Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Thank you, Nancy!

As my Book Challenge post will tell you on New Year's Day, I anticipate 2016 being my year of Dante's Divine Comedy. With that in mind, I planned to buy Ascent to Love by Peter Leithart as my January book purchase. (It's either limit myself to one book a month or be forced to move to a bigger house. Also, we would have no money.)

However, I was confused when I received an Amazon package this morning and this book was in it. Had I already bought it? I didn't recall doing that. But there was a last minute flurry of spending when I realized just how many people I needed to buy books for before Christmas. Did I do it then?

No. As it turns out, Nancy S. was brimful of the Christmas spirit and gave me precisely the book I wanted. I guess she was full of the actual Spirit also since she picked out precisely the book I wanted.

I lost her email but wanted to be sure I thanked her for the delightful surprise ... and precisely the right book!

Merry Christmas, Nancy, and thank you!

Memorable Books of 2015

My favorites from the many books I read this year.

Art: A New HistoryArt: A New History by Paul Johnson

This took me a couple of years to leisurely work my way through. Now that I'm done I miss Paul Johnson's voice looking at history and art and the fascinating, creative people who are artists.

My only wish is for a companion volume that shows all the images that Johnson mentions. There simply wasn't room in this book for enough of the actual art.

I'll be putting this in my rereading stack. My full review is here.

A Tale of Two CitiesA Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

As with the best books, this surprised me in new ways the second time around. For one thing the ending is so powerful it tended to overshadow my memories of a lot of the plot. Also some characters were so unforgettable, like Madame Defarge, that they overshadowed others which I now appreciated much more, such as Monsieur Manette. And one feels as if the Revolution is taking place all around, which makes the beginning and middle fade when one is simply remembering rather than having read it recently.

I tend to say this about a lot of Dickens' books after I finish them, but this might be my favorite of his works. (My review after reading it for the first time is here.)

The LordThe Lord by Romano Guardini
How does one adequately review this magnificent book? I'm not really up to the task, though you may read my review here.
Romano Guardini set out to explore the life and words of Jesus in the gospels. He has a clarity and depth that often turns our view upside down to show the deep meaning of Jesus' words and actions. All with a completely reverent viewpoint that never leaves Catholic teachings but yet shows us something new and startling.

Terence Fisher: Horror, Myth, and ReligionTerence Fisher: Horror, Myth, and Religion by Paul Leggett
"Please - I never made horror films. They're fairy tales for adults." — Terence Fisher, London Daily Telegraph, Nov. 27, 1976

Fisher's spiritual orientation is a mixture of myth, fairy tale and Christian doctrine. ... [he] remains one of the few directors in cinema history with a clear, spiritual outlook.
This book is simply fantastic as well as being extremely easy to read. My review is here.

Midnight Riot (Peter Grant, #1)Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch

“Are they really gods?"

"I never worry about theological questions," said Nightingale. "They exist, they have power and they can breach the Queen's peace - that makes them a police matter.”
Better than Harry Dresden. Better than Odd Thomas. Not better than White Cat or Night Watch, but it would take a lot to top those.

This book did what I thought impossible: pulled me back into reading an urban fantasy series.

For a lengthier, good review that is a fair representation of what I thought, see what Lois Bujold said.

I read all the series at a dead heat, one after the other. The audiobooks are very good also.

His Majesty's Dragon (Temeraire #1)His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik

The series takes the idea of "what if" there were dragons during the Napoleonic Wars.

I really loved the first five of this series (which I told you all about here, if you missed it the first time around).

The Godwulf Manuscript (Spenser, #1)The Godwulf Manuscript by Robert B. Parker

"A pig is a pig," she said. "Whether he's public or private, he works for the same people."
"Next time you're in trouble," I said, "call a hippie."
Oh yeah, that's the stuff.

I encountered the Spenser novels in the early 1980s and became enamored. I'd never read anything like them.

Of course, I'd never read Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler. I knew of them from movies but hard-boiled didn't appeal as reading material or even, at the time, as viewing material. It took a smart mouth like Robert B. Parker's detective, Spenser, to delight me and pull me into that world.

Now, decades after I first read this book, I realize the legacy Parker was carrying on. Rereading this book after listening to The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler, I could really appreciate just how well Parker pulled it off.

I felt the same way about the next books in the series, all of which I reread: God Save the Child, Mortal Stakes, and Promised Land.

Heaven and Hell: Visions of the Afterlife in the Western Poetic TraditionHeaven and Hell: Visions of the Afterlife in the Western Poetic Tradition by Louis Markos

An excellent overview of the stories that have influenced and shaped our views of Heaven and Hell from ancient times until now. I particularly enjoyed the author's exploration of the chain of influences that have connected all these stories and the way that they've been tweaked to express new ideas in the "journey to the other side" format.  It also made me begin thinking about rereading Dante's Divine Comedy. For my full review, go here.

MockingbirdMockingbird by Walter Tevis
Only the mockingbird sings at the edge of the woods.
I've been jaded by the plethora of recent apocalyptic novels but this one is different. Perhaps the highest tribute I can give this novel is that when I finished I didn't want to read another book. To do so would sully what I'd just read before I'd finished thinking about it, as well as be unfair to anything that followed because it wouldn't be able to compare.

My full review is here. We also discussed this book in Episode 110 of A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast.

101 Famous Poems101 Famous Poems by Roy J. Cook

One of my 2015 Reading Challenges was to read a poem a day. This is such a great book that I had to buy my own copy.

I thoroughly enjoyed it and imagine that it speaks equally as well to those who are more acquainted with poetry than I am. I wound up reading through it twice this year.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Memorable Movies - 2015

Not necessarily new in 2015, but they were new to me!

Full reviews, where I did them, are linked to in the movie names.


Wealthy quadriplegic Philippe needs an assistant to help him with all the functions of daily life. Immigrant, ex-con Driss needs a signature on his application to fulfill unemployment requirements. Philippe hires Driss because the regular applicants are missing one important quality and the lives of both men are changed.

Sounds predictable.



Convicts in an Italian high security prison practice and perform Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. In the process, we see how the play holds up as a real life reflection of not only the prisoners' experiences but of life in general.

The prison theater is being redone so practices are held all over the prison which not only gets us out of the "stage performance" aspect but connects the play more fully to the prisoners' reality. Sheer genius.


In the not so distant future, Theodore, a lonely writer purchases a newly developed operating system designed to meet the user's every needs. To Theodore's surprise, a romantic relationship develops between him and his operating system.

This was a fairly astounding movie. It startled, shocked, endeared, and made us think. We're still talking about certain aspects, especially how it looked at men and women (the title is "Her" after all and there is more than one woman in it), while simultaneously thinking about how we interact with technology, AI, and aliens. The more I think about it, the more I admire it.


This documentary focuses on Pastor Jay Reinke's ministry to homeless men who have flocked to Williston, North Dakota to work in the oil fields.

The congregation eventually becomes overwhelmed when the "Overnighters" program shows no signs of shutting down.

At first this looks like a straight forward case of Christian hypocrisy. However, no story is ever as simple as it appears on the surface. As the documentary continues we are shown further strands of the story which lead into challenging, thought provoking waters.


What a find! This tells the story of Georges Melies, whose 1902 film Le Voyage Dans la Lune left us with the indelible image of gentlemen in top hats exploring the moon. However, in order to tell Melies' story, the filmmakers wove the story of early cinema itself around the narrative.

It winds up following restoration efforts to the only hand-colored print of the film in existence.


This movie works because we all recognize everything going on in this girl's life and in her head. If Pixar had taken a false step we would have felt it, because we all know the source material so well. They hit every note perfectly to tell a nuanced, complex story that made me laugh and cry (just a little), touched my heart and made me appreciate my emotions just a little more.


In the first act of Mad Max: Fury Road, Tom Hardy’s Max spends more time than you might expect strapped helplessly to the front of a turbo-charged Chevy coupe, maniacally driven by a fanatic through a hellish landscape, an unwilling witness to the chaos ensuing around him.

Sitting in the theater, I felt about the same way, I think.

Then, as the movie continued, an improbable thing happened. Like Max, I slowly became a willing participant in the madness.
Steven D. Greydanus said it all for me.

I was left bemused by this movie, in large part because of the powerful, almost overwhelming images. A second viewing might change my mind but it was definitely memorable. In a good way.


Two hillbillies are suspected of being killers by college kids camping in the woods. The twist is that the hillbillies are kind, supportive, nice guys who are continually being misunderstood.

Fun, entertaining, and luckily I know enough to look away at the right time ... and that made all the difference.

What really surprises me is that my husband is a huge fan of this movie and  has brought it up many times. He isn't a horror film fan but this tapped into some entertainment vein that made him recommend it to a lot of people.


Carl is celebrity chef whose cooking has become safe and boring. He’s divorced, with a 10-year-old son he never has time for. When an influential critic leads to his public humiliation, Carl reassesses his life. He launches a no-frills food truck and takes to the road. Carl’s path to redemption leads across the country, reconnecting him with his love of food, creativity, and his son.

Chef is an honest little, indie-style movie that gave me a great deal of pleasure. And sometimes that's all a movie needs to do.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Friday, December 18, 2015

Julie and Scott find a bag of cash.

Scott wants to give the money to The Judean People's Front, but Julie wants it to go to the People's Front of Judea.

Find out what they decide in Episode 123: Millions (2004), directed by Danny Boyle.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Worth a Thousand Words: Neon

Selection inspired by 99% Invisible's episode Tube Benders.

Well Said: C.S. Lewis on Writing in Books

To enjoy a book like that thoroughly I find I have to treat it as a sort of hobby and set about it seriously. I begin by making a map on one of the end-leafs: then I put in a genealogical tree or two. Then I put a running headline at the top of each page: finally I index at the end all the passages I have for any reason underlined. I often wonder—considering how people enjoy themselves developing photos or making scrap-books—why so few people make a hobby of their reading in this way. Many an otherwise dull book which I had to read have I enjoyed in this way, with a fine-nibbed pen in my hand: one is making something all the time and a book so read acquires the charm of a toy without losing that of a book.
C.S. Lewis, letter to a friend

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Worth a Thousand Words: A Birthday Card for Theodore Roosevelt

Birthday Card, Howard Pyle, 1908
via Howard Pyle blog
It's not Roosevelt's birthday or Pyle's birthday or anyone's birthday who I know (at least as far as I know) ... I just liked the art.  And the friendship.

Well Said: Are you the woodsman or the wolf?

In all our actions we are either the woodsman or the wolf and God help us if we're the wolf, because there are so few woodsmen left.
Rose Davis, Double Exposure
Not that it's all about me, but I'd dearly love this blog to start up again. The reviews are real treasures. (And, yes, I'd say that even if Rose weren't my daughter.)

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Well Said: Patron Saint of TV

When I asked my friend’s mother why there was a little statue of The Virgin Mary on top of their Sylvania, she corrected me in a tone which faintly suggested that her family were better Catholics than mine would ever be. “Oh, Honey, that isn’t the Virgin Mary. That’s St. Clare of Assisi– she’s the patron saint of television.”

I approached the plastic idol with what I hoped was a reverential pace to examine her more closely. She held one hand upward in a gesture of blessing and her face looked up to the heavens. Or perhaps she was simply keeping an eye on the antenna which was fastened to the roof directly above. It was impossible to tell. I tried to pick her up, but discovered that she wouldn’t budge from her place.

I’d heard of people having their eyes glued to their television sets, but never their feet. It was a day of firsts.

When I came home, I took my usual place at dinner– the seat farthest from my mom. It was the lowest position in the family pecking order, but it also happened to be the only chair at the table which afforded a clear view of the family room and the television in it, which was always miraculously turned on and which I always (just as miraculously) got away with watching. I could now tune out the conversation of my older siblings and tune in to early evening network programming knowing there was a new saint in my life who was watching over me as I ate in silence, just like (as I would learn many years later) the sisters of the Franciscan Order founded by her, The Poor Clares.
Michael Procopio, Food for the Thoughtless
Scott and I are going to record our Millions episode tomorrow morning. Anyone who's seen the movie will understand why this quote struck me as appropriate.

If you've haven't seen it, you're missing a terrific, little known Christmas movie. Read my review here.

Worth a Thousand Words: Snowfall

taken by Scott Danielson
Not that I'm jealous or anything but we're going through a cold spell of our own here. Should be down to the mid-50s. (aargh!)

Monday, December 14, 2015

Well Said: "Gentlemen, I am a Catholic ..."

Gentlemen, I am a Catholic. As far as possible, I go to Mass every day. This [taking a rosary from his pocket] is a rosary. As far as possible, I kneel down and tell these beads every day. If you reject me on account of my religion, I shall thank God that He has spared me the indignity of being your representative.
Hilaire Belloc, 1906 speech in Salford
This was his response to his Tory opponent's slogan, "Don't vote for a Frenchman and a Catholic".

He was elected.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Worth a Thousand Words: First Snow

First Snow
by Edward B. Gordon
Our first snow, if we get any at all, usually doesn't come until after the New Year. Maybe that makes me enjoy this little gem even more.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Worth a Thousand Words: Merry Christmas, Texas Style

Jason Merlo, photographer
Texas yucca and red oak saplings - Burnet County, Texas
It's how we show our Christmas spirit.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Worth a Thousand Words: Mound of Butter

Antoine Vollon, Mound of Butter, 1875–85
Can you tell I've begun my Christmas cookie baking?

Well Said: Though much is taken, much abides

Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”
Alfred Lord Tennyson
You know, it's funny where you find precious things. I'd never have expected to find this gem in a James Bond movie (Skyfall).

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Worth a Thousand Words: Catherine Brass Yates

Gilbert Stuart, Catherine Brass Yates, 1793

Well Said: Stories and Faces

The idea that stories slavishly obey deep structural patterns seems at first vaguely depressing. But it shouldn't be. Think of the human face. The fact that all faces are very much alike doesn't make the face boring or mean that particular faces can't startle us with their beauty or distinctiveness. As William James once wrote, "There is very little difference between one man and another; but what little there is, is very important." The same is true of stories.
Jonathan Gottschall, The Storytelling Animal
I never thought of it that way, of course, so this comparison was eye opening.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Well Said: That feeling of discomfort? It's called a conscience.

This past week, I actually had a student come forward after a university chapel service and complain because he felt “victimized” by a sermon on the topic of 1 Corinthians 13. It appears this young scholar felt offended because a homily on love made him feel bad for not showing love. In his mind, the speaker was wrong for making him, and his peers, feel uncomfortable.

I’m not making this up. Our culture has actually taught our kids to be this self-absorbed and narcissistic. Any time their feelings are hurt, they are the victims. Anyone who dares challenge them and, thus, makes them “feel bad” about themselves, is a “hater,” a “bigot,” an “oppressor,” and a “victimizer.”

I have a message for this young man and all others who care to listen. That feeling of discomfort you have after listening to a sermon is called a conscience. An altar call is supposed to make you feel bad. It is supposed to make you feel guilty. The goal of many a good sermon is to get you to confess your sins—not coddle you in your selfishness. The primary objective of the Church and the Christian faith is your confession, not your self-actualization.

So here’s my advice:

If you want the chaplain to tell you you’re a victim rather than tell you that you need virtue, this may not be the university you’re looking for. If you want to complain about a sermon that makes you feel less than loving for not showing love, this might be the wrong place.

If you’re more interested in playing the “hater” card than you are in confessing your own hate; if you want to arrogantly lecture, rather than humbly learn; if you don’t want to feel guilt in your soul when you are guilty of sin; if you want to be enabled rather than confronted, there are many universities across the land (in Missouri and elsewhere) that will give you exactly what you want, but Oklahoma Wesleyan isn’t one of them.

At OKWU, we teach you to be selfless rather than self-centered. We are more interested in you practicing personal forgiveness than political revenge. We want you to model interpersonal reconciliation rather than foment personal conflict. We believe the content of your character is more important than the color of your skin. We don’t believe that you have been victimized every time you feel guilty and we don’t issue “trigger warnings” before altar calls.

Oklahoma Wesleyan is not a “safe place”, but rather, a place to learn: to learn that life isn’t about you, but about others; that the bad feeling you have while listening to a sermon is called guilt; that the way to address it is to repent of everything that’s wrong with you rather than blame others for everything that’s wrong with them. This is a place where you will quickly learn that you need to grow up.

This is not a day care. This is a university.
Amen. Dr. Piper's letter succinctly sums up what it means to be an adult and where it's very easy in today's culture to go off the tracks.

Sad to say, this message applies to a good portion of our adult population as well as to college students.

(Via The Deacon's Bench)

Worth a Thousand Words: Au Moulin de la Galette

Ramon Casas, Au Moulin de la Galette, 1892

Ashley Bell by Dean Koontz

Ashley BellAshley Bell by Dean Koontz

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

At twenty-two, Bibi Blair’s doctors tell her that she’s dying. Two days later, she’s impossibly cured. Fierce, funny, dauntless, she becomes obsessed with the idea that she was spared because she is meant to save someone else. Someone named Ashley Bell. Searching for Ashley Bell through a southern California landscape, Bibi is plunged into a world of crime and conspiracy, following a trail of mysteries that become more sinister and tangled with every twisting turn.
This book seems like a return to Dean Koontz's old style of fast paced, horror thriller. Bibi is on the run, stalked by a psychopath who plans to kill Ashley Bell, who Bibi must try to save. Using short, compelling chapters, Koontz weaves together three fascinating storylines. I read this at a dead heat, riveted by Bibi's predicament, her mysterious past with the Captain who taught her a trick to forget "bad memories," and by Bibi's fiancé who brings a Navy SEAL op's skills to trying to find and help her on the run.

I'll admit that when I hit the big twist at 3/4 of the way through the book, it threw me off stride as different parts of the story suddenly became more interesting than they had been. However, Koontz pulled it all together by the end for a fascinating and logical ending. I did spend several hours not sure how I felt about the book, mulling over different aspects and thinking over how the story fit together. In the end, though it came down to whether I'd want to reread this book. The answer is a resounding, "Yes."

Koontz's short chapters which yank the reader between stories did occasionally get in the way. I sometimes would skip alternate chapters to read through a longer section of a particular storyline before going back to pick up the other pieces.

My review copy came from NetGalley, which influenced my opinion not a whit.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Worth a Thousand Words: Feeding on Willow Buds

Feeding on Willow Buds
taken by the incomparable Remo Savisaar

Well Said: Two Kinds of Problems

"Listen, there are only two kind of problems in life. [...] The first kind of problems are the ones life sends upon you to test you, to make you humble or make you long suffering, or whatever you may need.

"The second kind you make yourself. Most people, most of their lives, most of their problems, they simply invite into their lives, sweep out a guestroom for each pain, and give it free lodging and board.

"The first kind builds character. You cannot grow without this kind of problem, any more than you can build muscles without exercise.

"The second kind are invited by bad character, and the problems such a person has then cannot be put right until he puts himself right. It is not something a proud man can do, because proud men see no wrongness in themselves. [...]

"We must never fear problems of any kind. The suffering we bring on ourselves, we can ask to be taken away from us once we repent of it. The suffering sent to instruct us, we can ask for the strength to endure, and the humbleness to be instructed. ..."
John C. Wright, Somewhither

Julie and Scott spend an episode in Purgatory.

Scott somewhat enjoyed the bus ride (except the violent part), and Julie came back with a pile of intricate leaves.

Enjoy our Christmas bargain in Episode 122 of A Good Story is Hard to Find — two stories for the price of one: Leaf by Niggle by J.R.R. Tolkien and The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Ashley Bell ... come to my Kindle ...

Ashley BellAshley Bell by Dean Koontz
At twenty-two, Bibi Blair’s doctors tell her that she’s dying. Two days later, she’s impossibly cured. Fierce, funny, dauntless, she becomes obsessed with the idea that she was spared because she is meant to save someone else. Someone named Ashley Bell. This proves to be a dangerous idea. Searching for Ashley Bell, ricocheting through a southern California landscape that proves strange and malevolent in the extreme, Bibi is plunged into a world of crime and conspiracy, following a trail of mysteries that become more sinister and tangled with every twisting turn.

NetGalley gave me permission to download this weeks ago and I just found the email now? (Inexplicably in the trash ... good thing I was looking for my login or I'd never have seen it.)

Cannot wait to begin this book ... I really enjoyed Koontz's last book, The City, and am curious to see if this one follows that style or hearkens back to his older style (which is what the description makes me think).

Worth a Thousand Words: A May Morning in the Park

Thomas Eakins, A May Morning in the Park, 1879-1880

Well Said: There are only two kinds of people in the end

There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. To those who knock it is opened.
C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce
It is the ultimate tribute to our free will. What greater dignity could we ask for than that?

Arthur Conan Doyle called it "the high-water mark of [Stevenson’s] genius."

We begin a little known Robert Louis Stevenson mystery, The Pavilion on the Links, at Forgotten Classics. Contrary to what you might expect, there is neither golf nor lemonade involved.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Worth a Thousand Words: Portrait of Elizabeth I as a Princess

Formerly attributed to William Scrots (fl. 1537–1554),
Portrait of Elizabeth I as a Princess, circa 1546
Wow. Gorgeous dress, am I right? Take a look at this blown up. Incredible.

Well Said: The storylike character of science

The storylike character of science is most obvious when it deals with origins: of the universe, of life, of storytelling itself. As we move back in time, the links between science's explanatory stories and established facts become fewer and weaker. The scientist's imagination becomes more adventurous and fecund as he or she is forced to infer more and more from less and less.
Jonathan Gottschall, The Storytelling Animal
I never really thought about storytelling as an influence on science but, once again, Gottschall pointed out a completely different point of view. One which works in more cases than one might think.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Worth a Thousand Words: Blue Pot and Lemon

Henri Matisse, Blue Pot and Lemon, 1897
Ah, Matisse in the early years. The years when I could still really enjoy his paintings.

Well Said: Signposts for the spiritual road

One of my most vivid childhood memories is of seeing, up in the mountains near my home, those signposts they planted alongside the hill paths. I was struck by those tall posts usually painted red. It was explained to me that when the snow fell, covering up everything, paths, seeded fields and pastures, thickets, boulders, and ravines, the poles stood out as sure reference points, so that everyone would always know where the road was.

Something similar happens in the interior life.There are times of spring and summer, but there are alos winters, days without sun and nights bereft of moonlight. We can't afford to let our friendship with Jesus depend on our moods, on our ups and downs. To do so would imply selfishness and laziness, and is certainly incompatible with love.

Therefore, in times of wind and snow, a few solid practices of piety, which are not sentimental but firmly rooted and adjusted to one's special circumstances, will serve as the red posts always marking out the way for us, until the time comes when Our Lord decides to make the sun shine again. Then the snows melt and our hearts beat fast once more, burning with a fire that never really went out. It was merely hidden in the embers, beneath the ashes produced by a time of trial, or by our own poor efforts or lack of sacrifice.
St. Josemaria Escriva, Friends of God
I tend to blame myself when my interior fires aren't burning brightly all the time, forgetting that it would be unnatural (as well as annoying) to always be "on." I love this reminder that the low times are the moments when we can lean on our regular spiritual practices and duties to carry us through to the next patch of sunshine, the next glorious season.