The Twilight Saga: My Verdict

Yes, it’s true.  I must confess that I actually checked out and read all four of the Twilight books.  Now, you might ask (as I sometimes ask myself): “Why would someone who refuses to read or see anything involving vampires, feels sick at the mention of blood, and is annoyed by teenage love stories read the Twilight books?” It’s a good question.  So why did I?  Peer pressure.  I caved.  So many people I know were talking about the books and the movies, and I wanted to have an informed part of the conversation.  So I read them.  And the first thing I have to say after reading them is that I do not want to kill myself, wash my brain out with soap, or wish I had found some better way to waste my time.  Because these books are actually good.  Anyone who finds my reviews boring can stop reading now. If you’d like to know more, please feel free to continue. 🙂

The first book, Twilight, is a teenage love story with a twist: Boy meets girl, boy saves girl’s life, they fall in love.  The twist, of course, is that while the girl (Bella) is a fairly ordinary human, the boy (Edward) is a vampire.  Oh no!  Have I said too much?  Honestly, if you don’t know that, you need to get out more.  So Twilight continues and introduces Bella’s family and friends and the Cullen family of “vegetarian” vampires who feed on animals instead of humans.  Bella’s presence in a group of vampires, even if they are “good” vampires, leads to some fairly predictable conflicts, as well as some not-so-predictable ones.  There is some humor, exciting action, and great character development.  Despite all the teenage angst and the melodramatic love story, I decided the first book wasn’t so bad, so I went on to the next: New Moon.

New Moon picks up right where Twilight picks off, and just as I was beginning to dread a whole book filled with, “Oh Edward, I love you so much, why can’t I be a vampire too?” things took a very interesting and unexpected turn.  Heart-broken and half-crazed Bella now turns to her friend Jacob Black, who helps her repair a motorcycle.  They develop a very close friendship and just as Bella is beginning to hope that she might begin to enjoy life again, Jacob starts acting very strange.  It’s only a matter of time before Bella discovers that Jake isn’t totally human either, and that his family are the mortal enemies of Edward’s family.  Before she can work out all of those difficulties, she’s off to Italy to try to save Edward from certain death at the hands of the Volturi, the powerful “ruling family” of the Vampire world.  Things end pretty well, but now there’s this whole Edward-Bella-Jacob thing to have to deal with…on to the third book: Eclipse.

Now we have several conflicts to deal with: Bella’s “best friend” Jacob likes Bella, who loves Edward; vampires vs. werewolves (oops, did I say werewolves…?); and a crazy evil vampire, bent on vengeance, creating a nasty army to come take Bella out.  If you haven’t figured it out, Bella is a sort of magnet for otherworldly, supernatural trouble.  After a whole book full of emotional roller coasters, danger, and action, some conflicts are resolved, while some become even more troublesome and painful.  At this point, it looks like there is no possible way to really resolve everything happily, which is why we have book four: Breaking Dawn.

Breaking Dawn is a LONG book.  It’s actually three books in one: Books one and three are told like the rest of the series, in first-person by Bella, but in book two we get to hear from Jacob.  Each part is essentially its own story, but they all tie together into a very fascinating whole.  That’s my best way to describe this book: absolutely fascinating and, for the most part, totally unexpected.  At the end of book two, I had to put the book down and just say, “Whoa.”  It’s really almost brilliant.  The last part is very good too, but I have to say I was mildly disappointed in the ending.  There is ultimately a final confrontation with the Volturi, in which there is a good chance that pretty much everyone will die, but I won’t spoil that for anyone who hasn’t read them and might possibly do so at some point.  I will just say that Stephenie Meyer did channel enough genius to resolve the conflicts in a way that was both surprising and satisfactory, just that the ending lacked a certain…something.  That’s all.

In my opinion, the best thing about these books was the characters.  They are very well-developed, and almost seem like real people, despite the somewhat fantastic nature of the story.  I think the only exception is Edward.  I understand that the point of his character is to be absolutely perfect, but still, I like my heroes to have some flaws, and Edward simply doesn’t.  Bella and Jacob are both much more “real,” and for me, likable.  Of course, they’re much more human, and Edward isn’t, so maybe that is intentional.  I don’t know.  But it’s my review, and so my opinion stands.  I neither like nor dislike Edward.  Comment if you’d like.

The other great thing about these books is how well the story moves.  Every once in awhile it does get bogged down by its own weight, but for the most part, it’s a good balance of romance, action, normal stuff, and even some humor.  In the meantime, we really get to know and understand the characters so that we actually care about what happens to them.  I was even able to get past my aversion for blood and vampires and enjoy the story, although I did have at least one fairly disturbing nightmare during the course of reading the series, and I seriously doubt I’ll have anything to do with vampire-related material in the future.  I also have to say that I’m not sold on the genre of “paranormal romance,” which is how I would classify these books.  Not really fantasy or horror, and definitely more than just romance, they sort of hover somewhere in between.  Twilight definitely feels more like a straight romance, while Breaking Dawn really seems to enter the world of fantasy, but none of it is totally one or the other.

A few final comments, and then I’ll be done.  First of all, these books are remarkably “clean.”  Considering the fact that they deal primarily with vampires, who are generally portrayed with large amounts of sex and grisly, bloody violence, there is actually very little of either in these books.  More blood than sex, but not terribly graphic.  There are a few scenes in Breaking Dawn that were a little hard for me to handle, but again, I am a total weakling when it comes to any mention of blood.  So if you were curious about those aspects of the story, perhaps I have helped to enlighten you.  Finally, I will say that while these books were good and I enjoyed them, I would not list them among the best I have read, and I’m not likely to ever read them again.  But I do recommend them to anyone who enjoys a good story and can tolerate a lot of romance.  They are worth the read.

Regency Buck by Georgette Heyer: The Ultimate in Regency Romance

I just had the pleasure of being able to enjoy reading one of Georgette Heyer’s Regency Romance novels for the first time.  I don’t get that experience very often, because I’ve read most of Heyer’s books by this point, and read several this year that I didn’t necessarily care for.  Sourcebooks has been putting out beautiful trade paperbacks of Heyer’s works for a few years now, and I got two of them for Christmas: The Grand Sophy, my absolute favorite, and Regency Buck, which I had never read.  Although The Grand Sophy must still remain my favorite for several reasons, Regency Buck is now right up there with Sylvester, Cotillion, and a few other of my “almost favorites.”  If you aren’t a fan of Regencies and don’t want to be yawning by the end of this review, you might want to stop here.  For anyone brave enough or who just doesn’t have enough else to do, feel free to read on. 🙂

Unlike many of Heyer’s Regencies, which set up with a drawing room conversation between a few minor characters or a major and a minor character, Regency Buck launches right into the story.  Mr. Peregrine and Miss Judith Taverner are on their way to London after the fairly recent death of their father has left them wards of the Earl of Worth, who they have never met.  On the way, Perry hears of a prize fight about to take place near the town where they have randomly stopped to rest, and he insists they stay for it.  Judith reluctantly agrees, and they meet several interesting gentlemen during the course of their stay.  One, a very pleasant man who gives up his rooms at the inn for them, turns out to be their cousin, Mr. Bernard Taverner.  The other is a high-handed dandy who seems rather lacking in manners, accosts Judith on the road, and refuses to give his name.  To their dismay, when the Taverners reach London they discover that this insufferable person is none other than their guardian, Lord Worth.  Despite his obvious reluctance to have anything to do with them, as the young Taverners make their place in society, Lord Worth continues to take a high-handed approach with them.  Judith finds herself unable to decide whether she detests his interference or appreciates the security he provides.  Meanwhile, several plots to remove the Taverners from their large fortune – and also possibly their lives – must be dealt with, as well.  The mysterious aspect of the plot is so subtle that the reader is never totally sure whether anything nefarious is actually taking place or who the villain or hero will turn out to be.

This book is set at the very height of the fashionable Regency period, when Beau Brummell actively sets all the fashions, Gentleman Jackson is quite active in his club and in society, Almack’s is at it’s very height of influence, and the Prince Regent’s summer castle at Brighton is the place for high society to spend the warmer months of the year.  Judith and her brother are swept along by all the brilliance and activity that their rank and fortune allows them.  Judith in particular is quite the rage, with her combination of beauty, fortune, and pert opinions.  She is pursued by a number of suitors, including a Royal Duke, but finds much more interesting pursuits for herself in driving a phaeton and becoming a connoisseur of snuff.  Her easy friendship with such society greats as Mr. Brummell and Lord Petersham, not to mention her guardian and protector, Lord Worth, keeps her buffered from some of the censure that some of her unorthodox behavior might otherwise incur.  She is certainly one of the most delightful and fascinating of Heyer’s heroines.

As I mentioned, I enjoyed this book very much.  I think it is an absolute essential read in the genre of Regency Romance.  It defines and describes the period better than any other book I have read, while also presenting an intriguing plot and a very satisfying romance.  Having read An Infamous Army, I was already familiar with most of the characters.  Because Regency Buck actually comes first, a few of the plot twists were ruined for me, but I still found the book hard to put down.  For anyone considering reading Georgette Heyer, it is important to know that most of her books stand alone, but a few have common characters.  They are These Old Shades, Black Sheep, Regency Buck, and An Infamous Army, and they make the most sense if they are read in that order.  I didn’t care for An Infamous Army, which is much more historical than romantic, and contains both an irritating heroine and painstakingly accurate details of the Battle of Waterloo.  Unless that somehow sounds exciting, I would suggest skipping that one altogether.  The other three are quite good, though Regency Buck is the best, and can be read by itself.

Lucy’s Favorite Things

If you know me at all, you know I am always happy to talk about my dogs. Rusty is our four-year-old Lab/German Shepherd mix who is super-sweet with huge chocolate eyes, scared of everything, and not quite right in the head. Lucy is seven, a beautiful mutt of uncertain ancestry, probably Husky and Australian Shepherd. She has been Greg’s dog ever since she picked him out at the Portales pound, but she loves me too, and sometimes she even seems to like Rusty. She’s a smart but stubborn dog, very well-trained with good manners and a sweet spirit. Her list of favorite things is short, but definite: food, affection, sleep, treats, and her two squeaky toys. One is a purple polka-dotted ball, and one is a bumpy white football. They have been around since before her time. They came in a stocking that Greg and I got for Sally, our first dog, on her first Christmas. She was a little freaked out by the squeak, so she never played with them. Then we got Lucy, and the football was the only toy that Sally would let her play with, so it became her one special toy. Sally then decided that squeaky toys weren’t all bad, and adopted the purple ball as her own. We only let the dogs play with toys in the house, under supervision, and the house time is pretty limited. So any time she would come in the house, Lucy would immediately find the football, squeak it a few times to make sure it was okay, and then she’d be ready to play, or be petted, or flop on the floor and go to sleep. She would always remember where she had left the football, but if we had moved it and she couldn’t find it, she would hunt it down with dedication and purpose, and expect us to help if she was having trouble. When Sally died, Lucy inherited the purple ball. That was great for us, because occasionally we would lose one of the balls, and Lucy would be very disappointed if she couldn’t have her squeaky time when she first came in the house.

Lucy is a fluffy brown dog with furry ears and feet. Texas was not the ideal climate for her. She seemed to feel the heat more every summer. However, since we moved to Colorado last month, she seems to have a whole new lease on life. She is bouncy and happy all the time, and so far hasn’t showed any of the grumpy moods that she would get into in Texas. Also, since Rusty would insist on barking all night if we left them outside, and we want our neighbors to like us, we have been letting them sleep in the utility room in the basement instead of in the pen outside. So they are really living it up now. Every night, they come in the door and charge down the stairs, and Lucy goes to find both the white football and the purple ball. Now, instead of just squeaking them once or twice, she pounces on them, chases them around the room, and has some real fun before coming to us for love and affection. This week, apparently she has got the idea that if the balls are so fun inside, why not take them outside? Earlier this week I found the football in a corner at the top of the stairs, and asked Greg if he had brought it up there. He hadn’t, so I figured Lucy must have tried to sneak it outside. Then this morning, I went to let them out, and Rusty immediately ran up the stairs and waited at the door. Lucy took her time but came up soon after, and when I opened the door, there was the purple ball, about to roll out the screen door. I grabbed it just as Lucy scooted out the door. She looked back for the ball, and then looked up at me as if to say, “What the heck? It’s my ball and I want to bring it outside!” I just shrugged and tossed it down the stairs. Greg laughed and laughed, and we decided the story was too good not to share. So there you go.

Lucy on the doghouse                             

Lucy and Rusty

Best of Pueblo: The Daily Grind

Now that I live in a new town, I get to try new restaurants! I’m so excited! One of the ladies at our new church gave us a section from the paper called The Best of Pueblo 2009, and I’m going to make it my goal to try several of them over the next few months. Oh boy!

The Daily Grind is a coffeeshop and deli on Union Street. We went there last year when we were visiting Pueblo, but I don’t remember much other than we liked it. It’s kind of eclectic and chic, with old board games and paperbacks available for entertainment, and local art on the walls. It was voted the best coffeeshop in Pueblo, and when we returned today, we saw why.

One of the first things I noticed when I walked in was the wall of tea. It is a floor-to-ceiling shelf filled with containers of about forty varieties of loose tea. As tempted as I was to try them (Ginger Black Tea sounded especially tasty), I had to go with the Hazelnut Latte. I chose decaf because I’d already had tea that morning and I’m trying to be careful with my caffeine intake. Now, I have never found a coffeeshop that could rival Starbucks’ hazelnut latte, but this was actually better. It tasted richer, with a little better hazelnut latte. I was impressed. Then I ate the food.

I ordered a half BLT on multi-grain bread and the soup of the day, which was baked potato. I opted for the cheese and bacon on the soup (I get 300 extra calories a day, so why not use them on bacon and cheese, right?) It was the thickest, creamiest, cheesiest potato soup I have ever had, and it was so rich I had to take some home. Yum! And the BLT was great, too. I had to trim some of the lettuce off the edges (I think they used a whole green leaf), and there was some kind of reddish-orange sauce on it that I was a little concerned about, but not for long! The bacon was excellent (Greg said it tasted expensive), the lettuce was crisp, the tomato was nicely ripe, and the bread was toasted to perfection. I don’t know what kind of sauce the reddish-orange stuff was, but it was tasty. Oh, and they served it with a pickle spear that was over six inches long. Pickles are my favorite food lately, so I was perfectly happy.

I am now a fan of The Daily Grind. They have a large variety of sandwiches, pastries, soups, and salads, some really excellent coffeeshop drinks, and a pleasant, edgy ambiance. I imagine I will have more good things to say about them in the future!

Summer Reading Project Book Ten: Redeeming Love

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

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

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

Summer Reading Project Book Nine: Rilla of Ingleside

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

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

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

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

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

Summer Reading Project Book Eight: Rainbow Valley

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

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

Summer Reading Project Book Seven: Anne of Ingleside

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

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

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

Summer Reading Project Book Six: Anne’s House of Dreams

And they lived happily ever after…

Anne finally marries her sweetheart, and they settle in Four Winds, at their little white house of dreams. The first months of marriage are sweet for the newlyweds, with all the joys of marriage and good friends. Somewhat isolated from the town of Glen St. Mary, they have a few neighbors who become dear friends: Miss Cornelia Bryant, Captain Jim, and Leslie Moore. Like Anne’s other hard-won friendships, her relationship with Leslie is very precious but also very complicated, due to Leslie’s difficult circumstances. Still, with Miss Cornelia’s juicy gossip and Captain Jim’s amazing stories, along with settling into life as a married woman, Anne finds plenty of joy.

This is sort of a bittersweet little book, because there is deep sorrow and strife in it, alongside the bright happiness. However, Anne and her new husband find that their love can withstand even the difficult times. It is “happily ever after,” but in a real-life sort of way. And of course, because Anne is Anne and she seems to attract romance wherever she goes, she more another opportunities to see things work out well for her friends – in ways even she could not have imagined.

This is one of the shorter books in the series. I read most of it on the plane from Texas to Massachusetts, and I did love it. L. M. Montgomery has a way of making even sad things seem sweet, which takes a lot of the sting out of them. By the end of this book it feels like Anne is really a complete person, all grown up and ready to guide a new generation through the wild beauty of life.

Summer Reading Project Book Five: Anne of Windy Poplars

As with all the other Anne books, this one is a delight. It’s also a bit different, as it’s divided into three segments of one year each, and about half of it is made up of letters from Anne to her fiance. He is putting in his three years of medical school before they are to be married. Meanwhile, Anne is a principle at Summerside High. Summerside is like many other towns on Prince Edward Island at that time, with one notable difference: the Pringles. They are the ruling family in town and have a prejudice against Anne from the beginning. After the first miserable term at school, Anne is close to giving up in despair. But her salvation comes from a very unexpected and unintended source, and from then on, the Pringles are a delight.

Anne is almost a busybody in this book. She is just old enough and has seen just enough of the world to believe herself to be wise and experienced — as is often the case with twenty-something college graduates. However, her old Anne Shirley sweetness is not spoiled by the wisdom of the ages, and she learns her lesson in a few hilarious episodes. She enchants the elderly ladies she lives with, befriends sweet Little Elizabeth next door, and refuses to be daunted by even the prickly Katherine Brooke.

Much of the plot for the “Sequel” movie actually comes from this book, intertwined with bits from Anne of Avonlea and Anne of the Island. There is one family in the movie that is actually a blend of at least ten different people in the books, and it’s fun to see all the threads in their original, unraveled form. Getting through this book was more of a leisurely stroll than the headlong rush of Anne of the Island, but it was still an enjoyable trip.