Thursday, September 17, 2009

Summer Reading Project Book Ten: Redeeming Love

This book is a treasure. Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers is one of those rare books that absolutely every adult should read. If you haven't read it, do it! Even if you happen to be a guy! Yes, it is a novel, and it is a romance novel, and actually, it's a Christian romance novel, which might make some of you groan and gag, but no matter. You have got to read this book. It is really so much more than a novel. It's an allegory, a retelling of an ancient story, and a revealing glimpse of humanity at its best and worst. It will rip your heart out, break it into pieces, and then very slowly put it back together, whole and new full of hope and promise. All that from one book? Yes. You just have to read it.

Set in the California Gold Rush, the book first introduces Angel, an incredibly beautiful girl with an unspeakably horrible past, a miserable present, and a hopeless future. We then meet Michael Hosea, a godly, wholesome farmer whose peaceful life is interrupted when God tells him to marry a prostitute. The complicated, heartrending, beautiful story of their relationship fills the book. Every character in the book fills an important role: Michael, the forgiving husband who loves his wife no matter what; Angel, the tortured soul who runs from love, refuses hope, and yet longs for peace throughout the story; Paul, the antagonist, who allows his bitterness to wreak destruction in the lives around him; the Altmans, who bring a picture of the "perfect" family in contrast to Michael and Angel's struggle; and even Duke, so great an instrument of the Enemy that sometimes the two are indistinguishable. Yet despite the symbolism and allegory of the story, still the characters seem real, with real emotions, real failures, and real victories. Although I could never imagine the kind of life Angel lived, still I could feel her struggle, her futility, and the belief that everything that had ever happened to her was somehow her fault, that she had been to blame from the moment of her birth. Yet just as real as all that is the steadfast love of her husband, wooing her with a picture of the deeper, greater love that God had in store for her.

Reading this again, years after the first time, I did notice that there are a few lines that are a little cheesy, a couple of cliche's, and a little more sappy sweetness than I had noticed before. It's not flawless writing, but it's still excellent and powerful, and definitely a cut above what you often get with Christian fiction. Also, it is a little more "racy" than Christian fiction usually is, although some writers have gotten a little edgier in recent years. Anyway, I wouldn't recommend it to younger readers, but for older teens and adults, I definitely think it's a must-read!

Summer Reading Project Book Nine: Rilla of Ingleside

First of all, I have to say that I love this book. It is my favorite single book of the series, and it's not even about Anne! It's about her daughter, Rilla. Don't misunderstand me: I absolutely love Anne, but I've had the whole series to get to know her. This book is about the coming of age of a young girl in a difficult time. We see her go from a spoiled, selfish girl to a poised, giving, mature young woman, all during the course of the first World War.

I've been known to say that I love war, because it's what makes history so interesting. I know that sounds horribly cold and flippant, because war is a horrible, hateful thing that steals young lives and breaks the hearts of those waiting back home. Still, no matter the cause, it is still a noble sort of tragedy. This book, written by someone who had clearly experienced the home front, captures both the tragedy and the nobility of it. The most interesting and heroic characters in this particular war tale are good old Susan Baker, Rilla, and Walter. More about Walter later. Let me just say that even if you don't make it through the other books of the series, this one is a must-read all on it's own. Taken together with the other books, it is even more special. It is, in a sense, the culmination of all the previous books and all the character development that has gone on to this point. Anne is not the heroine of this tale. She is too sensitive a soul to be able to handle the horror of war with the strength and spirit that Rilla does. Her character was formed in easier times. Still, she has a quiet dignity all her own that is comfortable in its way.

I love this book and I recommend it. I love it so much so that I can't help but talk about one of my favorite characters ever, but I can't do it without what some would call "spoilers." So if you haven't read it and you might someday, you may not want to read the rest of this post. I'm just warning you. :) Go read the book, then come back and see what I have to say!

Some characters in literature just seem to reach out and touch my soul. For me, Walter Blythe has always been one of those characters. He is truly one of those "in the world and not of it" people, with his poetic soul and his shining grey eyes that see the world in a different way than most. He is that lyric, fanciful, part of Anne's personality, crystalized in a human body. He understands all of the beauty and tragedy of the world because he actually feels it. I know it sounds crazy, but Walter is, and always has been, as real to me as if he had truly lived. It seems impossible that he only exists in the pages of a work of fiction.

Because I love Walter so much for his own merit, and also for the way Rilla loves him, I cry like a baby every time I read those two chapters: "Little Dog Monday Knows" and "And So, Goodnight." I think this time I cried more than I ever had in reading them before, maybe because I'm older now and have tasted a little of the sorrow of life. But somehow, even though it is so incredibly sad, it's also beautiful and inspiring. I think the beauty and inspiration of it make me cry just as much as the fact of Walter's death. There is the sense that when we die, it is not really the end. The soul of a person does live on, both literally and also in the hearts of those who loved him, and in those for whom he died.

Summer Reading Project Book Eight: Rainbow Valley

The seventh book in the Anne of Green Gables really isn't about Anne at all. Instead, it's about her six children and their friends the Merediths. A widower with four children, John Meredith is the new Presbyterian minister in the community. He is a pleasant, absent-minded man, more interested in the spiritual world than the physical. As a result, his children run wild, his house is poorly managed, and his family is the talk of the community. The children are sweet and good-natured, but clearly in need of a mother figure, or even a more involved father. Their antics and scrapes form the funny, interesting little stories that L. M. Montgomery delights in telling.

The questions which drive the plot of this book are: will Mr. Meredith wake up and realize his children need parents? And will he be able to find love again? Along the way, we meet the usual assortment of endearing and hilarious characters, including the fascinating orphan Mary Vance, big, blustery Norman Douglas, and sweet Rosemary West. As with the rest of the books in this series, I really enjoyed this one. I don't know if girls today still read, but if they do, it would be a shame for them to miss out on these books!

Summer Reading Project Book Seven: Anne of Ingleside

Unlike the previous books, which generally pick up where the last one left off, there is a gap of about 7-9 years between Anne's House of Dreams and Anne of Ingleside. In that time, Anne and her growing family have moved from the little white house of dreams in Four Winds Point to Ingleside, "the big house," in Glen St. Mary. She now has five children, with the sixth (and last!) on the way.

Anne of Ingleside begins and ends with stories about Anne, but the bulk of the book is about her children and the adventures of their young lives. They each have their own lively personalities, and are all blessed with the spark of fancy and faerie from their mother. This is a book about a large, well-to-do, loving family, and the little events that seem so significant and life-changing to little lives. Through everything that occurs, there is one constant: Anne, the caring, understanding mother, who manages to keep a straight face no matter how tempted she may be to laugh at the children's little dramas. It is family life seen through rose-tinted lenses, but it is consistent with the rest of the series, because that is usually how Anne sees life.

Although there are still two books after this in the series, Anne of Ingleside is the last book that features Anne as a major character. This book serves as a sort of transition from Anne to her children as the driving force of the story. And the children are delightful. Walter is my particular favorite, but more on that later!