The Christmas Hirelings by Mary Elizabeth Braddon. I really enjoyed this audiobook a few years ago, plus I like Victorian-ish stories at Christmas, too.

I have a couple of Christmas story collections in print books: The Best of Christmas in My Heart by Joe Wheeler and Stories to Read at Christmas by Elsie Singmaster. I might try to read one or both of those.

Three Fifty-Seven

I had never heard of Hank Stewart or Kendra Norman-Bellamy, but their book, Three Fifty-Seven: Timing Is Everything was free for Audible subscribers.I really liked the premise, so I decided to give it a try.

Ms. Essie is an elderly lady who lives alone. Her husband died very young, but she never wanted to remarry. The family for whom she acted as caregiver in their last days left her their home and enough income to be comfortable.

As Ms. Essie sits on her porch and knits, she can’t help but be aware of some of her neighbors’ problems. The single mother yells a lot, and her teenage son shows disrespect and stays out past curfew. A regular jogger from down the street seems to be running from something rather than just running for her health. Angel, her best friend’s granddaughter, is married and expecting her first child. All is well with Angel and her husband until an accident seems to have harmed the baby.

Ms. Essie decides to be as helpful and available as possible. When her neighbors are outside, she invites them in for lemonade and peach cobbler. She offers a listening ear, prayer, and a bit of advice. As their problems intensify, so do her prayers.

As the subtitle indicates, time is a factor in the book. Each chapter starts with the time of day.

We all need a Ms. Essie in our lives. Though I didn’t like the ending, I loved the story and the truth that God can work through us if we’re available to Him.

My only minor complaint about Essie is that the authors may have made her a little too special in the sense of knowing just what to say or how to get people to share their troubles. One character says Essie “had a direct line to heaven, and God told her things He told no one else.” I wish that had been dialed back a bit and she were more ordinary–that would be more encouragement to those who don’t reach out because they don’t know what to do or say.

Unfortunately, for me a major flaw was bedroom scenes or descriptions that went too far. I don’t want or need to know the details. For that reason, I probably wouldn’t look into a book by these authors again. And that’s really a shame, because otherwise this was a great book.