"Death Comes For The Archbishop"

Death Comes For The Archbishop by Willa Cather

It took a bit of determination for me to get interested in this story but in the end, Willa Cather's writing got to me again. This is the fourth of her novels I've read. I loved "My Antonia" but was less enthusiastic about "The Professor's House" and "Song Of The Lark". Those two plots didn't appeal to me but the writing made up for it. She has a way of saying things that is simple and clear and that makes it possible to get concepts fully across with a minimum of words, a skill I admire a lot and that makes her books a joy to read.

The same way that Cather was able to bring the land alive almost as a character of it's own in "My Antonia", she made the desert dust and heat of New Mexico so real and vibrant it will be what stays with me most from this book. It's not a climate or culture that held any real fascination for me, but I look at it differently after reading this. It left me feeling I'd just visited a place I could come to love once I breathed it's air.

The central figure in the story is Father Jean Latour. Raised and educated in France with his good friend Joseph Vaillant, both went into the Catholic Priesthood and followed their callings to various locations until they were sent to America. The story of establishing missions among the Spanish and the Indians is filled with hardship and beauty, celebration and heartbreak. It was a difficult and sometimes lonely life, often lived under what seemed like impossible circumstances, but the wholehearted devotion of these two men to their God and their people is inspiring.

This is not an easy book to slot into a particular genre. It's a quiet, gentle story with lots of American southwest history and culture, and it's beautifully written. It's not a mystery or a romance or a page-turner in any way, but it is a most satisfying read and one I can recommend. 

"The Sunday Philosophy Club"

The Sunday Philosophy Club by Alexander McCall Smith

Isabel Dalhousie is a single woman in her forties living in Edinburgh, Scotland. She is a patron of the arts, editor of a philosophical journal and a fan of cryptic crossword puzzles. Those last four make her a character I will not be able to resist. She is also a bit of an amateur sleuth, although this isn't a mystery in the usual sense of the genre. It's more that she has a healthy curiosity about what goes on around her and doesn't let go of something till she figures it out.

She is a likable enough character, if slightly superior at moments. She's intelligent, down-to-earth and is both interesting herself and interested in others. In this book, the first in the series, Isabel witnesses the death of a young man when he falls from the heights of a theater balcony onto the seats below. She isn't happy with the police report that says it was an accident, so she sets out on her own investigation, confiding in and working with Jamie, the ex of her niece, Cat. Isabel and Jamie have remained friends and it is her hope that Cat will eventually become disillusioned with her current boyfriend, Toby, about whom Isabel has doubts, and will get rid of him and go back to Jamie. Cat has other plans and is less than enthusiastic about her aunt's meddling.

I enjoyed the sheer "Scottishness" of the book. It was a pleasure to read, more for it's atmosphere and characters and the way the authour puts words together than for it's plot. It's a mild mystery, which is fine with me because I'm not much of a mystery fan anyway. I'll stick with the series because it's good reading and also because I have as yet only read mentions of the actual Sunday Philosophy Club and I want to meet the members. Maybe in the next one.

"Faith Like Potatoes"

Faith Like Potatoes by Angus Buchan

I didn't know until after reading this book that there is controversy surrounding it, the movie based on it, and Buchan's ministry, "Shalom Ministries". I had a few qualms while I was reading it, and I still have them, but I'm not sure I would write the whole thing off as some web sources are suggesting.

Angus Buchan grew up in South Africa where his ministry is based but has some Scottish ancestry - hence the name "Angus" I gather. This book is the story of his growing up, establishing a farm, having a family, becoming a Christian and building a global ministry. That's a lot to cram into 175 pages and I think the story suffers for trying to tell it all in such a short space. Some things are described with a lot of detail, but others are barely mentioned, then are referred to later and that gives it a choppy feel.

I couldn't figure out who the target audience is. If it's other Christians and this story is meant to be an encouragement then I think he was partly successful. I think he is a believer and that he tries to live by faith, but there were places where it felt like more emphasis was placed on Buchan's faith than on God's faithfulness. If, on the other hand, he's telling his story in hopes of convincing unbelievers to follow Christ, I don't think it's very effective. That's just my opinion from the book alone. I haven't heard him speak, I haven't seen the movie and I don't know him in any way, I just think the story is poorly presented in this book. He speaks in cliches with his references to being "gripped by the Spirt" and "the pearly gates" of Heaven and people "finding the Lord". It's full of overused church expressions like that and to be honest it got tedious after a while. Overall I found it predictable and boring, but I at least knew what he was talking about because I'm familiar with the language. To an unbeliever it would be a foreign language, so what's the point?

The book tends to emphasize the more dramatic events in his life, which I guess is not unusual, but I think he's overdoing the drama with things like referring to himself as just an "illiterate farmer". He is a farmer, but illiterate people don't usually have websites listing all the books they've written. Is it false humility? Is it playing up his rise from a struggling farmer to the leader of a world-wide ministry? I don't know. I just know it didn't sit well with me and when held up to the light of Scripture some of what the book says doesn't ring true.

I can't recommend this book because I didn't like it; I found it poorly written and too melodramatic. Certain things in it raised questions for me about the credibility of Angus Buchan's ministry, but I don't know enough about it to come to any real conclusion, so I'll limit my comments to those I'm made about the book.


Snow by Calvin Miller

This short novel takes place on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, 1929, in Pennsylvania. It's a fairly typical holiday story, with a poor young widow, a sick child, and a kind young man who comes to their rescue, but there is another layer to the plot with broken relationships in the hero's family. His brother and father parted ways years ago when the father kicked the brother out of the family home. Of course one story gets tangled up in the other and all problems are solved and everybody is happy in time for Christmas dinner.

Predictable? Yes. But aren't they all? I usually read a couple of stories like this during the Christmas season when I'm in a more sentimental frame of mind. Unfortunately that's not now and "Snow" fell flat for me. It was all just a little too perfect.

I've been a Calvin Miller fan for a long time; I loved his "Singer Trilogy" and have had the privilege of hearing him speak several times. I was saddened to read of his passing just a few weeks ago. He was a man of character and imagination and the world is a better place for having had him in it.

Because I like the authour I wish I had a lot of good things to say about his book. Regrettably I can only recommend reading it when you're in that emotional zone just before Christmas when we all think "It's A Wonderful Life" is a great film, that lovely time of year when everybody likes everybody else, even the people they don't like. In that setting it could be charming, but right now I just find it cloyingly sweet.

A Very Special Week In North Carolina

Early Friday morning I returned from a week long trip with my daughter to North Carolina. We spent 4 days in Charlotte then three more near Asheville at the Biltmore Inn. It was my first time in N.C. and I loved it. The people are warm and friendly, Charlotte is a beautiful city full of charm and tall trees, and the Biltmore...well...there really are no words. Most of the pictures I took were at the Biltmore Estate but I can't put them on here because they have a rule about not publishing pictures of their property without permission. However...you can check it all out, the Inn, the spa, the winery, etc. here.

My daughter was attending an ACN conference so I was on my own in Charlotte during the day. I arranged to take a tour of the city with Queen City Tours led by tour guide Jay Whipple who agreed to pick me up and drop me off at the door of my hotel. His knowledge of the city and it's history is impressive. No detail was left out and he was entertaining as well as informative. I had expected a crowded bus but was happy to find out it would be a smaller van with only two other ladies taking the tour. It was fun being able to talk back and forth throughout the tour. I can't say enough about Queen City Tours. If you're going to be visiting Charlotte check them out. The tour is great and the price was lower than I would ever have expected, great value for your money.

I discovered "The Last Word" bookshop on my first day. It was within walking distance of my hotel but I had to cross eight lanes of traffic with no crosswalk so getting there was a little hair-raising. What a find though. Lots of great books and comfortable couches and chairs to relax on. I sat there reading till I felt brave enough to risk the walk back. I had four books in my hand but made myself put two of them back since it was only my first day and there wasn't much spare room in my luggage to begin with. I bought "I'll Never Be French - no matter how hard I try" by Mark Greenside and "Like Water For Chocolate" by Laura Esquivel, both of which have been on my to-read list for a long time.

After four nights in Charlotte we drove to Asheville and checked in at the Biltmore Inn where we had booked a three night bed and breakfast package. Wow. The estate is beautiful and the Inn was nothing short of amazing. Our room was large and lovely with a beautiful view of the mountains and Asheville nestled among them. We had dinner one night in the Inn dining room as well as breakfast each day, and one afternoon tea in the Library Lounge. Every meal was excellent, but the dinner was a true culinary experience with every course imaginatively created and presented. The flavors! So well balanced and so delicious. It's a great place for dinner sometime when you're celebrating and looking for something special. It's pricey, but it's the once-in-a-while kind of place worth saving up for. And if it's still on the menu, order a Moonshine Sweet Tea. Seriously.

We spent our last day driving through the mountains into Tennessee where we drove around Knoxville before heading back. The mountains were absolutely gorgeous. And that was the end of our trip except for one very long day of travel to get back home to New Brunswick. The best thing about N.C. was the people with their charming manners and friendliness; the worst thing was the "stink bugs" that tried to invade our room at the inn. They were dispatched quickly though and all was well. Better than well...it was one terrific week in North Carolina.