Julia and the Art of Practical Travel by Lesley M.M. Blume

Ms. Blume writes “odd and quirky”, and this one definitely fits that description. It’s funny at times, but the underlying situation, the 1960’s and a child deserted by her hippie druggie mother, is way too serious for a humorous novel. Throw in a voodoo queen in New Orleans, bullies in a fancy elite school for girls, naked people in Greenwich Village in NYC and in Haight-Asbury in San Francisco, an odd ranch with all-Chinese cowboys in Texas, an ever-present Brownie camera, and a bewildered aunt/guardian, and it’s a fun road trip sort of story, but fairly unbelievable and sort of sad in places.

I also kept thinking the story was ending, and then there would be one more episode, and yet another, and another. It felt as if the author didn’t know where to stop. Or maybe I just didn’t want to know as much as I did. The novel is all about finding home and making a family, but it took Julia and her aunt an awfully long time to get to that end, even though the book itself is not that long, only 180 pages.

Anyway, if you’ve enjoyed any of Lesley M.M. Bloom’s other novels for children, such as Tennyson or The Rising Star of Rusty Nail, you might also enjoy this odd and quirky entry. I thought it was OK, but nothing to write home about.

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Saturday Review of Books: May 30, 2015


“All true histories contain instruction; though in some, the treasure may be hard to find, and when found, so trivial in quantity, that the dry, shrivelled kernel scarcely compensates for the trouble of cracking the nut.” ~Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte

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Welcome 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.

You can go to this post for over 100 links to book lists for the end of 2014/beginning of 2015. Feel free to add a link to your own list.

If you enjoy the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon, please invite your friends to stop by and check out the review links here each Saturday.

Absolutely Truly by Heather Vogel Frederick

Absolutely Truly: A Pumpkin Falls Mystery by Heather Vogel Frederick.

Twelve year old Truly Lovejoy’s army captain dad has come back from Afghanistan minus one arm and transformed into Silent Man. He used to be fun, and Truly’s family used to be referred as the Magnificent Seven–Truly, her brothers, Danny and Hatcher, her sisters, Lauren and Pippa and mom and dad. Now everything has changed, and the family has to move from wonderful Austin, Texas to tiny Pumpkin Falls, New Hampshire, the back side of nowhere if there ever was such a place.

The mystery part of this family story was rather lame and stretched my credulity: it involved some twenty year old love letters that were hidden and stayed put for the entire time and a treasure hunt that seemed to have very little purpose. However, the mystery is really just a vehicle for the characters and their interactions, and this aspect is where the story shines. Truly and her family members and her new classmates are a joy to get to know, and I award points to any story with a family of five or more children.

I’m assuming from the subtitle that this one is the first in a possible series of “Pumpkin Falls mysteries”. I’d recommend to middle school mystery lovers and to those who would enjoy a story featuring a largish family and a veteran dad. The story provides an upbeat and encouraging look at military families and the adjustments that veterans and their families have to make after their service, but it doesn’t gloss over the difficulties and changes that sometimes occur.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.

Running Out of Night by Sharon Lovejoy

A nameless, motherless, abused white girl and a runaway slave girl named Zenobia are thrown together in a journey toward freedom. Even though the Zenobia gives Nameless Girl the name of Lark, the two find it difficult to trust each other or to trust the people who are willing to help them along their way on the Underground Railroad.

The salient feature of this debut novel by Sharon Lovejoy is the Virginia backwoods dialect that threads through the pages to bring the characters to life:

Zenobia: “Auntie goin to tell you later tonight where you be goin soon. And she give you a fine new name for the travelin. She call you Miss Abigail Harlan, but I likes Lark best.”

Lark: “Zenobia? Trouble girl, answer me. Sorry, so sorry. You was so scairt, I should’ve helped you more.”

I think it’s just enough to make the characters real and interesting without turning them into caricatures and without making the language too dense and hard to understand. If you don’t like the dialect in the examples above, there’s a lot more where that came from, so you probably wouldn’t like the story much.

Otherwise, the book is one chase scene after another. Lark’s pa and her brothers are chasing after her because she’s their “slave”, the one who cooks and cleans and gardens for them. The slave catchers are after Zenobia for the reward. lark and Zenobia get separated and have to chase after one another. Lark has to look for her friends, Zenobia and other runaways and a Quaker woman who helps them, because she knows that the slave catchers are about to catch up with them. Some of the scenes are fairly violent, and the cruelty of slavery and of slave owners and slave catchers is not minimized or played down; rather the opposite, Lark learns that the abuse that her father and her family have subjected her to is still less than the brutality that Zenobia and the other former slaves have seen and experienced.

This novel has a little bit different take on the horrors of slavery, and it ends with peace and thanksgiving. So I recommend it.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.

She Is Mine by Stephanie Fast

“Stephanie Fast is the name she was given in America. She does not know her original name, birth date, or place of birth, other than that she is Korean. Because she is biracial, Stephanie Fast was abandoned, left in a strange place to fend for herself, likely to die of starvation, disease—or worse.

Stephanie has made it her life’s work to try to help rescue every orphan out there—terrified, hungry, hurting, abused. If you believe that how we treat the most vulnerable among us determines our own humanity you will want to read Stephanie’s book—you will want to get to know Stephanie’s story.”

The almost unbelievable and harrowing story of a Korean war orphan, abandoned by her mother and unknown to her American GI father, She is Mine is an amazing testament to the courage and endurance of the author, but even more to the grace of God in her life. Her website says “Stephanie’s story will leave you moved—and changed.” It left me moved, yes, and puzzled. I was puzzled by the mercy of God and by His sovereignty. Why was Stephanie spared the fate of another child she writes about in her memoir, a baby who died abandoned on a trash heap after seven year old Stephanie, or Yoon Myoung as she was known in Korean, had tried to mother her and save her life? Why was Yoon Myoung/Stephanie adopted by an American couple and brought to the U.S. while other Korean orphans languished in orphanages or scavenged on the streets? I don’t know, and author Stephanie Fast provides no answers to those troubling questions. She can only testify to the fact that God saved her, and “in every instance of my life, whether I knew it or not, there was a greater, higher, wiser power propelling willing hearts to rescue me.”

Maybe God is “propelling” us to rescue just one, or to help, and we are not listening?

I recommend the book, but I do warn you that Stephanie’s story is a very difficult one which includes physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, abandonment, and violence. Stephanie eventually is rescued, and her message is that there is hope. However, reading this book can be emotionally draining. Even if you don’t choose to read Stephanie’s story, please take this blog post as a cue to pray for Stephanie Fast and for the millions of orphans and abused children who are struggling for survival and hope even today as you are reading these words.

Stephanie Fast’s website.

Called to Love is a ministry designed to encourage and support adoptive and foster moms by providing an annual retreat.

Chosen International is a faith-based organization whose goal is to encourage teens who have been adopted to embrace God’s plan of adoption for their lives, and grow into spiritually and emotionally healthy adulthood.

Christian Friends of Korea: hope and healing to the people of North Korea in the name of Christ.

New Beginnings International Children’s and Family Services. (adoption agency)

Kazembe Orphanage, an orphanage in northern Zambia run by my friends, the Morrow family.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.

John Muir Wrestles a Waterfall by Julie Danneberg

This picture book about an episode in naturalist John Muir’s life is visually stunning, and it tells an exciting story, worth the read.

April, 1871. Two evenings ago, I climbed the mountain to the foot of the upper Yosemite Falls . . . My wetting was received in a way that I scarcely care to tell. The adventure nearly cost all. ~John Muir’s journal.

Muir was a passionate naturalist, and his writing, mostly essays for magazines and newspapers, allowed him to earn a living while also pursuing his desire to observe nature and to preserve it. A friend of Teddy Roosevelt, Muir and the president went camping together in 1903, at which time Muir was able to enlist TR in his campaign to preserve America’s wilderness. Partly because of Muir’s influence, Teddy Roosevelt was able to lead the national government to set aside millions of acres of land for national parks, monuments, and wilderness preservation.

The event that is featured in this picture book, Muir’s near-death experience while exploring behind a Yosemite Valley waterfall, took place in 1871. Muir wrote two separate essays about the experience, and the author, Julie Danneberg used both essays to fashion her own version of Muir’s adventure behind the falls.

What you may not know about John Muir (not necessarily from the book, but mostly from Wikipedia):

1. Muir was born in Scotland, the third of eight children.

2. His family were Campbellites (Disciples of Christ), and “by age 11, young Muir had learned to recite ‘by heart and by sore flesh’ all of the New Testament and most of the Old Testament.” (Wikipedia)

3. In early March 1867, an accident changed the course of his life: a tool he was using slipped and struck him in the eye. He was confined to a darkened room for six weeks, worried whether he would ever regain his sight. When he did, “he saw the world—and his purpose—in a new light”. Muir later wrote, “This affliction has driven me to the sweet fields. God has to nearly kill us sometimes, to teach us lessons.” (Wikipedia)

4. In September 1867, Muir undertook a walk of about 1,000 miles (1,600 km) from Indiana to Florida, which he recounted in his book A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf.

5. Ralph Waldo Emerson, on a trip to Yosemite in 1871, met John Muir and offered him a professorship at Harvard, which Muir declined. (Muir had never graduated from college, although he did attend classes at a college in Wisconsin.)

6. Muir was extremely fond of Thoreau and was probably influenced more by him than even Emerson. Muir often referred to himself as a “disciple” of Thoreau.

7. John Muir petitioned Congress to establish Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks.

8. California celebrates John Muir Day on April 21st each year.

9. “God never made an ugly landscape. All that the sun shines on is beautiful, so long as it is wild.” ~John Muir.

10. “My eyes, at times, would fill with tears in the editing room as we worked on telling Muir’s story. It was a pleasure getting to know him better.”
~Ken Burns, filmmaker for “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea

So, for a small introduction to the life and thought of John Muir, with beautiful illustrations by Jamie Hogan, see John Muir Wrestles a Waterfall. He may have wandered into what I would call “nature worship” as he grew older and left his Campbellite (and biblical) foundations, but nevertheless, he did have a fine and passionate appreciation for God’s creation, an appreciation that he was able to communicate to the rest of America in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, to the betterment of our national heritage.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.

Saturday Review of Books: May 25, 2015


“‘When you open a book,’ the sentimental library posters said, ‘anything can happen.’ This was so. A book of fiction was a bomb. It was a land mind you wanted to go off. You wanted it to blow your whole day. Unfortunately, hundreds of thousands of books were duds. They had been rusting out of everyone’s way for so long that they no longer worked. There was no way to distinguish the duds from the live mines except to throw yourself at them headlong, one by one.” ~Annie Dillard

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Welcome 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.

You can go to this post for over 100 links to book lists for the end of 2014/beginning of 2015. Feel free to add a link to your own list.

If you enjoy the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon, please invite your friends to stop by and check out the review links here each Saturday.

Pilgrim’s Inn by Elizabeth Goudge


I am so enjoying my discovery and exploration of Elizabeth Goudge’s novels. In February I read The Dean’s Watch, and I wrote that it might the best book I read this year. I read The Rosemary Tree last summer–and relished the author’s insight into human psychology. I also read Gentian Hill in 2014, and I put it on my list of ten best adult fiction books I read last year. Charlotte of Charlotte’s Library has recommended Valley of Song to me, and many, many readers have recommended Ms. Goudge’s children’s fantasy The Little White Horse. I think Goudge is the sort of author that I’m going to enjoy stretching out and reading in a leisurely manner, two or three of her books per year, spaced out over the course of the year.

That said, Pilgrim’s Inn was lovely, and it made me crave more Goudgian writing. I’m trying to think what actually happens in the story. A family buys an old inn and moves to the country. One character struggles with a “mental breakdown” in the aftermath of World War II. Various characters struggle with their own secret sins and temptations. One married couple falls in love with each other all over again, and another man and woman learn to love each other in spite of the difficulties and impediments to their union. Children act like children and do very childlike things, but the insight into child psychology and children’s thought lives is amazing. Altogether, it’s not at all a plot-driven novel, and I can see how today’s readers, trained by television and movies, would find it slow and somewhat sentimental, perhaps becoming restless and even bored. I had to consciously slow myself down and appreciate the unhurried pace of the story and of life in the English countryside with people who are still trying to build new lives after the hour of the war.

The inn itself is a sort of a magical place, and several encounters and chance meetings in the woods m=nearby produce healing and psychological breakthroughs. The air and atmosphere of the novel is Christian without the spiritual underpinnings becoming intrusive or didactic. The characters grow and learn and make surprising decisions and revelations, just as people do in real life.

I can’t imagine a more enjoyable summer reading book than Pilgrim’s Inn. Slow down and enjoy a sojourn in post-war England with some really intriguing people living in a wonder-filled place. Oh, I forgot that there’s a matriarch in the story who begs to played in a movie version by Maggie Smith. They had better hurry up and make the movie because I can’t imagine anyone else playing the part. Do you ever cast the characters in your favorite books?

“As this world becomes increasingly ugly, callous and materialistic it needs to be reminded that the old fairy stories are rooted in truth, that imagination is of value, that happy endings do, in fact, occur, and that the blue spring mist that makes an ugly street look beautiful is just as real a thing as the street itself.” ~Elizabeth Goudge

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.

Saturday Review of Books: May 16, 2015


“A great book should leave you with many experiences, and slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading.” ~William Styron

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Welcome 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.

You can go to this post for over 100 links to book lists for the end of 2014/beginning of 2015. Feel free to add a link to your own list.

If you enjoy the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon, please invite your friends to stop by and check out the review links here each Saturday.

Vanishing Grace by Philip Yancey

I guess I wanted just one valuable takeaway nugget of truth or advice or wisdom from Mr. Yancey’s meditation on the dearth of grace in our world and even in our churches, and what I got was a meditation on the lack of good news of grace in our culture and in our churches. Expectations meet sad reality.

“What ever happened to the good news?” “Why does the church stir up such negative feelings?” “How can Christians make a positive, grace-filled difference in a world of desperate need?”

Rod Dreher talks about his Benedict Option. I feel as if I’m living the Benedict Option to some extent, and it’s not enough—because the need is, as Mr. Yancey says, desperate. My children and my eventual grandchildren don’t have centuries to wait to see the culture, the world redeemed and made right by Jesus’ mercy and by grace-filled Christians living simple grace-filled lives in Christ.

Yancey nails the problem: a world without Christians who are filled with Christ’s grace and love is a world without hope. But the world doesn’t necessarily see it that way. He gives examples. Then, he gives some suggestions on how Christians can begin to interact with the world, “a series of observations and suggestions for Christians to consider as we interact with a world that does not always share our views”:

1. “Clashes between Christ and culture are unavoidable.” Well, duh. The question is how to act when those “clashes”, more like crashes, happen. I am to act in love. But what that looks like is difficult and confusing.

2. Christians should choose their battles wisely. Absolutely. I think that cake-baking and flower providing are not where I would draw the line, but then, I’m not in the cake-baking or floral business. When people are being deliberately provocative and hoping to trap you into saying or doing something that can be used as bad publicity or example, the best way to respond is the way Jesus did to the Pharisees. A soft answer turns away wrath. The problem is being prepared when I don’t know when or where the attack might come. One good plan might be to think (and pray?) before I post a snippy (any?) comment on Facebook or other social media.

3. Christians should fight their battles shrewdly. This one goes along with #2. “Wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” We should pray this daily for one another because the only way I’m going to be either wise or harmless is by the grace and empowerment of the Holy Spirit.

4. In engaging with culture, Christians should distinguish the immoral from the illegal. Again, duh. We have laws against murder and theft, not against blasphemy and coveting. Why? Because we live in a pluralistic society in which not everyone agrees on a definition of blasphemy or that to is wrong to blaspheme God’s name. Everyone pretty much agrees on a definition of murder and agrees that murder is wrong. However, even that consensus is being endangered with the continued drumbeat for euthanasia and abortion. Where do we draw the line? If the culture says killing children up to the age of one is OK, do we continue to agitate for laws protecting young children, or do we just content ourselves with not killing our own children?

5. The church must use caution in its dealings with the state. More caution every day.

This book provides a beginning point for discussions about “how then shall we live”. But it’s not the definitive answer-book on the subject. I guess for that one would have to go to The Book.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.