Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Mansfield Park Read-Along | Week 2

Welcome to Week 2 of the Mansfield Park read-along! If you aren't familiar with the details, you can learn more about the read-along schedule in this invitation post. (We're reading 12 chapters per week.)

Today we're going to discuss chapters 13-18 (Volume I) and chapters 1-6 (Volume II). If you came prepared, go ahead and share your thoughts in the comments section or in your own post! (Feel free to use the image above, linking back to the Mansfield Park read-along tag.) If you still have to catch up on some reading, you're welcome to check in later this week or whenever you're ready. :)

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts!

~ ~ ~

Mansfield Park Volume I: Chapters 13-18 and
Volume II: Chapters 1-6

Discussion Format: your favorite quotes, general impressions, and three questions to answer for each week's reading

Favorite Quotes

  • "Fanny looked on and listened, not unamused to observe the selfishness which, more or less disguised, seemed to govern them all, and wondering how it would end." [I feel like this idea fits the whole book...]
  • "...her books—of which she had been a collector, from the first hour of her commanding a shilling..." [I love that Fanny is a collector of books!]
  • "The music which Sir Thomas called for from his daughters helped to conceal the want of real harmony." [This line is sad but beautifully composed. Pun intended!]
  • "There is nobleness in the name of Edmund. It is a name of heroism and renown—of kings, princes, and knights; and seems to breathe the spirit of chivalry and warm affections." [Aww, Fanny...]

General Impressions

Well, the conclusion of Volume I brings an end to the theatrical scheme at Mansfield...and an end to an era, in a sense, now that Sir Thomas has returned home at long last. With the beginning of Volume II, we see several people leave: Mr. Yates, Mr. Crawford, and Maria and Mr. Rushworth, now married and taking Julia with them for a time. This paves the way for Fanny to be brought into the spotlight—against her will, for the most part.

Just because the play ended before it could really begin doesn't mean the drama has ended at Mansfield, that's for sure! I feel quite sad for the marriage between Maria and Mr. Rushworth; pride and a need for independence hardly make a strong foundation for the future. And the fact that Maria wants her sister with them on what appears to be a honeymoon of sorts doesn't offer much hope for a growing love and intimacy.

I thought it was really sweet that Sir Thomas actually approached Maria, wanting to know her thoughts and encouraging her to be open if her impending marriage was no longer what she wanted. But then, he's hardly disappointed when she still chooses to get married, and it's a bit frustrating how Sir Thomas justifies the relationship and clings to his own sense of gain in the matter. Alas!

And then the man who did such damage to Maria's and Julia's hearts returns...wanting to claim Fanny's, solely for the sake of conquest. Poor Fanny! Her brother's arrival is both a blessing and a curse. So far it seems to preoccupy her and keep her from dwelling too much on Mr. Crawford; but her obvious affection for her brother is only endearing her to Mr. Crawford even more, which is not a good turn of events.

As for Edmund and Miss Crawford, I'm not sure what to say. Miss Crawford has her moments of kindness, in a sense, but her friendship with Fanny stems from boredom and a need for company. I don't know if Edmund is learning any lessons from all that's already happened. He's so blinded by his infatuation with Miss Crawford.

Be wise, Fanny and Edmund! The Crawfords could do a lot of damage...

Discussion Questions

Feel free to answer one, two, or all three of these questions in the comments section or in your own blog post!

1. If you were one of Maria's parents, what might you have said to her before the wedding?

2. What are your thoughts on the friendship between Fanny and Miss Crawford? What would you recommend to improve their relationship?

3. Consider Mr. Crawford's sudden interest in Fanny or Edmund's admiration of Miss Crawford. What makes them so attractive to these guys? What would you consider to be valid reasons for falling in love?

Join us next Wednesday for our third discussion! 
(Vol. II: Ch. 6-13 and Vol. III: Ch. 1-5)

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Top Ten (or Three) Tuesday: Bookish Resolutions

Did you make any New Year's reading resolutions? I have a few goals...not ten, although there are more than ten books on my TBR, if that counts. ;) Be sure to check out today's post at That Artsy Reader Girl to see other bloggers' resolutions and join the Top Ten Tuesday fun!

Resolution #1: 
Read Mansfield Park and Sense & Sensibility

Thanks to the Mansfield Park read-along, I'm already on my way to completing this goal! Once I finish these two books, I'll have read all the main works of Jane Austen. (There are other writings, complete and incomplete, but it will be great to have read all her main novels.) And the really cool thing is that I'll have read all of those books with you, those who have participated in the Jane Austen read-alongs. :) So fun!

(Also, my sister gave me a Barnes & Noble gift card for Christmas, which is what I used to purchase that lovely copy of Sense & Sensibility. Can't wait to dive in for the next read-along!)

Resolution #2: 
Catch Up on Paperback Review Books

This goal comes with a shameful confession... I have too many review books that I've never read or reviewed. :( While some in this picture are ones I received unexpectedly or from giveaways, some are ones I requested, which makes it even worse that I haven't reviewed them yet.

My hope is to read all of these (13). It would feel so good to catch up! And maybe, by sharing reviews of some not-brand-new releases, I'll be able to point others to some gems they might have missed. :) 

Resolution #3:
Read 50 Books Total 

This is my Goodreads 2018 Reading Challenge. This means reading about one book per week, which seems fairly doable... We'll see! I didn't read that much last year, but I think this year will likely be a little quieter. ;) So far I've read three books: Shades of Doon and Forever Doon, completing the Doon series, and The Sound of Rain. I have plenty of others I want to read soon! (See photo for a glimpse at some of the books on my TBR.)

* * *

This year I really want to focus on the books I already own (on my shelf or Kindle). There are SO many to enjoy! I won't run out of options anytime soon. :)

How about you? 
What are your reading resolutions?

Friday, January 12, 2018

A Gentle Read That Sparkles | Review of The Sound of Rain

About the Book (from Bethany House)

In the Dark of the Mine, In the Face of Rising Water, 
In the Shadows of the Hills, Faith Will See Them Through 

Judd Markley knows he can never set foot underground again. The mine collapse that nearly killed him and claimed his brother's life means leaving West Virginia forever. Although that hard Appalachian world is all he knows, he puts it behind him and heads for the open sky of the thriving town of 1954 Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

Larkin Heyward's life in the beach town is uncomplicated, mostly volunteer work and dancing at the Pavilion. But she dreams of one day doing more and being more—maybe moving to the hills and hollers of Kentucky to help the poor children of Appalachia. But she's never even met someone who's lived there—until she encounters Judd, the newest employee at her father's timber company.

Drawn together in the wake of a hurricane that changes Myrtle Beach forever, Judd's and Larkin's dreams pull them in divergent directions. It will take a significant sacrifice to keep them together—or maybe, it will take a miracle.

Available Now

My Rating


My Review

With an echo of some elements from Christy by Catherine Marshall, but a cast of characters with a story all their own, The Sound of Rain enchanted me. Not all at once. I liked the writing style from the beginning, but it's a gentle read, like comforting rain tapping on the roof—even through the suspenseful scenes (including facing a hurricane or the terror of a dark mine). I think part of it is because the story is more concerned about the bigger themes and doesn't let temporary things sidetrack the message.

I loved the two main characters (even though Larkin takes a bit of getting used to, with her recklessness and stubbornness). It's their interactions with the people in their life, including each other, that make the story sparkle, even when those conversations or kindnesses might seem ordinary or mundane.

This is a story about learning to love wherever you go. It's about seeking after what's important and not getting so distracted that your real life slips by. It's a sweet romance that tackles the tough questions about whose dream to follow and what togetherness can accomplish.

Meet Judd and Larkin, their families and friends, and stop for a moment to listen to the rain stirring life in ready soil.

*With thanks to Bethany House for providing me with a free copy of this book.*

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Mansfield Park Read-Along | Week 1

Welcome to Week 1 of the Mansfield Park read-along! I'm so excited to start 2018 discussing this book with all of you. If you haven't heard the details yet, you can learn more about the read-along schedule in this invitation post. (We're reading 12 chapters per week.)

Today we're going to discuss chapters 1-12 (Volume I). If you came prepared, go ahead and share your thoughts in the comments section or in your own post! (Feel free to use the image above, linking back to the Mansfield Park read-along tag.) If you still have to catch up on some reading, you're welcome to check in later this week or whenever you're ready. :)

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts!

~ ~ ~

Mansfield Park Volume I: Chapters 1-12

Discussion Format: your favorite quotes, general impressions, and three questions to answer for each week's reading

Favorite Quotes

  • "Nobody meant to be unkind, but nobody put themselves out of their way to secure her comfort." [How tragic for Fanny...and how true, that kindness isn't just an absence of cruelty, but requires action and reaching out to someone else.]
  • "He made reading useful by talking to her of what she read." [It's such a boost to the memory and what we can gain from a book to be able to talk about it with someone else, like what we're doing today!]
  • "You see but half. You see the evil, but you do not see the consolation. There will be little rubs and disappointments every where, and we are all apt to expect too much; but then...we find comfort somewhere—and those evil-minded observers, dearest Mary, who make much of a little, are more taken in and deceived than the parties themselves." [I found this discussion intriguing. I believe Mrs. Grant is speaking here, and I like how she defends marriage. It's easy to get bogged down in the little things, missing the bigger blessing.]
  • "It was better for Miss Bertram, who might be said to have two strings to her bow. She had Rushworth-feelings, and Crawford-feelings, and in the vicinity of Sotherton, the former had considerable effect." [I won't comment on Miss Bertram's conflicting feelings here...but I do think this description is clever.]
  • "A whole family assembling regularly for the purpose of prayer, is fine!" [Preach, Fanny!]

General Impressions

Summing up our thoughts on twelve chapters is going to be difficult, I know! There's a lot that much to comment on regarding this very interesting cast of characters.

I'm not sure any one really stands out as overly likable to me, other than Fanny. Edmund has me quite torn, as there are lines and moments where he seems to really shine. He obviously cares about Fanny, and his active kindness to her makes all the difference in her experiences at Mansfield Park. I love when his affection becomes apparent; how he defends Fanny, fights for her need to get out, exercise, and be a part of things. And what's most important to Fanny (like her brother), Edmund shows great respect and attention toward.

On the other hand, there's Miss Crawford—and Edmund's obvious infatuation, despite the fact that they don't really seem to share many values. They flirt, they have some good discussions, but for someone like Edmund whose values run deep, you would think he'd be paying a little more attention to what really matters instead of the surface level. (She can play a harp splendidly, but would she really stand by your side as a pastor's wife?)

Still, I suppose it's a realistic scenario, and Miss Crawford gets Edmund to examine and share his beliefs; she paves the way for thought-provoking conversations. I think Fanny can do that too, especially with her extensive reading and book knowledge, but her views have been so shaped by Edmund and are so similar to his own that she probably doesn't challenge Edmund in the ways that Miss Crawford does. And a man does enjoy a challenge, doesn't he?

(Not to mention the fact that Fanny is still quite young and probably feels more like family to Edmund than a potential love interest. So...I get it; I just don't necessarily like it. :))

As for the other characters and their relationships, I'm not sure what to say. I feel bad for Julia having to compete with her sister for a guy's attention, while her sister already has a fiance. But then, both Julia and Maria are so focused on pride and status. I feel bad for Mr. Rushworth and his mother, who are stroking Maria's ego while her heart has wandered down a completely different path.

Mr. Craword should have stayed home. Buuuut now he's back, which does not bode well for the girls of Mansfield Park.

And then there's Mrs. Norris, who seems to be getting along just fine without having to sacrifice for anyone. But the selfish road is bound to be a lonely one, lacking in meaning. It's too bad she missed out on getting to know Fanny and having such a sweet companion.

So far, I'm enjoying the read. I'm hoping to see Fanny grow in confidence while maintaining her gentle nature. And while it would be satisfying to see certain characters open their eyes before it's too late, it will be interesting to see exactly where these not-so-ideal paths lead.

Discussion Questions

Feel free to answer one, two, or all three of these questions in the comments section or in your own blog post!

1. Would you consider the Bertram family taking in Fanny to be a kindness in the long run? If so, why? If not, could it have been a kindness if they approached things differently?

2. If you were a governess teaching the Bertram children and Fanny, what lesson would you specifically choose for each of them (as kids or adults)? Feel free to have fun with this!

3. Imagine you had joined the group on their visit to Sotherton. Which part of the tour would you most have enjoyed? Would we find you wandering the halls or meandering through the wilderness?

Join us next Wednesday for our second discussion! 
(Vol. I: Ch. 13-18 and Vol. II: Ch. 1-6)

Friday, January 5, 2018

Enjoying the Journey and Growth | Review of Shades of Doon (YA Fantasy)

About the Book (from the Doon website)

After cheating death, Veronica Welling is determined to savor every moment in her idyllic kingdom with both her true love and best friend by her side at last. At the same time, Mackenna Reid is enthusiastically building her new life and a theater with her prince. But just as their dreams of happiness are within reach, the world Vee and Kenna have chosen is ripped away, leaving them to face their most horrific challenge yet—their old lives.

Thrust out of Doon, the best friends are confronted with tormentors from their past and no way to return to their adopted land. When the MacCrae brothers rush to their rescue, the girls’ situation turns from nightmare to modern-day fairy tale. But their happiness could be short lived: unbeknownst to them, someone in their closest circle is aiding the witch of Doon in her bid to destroy the kingdom once and for all.

Available Now!

My Rating


My Review

The Doon series is endearing itself to me more and more. Shades of Doon is a great read, full of drama and uncertainty and opportunities for the main characters to grow. I love how the two heroines are obviously maturing as they see the bigger picture: what's really important and what it might cost to choose the right path.

The faith element, while still somewhat subtle in parts, is becoming stronger as the series continues. This particular story inspires courageous living, tackles the weighty topics of sacrifice and humility, and provides plenty of adventure and danger (particularly with the cliffhanger ending).

As for the relationships and romance...I found myself intrigued by the dilemmas facing the couples, and I'm enjoying their journeys. Their interactions are full of passionate care and hope. I'm eager to see where the next challenges take them!

You'll definitely want to read the first two books in the series before diving into this one. And once you're finished, you'll be beyond ready for the final book in the series, Forever Doon. I know I am!

Read my review of Book 1: Doon

Friday, December 29, 2017

The Jane Austen Fun Begins Anew | Get Ready for the Mansfield Park Read-Along!

Just a few more days until 2018 begins...and what better way to start the New Year than by reading a Jane Austen novel with friends? :) The featured book this time around is Mansfield Park.

Here are the read-along details...

  • We'll read 12 chapters per week over 4 weeks (for a total of 48 chapters).
  • Discussions will take place here on Wednesdays (the 10th, 17th, 24th, and 31st).
  • You can start reading on the 3rd, or feel free to begin right away!
  • Use the hashtag #MansfieldReadAlong on Twitter to share in-the-moment thoughts and favorite quotes. 

Together we've read Persuasion, Northanger Abbey, Emma, and Pride & Prejudice. It's been such a blast to discuss these books with you! Now I'm looking forward to diving into Mansfield Park with a lovely copy gifted to me by a sweet friend. Will you be reading a hard copy or an ebook?

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

How Will You Celebrate Advent Next Year? | Review of Unwrapping the Names of Jesus

About the Book

Most Christians agree that Christmas is all about Jesus, yet most of us spend little time preparing our hearts to celebrate Him. Why is this? Partly because we don't know how.

In Unwrapping the Names of Jesus, Asheritah Ciuciu leads readers through the four weeks of Advent (Hope, Preparation, Joy, and Love). Each week:

  • Begins with an interactive family devotional that equips readers to celebrate Advent together
  • Offers five daily reflections that focus on that week's name of Jesus
  • Includes suggestions for fun-filled family activities or service projects

This devotional can be used by readers in their own personal worship times or as a tool to engage in family worship during the busy holiday season. Either way, participants will gain a greater sense of awe and wonder at who Jesus is.

By focusing on the person and character of Jesus throughout the Advent season, readers will prepare their hearts so that when they admire the live nativity, sit in the candlelight service, or wake up on Christian morning, they can join the faithful who sing from the bottom of their hearts, "O come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord!"

Be Prepared for Next Christmas!

My Rating


My Review

I enjoyed having a new Advent devotional to go through with my husband this year! The size, feel, and look of this book are lovely, perfect for keeping out in plain view throughout the holiday season. And I think it's a great concept, to daily go through the names of Jesus in preparation for celebrating His birth and who He is as our King and Savior.

As for the content, there are some good thoughts to ponder and creative (and fun!) ideas for families to act on what they've been learning together. I don't recall a whole lot of moments where something struck me in a powerful way...although the reading on "Jesus Is the Truth" has some really neat perspective to offer.

It's possible that reading the book aloud to someone else kept me from focusing and thinking as deeply as I ought to have done. Perhaps I would feel more impacted by the devotions if I read them on my own, or if I took more time to dwell amid the pages, look up all the suggested verses, and respond to the challenges. Still, there are important reminders in here, and this book does encourage daily thoughts of who God is.

The structure isn't my favorite... You have to be thinking and counting ahead to make sure you start the book on time to finish by Christmas. And while there are readings for each weekday, there aren't any for the weekends. However, if you choose to do the interactive candle lighting sections with your family, those can take place on Sundays, and the weekly activities can be done on Saturdays (or anytime during the week), as the author suggests in the introduction.

I have another Advent devotional that has daily readings for the whole month of December, and I believe I prefer that layout, especially if you're using the devotional on your own. But I think the layout for Unwrapping the Names of Jesus could be really fun for a family who's interacting with all the different components of the book.

All in all, this is a unique and meaningful take on Advent, and I appreciate that it points to the greatness and love of Jesus. The devotional is especially geared toward families and encourages participation. It's a book that will be nice to have on hand and perhaps read through again some future Christmas season!

*With thanks to Moody Publishers for providing me with a free copy of this book.*