You’re the Cream In My Coffee

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You’re the Cream in My Coffee: A Roaring Twenties Novel, by Jennifer Lamont Leo. Published on September 15, 2016.

This is one of those instances where I eat my words and walk back a resolution concerning two genres.  The first is Christian fiction. The second is romance novels. This book falls definitively in the former camp and leans heavily into the latter.

I am far from alone in my trepidation when approaching the genre. You don’t have to look far to find page upon page of critiques of Christian fiction, and Christian romance in particular. This blogger offers a pretty comprehensive list of 8 things that can and often do go wrong with Christian fiction.

However, when a friend is published (and I consider longtime e-friends friends), you buy their books. You give them the press you would deeply desire that they give you, even when they write a genre that you’re a little skeptical about. After that, you pray that it is as good a tome as you hope it is. Fortunately, Jennifer does an admirable job of missing most of the landmines in that list of problems with Christian fiction.

Jennifer takes her readers on a journey with Marjorie Corrigan, oldest daughter of her widowed father and difficult stepmother in the fictional town of Kerryville, Illinois in the wake of WWI and during the years of prohibition. As the story opens Marjorie is 26 and engaged to be married to a well respected young doctor in the town. She is fond of him,  feels quite fortunate, and has resolved to be a good wife, even if she never feels the depth of love for him that she felt for her first love when she was just a girl of sixteen. Jack, her first love, was presumed to have died in The Great War.

With two months left until her wedding to Richard, Marjorie’s feet turn to ice. The lack of passion she feels for Richard alarms her. In addition to her wedding panic, she is experiencing fainting spells at the most inopportune times, causing rumors to swirl around her small town.

She heads to the Windy City to have some tests run on her heart, but the problem doesn’t lie with her physical heart and she decides to stay in Chicago for a time of respite and freedom before her upcoming nuptials, much to the chagrin of her fiance and stepmother.It is during her summer in Chicago that Marjorie gains clarity while simultaneously stumbling into more and more ways to complicate her life.

That’s as much of a spoiler as I want to give away. You can get a few more hints about the trajectory of the story from the Amazon teaser.

As far as Christian fiction goes, this is one of the better books I have read of the genre, which I summarily dismissed several years ago as a dead end literary road. Jennifer manages to infuse faith into the book without being overly preachy (at least most of the time), her characters have layers, and her story has a depth often missing from modern Christian books which focus on romance.

I like that the book is set in the 1920’s and that even though it has some modern themes running through it, the propriety of the times shines through without the pretense of perfect people living perfect lives. The 20’s were after all, probably as much of an influence on the modern morality shift as were the 60’s.  Jennifer does will with showcasing that reality and the realities of city life during the tumultuous period after the first world war.

Because I had sworn off Christian fiction while still reading the occasional bit of fiction where Christianity flowed as a a positive undercurrent, it was a bit of an adjustment to reacquaint myself with a story where the characters openly witnessed to, discussed Bible verses with and offered prayer between one another. I usually find it trite, formulaic, and frankly, annoying. In this case it was always well infused into the story line, so I was able to make the adjustment. The characters’ struggles with faith were more realistic, less formulaic and  less flaky than what I have read in previous Christian fiction.

Jennifer does an admirable job with this book. I’m still not sold on Christian fiction as a genre, but it was a relief to read a well written Christian novel whose characters inspired me to want to read on to the end to see how their stories panned out.

Grade: B

Jennifer Lamont Leo blogs at Sparkling Vintage Fiction.

Content advisory: This is a very clean book. There are references to alcoholism, the organized crime associated with prohibition, and the trauma many soldiers were left with after the war.

El’s Rabbit Trails: Fall is Here!

Post inspired by Booky McBookerson’s latest.

A common lament of Floridians, heard by transplants more than the natives but we natives whine about it too, is the lack of discernible seasons. The primary complaint is that down here, fall is nonexistent. It’s hot -or warm- and then it’s cold. By cold I mean what the those of you north of Savannah, GA would consider cool weather. When the high is 65 here, most women take that as a cue to break out the boots.

The leaves don’t change, and there isn’t anything besides school and football that gives any indication that we’re changing course. Yesterday however, amidst what were mostly fully green oak trees, I saw a few trees with golden leaves. I believe they are properly categorized as golden rain trees, but I might be mistaken, as golden rain trees usually turn pink before they turn gold. I walk this path enough that I would have noticed in these trees ever had pink leaves. Either way, they were beautiful, and the first evidence of actual fall weather. Right around the time the rest of the country is getting excited about their first snow storms, I was snapping this photo:

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It’s about time for a break. I am overdue for a couple of weeks to mentally reset, and Thanksgiving seems as good a time as any. The desire hit me quite hard yesterday as I looked up at these beautiful golden trees.

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The world is in many respects gone mad but we don’t have to go mad with it. We can choose instead to meditate on the lovely, and give thanks.

“We would worry less if we praised more. Thanksgiving is the enemy of discontent and dissatisfaction.” ~ Harry Ironside

One of my favorite Thanksgiving passages; because it reminds me that the things to be most thankful for are the things not tangible, those that fill the soul and warm the heart:

Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
    for his wondrous works to the children of man!
 For he satisfies the longing soul,
    and the hungry soul he fills with good things. ~Psalm 107:8-9

Food: A Love Story

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Food: A Love Story, by Jim Gaffigan. Originally published in 2014. 352 pages.

I can honestly and unequivocally say that if you asked me for a genre of book I thought I would never, ever, be bothered to read, I’d probably say one like this: written by a modern day stand up American comedian. I have no idea what possessed me to grab this off the featured shelf of our library on my way to check-out kiosk. Something about the photo made me snicker, curiosity got the better of me, and my state of mind this holiday season demanded that I read something that might make me laugh.

At least I hoped it would make me laugh, and thankfully, there were several moments as I read this book that literally made me laugh out loud. I read portions to members of our foodie household. The funny parts were so funny that I was able to forgive Mr. Gaffigan for the parts that were patently UN-funny.

This is not high brow, not excellent writing, and book snobs need not even bother to crack the cover. I generally consider myself a book snob, but I’m prole enough to be able to kick back and laugh with someone as low brow as I am. I’m not going to even try and discuss this book from a literary perspective because that would mean pretending that it’s literary. The fact that Gaffigan keeps making the best seller list with these books says as much about American reading habits as his books reveal about American eating habits.

So rather than go any further, I’ll just put up some funny quotes:

It would be embarrassing trying to explain what an appetizer is to someone from a starving country. “Yeah, the appetizer—that’s the food we eat before we have our food. No, no, you’re thinking of dessert—that’s food we have after we have our food. We eat tons of food. Sometimes there’s so much we just stick it in a bag and bring it home. Then we throw it out the next day. Maybe give it to the dog.

Indeed:

In America we have gone way beyond sustenance. Eating is an activity.

Gaffigan’s wife is a devout Catholic, who is also thin and pretty (nothing like him) and his five kids are very cute. This irony prefaces a few jokes in the book. This is when reached a point in his life when he decided to stop trying to get into shape, and embrace his reality:

It wasn’t defeat as much as it was acceptance. I figured, I got a hot wife. If she leaves me for getting fat, that means she’s shallow.

On trusting a skinny person’s word on what tastes (or doesn’t taste) good:

I’d still trust an overly fat person over a skinny one any day. The best adviser would have a very specific body type: pudgy or just a little overweight. This makes it clear they have a somewhat unhealthy relationship with food, but not a clinical problem.If they are morbidly obese, then you can conclude that they will probably eat everything and anything and do not have discerning taste.

My favorite part was probably his exploration of how dumb we have to be to have made bottled water into a multi-billion dollar industry. He even notes that Evian is “naive” spelled backwards, which I somehow never noticed.

Recently I tried Smartwater, which has electrolytes in it, and it’s supposed to replenish your body better than regular bottled water, therefore making you, I guess, smarter. I tried it, and it totally worked. I am now much smarter. Now I only drink tap water.

On second thought, that wasn’t my favorite part. It was this section, which I am going to end with along with an embarrassing confession. Me and my daughters? We are these people. My Benevolent Dictator thinks we are nuts:

Foodies will travel for miles in search of the perfect hamburger. “There is this place in Greenpoint that’s only an hour by train and a forty-minute walk from the subway that has the best burger in town!” It can’t be better than the burger I can get across the street. Mostly, I just want the closest best burger in town.

Yep, we drive for a great…whatever. We even got excited about trying a new local vegan donut shop and we’re as far from vegan as you can get.

Like I said, I laughed, which was the whole point. This book was basically a 300+ page stand up act, with all this implies: Some great hits, and some big misses.

Book snob grade: D

For me, out of book snob mode: Solid B+

Content advisory: The occasional four letter word here and there, but very rare.

America’s Real First Thanksgiving

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America’s Real First Thanksgiving, by Robyn Gioia. Originally published in 2007. 48 pages.

I’m teaching a Florida history class to 4th and 5th graders this year and as Thanksgiving approaches, I thought it might be interesting to introduce the kids to what some historians consider the real first Thanksgiving, which took place on September 8, 1565. It was a feast celebrated between Spanish explorer Pedro Menendez and the Timucuan tribe in St. Augustine.

The significance of the nationally recognized Thanksgiving feast of 1621, led by William Bradford and Massasoit cannot and should not be downplayed, given that the British colonization of the New World laid the foundation for our country. However, no American history curriculum is complete without an exploration of Florida history, and for that reason, I found this book a valuable resource. I highly recommend it.

Grade: B+

It’s our family’s first holiday season without my father. As a result,  I’m reading very lightweight stuff right now, to temper the innate heaviness we all feel. We’re increasing extended family time, prayer, cultivating thanksgiving, and keeping the atmosphere devoid of heaviness. A few funny, fluffy, and even romantic books are in the review queue for the next couple of weeks. Consider yourselves warned.

Movie Review: Hacksaw Ridge

If I bother to ever review a movie here, you can be pretty sure that I either fully despised or thoroughly enjoyed the film. We rarely go to the theaters anymore unless it’s something all the kids their dad wants to see, such as a big screen release of a comic book adaptation.

From the moment I first heard of Desmond Doss, and that his story was going to be made into a feature film, I knew I wanted to see it. For those who who haven’t heard of Doss or the film, here is the trailer:

There is a fair amount of violence and gore in the movie*, but war in the 1940’s wasn’t drone driven the battles of 2016. The story of this man, who was both a man of bedrock conviction, courage in the face of incredible odds, and steadfast faith moved me.

I know he was Seventh Day Adventist, but that theological divergence does absolutely nothing to take away from the miracle he achieved nor the extraordinary character he possessed.

Mel Gibson may or may not be nuts, but he did a fantastic job here. It’s one of the few times in recent memory when I felt like my movie dollars were not wasted.

*R-rating for gore and violence.

 

 

Charlotte Mason Study Guide

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Charlotte Mason Study Guide: A Simplified Approach to a Living Education, by Penny Gardner. Originally published in 1997.167 pages.

This one will be short and sweet. I picked up this book looking for practical tips for integrating Charlotte Mason’s methods into our homeschool curriculum. Instead, what I got was chapter after chapter of repetitive and poorly organized quotes on different areas of education and child rearing from Charlotte Mason’s writings.

The first 30 or so pages were helpful and inspiring, but after that it seems as if I was going in circles and there was little in the way of practical information, which was my entire purpose in reading the book.

Charlotte Mason’s original works are voluminous and expensive, but I suppose if I want a well rounded and complete outline of how her method looks in practice, I may have to spend the treasure and time required to get my hands on her stuff.

Grade: C-