There’s a book for that: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

I give full credit to PBS and Robert Downey Jr. for sparking my interest in the classic tales of a British private investigator with a keen eye for detail.

Does that description even do Sherlock Holmes justice?

My husband and I have watched both of PBS’ Sherlock series (brilliant, I say, and I have a mild crush on Martin Freeman as Watson) and saw both of RDJ’s Sherlock movies in the theater. (That’s a big deal. We don’t get to the theater more than 3 or 4 times a year, if that.) And I’m looking forward to a CBS series this fall called “Elementary” starring another favorite, Jonny Lee Miller (I loved his show “Eli Stone,” which of course, means it was canceled.)

Somewhere, in the midst of all that Sherlock on-screen love, I read The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Once again, I was amazed at the storytelling. Throughout this series looking at classic books that have become movies, I have been disappointed in myself for not having read these books earlier. It was the same for Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. I have yet to read the other Sherlock compilations by Doyle, but I am eager to read them, and re-read this one. Each story, or “case,” is a quick yet thrilling read, and like the screen versions, are full of twists and turns you don’t expect.

So, it’s on this note that I end my first ever “There’s a Book For That” series. I could write endless posts on books that have become movies, and I’ll consider another series later in the year. For now, I hope you’ve enjoyed these looks at classic works. My own reading history has been enriched by these stories. I’m open to further suggestions, if you have them.

Happy reading!

A fictional tale of Mormons and polygamy: Review of the Sister Wife series by Allison Pittman

If “Mormons” and “polygamy” in the title of this post didn’t scare you away, then I’d like to introduce you to two novels I recently read by a new-to-me author, For Time & Eternity and Forsaking All Others by Allison Pittman.

First, though, a couple of things:

1. Mormonism is a current events topic these days with a presidential nominee who is Mormon. Not only is it current, it’s controversial. And although these books are fiction, they are based in historical fact. To some, they will be controversial.

2. The author grew up in Utah and her husband is an excommunicated Mormon. Form your own opinion about whether that makes her more or less credible as a writer.

3. I’ve never seen the TLC reality show Sister Wives. If you have, please feel free to weigh in.

The story of Camilla Deardon Fox begins in For Time & Eternity when she’s living in Iowa near an encampment of Mormons who are heading west, to Utah. Camilla hears them singing and is drawn to them although her parents have warned her to stay away. She meets Nathan Fox, a Mormon, on the way to school one day and is captivated by him. When she meets other members of the group, she is enlivened by their faith, something that hasn’t happened in all her 15 years of church attendance and nightly Bible reading. She defies her parents to join the group on their journey west, marrying Nathan along the way.

For Time & Eternity is a page turner as Camilla adjusts to married life and life in Utah among other Mormon believers. I can’t recall any other novels I’ve read where Mormonism plays a prominent role. The author’s personal experiences and research bring new light and understanding to the teachings of that institution. The book ends on a cliffhanger, and I’m glad I had checked out both books at the same time or else I would have gone mad. (Not really. But I hate having to wait for a sequel if I know it’s already available. Our library system is good, but I still have to wait days, sometimes even weeks for the books I want to read. [Heavy drama and sarcasm.])

Here’s a good place to jump ship if you haven’t read either book and don’t want to know anything of what happens in the second one.

Forsaking All Others picks up where the first one left off. I had high hopes for the sequel given the dramatic ending. And while the book held potential, I really thought the first one was better. In this one, Camilla has left her family and her church and is in the care of a colonel in the U.S. Army. Forsaking All Others is the story of Camilla clinging to the truth of Scripture and the love of Jesus while breaking free from her relationship with and love for her husband. The action is slower in this novel, and frankly, I expected more from the conclusion. Sort of anti-climatic.

That said, I think these are worthwhile reads simply for the subject matter. And for me, they’re provoking more interest in what Mormons believe. Not because I want to be one but because I want to understand. They’re also a fascinating part of U.S. history. I’d like to learn more.

FAVORITES: Pittman seems to capture the time period, mid-1800s, with historical realism. She is a talented wordsmith who makes settings and actions come alive. I like Camilla, and I could identify with some of her struggles.

FAULTS: The second book was less satisfying than the first. I’d hope for more to develop with the colonel or for some final obstacle. Really, it just sort of ended. I was let down a little. I was also confused because the author “quotes” from a Ladies Home Journal article written by the main character. I thought maybe she was writing about a real woman from history. She is a completely fictional character, which also was a little disappointing.

IN A WORD: Fascinating. What I knew about Mormons before reading this book was conjecture, at best. I know this isn’t a history book, but I trust authors to do their research. I like learning new things, and I appreciate when I can do that even with fiction.

Life after death

Today, I felt more dead than alive.

Okay, maybe that’s a little morbid, but you have days like this, right?

When you wake up and everything seems wrong from the minute your feet hit the floor.

When you drift from moment to moment, not really engaging in anything, just surviving till the next thing you have to do.

When the words that come out of your mouth are unlovely and produce no life in others.

When you’re sure if someone physically hurt you, you’d feel no pain.

I don’t know why, but I needed a redo from the first minutes of the day, and for the rest of the waking hours, I felt … off. Like I was steps behind where I needed to be.

I tried to reset by reading the Bible, taking a nap and listening to music. Nothing seemed to help break the funk. Not even coffee.

In many ways, what I was feeling today is reflective of the season of life we’re in. We’re mourning, in a sense, the loss of the familiar and the death of expectations. Sometimes, I think our dreams are dead, too.

But maybe it’s not death, exactly, but dormancy.

Months ago, a large and beautiful tree on our block was cut down, chopped into branches and mulch. I don’t know why. I didn’t ask. Maybe it was dead. Or diseased. Or inconvenient.  This stump remains, and the kids and I pass it almost daily on our walks around the block or down the street to check on the cows. A few weeks ago, I noticed a shoot growing out of the stump.

And leaves.

I don’t know much about trees or botany. Heck, I can hardly keep potted plants alive. (I have a cactus that’s thriving. I think I may have found my niche plant.)

But that stump with its new growth gives me hope. Like maybe the end of something isn’t always the end.

Earlier this month, on a family hike, I saw another such dead-but-not-quite-dead-yet phenomenon.

“That’s a weed, not a tree,” my husband ever-so-gently reminded me.

At the time, it didn’t matter. Something green was growing out of something that appeared to be dead. The second time past the plant, I took a closer look and found more growth.

And something stirred in my soul.

Awakened, really.

I serve a God who specializes in bringing the dead to life, and not in a Zombie Apocalypse sort of way. But in a “I once was lost now I’m found” sort of way.

When He walked the earth, He raised people from death to life physically, and ushered in the end of death with His resurrection.

Not long after these dead trees gave me hope, God spoke again, this time through His word. Sometimes, when Scripture is being read, I’m not as attentive as I’d like to be because I’m trying to quiet a noisy 2-year-old or respond to his questions or keep him from climbing over the back of the pew into someone else’s lap.

These words I heard crystal clear, and not only did my ears perk, my soul perked.

“This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will take a branch from the top of a tall cedar, and I will plant it on the top of Israel’s highest mountain. It will become a majestic cedar, sending forth its branches and producing seed. Birds of every sort will nest in it, finding shelter in the shade of its branches. And all the trees will know that it is I, the Lord, who cuts the tall tree down and makes the short tree grow tall. It is I who makes the green tree wither and gives the dead tree new life. I, the Lord, have spoken, and I will do what I said!” – Ezekiel 17:22-24 (emphasis added)

What might look like death can be transformed in the Lord into new life.

It will certainly hurt, for a time, or forever. It won’t be easy. It might be ugly.

But it will not be without hope. Without possibility. Without a future.

Amen.

Praise the Lord.

Saturday smiles: Life is messy edition

Phil and I like to watch Food Network, especially the competition shows. We’re currently catching up on Next Food Network Star. Last night, I had a dream that Bobby Flay asked us to host a cooking show on the network.

I wish.

Well, not really. Because the two of us don’t really have a culinary point of view, as the network execs like to say. Really, the only thing that defines our cooking is that we’re sure to make a mess of the kitchen. And generally, we turn out something tasty. Maybe even a little unusual. I always say, we’re the messy chefs.

In reality, life is messy. We intend to reflect that in our ministry and in our lives. We aren’t afraid to get our hands dirty with other people’s messes because, let me tell you, we’ve had plenty of our own.

This week, though, we took “messy” literally.

The kids are almost two weeks into their summer reading program, which is all about night-themed stuff. So, for one of their projects, we cut stars out of construction paper and decorated them with glitter. I didn’t even remember that I had glitter until we started planning this project.

I learned one thing about glitter: It doesn’t matter how careful you are not to make a mess, you’re going to walk away covered in the stuff. We’re still finding glitter on our faces, our feet and our arms and legs.

Most importantly, we had fun. And the kids got to work with a new art supply. And their stars (not pictured) are on display at the library for the duration of the summer. Totally worth the path of glitter trailing from our house to the library.

Corban really liked shaking the glitter canister, which accounted for most of the mess. I tried to save as much of the excess as I could, but my efforts had only partial success. We don’t have an art supply budget in our house (or a craft room — sigh) so we’ll make do.

Most of the rest of the week was unbearably hot. With our future uncertain, Phil and I made the decision to not bring the air conditioner down from the attic. (Because it’s heavy and a beast and an electricity guzzler … no offense to the dear friends who have loaned it to us!) We did put the kids’ air conditioner in so they could sleep comfortably. (Underneath layers of blankets. In 90-degree heat. On the first day of summer. Sometimes I wonder if these are really my children.)

So, when we got a short system of rain, Phil and the kids took advantage of the temporary relief.

Like a mama with ducklings. They were in search of a puddle.

I’m not sure anything makes me happier than this picture right here.

Innocence, joy and the trademark tongue all rolled into one. Although this child is often the source of my frustration (because she needs people all the time and I don’t), she is also the source of many giggles. Take this conversation, for instance:

Daughter: “Mom, will my name still be ‘Izzy’ when I grow up?

Mom: “It will be whatever you want it to be. You could go by Isabelle, Izzy, Belle …”

Daughter: “Or Cinderella, or Cindy, or cup.”

Mom bursts out laughing and forgets the rest of the conversation.

Our son, also, has his moments of favor. We are more alike temperamentally, so it takes a lot more from him to cause me frustration. One of my favorite things lately is when he comes into the bedroom just after I’ve gotten dressed for the day and says, “Oh, you look pwetty.” (Is your heart melting? Mine has. Numerous times.)

This time next week, our kids will be out of our hands for almost a week and in the more-than-capable hands of their grandparents. I look forward to the relief but know I’ll be a basket-case the whole way home after we make our exchange.

I mean, really. How could I not miss this:

Life is messy. Parenting is hard. And this moment was one highlight among a lot of lowlights this week. But I’ve decided I’ll endure the lows, though they be frequent, if it means I get to experience the highs, though they be rare.

Happy weekend!

And if you see my dad, wish him a “Happy Birthday!”

There’s a book for that: Memoirs of an English Governess at the Siamese Court

Watching the film version of The King and I is one of my best childhood memories. I don’t know if it was the first musical I ever watched, but it certainly added to my love for the genre. The song “Getting to Know You” runs through my head when I meet new people. Fortunately for them, I don’t sing it out loud.

Years later, when Jodie Foster took the lead role in the non-musical Anna and the King, I gained new appreciation for the story of the widowed British woman who takes on the role of teacher and governess to the children of the King of Siam.

The two movies share some similarities in theme, and while they are based on a true story, I was never sure how much was fact and how much was fiction.

As part of this series, I decided to read Anna Leonowens’ book Memories of an English Governess at the Siamese Court. I was pleased to discover that the king’s quirks, portrayed so brilliantly by Yul Brynner, were accurate. Who can forget his repetition of “Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera” or his “Who? Who? Who?” when Anna first arrives on the scene. These are documented in the book.

In fact, Leonowens’ work is incredibly detailed so that if you’ve never traveled to the Orient, you feel as though you are there. As with most things I read, I want to read more about this area of the world. On the downside, I did get a little bogged down in the details about midway through the book and almost didn’t finish it because it wasn’t holding my attention.

What I didn’t find in her account was any trace of love story, which appears in both film versions. I like both movies as stories, independent of the truth, and I’m glad to have read the story straight from the source. It reminds me that historical fiction is both based in history and fictionalized for dramatic effect.

One more week to go in this series. If you missed my other posts, check out my thoughts on the book versions of Mary Poppins, The Princess Bride, and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

Next week: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.

Shining a light on persecution: Review of Safely Home by Randy Alcorn

First day of summer means summer reading is in full swing. The Tyndale Summer Reading Program is back this summer. If you like to read and want to earn free books for reading and reviewing this summer, check out the program and reading list.

The 10th anniversary release of Safely Home by Randy Alcorn is one of the fiction choices on the list. I hadn’t read this book before, and its theme of Christian persecution in China intrigued me.

In the book, an American businessman and a Chinese Christian who once were roommates at Harvard are reunited in China after 20 years. The businessman’s life and faith have disintegrated despite the appearance of success while the Chinese man’s faith has flourished despite poverty, oppression and dashed dreams.

I appreciated the message of this story, especially the accounts of what Christianity is like in China. Underground churches meeting in the middle of the night. Believers being arrested for possessing Bibles or teaching spiritual truths to minors. Christians loving Jesus more than their lives. Humbling, convicting, challenging stuff. The businessman’s idea of faith, success and government are overturned by his experiences in China with his roommate. It’s a moving story that reminds me that how I practice my faith is not the same way it is practiced around the world. And being an American is not the same as being a Christian. 

The method of the story was not always palatable. Sometimes the dialogue felt forced and the plot seemed to get stuck. I’ve not read Alcorn before so I don’t know if this is his usual style of storytelling or not. The book’s worth it for the light it shines on persecution of Christians worldwide.

FAVORITES: Alcorn’s accounts of the underground church and life in China are credible. He lists the books that aided his research, and I’m eager to learn more.

FAULTS: Some of the story is told from the point of view of heaven — from family members who had died, angels and Jesus. Frank Peretti employs this POV in books like This Present Darkness and Piercing the Darkness. I think Peretti does it better. Maybe that’s not fair to Alcorn but I just didn’t feel like it worked in this story. Maybe I’ll re-read Peretti and see if I feel the same way.

IN A WORD: Informative. I’ll miss out on something great, though, if I leave it at knowledge only. I’m praying that this story moves me to action.

Why I think all songs in church should have hand motions

We just finished a week of VBS at our church. Yes, I’m exhausted. Yes, the kids aren’t back on a normal sleep schedule. Yes, I’m still singing the songs. (“It’s gonna be a cool, cool summer ….”) Yes, it’s worth it.

The kids performed one of the songs in church yesterday, complete with hand motions and dancing. I have to admit, this is one of my favorite parts of VBS: the music and the motions.

It’s so much fun to see adults and kids dancing and doing hand motions along with the songs all week at VBS. There’s a freedom I feel in praising God through song during VBS, and with kids in general, that I don’t always feel when everyone gathers on Sundays. Sundays, it seems to me, are serious and I’m to be serious about worship. I refrain from (or at least tone down) the joy I feel from the music. Dancing in my kitchen to uplifting songs — I don’t think twice about it. Dancing in church to uplifting songs — I’m afraid I would horrify someone.

I recently re-read the story of David dancing before the Lord. After being confronted about his behavior by his wife, he says this:

“It was before the Lord, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the Lord’s people Israel—I will celebrate before the Lord. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes.”

When I read this passage, I always think of this song.

David had great joy before the Lord. He had reason to celebrate. And he didn’t care what it looked like to anyone else. Beth Moore says of this passage in her book A Heart Like His: “Completely abandoned worship is often misunderstood.” Oh, how I fear being misunderstood. Sometimes I just want to dance because God has been so good!

It’s so easy … well, easier, anyway … when kids’ songs or camp songs are involved. Everyone thinks it’s cute or sweet and people often join in.

Maybe we need hand motions for EVERY worship song.

I even found one to get us started with the previous song I mentioned.

I know this is mostly a personal and insecurity issue. I’m not sure how to overcome it except to let God continue to change me and draw me out of the “what will people think?” shell.

Anyone else have this problem? How “undignified” are you willing to be in church? How do you praise God with complete abandonment? And how do you react to those who misunderstand your actions?

Just for fun, I’ve gotta end with this. When in doubt, laugh it out.

Saturday Smiles: The Sunday (again) edition

I’m not even going to apologize anymore. Saturday, Sunday. At least I’m posting once a weekend.

If I’d posted yesterday, I might have called this “the hiking edition.” Our field trip this week is my No. 1 reason to smile.

We took a family hike on Friday, a sort of early Father’s Day, my husband didn’t have to work, we love hiking and it’s summer kind of trip.

Our destination was this waterfall at Sweetarrow Lake County Park in Schuylkill (sounds sorta like skoo-kill) County, about a 30-minute drive from our house.

I love water. And nature. So this was a spiritually and emotionally refreshing trip for me. The hiking wasn’t rigorous and the views were gorgeous. (And I’ll say that even though we brought home some ticks with us and I’m still a little freaked out by it.)

I want our kids to love the outdoors, or at least be exposed to the outdoors.

Not to worry. Lewis and Clark here are leading the way. Isabelle often takes the role of trailblazer.

Corban, on the other hand, worries about rocks and mulch in his shoes.

Summer sunshine. Not too warm. A new place to explore. What’s not to like?

There’s my family. Don’t worry. It’s not dangerous. Dad’s in charge.

My second smile of the week would be my husband, and in honor of Father’s Day, I have to say how much I appreciate him as a Dad. Sure, he does things differently than I would. And he lets the kids take more risks than I might like.

(For instance, letting our 2-year-old climb the rock wall at the park’s playground. Don’t let the hand fool you. Corban didn’t  need it. He has picked up on this skill much more quickly than his sister.)

But he cares for them. He teaches them about life. He protects them from harm. He plays with them. I call him the fun parent because I’m the serious one. (Rough-housing before bedtime? That’s totally Dad’s department.)

I know not every kid gets to have a Dad around, which is maybe why I’m super glad for the one my kids have.

VBS was a blast this week. I was too busy corralling preschoolers to take pictures, but I’m always impressed by how the church comes together for a week to take extra time to care for kids and teach them about Jesus and His love. (And I’m still singing the songs. SOOOO catchy!)

We had a night out on Saturday thanks to our friend Abbie stepping in to babysit and new friends meeting us for coffee and dessert at this amazing place. If we lived a tad closer to it, it might be my favorite hangout.

God is still working. He’s moving behind the scenes right now but we’re catching glimpses of what’s possible for our future. I wish I had more great news to report where jobs and ministry are concerned. I don’t. But God’s faithfulness makes me smile. He has good plans for us, and that’s not just wishful thinking.

To wrap up our hiking report, I give you Corban’s travelogue. Enjoy!

There’s a book for that: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

I don’t remember my first impressions of the movie The Wizard of Oz, although I do remember thinking Judy Garland singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” was boring. (I had no idea her birthday was this week when I scheduled this post. No offense to the Judy Garland fans out there!) And that the movie overall was kind of, well, weird. I wouldn’t list it among my favorites, although I LOVED the theatrical production of Wicked (not so much the book it was based on).

So, I was happy to discover that the weirdness of The Wizard of Oz was there from the start in L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. (FYI, the edition pictured is not what I read. It’s from the Library of Congress Web site, so it’s probably a rare book.  Mine was free for the Kindle.)

As with Mary Poppins, I was impressed by the creativity of the author to dream up things like a talking scarecrow, a tin man and a cowardly lion along with the adventures and dangers they face on the way to the Emerald City. Not everything in the movie is as it is in the book, but I’m okay with that. I was only a little disappointed that the ruby slippers weren’t ruby. Maybe ruby looked better on film than silver? I think overall, I have a new appreciation for the books that inspired movies we now consider classic.

I’ve yet to read any other of Baum’s Oz books or other works. Have you read them? What do you think?

I think I missed out on a lot of good children’s and young adult literature as a kid — and I was (still am) an avid reader! I’m enjoying the journey back to rediscover what I missed.

What’s your favorite book from childhood/young adulthood?

NEXT WEEK: Memoirs of an English Governess at the Siamese Court (the King and I).