A Hitch at the Fairmont by Jim Averbeck

Alfred Hitchcock films are some of our family’s favorites. Engineer Husband says Vertigo is a masterpiece. Brown Bear Daughter likes The Lady Vanishes. Betsy-Bee and my sister say they are both fans of Rear Window. I rather like North by Northwest and To Catch a Thief, only partially due to my crush on Cary Grant.

Author Jim Averbeck harbors a fondness for “Hitch”, too, and he’s made the famous director a central character in his debut middle grade mystery novel, A Hitch at the Fairmont. After his aspiring actress mother drives her car off a cliff, eleven year old Jim Fair is a double orphan. His horrible Aunt Edith, his sole surviving relative, takes him to live with her at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco, but when Aunt Edith disappears, Alfred Hitchcock is the only adult Jim can trust to help him find his awful aunt and avoid the social worker who wants to take him to an orphanage.

There are lots of reverences and allusions to the canon of Hitchcock films as Jim and Mr. Hitchcock careen through their own film-worthy adventure. It’s San Francisco, and one chapter takes place at the Mission Dolores. Also a ghost lady lures the crooks out of hiding. (Vertigo) Jim gets a ransom note embedded in a news article titled “Birds Terrorize Coastal Town” (The Birds). Jim and Hitch briefly mull a theory that Aunt Edith might have been carried out of the hotel, dismembered, in several suitcases or trunks, and another part of the action takes place in a building that is a “camera obscure” that the two use to spy on their suspect (Rear Window). Hitchcock talks to the social worker from the shower while pretending to be Aunt Edith shaving his/her leg (shades of Psycho!). In The Lady Vanishes and in North by Northwest, the police disbelieve the witnesses to a kidnapping/disappearance, and the same thing happens in A Hitch at the Fairmont. And Jim and his mentor Hitchcock meet the kidnappers in a church while the congregation is singing a hymn, similar to the Ambrose Chapel scene in The Man Who Knew Too Much.

I’m sure that fans will find several more echoes of Hitchcock films as they read A Hitch at the Fairmont, and middle grade readers who are not familiar with the movies Mr. Hitchcock directed might find this book an entertaining introduction to Hitch. I thought the book was fun and intriguing, just as Alfred Hitchcock’s movies were.

Saturday Review of Books: August 16, 2014


“To read a writer is for me not merely to get an idea of what he says, but to go off with him and travel in his company.” ~André Gide

SatReviewbuttonWelcome to the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon. Here’s how it usually works. Find a book review on your blog posted sometime during the previous week. The review doesn’t have to be a formal sort of thing. You can link to your thoughts on a particular book, a few ideas inspired by reading the book, your evaluation, quotations, whatever.

Then on Friday night/Saturday, you post a link here at Semicolon in Mr. Linky to the specific post where you’ve written your book review. Don’t link to your main blog page because this kind of link makes it hard to find the book review, especially when people drop in later after you’ve added new content to your blog. In parentheses after your name, add the title of the book you’re reviewing. This addition will help people to find the reviews they’re most interested in reading.

After linking to your own reviews, you can spend as long as you want reading the reviews of other bloggers for the week and adding to your wishlist of books to read. That’s how my own TBR list has become completely unmanageable and the reason I can’t join any reading challenges. I have my own personal challenge that never ends.

Against All Odds by Jim Stier

This book is published by YWAM and tells the story of YWAM leader Jim Stier and his missionary work in Brazil during the 1980′s. YWAM stands for Youth With a Mission, “an inter-denominational, non-profit Christian, missionary organization. Founded by Loren Cunningham and his wife Darlene Cunningham in 1960, YWAM’s stated purpose is to know God and to make Him known.” A worthy purpose, but I’m not so sure about the wisdom of all that I read about in Mr. Stier’s book.

I must say that there are some odd episodes in Against All Odds. For instance, the young people who make up Mr. Stier’s “team” receive messages from God by being impressed to look up specific verses in the Bible. It’s almost like the old “let the Bible fall open at random and read God’s message to you”, but for these missionaries the random verses come out of their heads while they are praying. Then, they have to “interpret” the sometimes cryptic message. For instance, one of Stier’s fellow missionaries is impressed to look up Judges 10:22: “Open the mouth of the cave and bring those five kings out to me.” The cave is interpreted as the Bible school where the missionaries are, and the five kings are $500. So they take up an offering.

No, it didn’t make sense to me either, and their interpretation has nothing at all to do with the context or literal meaning of the verse itself. A lot of the book is about how Mr. Stier and his wife and family and other missionaries in Brazil trusted God to provide for their financial needs as they began YWAM ministries in Brazil. Although I believe in trusting God for all of our needs, I also believe that Scripture commands us to work for a living: “Aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.” I Thessalonians 4:11 Trusting God for Mr. Stier and his partners in missions looked a lot like waiting around until things got so desperate that someone, somewhere had pity on them and bought them some food or paid their rent.

Mr. Stier and his fellow missionaries do a lot of work, evangelizing, and yes, they are to be commended for their radical obedience to the call of God on their lives. However, I wouldn’t really recommend this book (or YWAM) to young people who are looking for a role model in radical obedience and discernment in following Christ. Surely, there are better ways to inspire (maybe reading Scripture itself?) all of us to be moved to follow Christ while rightly interpreting and following the Word of God.

Quaker Summer by Lisa Samson

Not much happens in this character-driven novel of a woman who is having a mid-life crisis in the midst of her addiction to materialism and shopping. In fact, if you want to know what Quaker Summer is all about, read this 2007 interview with author Lisa Samson.

That’s pretty much it: suburban upper middle class Christian mom feels guilty and stressed all the time. She discovers that Christ is calling her to give up her materialistic life, quit shopping so much, and serve the poor. It’s hard.

I sound sarcastic, and I don’t mean to be. However, the main character Heather Curridge (and by extension perhaps the author Lisa Samson) both over-complicate and over-simplify the Christian life. Yes, it is as simple as “follow Jesus and love people.” Yes, it is hard to give up our pet sins and idols. But as I read I wanted Heather to just get over herself, and at the same time I wanted her to be more aware of her propensity to make snap judgements about other people and to give the other moms in her life some grace. Maybe I’m too much like Heather: impatient with others and self-centered most of the time. I’ve always thought there was a lot of truth in the old saw that the sins that annoy us in others are often the ones most present in ourselves.

So, I’ll quote some others on Christianity Today‘s 2008 Novel of the Year:

“Samson shines with themes of grace, purpose, and the emptiness of what we call success. Her stories prompt Christians to rethink stereotypes and call them to riskier living. Neither contrived nor saccharine; manages to convict without preaching.” ~Christianity Today

“Lisa Samson has a wonderful insight into people. Through Heather, she analyzes a woman’s guilt at overeating, overachieving, and overspending. She examines women’s friendships–some genuine and some superficial, as well as the obstacles that we create that hinder finding new friends or going deeper with the ones that we have.” Deliciously Clean Reads

“Don’t read this book if you’re happy with your comfortable Christianity. This book will challenge you to step outside of that little box you’ve put your faith-walk in, and open your heart and life up to real hands-and-feet Jesus-following Christianity. Reading this book made me squirm. In a good way.” Carrie K. at Mommy Brain

I was mostly annoyed by Heather Curridge and her journey toward self-discovery, but that doesn’t mean you will feel the same. Maybe I just need a mid-life crisis of my own and a little more grace.

Heidi Grows Up by Charles Tritten

At Half-Price Books in San Antonio (which by the way is a very old-fashioned edition of Half-Price with lots of nooks and cubbyholes and corners and old books), I found a copy of translator Charles Tritten’s sequel to the classic Heidi by Johanna Spyri, called Heidi Grows Up. I remember Tritten’s two sequels, Heidi Grows Up and Heidi’s Children quite fondly from my teen years of reading, and I would love to have a copy of Heidi’s Children to go with my new/old copy of Heidi Grows Up.

So, I re-read this story of Heidi’s teen years. In the story, first Heidi agrees to go away form her beloved mountains to boarding school so that she can be educated away from the cruel schoolmaster in Dorfli and so that she can develop her musical abilities with violin lessons from a professional teacher. Heidi manages to win the affections of almost all of the girls in her new school, just as in the original Heidi, she wins over Clara and her father and all of the Sesemann household in Frankfurt. But again just as in the original, Heidi misses her grandfather and the Alps, and in the summer she and a friend go back to spend some time in the mountains that are truly Heidi’s “natural habitat.”

After a year or so of schooling, Heidi declares her intention to return to Dorfli and teach school. She hopes to teach the children useful skills such as sewing and knitting and reading and to replace the cruel schoolmaster who has been in the habit of shutting up the children in a boarded up cloakroom-turned-dungeon for any infraction of his strict and arbitrary rules. Heidi is ultimately successful in her reform of the school at Dorfli, and in the process she manages to also a reform a young delinquent (who, of course, has a good heart and fantastic artistic ability) named Chel. The book then ends, very happily and traditionally, with a wedding.

The entire story echoes the first bookHeidi quite a bit in its plot and themes, and Tritten is said to have “adapted from her (Spyri’s) other works . . . many years after she (Spyri) died.” It is a little odd that Spyri described Heidi as having dark curly hair while Tritten portrayed the same girl with straight fair hair in Heidi Grows Up. Curiously enough, Ms. Spyri herself may have adapted Heidi from another novel that she read or heard as a child:

“In April 2010, a Swiss professorial candidate, Peter Buettner, uncovered a book written in 1830 by the German author Hermann Adam von Kamp. The 1830 story is titled “Adelaide: The Girl from the Alps” (German: Adelheide, das Mädchen vom Alpengebirge). The two stories share many similarities in plot line and imagery. Spyri biographer Regine Schindler said it was entirely possible that Spyri may have been familiar with the story as she grew up in a literate household with many books.” Wikipedia, Heidi

Heidi Grows Up forms a nice bridge between Heidi and Heidi’s Children, both of which are better and more substantial books than than this middle one. I’d like to find an affordable copy of Heidi’s Children in good to excellent condition both for my library and for my personal reading. I’d like to see if the “ending” to the story of Heidi and her grandfather, The Alm-Uncle, is as satisfying as I remember it.

D-Day: Books for Children and Young Adults

D-Day: The Invasion of Normandy, 1944 by Rick Atkinson.
The Story of D-Day: June 6, 1944 by Bruce Bliven, Jr. (Landmark Book #62)

Mr. Atkinson’s story of the events of D-Day was “adapted for young readers from the #1 New York Times–bestselling The Guns at Last Light, D-Day.” Guns at Last Light is the third in a trilogy of books by Mr. Atkinson called the Liberation Trilogy. The three books in the trilogy chronicle the history of the liberation of North Africa, Italy, and Western Europe, respectively. This children’s version of a portion of the third book was published in 2014 by Henry Holt and Company. Rick Atkinson won Pulitzer prizes in both journalism and history, so he would seem to be well-qualified to write on the subject.

I found the book somewhat appealing, especially the photographs, but it was heavy on the details and statistics. I got lost in some sections of the book because of my lack of military expertise in general and my lack of knowledge about World War II and D-Day in particular. The book felt like what it was: a compilation/abridgement of details from a narrative that probably flowed much better and was more understandable in the original, adult version. Young readers (and I along with them) would need both more explanation and less detail in a narrative written just for them.

Mr. Bliven’s Story of D-Day is a part of the classic Landmark series of books on U.S. and World History. Bliven tells the story of D-Day as a story. He fills in background about the war, the troops, and their weapons as the narrative progresses, and the tension and force of the story are preserved in a way that includes plenty of statistics and details, but doesn’t become entangled in them.

Mr. Bliven’s narrative flow is just better than that of the newer book by Mr. Atkinson, probably because Mr. Bliven wrote his book as a whole book for young adults while Mr. Atkinson’s book is an abridgment of a longer work for adults. Also, Mr. Blivens had the advantage over Mr. Atkinson; Bliven was a part of the Allied force that landed in Normandy on D-Day.

“Mr. Bliven wrote briefly for a newspaper in Stroudsburg, Pa., and for The Manchester Guardian, the British paper, before graduating from Harvard in 1937. He then wrote editorials for The New York Post, leaving to serve in World War II.
‘I was a lieutenant in the field artillery and took part in the D-Day landings in Normandy and wrote a children’s book about it a dozen years later to find out what happened,’ he said. That book was ‘The Story of D-Day, June 6, 1944′ (Random House, 1956). ~From a NY Times obituary article about Bruce Bliven, January 14, 2002.

Even though, as Blivens makes clear in his book, most of the men who were in the first wave of soldiers on the Normandy coast on D-Day had no idea about what was going on in the overall invasion, or even what the plan was for the entire operation, Bliven was able to reconstruct the story of D-Day and make it clear for young readers and for adults like me who need lots of “hand-holding’ background and explanation embedded in an absorbing narrative story.

I highly recommend the 1956 The Story of D-Day, or possibly (I haven’t read it) the updated version of Bliven’s classic account, Invasion: the Story of D-Day, which was published by Sterling Publishers in 2007.

Book Tag: Large Families

Erin at her blog Seven Little Australians has a post called Families of Six Plus Children about children’s books that feature families with six or more children. Her list includes All of a Kind Family by Sydney Taylor, The Mitchells: Five For Victory by Hilda Van Stockum, The Story of the Treasure Seekers by Edith Nesbit, Seven Little Australians by Ethel Turner, Children on the Oregon Trail by A Rutgers Van Der Loeff, Seventh Pebble by Eleanor Spence, Eight Cousins by Louisa May Alcott (one of my favorites), First Farm in the Valley by Anne Pellowski, and Ten Kids, No Pets by Ann Martin. Read more about her selections at Seven Little Australians.

I thought children’s and young adult books about “Large Families” would be a good topic for a round of Book Tag. The rules are:

“In this game, readers suggest a good book (or series) in the category given, then let somebody else be ‘it’ before they offer another suggestion. There is no limit to the number of books a person may suggest, but they need to politely wait their turn with only one book suggestion per comment.”

I’ll start the game with my suggestion, Gentle’s Holler by Kerry Madden, the story of Livy Two and her little sister Gentle, who is blind. Each of the children in this loving but poverty-stricken family in the mountains of North Carolina has his or her own personality, standing out from the rest of the family in one way or another. The sequels are Louisiana’s Song and Jessie’s Mountain.

What are your favorite large family books?

Book Links

Classic Books Become London Benches. I want one of these to go in my front yard.

Be thinking about being a CYBILS judge. The call for judges will open on August 18th and close September 5th. You can ask to be a panelist (read LOTS of books and narrow down nominees to finalist list) or a judge (read five to seven finalists in one category and help choose a winner). Book nominations for Cybils Awards in multiple categories will open October 1, 2014.

Also, do you know about Kidlit Con 2014? It’s conference about blogging and children’s literature to be held in Sacramento, CA, October 10-11. This year’s theme is Blogging Diversity in Young Adult and Children’s Lit: What’s Next?. Mitali Perkins will be the keynote speaker.

The 1963 Newbery Award winner, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle is being adapted for a new movie. (Madeleine L’Engle said of the 2003 TV movie that it met her expectations. “I expected it to be bad,and it is.”) Disney announced that Jennifer Lee, who wrote and co-directed Frozen, will write the new Wrinkle in Time movie.

Saturday Review of Books: August 9, 2014


“A book, too, can be a star, a living fire to lighten the darkness, leading out into the expanding universe.” ~Madeleine L’Engle

SatReviewbuttonWelcome to the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon. Here’s how it usually works. Find a book review on your blog posted sometime during the previous week. The review doesn’t have to be a formal sort of thing. You can link to your thoughts on a particular book, a few ideas inspired by reading the book, your evaluation, quotations, whatever.

Then on Friday night/Saturday, you post a link here at Semicolon in Mr. Linky to the specific post where you’ve written your book review. Don’t link to your main blog page because this kind of link makes it hard to find the book review, especially when people drop in later after you’ve added new content to your blog. In parentheses after your name, add the title of the book you’re reviewing. This addition will help people to find the reviews they’re most interested in reading.

After linking to your own reviews, you can spend as long as you want reading the reviews of other bloggers for the week and adding to your wishlist of books to read. That’s how my own TBR list has become completely unmanageable and the reason I can’t join any reading challenges. I have my own personal challenge that never ends.

Uncertain Glory by Lea Wait

Uncertain Glory is middle grade historical fiction set in Maine as the Civil War is about to begin. Joe Wood is a sixteen year old newspaper publisher, with his own printing equipment, a newspaper that is has built up a small but faithful readership, a few printing jobs on the side, and a large debt that is due in just a few days. Joe borrowed the money to buy his printing press and other materials, and now he’s working hard to pay back the lender.

Until now the news in Joe’s sleepy town of Wiscasset, Maine has been just that–slow and sleepy. But now, in April 1861, things are stirring. Nell, a young spiritualist, has come to town to give readings to people trying to contact their loved ones “on the other side.” And there’s talk of war as the country heads for a violent confrontation in South Carolina.

The story moved a bit slowly for me. Perhaps it was the story, or maybe just my mood. At any rate, I wasn’t drawn into the time period and the characters and their stories as I often am in the best historical fiction. Joe, his best friend Charlie, Owen the colored boy who helps out at the newspaper office, and Nell the medium were all a little insipid and dull. I would say that rather than being character-driven or plot-dirven, the story was “history-driven”, and although I like history, I didn’t find much new or exciting in the book. Others not as familiar with Civil War history or those who want a book that focuses on the role of Maine soldiers and civilians in the war might find it fascinating.

I did like the details of the work it took to publish a newspaper back in the days before computer typesetting or even linotype. It takes the boys hours and hours to set the type to print even a small newspaper:

“Even with Owen’s and Charlie’s help, it took all of Monday afternoon and evening to write up the news, set it in type, and print it on both sides of a two-page Herald.”

Then they have to go out and sell the paper door to door themselves. The amount of work it took to do anything 150 years ago must have bred patience. And now I can type up a blog post in half an hour, and I think that’s a long time.

I’d recommend Uncertain Glory to those who have an interest in the Civil War time period and to those who might enjoy the story of an enterprising young man. The story of Joe’s industry and of what it took to run a business is worthwhile and might be inspirational for some young entrepreneur of today.