Friday, July 29, 2011

Winners and Survey Results

Thank you all for joining me this week to celebrate "Christmas in July!" It's been fun discussing Christmas movies and hunting for pickles ornaments. ;) Hope you've enjoyed it!

And I especially want to thank those of you who filled out the "Christmas in July" survey. I really appreciate your time! It was helpful to read your responses and encouraging to read your comments. Thank you!!!

For those of you who are interested in the survey results, I'll share those first.

"Christmas in July" Survey Results

Total number of people who filled out the survey:
18 people

1. What are your favorite types of posts? (Each person could choose multiple answers.) 64 votes
  • Book reviews: 16 votes
  • Movie Reviews: 6 votes
  • Giveaways: 11 votes
  • Themed posts: 7 votes
  • Devotionals: 6 votes
  • Military: 3 votes
  • Personal (About my life): 11 votes
  • Writing-related: 4 votes
(Amber's Thoughts: The top three types of posts are book reviews, giveaways, and personal posts. Not too surprising, but it is interesting to see that personal posts tied with giveaways! I guess blogging is such a community thing, that we like to learn more about each other and see that we all really are human. ;) As for the other types of posts, I realize that my blog can be a bit eclectic, which may keep some people away because I'm not completely consistent in my post material. But for my loyal followers out there, I hope you enjoy the variety, and than you for sticking with me!)

2. Do you enjoy themed weeks on this blog? 18 votes
  • Yes: 15 votes
  • Sometimes: 2 votes
  • No: 1 vote
  • Not sure: 0 votes
(Amber's Thoughts: Good to know! It seems like the majority of my readers like the themed weeks, which makes me happy. I enjoy putting them together and coming up with new ideas, so I'm glad you enjoy them!)

3. Do you have a favorite themed week? 16 votes
  • Mystery Week: 2 votes
  • Love Finds You Blog Party: 1 vote
  • Disney/Disneyland: 2 votes
  • Camp Humility: 5 votes
  • No favorite: 4 votes
  • Likes them all/All wonderful: 2 votes
(Amber's Thoughts: These were write-in answers, so some people worded things differently, but this is the basic break-down. I'm kind of partial to that last one on the list... ;) And that's neat that Camp Humility's a favorite! I'll have to keep that in mind, for sure!)

4. Do you read the pages? 18 votes
  • Yes: 5 votes
  • Some of them: 13 votes
  • Never: 0 votes
(Amber's Thoughts: Again, good to know. I do have quite a few pages, so I can understand why they wouldn't all be helpful to everyone. But hopefully they're each helpful/interesting to someone!)

5. If you read the pages, do you ever re-check them for updates? 18 votes
  • Yes: 0 votes
  • Sometimes: 16 votes
  • Never: 2 votes
(Amber's Thoughts: Understandable. And to be honest, it's not like I update my pages every day. But I do try to keep them up-to-speed, and I usually update the book review and movie review pages every time I post a new review, just so you're aware!)

6. When are you most likely to leave a comment on a blog? 18 votes
  • Morning: 6 votes
  • Afternoon: 4 votes
  • Night: 1 vote
  • Any time: 7 votes
7. Do you read my posts on The Borrowed Book blog? 18 votes
  • Yes: 1 vote
  • Occasionally: 10 votes
  • No: 5 votes
  • You post on another blog?: 2 votes
(Amber's Thoughts: Yep, I post on another blog! ;) I started posting on the BB back in February, and my posting schedule was a bit sporadic. But my posts are always on Mondays, and as far as I can tell, for the rest of the year I should be posting every Monday unless something comes up. So if you get a chance to pop over and say hi, I'd love to see you there!)

8. Would you read my book reviews on another site as well as this one? 18 votes
  • Yes: 7 votes
  • Maybe: 10 votes
  • No: 1 vote
(Amber's Thoughts: Aww, thanks guys! I've posted several reviews on the Radiant Lit site so far, and soon I should be an official team member. And usually if I post reviews there or on the BB, I won't post them here, so you shouldn't be getting repeats. Unless you're my friend on Goodreads...then you can find all my reviews there!)

9. Have you ever bought a book after reading one of my reviews? 18 votes
  • Yes: 2 votes
  • Your review combined with others' reviews convinced me: 6 votes
  • No: 10 votes
10. Which type of book do you prefer? (Each person could choose multiple answers.) 30 votes
  • Hardcover: 8 votes
  • Glossy: 1 vote
  • Normal paperback: 8 votes
  • Softcover: 8 votes
  • e-book: 5 votes
(Amber's Thoughts: OK, I'm totally in agreement with the majority! I know this was a random question, but it was just something I'd been pondering... My mom and I mentioned that we didn't really like glossy as much - as pretty as it is - because it leaves your fingerprints all over it, which is not pretty! I'm rather partial to these softcover ones, but hardcover and normal paperbacks can be great, as well. I'll read an e-book occasionally, but it's not the same as holding a book in my hand...)

"Christmas in July" Winners!

Now, on to the announcement of the winners! According to's List Randomizer (and including the extra entries Michelle and Sara won on Wednesday), here are the winners:

Michelle (scraphappy) won Surrender the Dawn!

Katy M won 5 Conversations You Must Have With Your Son!

Congratulations, ladies! If you haven't received an e-mail from me yet, be sure to let me know!

Merry Christmas in July, everyone!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Annabelle's Wish: A Journey of Love

Some stories are beautiful because of their complexity - all the thought-provoking details that come together to form a grand whole. (A great example would be The Polar Express, which we featured earlier this week.) But some stories are beautiful because of their sweet simplicity, and Annabelle's Wish is one of those stories.

The animation may not be stellar, but it's adorable. And the heartfelt message about selfless love - well, that
is stellar!

This is yet another movie that my family was kind enough to watch with me again for "Christmas in July," enduring the tears that this movie inevitably
causes pretty much every time we see it. ;) So now that this movie is fresh in my mind, I'd like to share with you how Annabelle's Wish portrays a journey of love:

A Journey of Love

"Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another."
~ I John 4:11

A little calf is born on Christmas Eve on a farm owned by a kind older man and his grandson - a boy who hasn't spoken since the day he almost died in a barn fire. When Santa comes and visits the animals as he does every year before leaving presents at the house, he gives the animals all the gift of being able to talk for one day. And from the moment the sweet calf Annabelle opens her mouth, she steals every heart with her enthusiasm and curiosity for life. Upon seeing Santa's reindeer and learning about their ability to fly, she is determined that one day she will fly, too.

Christmas day greets her with the possibility of a dear new friend in the young farm boy, Billy. They get along so well right from the start that Annabelle accidentally gives away the animals' secret about being able to talk. And that's when she learns that Billy can't talk. But as the narrator notes, they didn't need speech with the kind of friendship they had - the kind that's more precious than words.

Christmas is soon over, and Billy, Annabelle, and Emily (Billy's friend) all make wonderful memories over the next year. And during that time Annabelle tries her best to be good so that when Santa comes back, she can ask him for an extra special wish. But Annabelle's not the only one with a wish, and a heart for others...

Grandpa - Sacrificial Love

Billy's grandpa is a kind man who takes good care of the farm animals and loves his grandson. As he tells Billy's aunt when she tries to take Billy back to the city with her: "Billy and me - we're all each other's got."

So what is Grandpa's wish? Because he loves Billy, his wish is for Billy to have a good home, good friends, and a good life. When their neighbor, Mr. Holder, takes Annabelle away as payment for the fence Billy and Annabelle wrecked, Grandpa sells his dearest possession - his daughter's music box - in order to buy Annabelle back. To see Annabelle and Billy reunited... It's a moving and poignant scene, showing just how important their friendship is.

Grandpa's love led him to make a sacrifice for Billy. Our example of the ultimate sacrificial love comes from God - our Father who chose to send His Son to die for us so that we might be saved and live with Him forever. Sacrifices hurt, no matter how big or small, but the fulfilled wish in the life of someone else is the powerful reward of such love.

Emily - Understanding Love

Emily is Billy's best friend (along with Annabelle, of course!), and her loving heart is quite exemplary. She cares about Billy so much that she doesn't need to hear his voice to know what it is he wants. For example, after caroling on Christmas Eve, Emily starts to walk away, and it is evident Billy wants to say something to her - but he can't. At that moment Emily turns around and says, "Merry Christmas to you, too, Billy."

And after Christmas, when Emily brings over her new sled so that they can play, she suggests that Billy can be an elf. But almost instantly she changes her mind and says, "Actually, I've decided that I want to be an elf, so you're going to have to be Santa Clause. I hope that's alright with you." The look of joy and contentment in being understood is so sweet as it shines on Billy's face.

For Emily, her love shows in her understanding. Not only does she set aside her own wants, but she cares enough to really see who Billy is and desire his happiness above her own. It's no surprise that such close, selfless friends get married later on in life. Their friendship reminds me of a quote from the movie Little Women: "Your heart understood mine." What a wondrous foundation for romance! And we, too, can show understanding toward others when we realize that God truly understands us, and loves us unconditionally.

Mr. Holder - Humble Love

Mr. Holder is a proud man with a painful past. It is suggested that his wife died, and he has two boys to take care of. He believes that his boys are above all wrong, but when he discovers that this is not the case (ie: when the sheriff tells him his bullying boys were lying about the reason Annabelle "attacked" them), he is forced to swallow his pride.

He is told by the sheriff about the fact that Billy's grandpa sold his beloved daughter's music box in order to buy Annabelle. The sheriff also tells him, "You of all people should know what it's like to lose a loved one."

Yes, Mr. Holder understands. And that is why he buys the music box back and presents it to Billy's grandpa. His act of love is also one of humility. By giving Billy's grandpa the music box, he is showing that he was wrong. And sometimes we must show love to others by humbly admitting we were wrong. Love like that is difficult, but also healing and very meaningful. Knowing that God has forgiven us of so much, we can find the ability to be humble through His grace.

Annabelle's Wish

Earlier I alluded to a wish Annabelle wanted to ask of Santa. All year long she shows love to her friends and works hard to be good so that she can ask for this wish. When Santa returns the following Christmas, she approaches him and whispers her wish into his ear. In the background you can see the reindeer she longs to be like, and you can recall her dreams of flying just like them.

On Christmas morning, Annabelle is not a reindeer. But Billy has a very special package waiting for him in the Christmas tree: an empty one. Yet when he lifts it up and over his head to make sure it's empty, he clearly declares, "There's nothing in here." He can talk!

Annabelle gave up her special Christmas voice for the rest of her life so that Billy could have a voice. Billy exclaims to Annabelle, "But I thought your wish was to fly!"

Annabelle's mother replies, "To hear you talk - that was Annabelle's wish."

Such a powerful example of love! Annabelle's wish - her dream - was for her best friend, Billy. And through the years Billy never forgot her gift.

One Christmas Eve when she is old, Annabelle goes out into the snow, and Billy follows her, worried that she won't survive in the cold. But Santa finds Annabelle and tells her, "I believe someone has a wish for you." And with some Christmas magic Billy gets to see Annabelle transformed into a beautiful reindeer - with a voice and the ability to fly.

It's such a simple story of friendship, daily life, and Christmas cheer. But through its simplicity Annabelle's Wish shares a meaningful message of love that can inspire us to love others just as we have been loved.

(Note: Movie cover image is from, character pictures are from the Annabelle's Wish website, and the song clip is from

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Come Find the Pickles!

Today I have a fun Christmas activity for you in honor of "Christmas in July!" For those long-time followers, you may recall the pickle ornament hunt we had as our pre-"Love Finds You" blog party activity last December. Well, today you have another chance to hunt for those pickle ornaments! ;)

Since I already wrote about this tradition before, I'm just going to repeat some of what I said last time about this neat Christmas tradition.

The Tradition

The advertisement below featured on The German Way website gives a brief description of this Christmas tradition:

The basic idea is that the parents hide a pickle ornament in the tree, and whoever finds the green ornament among the branches and other ornaments receives an extra gift! In our family, though, we have more than one pickle ornament, so my sister and I both have a chance to win a prize. It makes the game a little less stressful that way, I'm sure. ;) Plus, my grandparents hide pickle ornaments for us in their tree, too, so I think it's safe to say we've been rather spoiled!

The Hunt

Now it's your turn! I have hidden three pickle ornament images in three different posts on this blog. They could be anywhere on this site, so you'll have to hunt carefully! Just remember: The pickle images are on this blog (Seasons of Humility), and you won't find them in any links that take you away from this blog.

Each pickle is worth 5 extra entries in whichever drawing you entered when you completed the survey. (If you haven't completed the "Christmas in July" Survey, click HERE to fill that out first. You must complete the survey in order for these extra entries to count!)

There are three pickles out there, so there are 15 extra entries available! If you don't want to be entered to win either of the books (Surrender the Dawn or 5 Conversations You Must Have With Your Son), you can choose to give your extra points to someone else who is entered in one of the drawings.

The Rules
  • When you find a pickle image, just leave a comment saying where you found it (you can either describe the post/page or include the URL).
  • You aren't limited to finding just one pickle image, so you can claim all 15 extra entries if you find all three pickles. However, if you want to be nice and not hog all the pickle claims, then I'm sure others will thank you. ;)
  • I might be a little slow in checking in, but just know that once all three pickles are found, the game is over.
  • Also, please note: the pickle image from last December's game does NOT count. You will find it HERE. Any other pickle images count, though! ;)
Finally, below is what the pickle image you're hunting for looks like. (But this is NOT one of the three I've hidden; this picture is just an example!)

*Update: All the pickle ornaments have been found! Congratulations to Sara and Michelle for finding the three images and getting those extra entries!*

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Polar Express: A Journey of Faith

Some stories have a great message but don't weave it in well with the plot - simply adding it to the end like a caboose or forcing it upon the viewers like an out-of-control steam engine. Not so with The Polar Express!

One thing that has struck me every time I've seen the movie is how deep it is. The theme is complex, beautiful, and both obvious and
mysterious. It's not a movie that lulls me into a cozy stupor. It's a thought-provoking movie that challenges me to make connections between all the little parts.

My family was kind enough to watch this movie with me last night in honor of "Christmas in July." ;) So now that the story is fresh in my mind, I'd like to share with you how I see The Polar Express as a journey of faith:

A Journey of Faith

"Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."
~ Hebrews 11:1

Faith. It's what this boy longs for on Christmas Eve, and what he lacks as he waits in bed for the dreaded Christmas morning when all his doubts will be realized. Until a loud rumble announces the arrival of The Polar Express - an opportunity to put his faith to the test if he'll climb on board.

He almost doesn't, but something compels him to give this crazy ride a try. In his pocket appears a golden ticket - "a genuine ticket to ride," as the hobo later refers to these. (But I'm getting ahead of myself!) And the conductor, who is a bit obsessed with keeping to his schedule, punches the boy's ticket with a hole-puncher, forming the two letters "B" and "E" on opposite ends of the ticket.

The Train Ticket

For those of you who have already seen the movie, you'll remember that all of the children on the train have tickets. But at one point when a sweet young girl heads to the caboose to give some hot chocolate to a shy little boy, our hero finds the girl's ticket on her seat and decides to take it to her. And as he steps outside the train car, the ticket slips away into the wind.

Were you like me and curious as to why there was so much focus on the ticket? I mean, it was very cool to see the ticket's travels as it flew through a wolf pack, got snatched by an eagle, snowballed down a hill, and eventually wound up back on the train. But why show all that? Well, as with many things in this movie, I think it's an important symbol. That ticket was a gift: permission given to the girl by someone in authority to be on that train.

Isn't that, in one aspect, what salvation is? We're given a gift - permission to be on God's train, so to speak - that could only come from someone in authority, and it's something we can show to prove that we do indeed have a right to be on the train (through God's grace and calling).

So when the girl loses her ticket, it's disastrous. (That's not to say that this is an exact connection and she symbolically "lost her salvation" or anything like that; I just think the tickets are meaningful symbols.) The parallel came in earlier when the hero asked the girl, "Are you sure?" (Referring to bringing the hot chocolate to the caboose.) And she didn't answer. There was doubt, and she wasn't quite confident at that point in who she was.

The Hobo

Now we come to the hobo who hitches a ride on the top of the train. I have to admit that even though the hobo is a sort of "villain" in this movie, I really like his character. He adds a lot of mystery to the plot, because even though he encourages the boy to doubt Santa (and all that Christmas stands for), he also saves the boy and his friends on a couple of occasions. So who exactly is he? A ghost, as he himself suggests? An angel - or perhaps the devil?

I confess that I have a terrible time trying to define him. But when I stop trying to put him into a preconceived box, I realize that he is an important part of the journey. He is helpful in that he challenges the boy. He physically "saves" our hero a couple of times, paralleling the fact that he "saves" the boy from borrowing someone else's faith or having a false faith. He makes the boy question whether it is all a dream - whether this journey and its destination are real or not. He calls him a "scrooge" and a "doubter," and later on when the boy is trying to hear the sounds of the bell, he first hears the word "doubt" echoing instead.

Our own faith can't be something that we borrow from someone else, be it family, friend, teacher, or anyone else. And if it is to be a true and personal faith, it has to be something that lasts through trials and stands through doubts, questions, and worries.


I love how timing plays a role throughout this movie. As mentioned earlier, the conductor is constantly worried about being late as he tries to keep the train running on schedule. But despite all of the obstacles (the roller coaster-type ride, slipping over the ice-covered tracks, etc.), they make it to the North Pole right on time (5 minutes to midnight). And when the hero, the girl, and the shy boy end up getting separated from the rest, it remains 5 minutes to midnight until they are returned. (Gotta love that North Pole clock!)

During that time of separation, our three friends end up crossing a sort of "bridge of faith" (more so for the hero, who can't hear the bells at that point and has to trust the girl's sense of direction) and find themselves in the gift department. That's when the shy boy (Billy) comes across a gift addressed to him.

But on that gift is a sticker that reads, "Do not open until Christmas." I'm sure many of us are familiar with that idea - you have to be patient and wait until Christmas day to open your gifts, even if they're beckoning to you from under the Christmas tree, within your reach.

Isn't it wonderful, though, when you finally get to open the gift surrounded by friends and family, listening to Christmas music and sitting by the lovely Christmas tree? That's when it's just right to open the gift.

Just like our Christmas gifts, God has so many good gifts for us. And how many of them have stickers on their wrapping telling us to wait until God's perfect timing to open them? I confess that this is something I have a very difficult time with - I'm not a patient person! Yet, God's timing is always perfect, and just like the elf tells Billy to trust him with Billy's gift, so we must trust that God will give us the gifts He has planned for us when the time is right. They are safe in His hands.


While I was hopeful that this was a Christian movie "in disguise," I know that isn't really the case, as evidenced by the words the conductor says near the end: "It doesn't matter where the train is going. What matters is that you choose to get on." (Not his exact phrasing, but you get the idea.) By saying that, there's the suggestion that the destination doesn't really matter, so long as you believe in something.

As a believer in the God of the Bible, I don't think that's true. I think that it really does matter where the train is going.

But despite that, I think this movie's message about belief is so eloquent. When our hero can't hear the bells, we as an audience are allowed to step into his shoes, as we can't hear the bells either. He's frustrated, hurting, aching. And when Santa finally appears, he can't even see him around the elves who are also trying to get a glimpse. He shouts, "I can't see him!"

It brings to mind the point earlier when the hobo told him, "Seeing is believing." And when the conductor later said, "Sometimes seeing is believing. And sometimes the most real things in the world are the things we can't see."

Now everything slows around him, and he watches as a bell breaks free from a harness on the sleigh and rolls towards him. He picks it up in the silence and tries to ring it, to no avail. All he hears is the echo of "doubt."

So he must make a choice. Does he believe? Does he believe that Santa is real - that Christmas with all of its joy and warmth and love is real and true? And does he believe it even when he can't see it?

In a breaking voice he finally admits, "OK. I believe. I believe. I believe." Repeating it over and over until Santa approaches him. Then he is chosen as the child who gets the first gift of Christmas. And he chooses the bell - the symbol of his faith.

When his ticket is punched again after this journey is complete, the missing letters are filled in to spell "BELIEVE." But when he gets on the train he realizes that he put the bell in the robe pocket with the hole in it. The bell fell out at some point. So now that his visible symbol of faith is gone, will he still believe?

Throughout the rest of Christmas Eve and onward, I think it is evident that he ultimately does. He eventually gets his bell back, but he knows that it is just a symbol. Its ringing reminds him that he still holds onto faith, even when he grows up.

And so our own faith is like that bell. Its sweet music of hope is our assurance, and our friendship with our Lord through faith is our evidence in the things we cannot yet see. Just like Santa tells Billy: "Friendship is the greatest gift."

(Note: Movie cover image is from, movie photos are from The Polar Express website, and the song clip is from

Monday, July 25, 2011

"Christmas in July" Survey with Gifts!

At the risk of being a copycat of Joy from Edgy Inspirational Romance (with her annual reader survey) and Sandra Moore from The Borrowed Book (with her recent reader polls), I've decided to create a survey for ya'll. ;) Some questions are similar to ones Joy and Sandra have asked (I do hope they'll forgive me for that), and some are ones I've just really wanted to ask you, so there you have it!

If you would be so kind as to fill out the survey, then I have a couple of gift options for you! (After all, it is "Christmas in July," right?) At the end of the survey you can choose to enter a drawing for either of these books:

You have between now and Thursday, July 28th, at 10:00 PM (PST) to fill out the survey and enter the drawing. A winner for each book will be chosen using the "List Randomizer" on the site. You can only enter one drawing, and you must include your name and e-mail address in order to be entered. Also, you must have a U.S. mailing address in order to enter! I'm sorry, but if you don't have a U.S. mailing address, please don't try to enter the drawings. However, please feel free to fill out the survey, as there's an option included on the survey to not enter the drawings. Thank you!

Special Note: You can gain extra entries through a fun game later on this week! More information on that to come. (And more "Christmas in July" posts in general to come, so be sure to come back tomorrow!)

*With thanks to Kelsey Keller and Barbour Publishers for providing a copy of Surrender the Dawn, and B&H Publishing (with PR by the Book) for providing a copy of 5 Conversations You Must Have With Your Son.*

Friday, July 22, 2011

Murder on the Orient Express

Background (Book Description):

"One of Agatha Christie’s most famous mysteries, Murder on the Orient Express was inspired by two real-life crimes and the author’s own experience being stranded on the Orient Express during Christmas of 1931. While traveling to Paris, a wealthy American is stabbed to death in his cabin on the Orient Express. With the train stuck in a snowdrift, there is no easy escape for the killer. Fortunately, detective Hercule Poirot is aboard and launches a clever investigation into the curious assortment of passengers, of whom each seems to have a motive."

Thoughts on the Case (My Partial Review):

*Sigh* Yet again I am sad to say that I didn't finish the book in time for the review/discussion date. Sorry! However, this time I'm halfway through the book instead of 1/3 of the way through, so that's something. ;)

I'm really enjoying these Agatha Christie books, though! Murder on the Orient Express is such an intellectually engaging/stimulating story! I absolutely love trains, so I really love this book's setting. And I love that in the second part of the book the reader is provided a map of the train car where the murder took place. I ended up writing on the map to try and help my mind sort things out. ;) Plus, I've been underlining some great lines in both of the Agatha Christie books I own (this one and Death on the Nile). Great stuff!

I apologize again for not having a complete review of either Christie book for you. But suffice it to say that I'm quite intrigued by both books so far, and I'm becoming a big fan of Poirot (both these books and this latest season's episodes on PBS Masterpiece).

Later that same day...

I finished the book! And wow - what a story! While there's not a lot of action, there's plenty of thinking and discussion, as well as some grand plot twists and surprises. While Death on the Nile is the first book by Agatha Christie that I started, Murder on the Orient Express is the first one by her that I've finished, and I loved it! Poirot's insights into the various characters, as well as his solution for this mystery, make him quite the remarkable and intriguing hero. I'm excited to finish Death on the Nile now, as well as to watch more of Poirot's brilliance via my new DVD collection of the latest Poirot season from PBS Masterpiece. ;)

(Cover image and book description from Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers.)

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Sherlock Double Feature: A Study in Scarlet (and Pink)

I've been really anticipating today's post! It's a Sherlock double feature - taking a look at Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's A Study in Scarlet, as well as the PBS Masterpiece Mystery episode of Sherlock, "A Study in Pink." (Warning: There will be spoilers!) To quote Sherlock Holmes, "the plot thickens"...

A Study in Scarlet

I confess to having watched "A Study in Pink" long before reading A Study in Scarlet. I'm not sure which would be more fun: reading the book first and seeing the little tidbits from the book in the episode, or watching the episode first and seeing how the creators of Sherlock used the book to inspire the show. Of course, I did the latter. I think no matter which way you go about it, it's just plain fun!

The first part of the book shares a lot of similarities with the show (although the show is modern and therefore has parallels with the book's plot rather than exact connections). Here are some examples I caught that I absolutely loved:
  • In the book Watson reads an article written by Sherlock Holmes about "The Science of Deduction." In the show, Watson reads Sherlock's website, aptly named "The Science of Deduction."
  • In the book Sherlock takes out an article in the newspaper regarding the mysterious wedding ring found at the scene of the crime - under Watson's name. In the show Sherlock uses Watson's cell phone and asks Watson to text the murderer. (Love it!)
  • In the book there are two pills - one poisonous and one harmless - just like in the show.
  • In the book the murderer works as a cab driver, just like in the show, although cabs in the time of the book were horse-drawn and not motorized vehicles.
  • In the book there is an interesting comment made by detective Gregson, who states, "He [Inspector Lestrade] is after the secretary Stangerson, who had no more to do with the crime than the babe unborn." Perhaps that's like the part in the show where the police think Rachel (the victim's stillborn daugher) has nothing to do with solving the crime?
There are many more similarities I am sure, but these were just a few that stood out to me. I do have to note one difference (a grand twist), as well:
  • In the book Sherlock tells Lestrade: "'Rache,' is the German for 'revenge;' so don't lose your time looking for Miss Rachel." I just had to laugh at that, because in the show it's the exact opposite! ;)
To continue on with my thoughts about the book, I have to say that I was quite surprised by the second part of the book where I was all of a sudden thrust into the back-story of the criminal. I had to skip ahead to make sure I was still reading the same book! ;) But once I realized that it was indeed pertinent to the mystery, I really appreciated the background. I was appalled and saddened by the crimes leading up to the one Sherlock solves. Mormons, the Wild West, and a tragic romance - definitely different than "A Study in Pink!" As I said, I didn't see it coming, but I appreciated the fact that the background was shared in an intriguing, engaging way.

A Study in Pink

If you have been following my blog since Fall 2010 (or earlier), you're probably aware that I fell in love with the PBS Masterpiece Sherlock series. I think the show is wonderfully done! To quote Sherlock himself, "Brilliant!" I cannot wait for Season Two!!

But back to the first episode of Season One... "A Study in Pink" is actually quite a different mystery than the one presented in the book A Study in Scarlet. There are plenty of connections with the book, and yet the show offers a unique, fascinating story. I think the show is more suspenseful, more action-packed, and more fun than the book (although I did enjoy the book!). But I'm probably partially biased since I saw the show first... ;)

Anyway, "A Study in Pink" is just so witty and quotable! And even though Sherlock is just as conceited and frustrating in the show as he is in the book, there's something charming and human about him in the show... The show puts more emphasis on his relationship with Watson, providing great dialogues and the beginnings of a "beautiful friendship." (I know, I know... It just fits!)

I like that we are able to see his mind at work throughout the episode, whereas in the book I feel like there are a lot less clues to go off on in order for the reader to come up with his/her own conclusions. It's as if we're traveling with Sherlock in the episode, but trailing after him in the book, if that makes sense. (But it could just be me... I'm not the best at solving mysteries, I confess!)

I just love the overall presentation of "A Study in Pink!" (Can you tell I LOVE this show??) I love the depth given to all of the characters, especially Watson (with his military background, his psychosomatic limp, etc.). And it's so thought-provoking and clever! My dad noted how intelligent the show is, and I completely agree!

More Sherlock, Please!

If you're interested in learning more about the PBS Masterpiece Sherlock series...

Want to discuss Sherlock? Here's a question for you:
  • In "A Study in Pink," Inspector Lestrade tells Watson, "Sherlock Holmes is a great man. And I think one day he might even be a good one." Do you agree with Lestrade's assessment? Why or why not?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Death on the Nile (Book Review and Discussion)

Background (Book Description):

"Linnet Doyle is young, beautiful, and rich. She's the girl who has everything—including the man her best friend loves. Linnet and her new husband take a cruise on the Nile, where they meet the brilliant detective Hercule Poirot. It should be an idyllic trip, yet Poirot has a vague, uneasy feeling that something is dangerously amiss..."

Thoughts on the Case (My Partial Review):

I am definitely intrigued by this case so far. Although I must say it's interesting that I'm about 1/3 of the way through the book, and the murder hasn't even happened yet! But as for introducing fascinating, pitiable, and various characters--Christie did a splendid job. Death on the Nile is my first foray into Agatha Christie's world of mystery novels, and I'm really enjoying it!

In the first part of the book ("England"), a wide cast of characters is introduced, all with interesting connections to one another and the couple of the hour: Simon and Linnet Doyle. Many motives are alluded to and brought into the light, but even a good way into the second part of the book ("Egypt") and 1/3 of the way through the whole story, there as yet is no crime to which these motives might have found fulfillment. I guess I'll just have to wait and see! A longer description of the book discusses the crime to be committed, so I already have an idea of what to expect, which makes me consider all the different characters in view of that.

But again, I've only seen the backdrop so far. I hope to read more soon, and I do apologize for not having finished the book in time for today's discussion! That being said, I beg of you (if you have read the book) not to tell me the conclusion! I want to wait and find it out for myself... ;)


Even though I haven't finished the book, I would still love to have a discussion based on what I've read so far. I've come up with questions regarding the pages I've read so far, some of which pertain to the plot and others of which are just general questions that people who haven't read the book can still respond to, so I do hope you'll participate!
  • When Hercule Poirot talks with Linnet about Jackie (the scorned lover who is following her ex-fiancee and Linnet everywhere) he references King David and the story that was told about David in terms of a rich man and a poor man, where the rich man took the poor man's one lamb. Do you think this is a good parallel for the situation between Jackie and Linnet? Why or why not? Do you have sympathy for both of these characters?
  • Near the beginning of the book, Poirot is at a restaurant observing the people there. He notes at one point, "How absurd to call youth the time of happiness--youth, the time of greatest vulnerability!" And later he thinks, "He was glad that he was no longer young." What do you think of Poirot's view of youth? How does it differ from the glamorous view of youth that seems to prevail in the media (etc.)?
  • When talking to Jackie about her unhealthy obsession with revenge, Poirot tells her, "Give up the past! Turn to the future! What is done is done. Bitterness will not undo it." And when Jackie protests her ability to let it go, he says, "No--for you could do it! There is always a moment!" Do you agree with Poirot? Is he being unsympathetic...or wise? And do you think he is right in saying that she can still make the choice to do the right thing?
(Cover image and book description from Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers.)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Masterpiece Mystery: Miss Marple (The Pale Horse)

It's too bad there's only one episode in this latest season (Series 6) of Miss Marple--because I loved "The Pale Horse," and I'm ready for more!

In 2010 PBS Masterpiece won me over during the Classics season with shows like Jane Austen's Emma, Northanger Abbey, and the action-packed The 39 Steps. And then later that year the new, modern version of Sherlock was an absolute treat for me, and I became intrigued by the Mystery season. I ended up watching a couple of older Miss Marple episodes with my aunt and uncle while visiting some family in Texas over Thanksgiving break, and I really enjoyed them.

When I discovered that JJ Feild was playing a role in this latest episode of Miss Marple, I was even more convinced that I had to see it! JJ Feild was Henry Tilney in Northanger Abbey, and he did a splendid job, in my opinion. ;) Gotta love a hero with a sense of humor and a great smile!

Anyway, overall I found "The Pale Horse" to be a wonderful episode! (And just to clarify, "episodes" for PBS Masterpiece are movie-length--about 90 minutes, generally.) With plenty of interesting suspects, a creepy setting, and the ever-lovable (and quite insightful!) Miss Marple, you get the perfect mix for a "keep-you-guessing" mystery.

When Miss Marple receives a letter with a list of names from a dear friend (Father Gorman), and then later discovers that Gorman has been murdered, she sets off to seek justice for her friend and follow the clue that he gave his life to protect. "Teaming up" with an inspector (who doesn't really appreciate her meddling ways at first), she tracks down leads and eventually ends up at the Pale Horse Inn, where she encounters "witches," secretive guests, and a complex and dangerous scheme.

I like the array of characters, as well as the twists and turns along the way. As for the ending, well, let's just say I didn't see it coming--which is a good thing when it comes to mysteries, right? I loved the surprises, and Miss Marple is a heroine to admire!

I haven't read any of the Miss Marple books, but I've enjoyed the episodes I've seen, and The Pale Horse was a pleasure to watch! My family watched it with me, and they all seemed to really like it, too--from my grandparents, to my parents, to my younger sister (who came in part way through). This episode is a great way to spend the evening if you're a fan of "cozy" mysteries!


If you watched "The Pale Horse," I'd love to hear your thoughts! If you haven't yet watched it, feel free to click the link above to watch it online and then come back. Just be sure to watch the episode before you join the discussion because there will be some spoilers!

Here are some questions to get us started:
  • Do you admire Miss Marple? If so, what do you admire most about her?
  • What do you think about the setting of this episode? Do you find The Pale Horse Inn to be intriguing, spooky, disturbing, historically interesting, or something else?
  • What are your thoughts on the ending? Did it surprise you?
  • If you've read or seen other Miss Marple mysteries, how do you feel this one compares?

And don't forget...

Tomorrow we're discussing Death on the Nile (A Hercule Poirot Mystery) by Agatha Christie!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Mystery Week: A K9 Spy's Story

If you long for purpose, adventure, and a loving home, then you'll have no problem relating to the spunky heroine of this clever book! May on the Way: How I Become a K9 Spy is the story of a little dog with a painful past who becomes part of something big.

The perspective in this story is doubly unusual - it's an animal's perspective and it's in first person present (hence, the nature of the title - "How I Become a K9 Spy"). It takes a little getting used to, but eventually the reader gets wrapped up in May's excitement as she's living her story out. Animal lovers from middle-school age on up should find the story to be a treat of a read!

There are lots of interesting secondary characters in this book, as well - humans and animals alike - from May's new "parents" to the copperhead snake who isn't quite as he seems. Some of the dialogue is a little stilted at times, but overall the characters are intriguing with all of their differences and their secrets.

There are also lots of twists and turns in this book which include some important lessons about loving others. The ending comes a little quickly, but in a way it works well, because the ending makes the reader long to find out more about May's journey in book two! And the excerpt from book two at the end helps strengthen that longing.

May has quite a fun and creative story to share in May on the Way, and the lovely illustrations really work well with the words to make a fabulous puppy package of a book!

*With thanks to the author for providing me with a copy of the book in exchange for my honest opinion.*

From the Heroine:

"Mom has an active imagination - she’s really still a kid at heart. She says from watching me! She tells me she admires my spirit and my attitude having survived all I did when I was a puppy. Like Mom says all the time, God has a plan! Of course, a lot of times we don’t know what it is until later. I mean, I would never have figured that growing up enduring the abuse I did, that one day I’d be the star of my own book series! So she wanted to help me tell my story to you. We both hope that you are encouraged to know that God loves you and has a perfect plan for you too!"

About the Author:

"KC Frantzen learned to speak critter at a young age. As a veterinarian's daughter, she was always surrounded by four-footed friends. Occasionally her dad would bring home patients needing care during the night. He'd put the carrier on the dryer, and KC would stand on tippy toes to comfort them as best she could.

She began writing in elementary school and even won the school-wide contest with a story on deep sea fishing. Though she kept writing here and there, it was mostly just for fun.

KC taught fifth grade, worked for an oilfield supply company, a pharmaceutical company, t
hen embarked on several entrepreneurial endeavors. She volunteers with a variety of projects, including the Joni & Friends Wounded Warrior Getaway. She completed the Christian Writers Guild Apprentice course, which helped prepare her to tell May's story.

KC and her husband enjoy traveling just about anywhere, which helps formulate ideas for her stories. The family lives in the Tennessee hills - two humans, two Arabian horses and several rescued dogs, including May."

Want to learn more about May the K9 Spy?

You can visit her super cool website and purchase a copy of her story!

And today you can check out The Borrowed Book blog to read a fun interview with May and her author mom, KC!

(Note: All photos and artwork (c) 2011 KC Frantzen.)

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Mystery Week Begins Tomorrow!

If you love mysteries (books and movies), you'll love the line-up this week! Lots of book and movie discussions galore for all you mystery fans out there. And if you're not a mystery fan (yet), then perhaps this week might get you started down a new and enjoyable path. ;)

As a reminder, here's the game plan for "Mystery Week" (July 18th-22nd):
  • Monday: Special Book/Author Feature (Who's the author? Well, it's a mystery that you'll have to solve by checking in on Monday!)
  • Tuesday: Miss Marple, "The Pale Horse" (Movie review and discussion)
  • Wednesday: Death on the Nile (Book review and discussion)
  • Thursday: Sherlock Double Feature--Review/discussion of the 2010 episode "A Study in Pink" and the book A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  • Friday: Murder on the Orient Express (Book review and discussion)
  • Saturday: I might throw in a review of "Hallowe'en Party" or "Vendetta" if I find time!
Don't forget you can watch "The Pale Horse" (and "Hallowe'en Party," as well as "Vendetta" starting tomorrow) online on the PBS Masterpiece website for free!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Wanted: Host for August's Christian Fiction Book Club Meeting

Do you enjoy discussing books? Do you like hosting blog events? Have you read Digitalis by Ronie Kendig (or can you read it by August 13th)?

If your answers are "yes," then we want you to comment today! I have the privilege of picking the next Christian Fiction Book Club host, so I'm on the lookout for someone who's interested in the job. I just hosted July's discussion of Pompeii: City on Fire by T.L. Higley, and it was really neat!

Want to learn more before you sign up? Just click the image above to read the schedule for 2011, as well as the guidelines for the Christian Fiction Book Club. Or feel free to ask me any questions in the comments section!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

My Review of The Inconvenient Marriage of Charlotte Beck

Here's a description of the book from Waterbrook Multnomah:

"Unlikely romance is sometimes just an inconvenient marriage away.

Charlotte Beck may be entering adulthood, but she can’t seem to keep to her stubborn, independent spirit from bucking social protocol. Fed up with her behavior, Charlotte’s father Daniel pressures her to settle into a nice marriage despite knowing she is set on going to college. Then Daniel sees Charlotte with the handsome but annoying English astronomer Alex Hambly, and everything changes.

Though Alex and Charlotte can barely stand one another, Daniel offers them a deal they can’t refuse: if they agree to marry, he will save Alex’s family from financial ruin and grant Charlotte the freedom to go to college. Reluctantly the couple agrees, but in private they plot to annul the marriage as soon as possible.

But when Alex’s feelings change and he refuses to dissolve their contract, will Charlotte find a way out of her vows? Or will she discover that maybe this marriage isn’t so inconvenient after all?"

My Rating: Spring

My Review:

In the hilarious style of Mary Connealy, Y'Barbo knows how to tell a fun and romantic Western adventure story! From the very first chapter involving falling out of a window (and fainting in the arms of a handsome British astronomer and viscount) to the very last chapter full of promise (and playful banter), The Inconvenient Marriage of Charlotte Beck is a quick, enjoyable ride.

Broken into two parts, the first involves one misadventure after another--full of laughs and humorous encounters between Charlotte and Alex. The journey to the (eventual) altar is great fun to read about. Shows with Buffalo Bill...burning dress ribbons...inevitable get the idea!

The second part is rather more serious in nature, although still engaging. Marriage is, after all, a serious business, and it's a lesson that Charlotte and Alex take a while to learn. I have to say that while I do appreciate the fact that Charlotte's father obviously loves her, I can understand a bit of why Charlotte longed for freedom so much. The sections regarding her father's lectures, as well as his constant controlling demeanor, did seem a little overbearing, in my opinion, but I'm glad that it was obvious he had Charlotte's best intentions at heart. Honoring one's parents is also a very serious matter, but one that comes with great blessing.

Overall, I found The Inconvenient Marriage of Charlotte Beck to be a pleasant read with a surprising depth. Definitely a great book for the long summer days!

*With thanks to Waterbrook Multnomah Publishing Group for providing me with a copy of the book in exchange for my honest opinion.*

Would you consider ranking my review? Thank you!

Glass Road PR: My Review of Forever After

Here's a description of the book from Simon & Schuster:

"A fire killed his best friend and his lifelong dream of being a firefighter. The same fire killed her husband and hopes for a family. Can new dreams replace old?

Lucas Vermontez
was a proud firefighter like his father. Now, not only has he lost his father and his best friend, Zach, in the fire at the Grove Street homeless shelter, but the devoted rookie can no longer do the work he loves after being crippled in the tragic event. When friendship with his buddy's beautiful widow turns into more, he wonders, what could he possibly offer Jenna?

Jenna Morgan
is trying to grieve her husband's death like a proper widow, but the truth is, she never really loved Zach. His death feels more like a relief to her. But that relief is short-lived when she loses her home and the financial support of her in-laws. Now the secrets of her past threaten to destroy her future. Can the two forget the painful past and discover new reasons to live and love?"

My Rating: Spring

My Review:

Deborah Raney is a talented author! Forever After is well-written, and the story flows nicely. There's a lot of emotional tension and a gentle, romantic plot to keep you turning pages.

Raney's characters have issues--from financial worries to physical impairment--making them realistic. They're the kind of people that frustrate you at times when they're slow to learn (oh, but doesn't that hit home?), and yet the kind of people you cheer for and desire the best for.

I love how dogs (especially one dog in particular) play a role in this book--providing a symbol of healing in more ways than one. Raney does a wonderful job of letting hope occasionally peek through and then eventually shine brightly as Lucas and Jenna find their happily-forever-after.

Near the end there was a jump after the climatic action that was a bit abrupt and didn't leave me completely satisfied in regards to details, but overall I really enjoyed Forever After with its sweet romance and themes of hope and healing. A great read!

*With thanks to the publisher and Glass Road PR for providing me with a copy of the book in exchange for my honest opinion. My apologies for the delay in finishing the book and posting my review!*

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Friends, Crafts, and a Mystery!

Today is a super fun day, because I have so much I get to show all of you! Let's start with an extra special blessing I received at the very beginning of my last vacation:

That's right! I got to meet our very own Casey from Writing for Christ!!!

Casey came and spent a couple of days with me and my family at a home we rented in Sunriver, Oregon. We had such a blast! It was almost unreal--getting to meet a dear friend I had known online for over a year in person!! I even got to have lunch with her family one day, which was a real treat, as well. Casey is a beautiful person inside and out, and I consider myself very blessed indeed to call her my friend!

Here's us at the park! We put together a picnic lunch and bicycled to the park, sat on the grass, and talked forever! ;) Loved it!

Of course, we had to get a picture of us together with books! ;) Forget snail mail when you can swap books in person!!

We packed a lot of wonderful memories into one weekend. Casey's friendship, as well as the friendships of all my dear blogging friends, are blessings I'll be forever grateful for!

Also, while I was on vacation, I finished this:

The hummingbird counted cross-stitch piece for my grandma is complete!

For those of you who attended Camp Humility 2011 here on the blog, you might recall me showing you this piece as a work-in-progress during our craft time. Well, my grandma and I spent some time cross-stitching together during our vacation. So my "hummingbirds" didn't turn out to be a complete surprise after all, but we had fun working on cross-stitching together, and the memories were even better than the surprise!

My sister was sweet enough to take a picture of me with my completed project!

As for the mystery? The mystery is what the schedule will be like for "Mystery Week." ;)

First, here are the results of the "Mystery Week Poll":

Do you enjoy reading mysteries? 19 votes
  • 14 Yes, very much!
  • 5 Once in a while.
  • 1 Nope.
(Amber's Note: Good to know!)

Do you watch the PBS Masterpiece Mystery season? 19 votes
  • 2 Yes, I love it!
  • 6 Sometimes.
  • 7 No.
  • 5 What's PBS Masterpiece?
(Amber's Note: Oh, dear! Ya'll are missing out! I do hope this upcoming week might help some of you discover the wonders of PBS Masterpiece. Remember, you can watch some of these shows online for free for a limited time!) ;)

Which of these books would you be interested in discussing this week? 21 votes
  • 9 Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
  • 6 Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie
  • 7 A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Which of these movies would you be interested in discussing this week? 18 votes
  • 7 PBS Masterpiece: Sherlock, A Study in Pink (2010)
  • 4 PBS Masterpiece: Poirot, Hallowe'en Party (2011)
  • 5 PBS Masterpiece: Miss Marple, The Pale Horse (2011)
  • 1 PBS Masterpiece: Zen, Vendetta (2011)
  • 2 Other (Inspector Lewis, and a voter noting that they hadn't seen PBS Masterpiece)
~ ~ ~

Thank you to all of you who voted! So, here's the game plan for "Mystery Week" (July 18th-22nd):
  • Monday: Special Book/Author Feature (Who's the author? Well, it's a mystery that you'll have to solve by checking in on Monday!)
  • Tuesday: Miss Marple, "The Pale Horse" (Movie review and discussion)
  • Wednesday: Death on the Nile (Book review and discussion)
  • Thursday: Sherlock Double Feature--Review/discussion of the 2010 episode "A Study in Pink" and the book A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  • Friday: Murder on the Orient Express (Book review and discussion)
  • Saturday: I might throw in a review of "Hallowe'en Party" or "Vendetta" if I find time!
~ ~ ~

"Mystery Week" is no longer a mystery! I hope that this overview helps you--now you can get a start on reading these books and/or watching these movies that we'll be discussing.

Yesterday I should have included a link to the PBS Masterpiece website, and I should have let you know that some of the movies I listed are available to watch online for free! So, here's that info in case you're interested:
  • You can watch "Hallowe'en Party" (Poirot) now through August 2nd, "The Pale Horse" (Miss Marple) now through August 10th, and "Vendetta" (Zen) starting Monday, July 18th, online! (As you can see from the schedule above, we'll be discussing "The Pale Horse" on Tuesday, so you can watch it online before then!)
I know this is a lot to take in, so please feel free to share any and all thoughts (or questions!) on Mystery Week, crafts, blogging friends, or whatever! ;)