“The Chapel Car Bride”: A Sweet Tale of Love and Longing

Note: I received this book from Bethany House Publishers to review it. ūüôā

This¬†book offers a unique perspective on something that¬†I had never considered before: a woman’s role on a chapel car.¬† (I actually had never heard of a “chapel car”, either, so this book was a particularly pleasant surprise!)

The religious aspect of this book might be a negative for some readers, but I¬†did not find that to be the case while reading it. There is a lot of religious relevance to the story, historically and plot-wise, so it’s a necessity in the book–and, as Judith Miller continues with her obvious success–it is clear that¬†I am not the only one who does not necessarily find the “religious” in a religious romance book to be an obstacle. You do not have to be religious to enjoy this story!

As far as plot and characters go, the tale is very enjoyable. It’s more than just an instant he-meets-her-and-the-wedding-is-booked story; the two protagonists face a variety of obstacles, both minor and more serious. The heroine is reliable, hard-working, and (in my opinion) relatively realistic. Her struggle to be obedient and pious despite her own human urges, opinions, and ideas really spoke to me. Hope Irvine is trying to be a dutiful daughter to her father (the preacher on the chapel car), but she does struggle with that goal sometimes–and that made me love her. Her relationship with her father was also special and well-written, as was her relationship with Luke Hughes. Overall¬†I was immensely intrigued by this book’s heroine, pleased with the story’s overall tone and pacing, and very happy with Judith Miller’s most recent work!

 

 

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Book Review: Where Hope Prevails (Return to the Canadian West)

 

Image from Amazon.com

Note: I received this book for free, specifically to review it.

I’ve read a lot of romantic historical fiction novels–and by a lot, I mean a¬†lot. Some have certainly been better than others, and there’s one theme that has always been a reliable source of good books in my experience: the frontier. In frontier stories, women are often overcoming obstacles, coming into contact with people of different backgrounds, developing more appreciation for the environment, adjusting their Eastern ways, and–of course–falling in love. When I speak of frontier books, I’ve usually always meant the American Old West, which is why I was really excited to finally read a book about the Canadian West!

I know that you’re not supposed to ‘read a book by its cover’, but I totally did. The cover of Where Hope Prevails, by Janette Oke and Laurel Oke Logan, is beautiful. It was also immediately apparent from looking at the heroine’s bundle of textbooks that she was in the academic world within the frontier–another dichotomy that I find fascinating. I was a little nervous when I learned that it was a sequel to a previous book, but that didn’t end up being a problem at all (especially with a lovely letter at the beginning of the story to cleverly ‘summarize’ the past book’s events for the reader)!

The book’s plot has a nice progression, although it was a much longer story than I expected, and there is plenty of interesting information to be learned about Canada for those of us who are fairly ignorant regarding its geography. For me, this book was particularly intriguing in that it focused on a time period when electricity, telephones, and automobiles were already in existence–I had only ever read frontier romances that involved the 1800’s, so reading about Oreos in this book was quite a surprise!

The ‘authentic’ dialogue of the book is the only historically accurate change that I really found disconcerting; it took me quite a while to adjust to reading the Coal Valley citizens’ dialogue, and even more time to adjust to reading Frank’s Italian version. However, the styles of speech were not illegible; instead, they were just a little inconvenient–and they help highlight the differences between Beth and the Coal Valley people, so I don’t regret their presence in the text.

The heroine of this novel is an admirable one in many ways–and, occasionally, a comical one too (Exhibit A: her struggles to fall asleep in her new home without company). Perhaps the most¬†endearing quality about her is her flawed nature; Beth makes many mistakes in this novel, most of them involving her own self-centered tendencies and her irrational resentment of the other schoolteacher. These behaviors may not be admirable in and of themselves, but they do make her relatable. After all, even though we readers might not like to admit it, we’ve been a little self-centered on occasion–and many of us have indeed experienced that strangely immediate dislike of someone who has actually done nothing unkind to us. That kind of illogical and intrinsic dislike is very, very hard to get rid of, and I really appreciated how much that struggle was demonstrated in this story. Beth tries to overcome her anger, and fails–multiple times. Those failures, to me, made her one of the most normal and human heroines that I have ever come across.

Beth’s failures often cause her to turn to her Christian faith, which means that this book does discuss religion fairly often. However, although you should probably be aware of that focus before reading the novel, it is not necessary to be a religious–or, for that matter, Christian–reader to enjoy this book. The book’s general plot was not one that I had expected, which made for some enjoyable surprises, and it’s definitely a good book for a relaxing evening–maybe even an evening in the Canadian West!

The best part? Some of the beautiful descriptions that can be found in the novel. The way that the authors describe the wintry climate, the Canadian environment, and Beth’s emotions are all very unique and, at the same time, stunningly accurate; so, to Janette and Laurel, I say well done. ūüôā

 

 

Book Review: Courageous By Dina L. Sleiman

Note: I received this book for free, specifically to review it.

As a History major, I have certainly learned a thing or two about the Crusades. The basic gist? There were a lot of them, and they were–as Sleiman puts it– “messy”. Even during a class on the Crusades, it can be challenging to keep them all straight, and it becomes far more difficult when you’re not in class anymore. They seem to just combine into one jumble of violence, religious zeal, prejudice, and hardship (for people of all ages, not just men).

With that ‘jumble’ in mind, I was eager to educate myself again as I read Courageous. Sleiman does not disappoint: although there’s not exactly an enormous history lesson in the book, I learned a lot about the children’s crusades in particular–and from a variety of perspectives. The book’s plot focuses on Rosalind and Randel, two young people who are (in essence) the chaperones for a young visionary, Sapphira, and the other children who have been permitted to accompany her. On a quest to save several prisoners in the Holy Land, the group (bolstered by a small fighting force, in keeping with Sapphira’s noble status) leaves Northern Britannia to achieve their goal.

Sleiman in no way makes the journey easy. Several of the characters die, and the entire group faces a variety of struggles–including challenges against their faith. But one particular challenge manifests itself in the relationship between Rosalind and Randel: the ability to forgive oneself. Both Rosalind and Randel have committed sins that they punish themselves for–and both have, in turn, convinced themselves that they do not deserve love or marriage.

As the two characters find themselves getting closer to their religious convictions on the journey, they also find themselves getting closer to each other. A cliche, yes; however, while this burgeoning romantic relationship is one that is clearly outlined in the book’s description (and one that manifests itself early on in the story with a ‘fake’ relationship), the romance’s similarity to a typical modern romance-novel ends there. Sleiman artfully manages to weave together multiple characters’ perspectives, and introduces enough problems to ensure that Rosalind and Randel’s relationship actually takes a back-burner many times in the book. There’s also none of the passive-aggressive tension that most fictional couples experience; Rosalind and Randel are great friends from the start, and there are no arguments between them. Their friendship actually lasts throughout the novel, which is truly refreshing. The only obstacle to their happiness is each person’s respective guilt; in short, both Rosalind and Randel are convinced that they don’t deserve the relationship–and the reader is convinced that they could both use a little therapy.

The book’s main relationship is unique in that it is both subtle and consistently amicable; however, the other relationships are often less so, creating plenty of petty drama to entertain readers in between attacks. Sleiman has created an impressive roster of characters, and juggles them without any observable tension or hastiness in the story. She actually manages to add a bit of depth to almost every character–even those who only have a few lines–and also has the ability to aptly describe the perspectives of characters who are in very different situations and age ranges!

The plot has an excellent progression, introducing each theme–romance, drama, humor, and battles–at just the right time. As soon as you start wondering what’s going on with a certain character or how a certain relationship is faring, Sleiman brings it back–almost as if she had read your mind. The language is also a nice mix between modern language and traditional speech patterns (and Sleiman does recognize the intentional mix in her historical notes). One thing that particularly struck me about Courageous was the rich, vivid descriptions: with only a sentence or two, Sleiman often manages to describe a scene in a way that is both very unique and, somehow, dead-on in accuracy.

In addition, while the religious aspects of Sleiman’s story are virtually unavoidable, strong religious convictions don’t seem particularly necessary as a reader. You may not care much for organized religion–but you could probably still enjoy this book, particularly if you have any interest in the Crusades or the normal (as well as the abnormal) people who participated in them.

Overall, I was very pleasantly surprised by this book. I had expected an overwrought love story, with a pretty predictable plot and just a smattering of historical information; instead, I was exposed to a companionable story that was exciting, well-written, and riddled with plot twists. Well done, Mrs. Sleiman; I’ll be looking into your other books, including the other two in this series!

VEEP Takes A Dark Turn

The satirical political comedy VEEP has gone DEEP–into darkness, that is. Fear not; this isn’t some metaphor for lousy ratings or poor writing. VEEP has always been awesome, and continues to be awesome. But be warned: if you’re heading straight into this show via Season 5, then you’re probably going to be a little unsettled.

Selina and her crew are just as witty and funny as ever–if not a little jaded–so finding the show’s trademark humor and style is still easy. However, in the third- and second-to-last episodes (C***Gate and Congressional Ball), Selina suddenly becomes a lot darker. And I’m not referring to a tan.

I’m hesitant to compare this show to House of Cards, because the comparison is pretty tired–but, in all honesty, Selina’s bitterly resolute (and yet, somehow, fragile) speech in her office about everyone “trying to get” her reminded me of no one more than Frank Underwood. If I was picking a scene to show at an awards ceremony, I would pick this one, because Julia Louis-Dreyfus is fantastic. She allows us to see Selina cracking, bit by bit, and even though Selina Meyer has definitely had some previous spin-outs, there’s something in Julia’s acting that makes it clear: this cracking is something deeper.

The artfully crafted scene in Selina’s office is from C***Gate, and the next episode (Congressional Ball) is subsequently like being hit over the head with a hammer. This episode features the most explicit sex scene yet in VEEP, as well as some very, very vividly detailed threats from Selina to a Congresswoman¬†and a Congressman. Selina might have seemed disturbingly¬†unstable in the previous episode, but she’s practically spitting with malice in this one*. That storm that was inside her? It’s coming out.

Overall, VEEP is still a fantastic show, and one that I love to watch. It retains its hilarity, and actually seems to be getting even funnier–but all viewers should prepare¬†for Selina’s storm. Otherwise, starting at this season will probably be a bit of a shock. And, if you loved the show Numb3rs, then seeing Peter MacNicol play the increasingly foulmouthed Jeff Kane could be even more of a jolt.

As for the most recent episode, Camp David? This one was nowhere near as dark as the previous two.¬†Perhaps we’re in the eye of the storm (yes, Hurricane Selina).

 

 

*her dress, of course, was lovely.

 

 

 

 

 

3 Truths from Amy Schumer

Photo from hbo.com

If you weren’t familiar with Amy Schumer a year or two ago, you probably are now. She’s become the kind of hot commodity that Jennifer Lawrence was (and continues to be) after the Hunger Games–and since the two are friends, the awesomeness has only increased!

Not all viewers (aka your parents) are comfortable with crude language in stand-up comedy, but even those¬†women¬†who prefer the more G-rated works of Ellen DeGeneres¬†or Jim Gaffigan can see some accuracy in Schumer’s comments. Here are three points made by Amy in her recent HBO special that are particularly spot-on — whether or not we want to admit it.

  1. “Pretty girls love funny girls–and funny girls want nothing to do with¬†pretty girls.”¬†Yep.¬†Girls with¬†‘great personalities’ only¬†really seem to like one kind of¬†beautiful girl: the beautiful girl who’s¬†also really nice, and therefore one that everyone loves to hate but can’t actually HATE.
  2. Her opening lines on women’s underwear. Not going to put details here, but yes. I’ll just awkwardly¬†look away now…
  3. ¬†“Am I maybe…GORGEOUS?” I cannot speak for other girls, but come on. Practically every single book that¬†we read or movie that¬†we watch¬†seems to feature a heroine who is actually beautiful and just¬†doesn’t know it (here’s looking at you, Princess Mia), so¬†of course we’re going to apply the same perspective to our own lives. We’ll find that “right haircut” someday,¬†Amy. And then the world will know.

You may not be as good at swearing as Amy (and you may only be comfortable watching her videos alone with Ramen noodles), but¬†hey:¬†when it comes to cultural commentaries and women’s underwear, no¬†girl can really deny that Amy Schumer knows what’s up.

Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality

This book, by Elizabeth Eulberg, tells the story that all of us “great personality” girls have dreamed of: going through a complete makeover in high school and being a total boss while we’re at it.

If you, like me, were one of those affable¬†girls (and might still be; jury’s out on that one), then you know exactly what I’m describing, and you know exactly why I was immediately drawn to this book by its title. We ‘great personality’ girls didn’t date, we didn’t cheat on tests, we didn’t party, and we¬†were as¬†“nice to everybody” as the heroines¬†are¬†in Meg Cabot books. Sure, we had opinions, just like every human being in high school–but we refrained from being the mean little gremlins that kids are from sixth grade onward, and we kept our judgments to ourselves all the way to college.

While this particular book ended up being surprisingly dark and discussed a lot more than a Transformation Tuesday, its basic premise and its heroine’s sense of humor made for a compelling read. In the book, Eulberg points out that ‘great personality’ girls are actually the ones with real potential; they come out of school with an “IQ and a soul”, whereas other girls might come out with improvements that are superficial. Think of us illustrious GP girls as ice cream; we’re delightful on our own! We’ve got humor, we’ve got knowledge, we’ve got compassion, and we know how to party without alcohol or public appearances. But¬†if/when we DO decide to add a cherry (i.e. confidence-building makeup or clothes),¬†we’re real contenders for¬†Eulberg’s “beauty¬†game”.

You can enhance ice cream with a cherry, but you can’t just try to slop ice cream onto a lone cherry after the fact. And do¬†any of us¬†ever go¬†to ice cream parlors just for the cherries? No,¬†we do not. ūüôā

 

3 Side Effects of A House of Cards Binge

I may or may not have recently re-watched a lot of House of Cards.

Cough cough.

After (maybe) having watched many, many episodes of this successful political drama–and constantly trying to convince my mother how interesting it is that Robin Wright was Princess Buttercup¬†way back when–it has come to my attention not only that my mother has never seen The Princess Bride,¬†but also that binge-watching certain shows creates certain symptoms.

I knew this to some extent before. When I watched Make It Or Break It, I was obsessed with gymnastics. When I watched Lord of the Rings, I tried to learn Tengwar. Although I now have plenty of seemingly random knowledge about everything from artistic gymnastics to hobbits, which could be seen as a good thing, it is apparent that every show we follow has a potent effect on us. House of Cards is no different, but its symptoms are the dangerous, leading-to-social-awkwardness kind.

Prepare yourself for the following.

Symptom 1: Speaking in maxims. As Dan Egan said on VEEP (another, more comical political show), “He who speaks in maxims…can sound wise.” Frank Underwood uses a LOT of maxims and metaphors on House of Cards. Which means that you’ll start talking like that after just two episodes (Seriously. You will.). You’ll take to it like a cat to milk*. But that’s just the way the tide turned. Because you put too many eggs in one basket.

Get it?

Symptom 2: Everything is a conspiracy. Everything. So your roommate offered to put some toast in the toaster for you while she was using it. So she burned it. Guess what?

She’s definitely in talks with China. Say good-bye to reelection. And your toast. (And your roommate, if your symptoms continue).

Symptom 3: ¬†You want to act like a bad-ass. Part of you now is eager for someone, anyone, to try to mess with you, because now, after hearing Underwood and his wife deliver completely awesomely cruel lines, you feel like you yourself can do so. Now you can’t wait for someone to forget to pay you back, just so you can plot their demise for years and store up plenty of tough lines besides “Come at me bro.”

So there you have it: the reason for binge-watching at home (besides getting to avoid real clothes). And the reason for avoiding social contact until you get onto a show with more charming symptoms, like the Big Bang Theory. Or get heavy sarcasm from VEEP. Or feel really really smart from The Newsroom.

So carry on. Watch with caution. “Welcome to Washington”.

(Or maybe just read a book. The symptoms are diluted that way.)

*Milk’s actually not great for cats. Pass it on.