#16. The Christmas Carol

[For the Rules, click here.]

Blessings on it, how the Ghost exulted! How it bared its breadth of breast, and opened its capricious palm, and floated on, outpouring, with a generous hand, its bright and harmless mirth on everything within its reach! The very lamplighter, who ran on before, dotting the dusky street with specks of light, and who was dressed to spend the evening somewhere, laughed out loudly as the Spirit passed, though little kenned the lamplighter that he had any company but Christmas!

Author: Charles Dickens

Synopsis: Miserly, unfriendly Ebenezer Scrooge has been making money and shunning family and friends for so long that no one remembers him as anything but a miserable, mean old man. As a last effort toward his redemption, the ghost of his old business partner appears to him one Christmas Eve and explains that he will be visited by three spirits. The Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future appear to Scrooge in their turn and work their Christmas magic over him, offering him a thorough change of heart and soul.

* * *

We've all seen variations on this, of course. Among my favorites are the Muppet Christmas Carol, the play "Scroooooge!", and Bill Murray's hilarious movie version "Scrooged", as well as the version my department did for the company Christmas decorating contest a year and a half ago ... good times!

The book is one of the sweetest stories I've ever read. Without being a theological treatise on the afterlife, it manages to be thoroughly Christian--human, redemptive, beautiful; as Dickens stated in his preface, "My chief purpose was, in a whimsical kind of masque which the good humour of the season justified, to awaken some loving and forbearing thoughts, never out of season in a Christian land."

I love Christmas, myself--not the commercialized nonsense we practice as a society, but the real thing, solemn and joyous, full of family and feasting and wonder at the Incarnation. I'd cheerfully give up the exchange of presents for the return of such a thing. As for my family, we do our best, and our Christmases--even the painful ones--have always been blessed.


#17. The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings

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"And then we can have some rest and some sleep," said Sam. He laughed grimly. "And I mean just that, Mr. Frodo. I mean plain ordinary rest, and sleep, and waking up to a morning's work in the garden. I'm afraid that's all I'm hoping for all the time. All the big important plans are not for my sort. Still, I wonder if we shall ever be put into songs or tales. We're in one, of course; but I mean: put into words, you know, told by the fireside, or read out of a great big book with red and black letters, years and years afterwards. And people will say: 'Let's hear about Frodo and the ring!' And they'll say: 'Yes, that's one of my favourite stories. Frodo was very brave, wasn't he, dad?' 'Yes, my boy, the famousest of the hobbits, and that's saying a lot.' "

"It's saying a lot too much," said Frodo, and he laughed, a long clear laugh from his heart. Such a sound had not been heard in those places since Sauron came to Middle-earth. To Sam suddenly it seemed as if all the stones were listening and the tall rocks leaning over them. But Frodo did not heed them; he laughed again. 'Why, Sam,' he said, 'to hear you somehow makes me as merry as if the story was already written. But you've left out one of the chief characters: Samwise the stouthearted. 'I want to hear more about Sam, dad. Why didn't they put in more of his talk, dad? That's what I like; it makes me laugh. And Frodo wouldn't have got far without Sam, would he, dad?' "

"Now, Mr. Frodo," said Sam, "you shouldn't make fun. I was serious."

"So was I," said Frodo, "and so I am. We're going on a bit too fast. You and I, Sam, are still stuck in the worst places of the story, and it is all too likely that some will say at this point: 'Shut the book, now, dad; we don't want to read any more.' "

Author: J.R.R. Tolkien

Synopsis: The peaceable little hobbit Bilbo Baggins sets out on an adventure, and among his discoveries is a magic ring that will affect the destiny of hobbits and elves, dwarves and men, and all Middle-earth. Bilbo's young relative Frodo receives the task of carrying the ring to its destruction, accompanied by his loyal friend Sam. The evil forces of Sauron must be fought, and the heroes and heroines of the epic include immortal Elvish royalty, a rightful king questing for his throne and his beloved, a desperate maiden from the land of horses, a tree-shepherd, and many others.

* * *

I have immense respect for Tolkien's work. He created, not a mere story but a mythology--a world with languages and history and unheard-of creatures described with intricate detail. Unfortunately, for me Tolkien's narrative is almost more work to get through than Dickens', especially after the great war is won in Return of the King. Also unfortunately, I find it difficult to sympathize with any of the female characters except for Eowyn, and she can be downright frustrating.

Men love LOTR, probably because it qualifies as epic adventure with lots of battling and almost Gothic portrayals of beauty and horror; there's just not quite enough relational psychology for us girls, I suppose. Despite all that, the set still belongs in my favorites, partly because there are so many great thoughts in the tale.

I am currently re-reading it (am right in the middle of the Council of Elrond); it might wind up higher on my list after a second read, since the first trip through a good story is always the hardest.

RRR: Tolkien's essay "On Fairy Stories". It's on my list-of-things-to-read too, but I hear great things about it.


#18. Heidi

[For the Rules, click here.]

"Oh, I have the same dream every night. I always think I am with my grandfather again and can hear the fir-trees roar. I always think how beautiful the stars must be, and then I open the door of the hut, and oh, it is so wonderful! But when I wake up I am always in Frankfurt."

Author: Johanna Spyri

Synopsis: An orphaned Dutch child is taken to live on the side of a mountain with her grandfather, who has withdrawn from society. The little girl freely loves her angry hermit grandfather, her jealous friend Peter the Goatherd, the blind shut-in Grandmother, sickly Clara and sorrowing doctor; she loves her home on the mountain so much that when her aunt forces her into service in Frankfurt she becomes ill with missing it; she learns piety and makes her few blunders by being simple and compassionate and searching for her home.

* * *

The title character belongs in a list of my favorite fictional characters; I sympathize with her more than almost any other character in novels anywhere. Her simple life and delights--her few and faithful friends, her roaring fir-trees, the goats and the eagle and the meadow full of flowers, her plain food and quiet routine--these are the sorts of things that make me happy as well.

The loved-to-pieces ancient translation I have is my favorite. Elisabeth P. Stork attempted to translate the story "as Johanna Spyri would have written it had she been writing in English." The copy I have has my grandmother's maiden name inscribed in the front, dated Christmas 1934.


Currently Reading: Dracula

It might be awhile before I'm comfortable getting up in the middle of the night again.

For one of my book clubs--the one primarily concerned with classic literature--I gave as my recommendations two of the works I didn't want to read but knew I ought to. We drew Dracula this month.

Apparently vampire novels are supposed to be desperately suspenseful. Stephenie Meyer kept me up more than one night with her books. The idea of reading about the Count and friends after dark makes me quite nervous, but I've got to know what happens!

I'm reading it online. The library was out of copies, and it has far too scary a reputation for me to just go out and buy. Online books come in for a lot of use in my book group, but they do occasionally leave a little decoding work for the reader:

"When the Count saw my lacCj, Jiis eyes blazed_with a sort of demoniac fury, ancThe suddenly made a grab at myj^roat.,! drewaway, and his hand touched the.string of beads which held the crucifix. It made an instant change ir> Mm,"

Optical Character Reader scanners! Proof positive that machines will always need humans around.


#19. Eats Shoots & Leaves

[For the Rules, click here.]

Part of one's despair, of course, is that the world cares nothing for the little shocks endured by the sensitive stickler. While we look in horror at a badly punctuated sign, the world carries on around us, blind to our plight. We are like the little boy in The Sixth Sense who can see dead people, except that we can see dead punctuation. Whisper it in petrified little-boy tones: dead punctuation is invisible to everyone else--yet we see it all the time. No one understands us seventh-sense people. They regard us as freaks.

Author: Lynne Truss

Synopsis: Baffled by society's inability to produce a decently punctuated sign or email, British wit Lynne Truss wrote this book to instruct the world on the proper use of the little marks that make our language read comprehensibly.

* * *

As a stickler myself, I get the biggest kick out of this book. I well know the suffering of coming to the end of a sentence only to find that the period was left off, or of spotting lonely, out-of-place apostrophes in "BOOK'S FOR SALE" signs. The tranquillity of reading can be shattered by a misplaced comma, while the lack of a comma can induce the uncomfortable feeling of having gone a block past where you were supposed to turn.

Ms. Truss is the queen of sticklers, and her writing is punctuated with hilarity as well as all the proper marks.


#20. The Testament

[For the Rules, click here.]

Nate fled the city. He went west through Virginia, then south through the Shenandoah Valley. His mind was numb from nine days of hardball probing into the intimate lives of others. At some undefined point in his life, pushed by his work and his addictions, he had lost his decency and shame. He had learned to lie, cheat, deceive, hide, badger, and attack innocent witnesses without the slightest twinge of guilt.

But in the quiet of his car and the darkness of the night, Nate was ashamed. He had pity for the Phelan children. He felt sorry for Snead, a sad little man just trying to survive. He wished he hadn't attacked the new experts with such vigor.

His shame was back, and Nate was pleased. He was proud of himself for feeling so ashamed. He was human after all.

Author: John Grisham

Synopsis: Old and ill, with his spoiled and debauched heirs circling, Troy Phelan signs a holographic will and jumps off a balcony to his death. The will leaves his eleven-billion-dollar estate to a daughter no one knew he had, a missionary to the indigenous peoples of Brazil.

Troy's lawyer needs someone to hunt through the Pantanal jungles for the missionary, so he sends the person he can most spare: alcoholic Nate O'Riley, just coming out of rehab. Nate's future, as well as that of Troy's other children, is in the missionary's hands.

* * *

I've read several Grisham books and seen several of the movies--and had multiple bad dreams about The Pelican Brief--but The Testament is my favorite of Grisham's works. Every time I read it, I find it truly moving. It is primarily a story of change of heart and life, and is beautifully written.


Music Day

Despite being a musician myself, I don't often pop in a CD. Since my laptop has such a lousy sound card or speaker set or both, I listen to music even less on the computer. But I took a break from my usual silence today to listen to just about every YouTube video of my favorite female vocalist singing.

Hat tip to the Internet Monk, who reminded me of Hayley Westenra. I want to be like her. (Musically, at least ... I guess that's always a dangerous thing to say about a living famous person.)


#21. To Kill a Mockingbird

[For the Rules, click here.]

"If there's just one kind of folks, why can't they get along with each other? If they're all alike, why do they go out of their way to despise each other? Scout, I think I'm beginning to understand something. I think I'm beginning to understand why Boo Radley's stayed shut up in the house all this time. It's because he wants to stay inside."

Author: Harper Lee

Synopsis: Two young children in the South play games and conjecture about their neighbor who never leaves the house. Their father, in the meantime, goes to court to defend a Negro man wrongfully accused. When the fight gets out of the courtroom and becomes violent, Jem and Scout learn difficult truths of humanity and justice.

* * *

Living in a very left-of-center college town, where a simple trip to the grocery store may involve facing ugly political rhetoric (usually in the form of bumper stickers), I have grown tired of all the words slung about to dehumanize anyone remotely connected to politically conservative views. "Racism" is one of these, not because I think it isn't a problem in some places and among some people, but because such words are often used to preach hellfire and brimstone to the peace-loving little church choir rather than getting where they can do some good.

That said, I think of this as one of the most important of American novels. I may be tired of hearing about "humanity", but from the bottom of my heart I recognize Tom Robinson as human; "equality" is also an overused word, but my mind and heart as well as my religion teach me that every human is endowed with an inherent and equal dignity, from conception to natural death, regardless of race or creed or sex or ability or any of the other arbitrary words used to distinguish between demographics.

Harper Lee does a beautiful job of highlighting this truth. And though the novel has perhaps something of an agenda, it is not painful to read as most such are.


Huckleberry Picking and Blogging

As may be obvious to anyone who has checked my blog in the past few days, I never managed to get the automatic posts set up. I am making up for that by going two-for-one today (and backdating them for good measure). Check out #23 and #22, respectively.

I did pick a lot of huckleberries Monday and Tuesday (though Lou, despite his many gallant compliments on my abilities, picked a good pie's-worth more than I did). Other accomplishments included:

  • learning a great new recipe for foil dinners
  • defending said dinners from numerous determined wasps
  • making a list of things to not forget when camping next year
  • seeing about thirty family members, many of whom we only get to see once or twice a year at most
  • explaining everything I ever knew about bears and more to an inquisitive young first-cousin-once-removed
  • successfully avoiding trips to the outhouse by myself in the dark after talking about bears
  • seeing more stars than I remembered to have existed


#22. God's Smuggler

[For the Rules, click here.]

Neither he nor Ion, secretary of the group, spoke a word of my languages, nor I of theirs. We sat facing each other across the barren, multi-numbered room, quite unable to communicate.

Then I saw something. On Gheorghe's desk was a well-worn Bible, the pages eaten back an eighth of an inch from constant turning. What would happen, I wondered, if we were to converse with each other via the Scriptures? I took my own Dutch Bible from my coat pocket and turned to I Cor 16:20.

"All the brethren greet you. Greet ye one another with an holy kiss."

I held the Bible out and pointed to the name of the book, recognizable in any language, and to the chapter and verse number.

Instantly their faces lit up.

They swiftly found the place in their own Bible, read it, and beamed at me. Then Gheorghe was thumbing through the pages, looking for a reference, which he held out for me.

Proverbs 25:25: "As cold waters to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country."

Authors: Brother Andrew with John and Elizabeth Sherrill

Synopsis: Brother Andrew sought adventure throughout his childhood in Holland. He stole pennies from his brother and put sugar in the gas tank of the German lieutenant during the WWII German occupation. At that age, he did not expect God to take his quest for thrills and turn it into a missionary's courage. He devoted his life to smuggling Bibles behind the Iron Curtain, and this book is the tale of his experiences.

* * *

As with most of the books on this list, I've read this one over and over and over. It reads easily, almost like a novel, and tells a powerful tale of courage and faith and change of heart. I love Brother Andrew's view of his work as God's use for a little boy who longed for adventure, and his stories of the oppressed Christians he visited are quite moving.

There's even romance in there, and I have to admit that one of my favorite parts is the chapter where he prays for a wife.


#23. Rome Sweet Home

[For the Rules, click here.]

"I thought I could hardly bear the joy or the pain at the giving of the sign of peace."

Authors: Scott and Kimberley Hahn

Synopsis: Scott was a Protestant pastor and theology professor, a Calvinist, devoted to showing Catholics the Biblical reasons their Church was wrong. Kimberley had a Master's in theology and was happy being a pastor's wife and a mother. When Scott started studying covenant theology, however, he found himself pushed closer and closer to Catholicism--to Kimberley's utter horror. "I feel so betrayed." Scott finally joined the Catholic Church, convicted that delay would be disobedience; Kimberley wondered where God had gone.

They passed a few very lonely, painful years as a couple, Scott trying to keep himself from overwhelming her with his joy and longing for her to share it, Kimberley despairing and crying out to God. Kimberley's father finally helped her pray a prayer of total surrender to God's will, and from there she began to study the Catholic understanding and became convinced of it.

* * *

The above quote comes from Kimberley's narration of her welcome into the Catholic Church, where her husband and her parents all wept in the pew behind her--Scott with joy at her joining him at the Eucharist, her parents with sorrow over her separation from them at the same. Re-reading that part of the story brought me tears. Becoming a Catholic, more than anything else in my life, has taught me that great joy and great pain can exist side by side in the same heart--melded in an impossible, alchemical bond. I look forward to the day when Christ makes us all finally, fully, one in Him.

I read this book after joining the Catholic Church, and after one trip through it turned immediately around and read it again. I was taught the beginnings of covenant theology as a Protestant. It fascinated me to hear Scott talk about it, and in the emotions these two Bible-believing Protestants experienced in "popeing", the heartbreak involving friends and family, I found empathy. And an extra rush of gratitude that my friends and family have stuck with me.

Besides, I always have to smile when Kimberley's Protestant father introduces his Catholic son-in-law to the Pope.

RRR: Patrick Madrid's Surprised by Truth series. I enjoyed the story about the neopagan, the one about the guy who just wanted to serve the Lord "in the ancient church in England", and many others.


Up and Away

The furthest I've ever been out of the country is Squamish, B.C. Squamish is beautiful. I climbed a cliff there. But it's not a very foreign place (and it'll be even less foreign if the Obama health care plan goes through. :P)

That should change in a couple of months. It's official: Lou and I have bought tickets to Italy! We're planning to spend the bulk of our time in Rome, with possible visits to other spots such as Assisi and Florence. Mom and Dad St. Hilaire and two of their best friends are going with us, so the trip should be a great mixture of pilgrimage and fun.... I'm thoroughly excited.

After chasing multiple airplanes carrying a duffel bag and book bag this past February, en route to and from Florida, I have attempted to make life easier for myself by buying a backpack. I am betting myself that I can get everything I need to survive for two weeks into that bag, and keep it under 20lb. It might take some practice, but Rick Steves tells everyone on his trips to do it, and I figure I can too.

I also bought myself a small spiral-bound notebook. We're going the end of October and early November, which means that I'm going to be in Italy for the first week of NaNoWriMo. That will add to the challenge, and I'm rather excited; since I don't have a full-time job, jet lag and writing by hand for a week will put me more nearly on an even playing field with everyone else. Besides, I'm also betting myself that I can work aspects of the experience into my novel somehow.

As the proud owner of such fine new gear, I must show it off:

Yes, that is a "Disney fairies" notebook. I can't help myself. I'm still a little girl at heart, dreaming of princessdom and fairyhood.

Also in the travel books is a trip to the mountains to pick huckleberries for the next few days. I won't be back till late Tuesday, so blogging will not naturally occur. If time allows tomorrow, I may set up a couple of Fifty Favorite Books to post automatically on Monday and Tuesday, but that feature of Blogger has been known to not work. We'll see. It'll be a surprise!


#24. No Compromise

[For the Rules, click here.]

Make my life a prayer to you
I wanna do what you want me to
No empty words and no white lies
No token prayers, no compromise

Author: Melody Green (with David Hazard)

Synopsis: Keith Green is one of the best-known, most-revered Christian musicians of the 20th century, rising from the sex-drugs-rock & roll culture of the 60s and 70s into the Jesus movement, ministry to the needy and addicted, and music and preaching that many felt to be prophetic. He died in a plane crash with his two oldest children and several friends, at the age of 28. In No Compromise, his wife, Melody, tells his life story.

* * *

I grew up listening to Keith Green, and to this day he is one of a handful of "Christian musicians" whose music I will voluntarily listen to. His piano playing and voice are intense with feeling and sincerity, and the lyrics he and Melody wrote sound more like prayers than greeting-card theology.

Keith Green himself lived a passionate search for God and thereby led a moving life. Every time I have read his story, I have come away with a better knowledge of what it means to love Christ and live for Him.


#25. Princess Academy

[For the Rules, click here.]

"And it will be even better this year," said Miri. "I have some secrets."

Just by admitting she had them, the secrets pushed inside her, a snowmelt stream against a fallen branch, and the desire to share swept over her. She hesitated. Would Britta believe her? Or would she laugh? Miri thought of Doter's saying, Never hesitate if you know it's right. After months of ignoring Britta just for being a lowlander, at least she deserved Miri's trust.

So Miri took Britta on a frantic stroll around the academy, telling her with huffs of frosty breath about Commerce and gold coins and quarry-speech outside the quarry. Telling someone felt good, like drinking warmed goat's milk, and she rushed out every detail before Olana could call them back.

"That's the most amazing story I ever heard." Britta smiled, looking where the sun picked out stars on the icy husk of the snow.

Author: Shannon Hale

Synopsis: Miri Larendaughter has always felt useless. Her pa refuses to let her work in the quarry that is her town's livelihood, and when her chores are finished she spends a lot of her time alone, watching her mountain world like a hawk. When a messenger from the lowland kingdom visits, she and the other young girls from her village are taken to an academy in preparation to meet the heir to the throne, who will choose one of them as his bride.

Miri feels torn between her home on Mount Eskel and the chance to see the world, between the unknown prince and her childhood friend Peder, and she longs to be useful and important to her family and friends. As she and the other girls wish on the miri flowers that are her namesake, she searches for a future for herself and her village.

* * *

Number 25. We're halfway there!

The first time I heard of this book I picked it up in Target, flipped through it, and thought it looked interesting. A week later I went out and bought it, and haven't yet regretted it; I've read it several times. I love the unique descriptions and colloquialisms, taken as if from Miri's mind and the culture of her little fictional village. Miri herself is a spunky, likeable character, and the quarrying songs are fascinating.

Having thoroughly loved the story, I've now also taken to reading Shannon Hale's blog, and have very recently read a couple of her other books too (too recently to get them in the top 50, whether or not they belong.) The Actor and the Housewife was one of the funnier books I've ever read, though not entirely comic ... mercy, did I ever cry over it.


#26. George MacDonald novels

[For the Rules, click here.]

She was eating porridge and milk: with spoon arrested in mid-passage, she stopped suddenly, and said:--

"Papa, what's a broonie?"

"I have told you, Jenny, that you are never to talk broad Scotch in my presence," returned her father. "I would lay severer commands upon you, were it not that I fear tempting you to disobey me, but I will have no vulgarity in the dining-room."

His words came out slowly, and sounded as if each was a bullet wrapped round with cotton wool to make it fit the barrel. Ginevra looked perplexed for a moment.

"Should I say brownie, papa?" she asked.

"How can I tell you what you should call a creature that has no existence?" rejoined her father.

"If it be a creature, papa, it must have a name!" retorted the little logician, with great solemnity.

Mr. Galbraith was not pleased, for although the logic was good, it was against him.

"What foolish person has been insinuating such contemptible superstition into your silly head?" he asked. "Tell me, child," he continued, "that I may put a stop to it at once."

He was rising to ring the bell, that he might give the orders consequent on the information he expected: he would have asked Mammon to dinner in black clothes and a white tie, but on Superstition in the loveliest garb would have loosed all the dogs of Glashruach, to hunt her from the property. Her next words, however, arrested him, and just as she ended, the butler came in with fresh toast.

"They say," said Ginevra, anxious to avoid the forbidden Scotch, therefore stumbling sadly in her utterance, "there's a broonie--brownie--at the Mains, who dis a'--does all the work."
--from Sir Gibbie

Author: George MacDonald

Synopsis: George MacDonald writes fun, sometimes mystical and often romantic novels, full of faith and interesting characters. Wee Sir Gibbie is the tale of a mute boy who proves a hero and wins the heart of a lovely lady. The Laird's Inheritance tells of Cosmo, a young man of much property and next to no income until he finds hidden treasure in his manor. Those were two of my favorites, but there are many others.

* * *

MacDonald wrote so many enjoyable novels, only one of which I have read more recently than five years ago, that I am cheating in my Favorite Books list and lumping them together as one. C.S. Lewis considered MacDonald one of his greatest masters in faith and writing. I wouldn't say I trust all of MacDonald's theology outright, but he was certainly a brilliant author and one who loved Jesus.


August 10, 2008, 3:00 PM

The voice of my beloved!
Behold, he comes,
leaping upon the mountains,
bounding over the hills.

My beloved is like a gazelle,
or a young stag.

Behold, there he stands
behind our wall,
gazing in at the windows,
looking through the lattice.

My beloved speaks and says to me:
"Arise, my love, my fair one,
and come away.

"O my dove, in the clefts of the rock,
in the covert of the cliff,
let me see your face,
let me hear your voice,
for your voice is sweet,
and your face is comely."

My beloved is mine and I am his ...

"Set me as a seal upon your heart,
as a seal upon your arm;
for love is as strong as death,
jealousy is cruel as the grave.
Its flashes are flashes of fire,
a most vehement flame.

"Many waters cannot quench love,
neither can floods drown it."

A few minutes ago I stood in the kitchen, scrubbing out the sink, and I started crying. Really crying, not just a few tears in the eyes, and not from sorrow but from sheer overwhelming joy. I cried because I realized that a year ago on this day, at this time, I was standing at the altar, surrounded by family and friends, pledging myself to the best man in the world.

The fact that hundreds of days have passed takes me by surprise--and then it doesn't. Sometimes it feels like our togetherness goes back as long as I can remember. Love with Lou is deep waters, holy waters, like the river Lethe, causing me to forget those long years before him of trying to find love and failing painfully and awkwardly.

Those verses quoted above were read at our wedding, and with them comes a resurgence of the joy I felt at the making of Lou and I into one, into family. I have no regrets. He has given me nothing in the past year to make me less thrilled and surprised at my blessings.

I look forward to more of the same.


#27. Redeeming Love

[For the Rules, click here.]

Patience, God said. Well, patience was wearing thin. Michael wiped the blood off his lip. "I'll give you a ride to the road." He walked to his horse.

Angel stood, mouth ajar. He glanced back at her. She lifted her chin but didn't move. "You want a ride or not?" Michael said.

She went to him. "So, you've finally come to your senses."

He lifted her to the saddle and then swung up behind her. When he reached the road, he took her arm and slid her off the horse. She stood looking up at him, bemused. He unlooped the canteen and tossed it to her. She caught it against her chest. He took the shoes out of his coat pocket and dropped them at her feet.

"That way is Pair-a-Dice", he said. "It's thirty miles, uphill all the way, and Magowan and the Duchess are waiting for you at the end of it." He nodded in the opposite direction. "That way is home. One mile downhill, fire and food and me. But you'd better understand something right now. If you come back, we're picking up where we left off last night, and we're still playing by my rules."

He left her standing in the middle of the road.

Author: Francine Rivers

Synopsis: To retell the story of Hosea and Gomer in nineteenth-century America, Rivers creates Angel, a high-priced prostitute, and Michael Hosea, the pioneer who feels led by God to marry her. The tale covers Angel's life from her sale into prostitution at age eight through her final repentant return to her husband.

* * *

I always cry when Jonathan Axle tells his wife what he heard Angel singing in the brothel. But I won't spoil it for anyone who hasn't read the book yet.

Though the story gives a more imaginative than historically attested presentation of how God might speak to an individual, I find it moving. Anyone familiar with the concepts of repentance and relationship with God will see the analogy working over and over again.

Michael Hosea ranks pretty high in the great-fictional-heroes department. It is the strong, self-controlled, self-effacing, faithfully loving thing that makes the man. And don't tell me they don't exist. I married one.

It is also nice to read a book in which a Catholic priest, however minor his role, does not turn out to be a villain.


#28. Star of Light

[For the Rules, click here.]

"Will your stepfather let you read the Word of God to her?"

"Oh, no; he says all books are bad but the Koran. But I shall read it in the granary when my mother is grinding corn and I shall read it to my sister Rahma when we tend the goats on the mountain. My father will never know."

"But later on, Hamid, he will have to know, if you are going to follow Jesus faithfully. You will have to tell him and he may beat you. But Jesus suffered a great deal for you because He loved you. If you love Him, you must be willing to suffer a little, too."

He turned thoughtful, troubled eyes on her.

"I do love Him very much," he said wistfully, and rose to go, leaving his friend well content with his answer. He had not boasted, nor made any great profession. He had simply laid claim to the greatest power in the universe--"I love Him," that lonely little boy facing his perilous future had said, and many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it.

Author: Patricia M. St. John

Synopsis: When Hamid's baby sister Kinza is found to be blind, his new stepfather plans to sell her to a beggar. Desperate to save her child, their mother straps Kinza to Hamid's back and sends him over the mountains in the night, telling him to look for the English missionary nurse in a distant town. Hamid leaves Kinza on the nurse's doorstep and stays in the town, running wild in the streets with other homeless boys, and keeping watch to see how Kinza fares in the missionary's home. When his stepfather sees Kinza and kidnaps her, Hamid must overcome his fears and assist the missionary in finding her and bringing her back to safety. Only his newfound Friend can give him the courage he needs.

* * *

I have loved every last one of St. John's books that I've read; this is my favorite, probably for the quote above, which by the time I get to the Song of Solomon reference has almost always made me cry. It is a children's story and the faith lessons are not unlike those learned in any Vacation Bible School, but put in the context of the story--where they have serious consequences--they yield a real power and hope.

Best yet, it is partially based on a true story; Patricia St. John herself lived in Morocco, and knew the situation there from the inside. All of Hamid's comments about Christ were made to the author by a real little homeless boy. The one I quoted above generally brings me to tears.


#29. If You Love Me

[For the Rules, click here.]

Our old copy seems to have disappeared, and the only complete sentence I can come up with from memory is "Elias hesitated, his hand on his gun", so no real quote this time ... you'll have to take my word for it that it's good.

Author: Patricia M. St. John

Synopsis: Lamia lives in Lebanon, where the Christians and the Muslims are at war. When Muslim friend Kamal gets Lamia's twin brother, Amin, killed, Lamia learns to hate and wonders if the prayers her mother prays before the crucifix do any good at all. Amin's old friend Hanni, however, has been learning of forgiveness and wants to teach his friend's beautiful sister. Lamia does not want to forgive, but as the war tears further into her family and she adopts an orphaned Muslim child, she finds herself searching out the meaning and power of love.

* * *

I have turned my place upside down looking for this book. Whether I accidentally left it behind when moving out of my roommate's place, or whether it is buried in a box somewhere, or whether my sister has it and can't find it either, I don't know. But I'm going to have to find it again eventually. It's a beautiful book, full of passion and truth, and of learning to love and forgive in unthinkably terrible times.

My family read it aloud when I was growing up, and I read it many times myself. It bears up to re-reading remarkably well, especially considering its relative shortness.


#30. A Walk to Remember

[For the Rules, click here.]

The Bible still lay open where I'd left off, and although Jamie was sleeping, I felt the need to read some more. Eventually I came across another passage. This is what it said:

"I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it to the earnestness of others."

The words made me choke up again, and just as I was about to cry, the meaning of it suddenly became clear.

God had finally answered me, and I suddenly knew what I had to do.

Author: Nicholas Sparks

Synopsis: Landon Carter knew Jamie Sullivan all his life--or thought he did. The pulled-back hair, the brown cardigan, and especially the Bible she carried everywhere set her apart in high school even in the Fifties. When Landon needs a date last-minute to a school dance, Jamie is willing to go on one condition. Only in the process of breaking that pledge to her does Landon learn what it means to live in love for God and others.

* * *

I'm not the world's biggest fan of 'heartwarming' books; such stories often feel like cheap emotional manipulation. Nick Sparks' A Walk to Remember is a different story. Having grown up Southern Baptist, I know the culture, and I know very well the experience of being a shy, awkward teenager whose faith and ideas do not mix with the outside world. Jamie had my immediate sympathies, and when someone referred to the movie and told me "You remind me so much of that girl!", I felt no one could give me a better compliment.

(The movie, by the way, is pretty good: Mandy Moore does a great job in her role and Shane West in his; but it had the usual unfortunate Hollywood edits to make it feel rather less Christian. Maybe after Fireproof, Bella, etc., future books will stand a better chance of being correctly interpreted.)

Jamie is one of my favorite heroines of all time. Call it cheesy if you will, but I look up to her and find her story powerful. I also enjoy watching Landon's character growth and the way wrongs get put right throughout the book.