First Love: A Treasury of Three Favorites by Beverly Cleary

romance-books-3 nadine keels

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me.

Five Gold Stars

first-loveFirst Love: Jean and Johnny / Fifteen / The Luckiest Girl by Beverly Cleary

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

(Click the title to find the book/description/blurb.)

Shelley gets to spend her senior year of high school in sunny San Sebastian. Meeting Philip there only adds to her feeling that she may be the luckiest girl in the world.
When Jean unexpectedly catches the attention of a handsome flirt, Johnny, it all seems too good to be true–and it may very well be.
At fifteen, Jane gets asked out by the most popular boy in school and doesn’t quite know how to handle herself.

Yes, I consider these young adult novels by my favorite childhood author to be classics, and I had a marvelous time taking a second spin with them.

5 Stars for The Luckiest Girl
Gee. Gotta love YA Lit from the 50s!

Though I adored the story from the beginning, I didn’t discern in my adolescence, when I first read The Luckiest Girl, how wise and poignant a story this truly is, not only for its portrayal of young romance and the road to maturity but for its lesson on mother/daughter relationships as well.

I also found that I’d misremembered Philip as some kind of macho guy, likely because my memory of the leaning boy on the book cover of the paperback I read left me with that impression of him, but he’s a much more interesting character the way Cleary wrote him. Hartley is, well, Hartley–good ol’ Hartley!–and Shelley’s wonderful reflections on life and love at the end of the novel put honest-to-goodness tears in my no-longer-adolescent eyes. I even laughed more this time around!

5 Stars for Jean and Johnny
Ah! Young people listening to records and tuning in to their favorite television and radio “programs,” drive-in restaurants with carhops serving Cokes, folks with telephone numbers like “Toyon 1-4343,” and teenaged boys saying things like, “Gosh, that would be swell!” and meaning it.

Such fun to return to this old-fashioned, cozy, slightly heartbreaking, relatable, sweet story, since I understand it better this time and have a greater appreciation for Jean’s gradual maturation through the novel. She grows in a much more satisfying way than I remembered. Plus, I don’t know if I realized it years ago, but there’s actually an Asian girl in this book, incorporated into the minor cast of students just like the rest of ’em, but with a clearly different name and a distinct look to her in one of the illustrations.

And, speaking of the illustrations–the darling illustrations! My reading time probably doubled just taking extra moments to study and enjoy all of the fitting and amusing details in the pictures. Wonderful!

4 Stars for Fifteen
Oh, it seems that, compared to Jean and Shelley, Jane here in Fifteen is flimsier, more internally whiny. And this may be the flattest, perhaps the most juvenile, of Cleary’s YA romances. Could be because it’s the first, or at least was the first published.

Still, I found the novel to be charming on the whole, and it got better as Jane finally began to “learn her lesson,” as these young heroines of Cleary’s inevitably must. Gee, such an experience rereading books like this as an adult!


These are the paperback editions I read years ago. At the time, I was unaware that there’s another First Love novel by Cleary, Sister of the Bride. Knowing now that the book exists, I’ll have to check it out sometime. 🙂

the-luckiest-girl jean-and-johnny fifteen

Lady Susan by Jane Austen


Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me.

Lady SusanLady Susan by Jane Austen

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

(Click the title to find the book description/blurb.)

Enter: Lady Susan Vernon, a handsome, coquettish, recently widowed mother engaged in matrimonial schemes for herself and her daughter. Enter–by way of a letter.

Yes, it’s quite a rarity that a book I’ve so rated would appear on my blog, and this one appears because, should one love it or otherwise, I’d still recommend that other fans of author Jane Austen read this early work of hers, Lady Susan.

Maybe Austen only knew why, in the course of her lifetime, she didn’t have it published.

As for myself, I purposely came to the text without knowledge of the story, since I find that Introductions and whatnot tend to say far more about a work than I wish to know before I’ve read the work for myself. I had, therefore, all the room in the world to be surprised by this Susan Vernon.

I wouldn’t have imagined an Austen heroine like Lady Susan, and I didn’t enjoy her much, nor did I gain much satisfaction from the way it all turned out for her in the end. Plus, though there was a time when it had greater popularity in literature, the style of telling a story chiefly through characters’ written correspondence isn’t my favorite.

I imagine that Austen wasn’t the keenest on the style for her own writing either, given that she didn’t use it in any of her other six completed novels. She even gives the style up before this novel is finished, beginning her third-person Conclusion by writing, “This correspondence…could not, to the great detriment of the Post Office revenue, be continued longer.”

I now feel much as I did after reading The Inheritance by Louisa May Alcott: glad that I read it, and even gladder that the authoress got better with time.

The Story of Ruth (1960)

Film reviews are subjective. I tend to rate films not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me.

The Story of Ruth

The Story of Ruth (1960) from 20th Century Fox
Not Rated. Drama, Romance, Faith, Epic

Four Silver Stars1/2

Pain on entering the world, anguish on leaving it. But the interval between is worth it all.

(My thoughts here might be a little spoilerish, if you’ve not seen the film or aren’t otherwise familiar with biblical Ruth and Boaz’s story.)

The stuff that old epics are made of, CinemaScope with ever-so-dramatic acting and scoring to match. I’ll admit that something about the delivery of Elana Eden’s lines as Ruth irritated me in some scenes, but it wasn’t a big deal.

This rendering turned out to be a little more clever than I was expecting, with racism, believable tension, and some well thought-out, thought-provoking points. I like that Ruth’s husband Mahlon has something to him, including wits–that he isn’t just a throwaway character on the way to Boaz. And Boaz himself isn’t a perfect or angelic lover boy who’ll demonstratively fall into sappy insta-love on the spot, but he’s a pretty strict adherent to religious law with his own prejudice and bitterness to deal with.

(Though, in the end, I wished he could have been a little more perfect after all, a little stronger, as the way his kinsman show him up during a time of judgment doesn’t leave me 100% convinced that Boaz will always have the back of a former priestess from Moab, or that Ruth shouldn’t require a little more of an explanation from him after that episode.)

And how fun to see the Reverend Mother from The Sound of Music playing Naomi, Cousin Cody from The Waltons playing the mysterious man at the well (Jehoam?), and even Beaver Cleaver’s childhood crush Donna playing Ruth as a little girl.

Plus, my favorite part, despite Boaz’s not coming out of it with flying colors: the judgment scene. Whoo, get ’em, Naomi and Ruth!

My corresponding reading: In the Field of Grace by Tessa Afshar and Ruth by Lois T. Henderson.


Okay, so I’m admittedly forgiving the trailer’s handling of the idolatry theme, here.

The Agony and the Ecstasy (1965)

Film reviews are subjective. I tend to rate films not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me.

The Agony and the Ecstasy

The Agony and the Ecstasy (1965) from 20th Century Fox
Not Rated. Drama, Biography/Historical, Faith Elements, Epic

Five Gold Stars

Pope Julius II, as played by Rex Harrison: “I planned a ceiling. He plans a miracle.”

Well. This majestic piece of cinema with the iconic Charlton Heston certainly aided my imagination: an upgrade from vaguely picturing Michelangelo all alone on an insanely tall wooden ladder or somehow suspended in air as he paints the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. I never clearly considered how he might’ve practically pulled off such a feat, but artistic assistants and special scaffolding makes sense. 🙂

I was all in before the Intermission, when inspiration strikes the artist–in the loud, dramatic, over the top fashion that these epic films own and unabashedly deliver. A true vision: just what an artist needs to make a wonder, as artists do.

I figured what was coming as soon as I saw Contessina’s face. “Right. Enter the Token Lady,” I thought, as I knew a film of its kind wouldn’t at least take a stab at a passionate romance somewhere in there, but she turns out not to be so merely inevitable, and when her character needs to bring it, she brings it. I agree with her about the agony and the ecstasy of love, but not with her final line or two in the movie. Though, yes, there are indeed different kinds of love and passion, different avenues of expressing them, of putting passion into action, so much so that the outcome is bigger than the individual.

The Pope and the artist have quite the exchanges, as well as egos so inflated I was sure one or the other of them would break through the television screen if they expanded any further, but they’re played so well together that I can forgive the men for it, even as I forgive Michelangelo for being sexist, whether intentionally or jokingly.

And, hey, the handful of moments of blatant comedy were unexpected and duly welcomed by me.

Hearing the title The Agony and the Ecstasy for years, I always assumed it was a movie about the Crucifixion. (Just a sidenote, there.)