Sparkling Vintage Fiction. Among other things.

book review

Sparkling Vintage Book Review: Excellent Women by Barbara Pym

Excellent WomenExcellent Women by Barbara Pym
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was the first Pym book I ever read, and it got me hooked, back in the 1980s. Love her quiet English wit and observations on her characters’ small but interesting worlds. Reading her books makes me pay more attention to the details of my own quiet life, which occasionally teems with drama. So happy to see this new edition. Pretty cover!

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Sparkling Vintage Book Review: Longing for Paris by Sarah Mae

longing for parisEdited to add: Little did I know that, on the same day that I was writing this post, Paris was undergoing an incredible tragedy at the hands of terrorists. Our hearts and prayers are with the people of the City of Light. Vive la France.

Many years ago, as a college student, I’d studied in France (not Paris, but a provincial city) and occasionally hanker to go back for a visit. So I was attracted to “Longing for Paris” by its title and–let’s be frank–sexy cover image of a croissant. But I’ll be honest: When I read the cover endorsement–“This book is a must-read for moms”–I almost passed it by. I assumed its message wouldn’t apply to me because I’m not a mom.

I’m glad I persevered. Turns out that the central messages of the book–that we can find joy and satisfaction in our current circumstances and not always wait for “someday,” and that our deepest longings are actually symptoms of homesickness for our true home in Heaven–did resonate with me. I’m glad I didn’t pass it up as a book just for “moms.”

sarah mae

Sarah Mae, author of Longing for Paris

Sarah Mae longs for the City of Light–its art, architecture, gourmet food, culture. But right now the Paris experience seems out of the question, tethered as she is to her duties as a wife and mother–a life she also loves. Gradually she comes to understand that she doesn’t have to wait for Paris to make her dreams come true–she can seek out elements of that other life in her current life, and enjoy them in the here and now. The essential elements she associates with “Paris” can be found anywhere for those who are willing to look. She muses about whether dreams are dangerous (and let’s face it–the “follow your bliss” theme often leads to disaster) or whether they can be gifts from God, indications of His design and purpose for each one of us.

Barring unforeseen circumstances, life on this earth is largely formed by our choices, and mature adults understand that saying “yes” to one thing means saying “no” to another. For Sarah Mae, “yes” to wife-and motherhood means “no” to writing in Paris cafes, at least for a season. As she envisions a parallel life without children and domestic responsibilities, I sometimes envision a parallel life WITH children, the way a city dweller might imagine life on a farm, or a teacher might imagine a career as a nurse–musings about the road not taken, not necessarily better, not worse, just different. Ultimately, for a Christ-follower, the road leads Home, whatever our earthly circumstances.

If Sarah Mae’s frequent references to Paris and French-style living don’t ring your bell, try substituting a dream of your own. Personally, I’d pick England over France as my dreamed-of geographic locale: the rosy, soft-focus, idealized England of Beatrix Potter and A. A. Milne and Rosamund Pilcher. Even if I never get there, there’s nothing to stop me from enjoying a treat of scones and tea on an otherwise ordinary day. And anyone who knows me, knows that I long for a rosy, soft-focus, idealized past. Obviously I can never go truly back (and probably wouldn’t really want to, if I could–not for long, anyway) but there’s nothing to stop me from fastening a strand of pearls around my neck and cueing up Cole Porter on Pandora to get a taste of the past in the present day. I think that’s her point.

Overall Longing for Paris was a quick and light read, clearly written for a Christian audience, with abundant Scripture references, 35 “search-your-heart” questions for deeper thought, and a group discussion guide.

Disclosure: I’ve been given a review copy of this book by the publisher. This generosity, while appreciated, has not biased my review. I also post some of my reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.

Sparkling Vintage Book Review: The Memory Weaver by Jane Kirkpatrick

memory weaver coverLiving in the Pacific Northwest, I took a special interest in Jane Kirkpatrick’s new novel, The Memory Weaver, based on the true story of Eliza Spalding, daughter of real-life missionaries Henry and Eliza Spaulding. The elder Spauldings, along with Marcus and Narcissa Whitman, made the arduous journey from New York to Oregon Territory in the 1830s with the goal of spreading Christianity among the Nez Perce Indians. (Eliza and Narcissa are said to have been the first white women to make that journey.) Upon arrival, the Spauldings settled in Lapwai, near present-day Lewiston, Idaho, while the Whitmans went on to what is now Walla Walla, Washington.

In 1847, a measles epidemic broke out where the Whitmans were serving. Lacking natural resistance to the disease, many Nez Perce died, and they resented Marcus Whitman for, as they saw it, giving preferential medical treatment to whites. That, combined with other simmering resentments toward the missionaries, boiled over into a massacre which killed the Whitmans and 12 other men. Eliza Spaulding witnessed the carnage, as she’d been attending a boarding school run by the Whitmans. She was taken hostage, but her life was spared, presumably because she spoke Nez Perce and could act as a translator.

The Memory Weaver opens a few years after these events have taken place. The Spauldings now live in Brownsville, Oregon Territory, where the widowed Henry Spaulding is a traveling preacher, his missionary work having been shut down by the missions board in the wake of the massacre. Eliza, now thirteen, keeps house for the family and helps her father (a tough old bird with a significant mean streak) in his work. When she meets Andrew Warren, romance enters her young life, over her father’s vehement objections.

The novel alternates between Eliza-the-daughter’s first-person story, and the diary left by Eliza-the-mother. (These switches in point of view are not at all confusing. I had no trouble distinguishing one Eliza from the other.) As the younger Eliza grows to womanhood, experiences romance with Andrew, and faces life-changing decisions of her own, reading her mother’s diaries gives her eye-opening insights into the truth about earlier events.

I found myself deeply engaged with both the characters and the story. Eliza has much to cope with, between her traumatic memories, her cold, demanding father, and the normal trials of adolescence and first love. The story is laced with Scripture and biblical themes, which are woven in quite naturally. And as a lover of history, I was fascinated by the details of missionary activity and daily life in the Oregon Territory. Highly recommended.

Disclosure: I’ve been given a review copy of this book by the publisher. This generosity, while appreciated, has not biased my review. I also post some of my reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.

Sparkling Vintage Book Review: Surprised by Love by Julie Lessman

surprised by love coverBe honest now–who among us did not, at one time or another, dream of being Cinderella? I know I did–to suddenly be transformed from an awkward adolescent with quirky hair, bad skin, and a full metal jacket of braces, not to mention oddball interests like classical music and old books, into a smooth-haired beauty who was kind and gracious to boot, seemed like the ultimate transformation. All without any particular effort on my part, of course.

In Julie Lessman’s new novel, Surprised by Love (#3 in the Heart of San Francisco series), set in early-20th-century San Francisco, Megan McClare has always been a shy, awkward child, mocked by classmates, until she returns home from a year spent in Paris. Who is this beautiful butterfly who has shed her ugly cocoon? With her sights set on a professional career, Megan begins working at the  district attorney’s office with none other than Devin Caldwell, the meanest of the mean boys from her past–and the secret object of her affections. (*Sigh*–isn’t that always the way?) How is she supposed to work alongside him every day with all these conflicting feelings tumbling around within her?

As she’s done her whole life, Megan tries to lean on her dear friend Bram Hughes–but what’s this? Bram is no longer the good buddy he’s always been–now he’d like to be her beau. But–but–Oh, dear, what a pickle!

I have only a couple small quibbles with this book. One is the stereotypical emphasis on fixing physical flaws–I know that’s a central element of the plot, but some of the things Megan had “fixed”–her freckles for example–are not universal signs of ugliness. I, for one, find freckles absolutely charming. And how much better to be able to see, with the help of thick lenses, than to do without? Also, once in a while, the believability factor is stretched to its limit. A lot can happen in a year–but a complete transformation in which close friends and family claim to not recognize you? Seems a bit of a leap.

Nonetheless, fans of Julie Lessman’s highly entertaining brand of romantic inspirational fiction, as well as ugly-duckling transformation stories, will fall in love with Surprised by Love.It might help to read the first two books in the series (Love at Any Cost and Dare to Love Again) to get the lay of the land before reading this third book.

Disclosure: I’ve been given a review copy of this book by the publisher. This generosity, while appreciated, has not biased my review. I also post some of my reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.

Sparkling Vintage Fiction: In Perfect Time by Sarah Sundin

in perfect time coverProlific author Sarah Sundin has earned a well-deserved reputation for writing compelling inspirational stories set during World War II. Her latest book, In Perfect Time, is no exception.

In Perfect Time , the third book in the Wings of the Nightingale series (With Every Letter, On Distant Shores), captures all the flavor and energy of World War II. Details of this compelling historical period are so vivid, you can almost hear Tommy Dorsey’s band warming up in the background.

Pretty, flirtatious flight nurse Kay Jobson has one goal in mind: to become an Army Air Force Chief Nurse, which would require additional training. The trouble is, Kay’s supervisors think she’s not serious about her career, due to the fact that she’s out on the town practically every night with a different fellow. Little do they know that her carefree, devil-may-care exterior masks a deeply wounded heart. But whatever you do, don’t talk to Kay about religion–she doesn’t want to hear it.

Only one man can see past Kay’s glamorous appearance to glimpse the hurting child inside. Lieutenant Roger Cooper experienced a rather colorful past of his own, and he recognizes Kay’s pain for what it is. Seemingly inoculated to the feminine charms that other men fall for, Roger understands that while “religion” in the wrong hands can cause great harm, “religion” has little to do with genuine faith. Will he be able to make Kay see it, too?

And, hey, flyboy…are you really so steel-hearted against Kay’s allure as you have led everyone to believe? Hmm. Read In Perfect Time and find out!

UPDATE: Visit Sarah’s Facebook page to enter to win a Kindle HDX (contest runs until 8/24)!

Also, Sarah’s giving away a free copy of In Perfect Time on the “Inspired by Life and Fiction” blog. Only those in the U.S. are eligible to win. To enter, visit the blog “Inspired by Life and Fiction” and leave a comment on Sarah’s post.  Check back on that post next Saturday (8/23) to see if you won!

Disclosure: I’ve been given a review copy of this book by the publisher. This generosity, while appreciated, has not biased my review. I also post some of my reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.

 

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