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The Magician’s Nephew–another C.S. Lewis masterpiece

The Magician’s Nephew

by C.S. Lewis

I entered The Magician’s Nephew not really knowing what to expect. It was written by C.S. Lewis the year prior to the publication of the last book in the series, The Last Battle, which I have not read yet. At the suggestion of a member of our book club who was actually rereading the series, we inserted The Magician’s Nephew immediately before The Last Battle—not because it belongs there chronologically, but because it could perhaps be appreciated better at that point in our reading. I don’t think you could go wrong with any sequence of these books! C.S. Lewis intended it to be read first in his Chronicles of Narnia, but by the time it was first published, many of his readers would have already greedily devoured the first five books. It is indeed a prequel to the delightful The Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe, but for those who have already read that first classic tale, you will enjoy the “ah ha” moments that arise as Lewis gives you a backstory that renders both subtle and obvious connections. It never has the feel of a book written at the instigation of a publisher who just wants to squeeze more out of a popular series. It seems that it is Lewis’ desire to bring the pictures he has painted in his novels together with cohesion and forward looking vision.

In The Magician’s Nephew, a story which begins in London, you will learn of the creation of the world Narnia, meet Aslan the Lion, and witness the awakening of the Witch. There are many connections to the creation of Earth and its population as found in the Bible; but of course it is Narnia and in this fictional realm we learn how the animals came to talk and see the never changing character of Aslan who reigns with power and love, who grieves for the things that grieve us, and gives us hope during times of devastation.

This book has sad and fearful moments as well as happy and triumphant ones. The humor as the animals plant and water Uncle Andrew in hopes that the poor “plant” will revive is more refreshing to the reader than to Uncle Andrew! The pure evil of Jadis the Witch is the stuff of ancient fairy tales as is the conflict of good and evil. The characters are ones you can feel strongly about. The setting, as always with C.S. Lewis, is so vividly and well described that you can visualize both the “real” world of London and fictional worlds to which the children (main characters Digory and Polly) can transport themselves. As to plot, it constantly throws in surprises, but events are always connected. It becomes a quick read, not because it is short or light reading, but because it is so much fun to read. As with all the books in the series, it can be read as a child enjoys fiction or as an adult looking for deeper meaning. I suggest you read it both ways at once. Come to the story for entertainment and leave with the enrichment of a well-told tale imbued with rich symbolism.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Fiction, Christian

Notes: #1 in The Chronicles of Narnia series, but can be read at any time in the reading of the series. Warning: If this book is your first experience with this series, you will probably want to read more!
This series is often listed as Children’s Fiction, but is really appropriate for all ages with adults reading it on a different level from children. It is perfect for a read-aloud.

Publication: 1955—Harper Collins

Memorable Lines:

For what you see and hear depends a good deal on where you are standing; it also depends on what sort of person you are.

She has won her heart’s desire; she has unwearying strength and endless days like a goddess. But length of days with an evil heart is only length of misery and already she begins to know it. All get what they want; they do not always like it.

For the rest of that day, whenever he looked at the things about him, and saw how ordinary and unmagical they were, he hardly dared to hope; but when he remembered the face of Aslan he did hope.

A Portrait of Emily Price–forgiveness

A Portrait of Emily Price

by Katherine Reay

There is depth to Katherine Reay’s A Portrait of Emily Price. A story of painful pasts, the approaching death of a patriarch, and the love of family, it is a novel that draws the reader in with characters who seem straight forward at first, but are actually struggling to find their ways through life. It is the tale of people who, like all of us, have events in their pasts that affect their relationships and their futures.

Emily Price is a restorer and an artist. She has a talent for fixing thing. Ben is a handsome Italian chef who comes to Atlanta to reconnect with his brother Joseph after 18 years of separation, but quickly falls in love with Emily. In Italy she finds herself in a situation where she is unwanted; no matter what she does, she ruffles feathers.

Ben’s family has experienced great trauma, but no one is willing to bring the source out in the open so the distance between Joseph and his mother grows and their hearts harden. The author only gradually reveals the core of the difficulties as Emily confronts them. The tale is spun organically at just the right speed. We learn about Emily’s family’s troubles and Ben’s family’s problems as part of the pair’s character development and in such a way that, like Emily, we want to be able to fix them.

Life is not always easy and hurts do not always go away quickly. Giving and accepting forgiveness can be difficult. In the process of negotiating problems and overcoming pain, we learn more about ourselves and others. We grow through those trials. This book records a portion of the journey Emily experiences as she becomes part of a noisy, messy, Italian family.

I would like to extend my thanks to Edelweiss and to HarperCollins Christian Publishers for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: General Fiction (Adult)

Notes: Ends with questions for discussion or thought.

Publication: November 1, 2016—HarperCollins Christian Publishers

Memorable Lines:

It almost made me wonder if I’d gotten it all wrong. Perhaps fixing things wasn’t about the end product—it was, oftentimes, about the process.

Home. That word again. In my life, it had always been transient, replaceable with each stepfather or with Mom’s next job. But there was nothing transient about this place. Lucio had said eight generations. This was the dream—stones warmed from above and roots that gripped deep below.

…while I might not know much about his family, I understood pressure, fear, the need to fix things, and the black hole that opened within you when you realized nothing could fix all that was broken.

The Horse and His Boy–excellent storytelling

The Horse and His Boy

by C. S. Lewis

Herein lies the tale of Shasta, abused son sold as a slave. He joins forces with Aravis who is trying to avoid marriage to a much older, ugly, powerful, rich man. Shasta and Aravis devise a plan of escape that includes their Narnian horses who can, of course, talk.

There are many complications on their adventure including mistaken identity for Shasta and recognition of Aravis by an old friend. Lucy and Edmund, characters from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, play minor roles in this book as does their big sister Susan. Her rebuff of a suitor, Prince Rabadash, could cause a war.

Aslan, the Lion, appears and disappears, always a part of events as they occur. The characters learn that there is more to happenings than luck or chance. Even those who don’t already know about Aslan immediately feel there is something special about Him when they first encounter Him.

The Horse and His Boy includes characters who are noble and heroic and also those who are traitors. Aslan gives the despicable Prince Rabadash a second chance, and the outcome is perfectly constructed. It is fitting, but I certainly couldn’t have predicted it.

The Horse and His Boy is another storytelling triumph by C.S. Lewis who again has written a book that can be enjoyed on two levels. It is a fascinating fantasy, but it can also be read with religious themes in mind. Regardless of your reading goals, you will enjoy this entertaining fantasy without the intricate world building of current fantasies.

I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to HarperCollins Publishers for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Children’s Fiction, Christian

Notes: This book is #3 in The Chronicles of Narnia. This series is often listed as Children’s Fiction, but is really appropriate for all ages with adults reading it on a different level from children. The series begins with the highly popular The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, but many readers find each one of the books in the series to be their “favorite” as they encounter it.

Publication: 1954—HarperCollins Publishers

Memorable Lines:

Aravis immediately began, sitting quite still and using a rather different tone and style from her usual one. For in Calormen, story-telling (whether the stories are true or made up) is a thing you’re taught, just as English boys and girls are taught essay writing. The difference is that people want to hear the stories, whereas I never heard of anyone who wanted to read the essays.

“I must have come through the pass in the night. What luck that I hit it!—at least it wasn’t luck at all really, it was Him, and now I’m in Narnia.”

“Child,” said the Lion, “I am telling you your story, not hers. No one is told any story but their own.”

The First Christmas–Eastern philosophical take on the Nativity story

The First Christmas

by Stephen Mitchell

While I am not a theological scholar, I have been a Christian for over sixty years. Those are years in which I have studied the Bible, and God has grown my faith. When the author of this book gives an interpretation that I disagree with, I can accept that as a difference of opinion. An example in Stephen Mitchell’s The First Christmas is the angel Gabriel’s appearance to Mary. In the Bible this event is reported in chapter one of Luke. I believe this account literally, that the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary in a physical form and spoke to her in an audible voice. In fact, there is a dialogue recorded there. The author wants to interpret the appearance as a bright light (“the best I could come up with,” he says) and its communication as “empathy and telepathy,” nothing “so gross as speech.” Based on the writings in Luke, the author is creating a fiction that, though unconfirmed, could have happened. Many describe near death experiences as a comforting, blinding, white light. So, here, the author is using his imagination within the context of an angel visiting Mary.

What is more believable in his telling of the story are the extensive thought processes that Mary must surely have engaged in during the days and months following the angel’s announcement that she had been chosen to bear the Son of God as He comes to Earth in human form. The Bible doesn’t give details of all of her thoughts and feelings, but it does record her song of praise often called The Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55). Luke also shows us that her response is meditative.

There were shepherds who had an angelic visitation. After that they came to worship the baby Jesus, explaining how they found the little family in Bethlehem filled with visitors paying their taxes. “Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). Using common sense and based on Biblical evidence that Mary was a reflective person, the inner dialogue the author creates is believable, even if you don’t agree with all the fictional details.

There are some larger issues with this novel, however, that bother me. Mary says “No one had ever prophesied that the Messiah would never die.” This statement skirts the issue that there were many Old Testament prophecies which predict the Messiah would be resurrected to reign in His eternal kingdom. Her statement feels like a deliberate distraction in the text. Author Mitchell is clear that Mary would know the Jewish teachings. Therefore, she would have been aware of the many prophesies that Jesus would be resurrected and sit on the right hand of God the Father (Psalm 110:1). Psalm 49:15 says “But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave, for He shall receive me.” Interpretations are acceptable, but contradictions are not.

The format of the book is interesting. The author states “my only agenda was to inhabit the characters.” He tries to put himself into an ancient time and experience it as each of the characters in the Nativity story might have. As he looks at the role each person or animal had in this pivotal moment, the author makes the decision to tell the story in the third person for the people and first person for the animals. He separates the chapters with an “Interlude” which is his opportunity to reveal his thoughts as an author and provide some background information. This format (which he explains in an Interlude is based on “the glorified sestet of an Italian sonnet) is a good choice for this book. Unfortunately, the author deviates in the second part of Mary’s story and interrupts the tale as he inserts his “authorial I” into her story rather than waiting for the Interlude. This happens again in Joseph’s story. In general I found Joseph’s tale more convincingly told. Oddly though, Mary and Joseph were approached in the book by angels who were totally different in appearance with Joseph’s angel not even culturally appropriate to the time period.

The section of The First Christmas that tells of the visit of the wise men is an elaborate fictional tale of two Jewish scholars who travel to the East studying Buddhism and other mystic philosophies that concentrate on meditation and finding the god within. It deviates from Scripture in many ways, most notably in the visions of the future of Jesus and his family that the men have as they sit with Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus. (In the book, they visit the family in the stable whereas most Christians believe this visit occurred somewhat later as the Bible says the wise men or magi went to a house.) If you believe that Jesus is the Son of God and He was with God from before the creation of the world, as set forth in John 1:1-3, then much of this chapter is disturbing. They envision a confused young man, estranged from His family, and perhaps mentally deranged. A reading of any one of the four gospels shows anything but what they see for His future. He was fully man and fully God. Their supposed vision is not in character. They even shortcut and omit important parts of His death, fantasize his burial in a mass grave, and totally neglect His resurrection.

The last major section focuses on the donkey and is my favorite. The donkey tell the Nativity story from his perspective. Recalling ancient donkey traditions, he retells the Biblical story of Balaam’s donkey who could both see angels and could talk. He points out the good qualities of donkeys—intelligence, honesty, service, dignity, and trustworthiness.

I have an admiration for the author as a multi-lingual translator, well-versed in many Eastern religions and philosophies. He possesses a great imagination and makes connections from various works of literature. I hope that he will return to the Bible to connect with Jesus in a personal relationship. I don’t regret reading The First Christmas as an intellectual exercise, but I don’t recommend it as an Advent activity or as a pleasure read.

I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to St. Martin’s Press for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 2/5

Category: Religion & Spirituality, General Fiction (Adult)

Publication: November 9, 2021—St. Martin’s Press

Memorable Lines:

[From the chapter Yosef (Joseph)] Where was the Lord now? Not here, not amid this swirling chaos. But if the Lord was not with him, it was his own fault. He knew that. God had not left him; he had left God. It could be no other way.

[From the chapter Yosef—speaking of Maryam (Mary)] She was graced with a quality he had been striving for all his life, ever since he had realized what his purpose, what the purpose of every Jew, was: to love God with all his heart and to fulfill His commandments as impeccably and with as much joy as he could summon.

[From the chapter The Donkey] …throughout the day angels from every order of the hierarchy descending to take a peek at the new little visitor. They don’t knock or announce themselves; they just fly in through the roof or the walls, without so much as a by-your-leave, and nobody greets or even notices them. When they see me, though, they nod to acknowledge my presence and to let me know that they know I know.

The Blended Quilt–quilt with Amish and Hawaiian themes

The Blended Quilt

by Wanda E. Brunstetter and Jean Brunstetter

The Plain people, or the Amish, are the focus of The Blended Quilt by Wanda E. Brunstetter and Jean Brunstetter. The premise is simple: Amish boy (Wyman) courts Amish girl (Sadie). The story does not roll out quite that simply however. Sadie is inspired to design a quilt that blends her Amish quilting knowledge and skills with her experiences on a cruise to Hawaii. Her success in making this unusual quilt leads her to write a book about her time in Hawaii and her work on the quilt. A frugal girl, she works hard and saves her money. Wyman spends money he doesn’t have and changes jobs frequently whenever he decides he is bored.

There are so many issues to be resolved. When Sadie inherits a sizable sum, it causes jealousy within the family. There is also resentment as her quilt and book projects take time away from chores at home and courting with Wyman. Is the problem that Sadie has changed or that others are not supportive?

Although I enjoyed the story, I didn’t find that the resolutions to the problems were explained thoroughly or realistically enough. It was all too easy; I still had many unanswered questions. It is an interesting story with a dramatic, unexpected event leading to the conclusion. There were yet many relationship issues to be worked through, however, before there could really be a “happily ever after.”

I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Barbour Publishing (Shiloh Run Press) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4/5

Category: General Fiction (Adult), Christian

Notes: At the end of the book there are questions for discussion and a recipe for Sadie’s Coconut Carrot Cake.

Publication: November 1, 2020—Barbour Publishing (Shiloh Run Press)

Memorable Lines:

Don’t let yourself become full of hochmut, Sadie told herself as she took one final look at the quilt before leaving her room. It was never a good thing to let pride set in over anything a person said or did.

“God’s ways are not our ways, and accidents can happen when least expected. When the Lord calls us home, Grace, we go to be with Him.”

“Would you like my advice?” “Of course.” “Pray about the matter—ask God what He wants you to do with the rest of your life.”

The Silver Chair–the rescue of a prince

The Silver Chair

by C. S. Lewis

Eustace, who became a changed person for the better in C. S. Lewis’ The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, is given another opportunity to visit Narnia. He and Jill, a school friend, escape bullies by slipping through an unlocked gate at the school. Aslan, the Lion, has orchestrated the adventure to send them on a mission to locate the missing Prince Rilian who has been under the spell of a witch for ten years.

They are accompanied by Puddleglum, a Marsh-Wiggle, a delightfully morose character who can always find the potential bad in any situation. Despite his melancholy disposition, he proves to be a loyal, trustworthy, and brave companion. He also provides some levity for the reader during the perilous adventures.

Aslan gives the children four signs to follow. Their intentions are good, but they are not entirely successful. They escape from deceptive, hungry giants and are captured by Earthmen who take them to the Deep Realm in the Underland. When they find Prince Rilian, they have to decide on following his instructions or relying on the signs Aslan has given them.

As in all of The Chronicles of Narnia, The Silver Chair can be enjoyed as a fantasy or with little effort as a tome replete with symbolism. In this allegory, Aslan represents Jesus who is both the Lion and the sacrificial Lamb in the Bible, and the children are his followers. He provides direction and guidance, but his followers still have choices. One outstanding example of the Biblical parallel is when Prince Rilian declare to the children that “Aslan will be our good lord, whether he means us to live or die.” This same sentiment is uttered by Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the Old Testament when they are threatened by King Nebuchadnezzar with being thrown into a furnace. They respond “our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” (Daniel 3: 17 & 18 ESV).

The Silver Chair is the fourth book in The Chronicles of Narnia for me. I expected that I would not like any as much as the first, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. To my surprise, I have enjoyed all of them almost equally. Each one is fresh and engaging. The setting and characters overlap, but each adventure has the addition of new characters and stands on its own merits.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Children’s Fiction, Christian

Publication: 1953—Harper Collins

Memorable Lines:

“The bright side of it is,” said Puddleglum, “that if we break our necks getting down the cliff, then we’re safe from being drowned in the river.”

And though you might have expected that the idea of having a good time at Harfang would have made them more cheerful, it really made them more sorry for themselves and more grumpy and snappy with each other and with Puddleglum.

“And the lesson of it all is, your Highness,” said the oldest Dwarf, “that those Northern Witches always mean the same thing, but in every age they have a different plan for getting it.”

Prince Caspian–the return to Narnia

Prince Caspian

by C. S. Lewis

A year after the events of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, C. S. Lewis returns Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy to Narnia. In Prince Caspian, pulled there by a magical force as they are waiting for their trains to take them to boarding school, they suddenly find themselves in the ruins of their old castle Cair Paravel, hundreds of years later in Narnian time. 

Through many adventures, the children meet Prince Caspian, the rightful king of Narnia, and enthrone him, replacing his usurper, his Uncle Miraz. There is a wonderful cast of characters in this novel. Prince Caspian’s tutor, Dr. Cornelius, is instrumental in helping him escape certain death. The creatures of Narnia range from mythical, such as Bacchus, Dryads, Dwarfs, and Centaurs, to talking animals of a larger size than normal. Reepicheep is a valiant and honorable leader of mice. Trufflehunter is a kind and friendly badger. The mighty lion Aslan appears to Lucy first and the other children don’t believe her. What follows is each one of them coming to believe in Aslan in their own way and a great battle between the Narnians and the Telmarines. 

As the fantasy continues, so do the fun and adventure. I am excited to read another tale by the master storyteller C. S. Lewis. He excels in creation of characters, setting, and plot, and most especially in weaving adventure and theology seamlessly leaving the reader with much to contemplate. 

Rating: 5/5

Category: Children’s Fiction, Christian

Notes: This book is a part of The Chronicles of Narnia. There is debate even today over the order one should read these books in as the series contains a prequel and a book that relates to Narnia but does not include the children as major characters. Having not read the whole series yet, I can not chime in on that debate, but I do strongly encourage the reading of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which I suspect will be my favorite, prior to reading Prince Caspian.

This series is often listed as Children’s Fiction, but is really appropriate for all ages with adults reading it on a different level from children.

Publication:  1951—Harper Collins

Memorable Lines:

“Where do you think you saw him?” asked Susan.  “Don’t talk like a grown-up,” said Lucy, stamping her foot. “I didn’t think I saw him. I saw him.”

“Aslan,” said Lucy, “you’re bigger.”  “That is because you are older, little one,” answered he.  “Not because you are?”  “I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”

The sort of “History” that was taught in Narnia under Miraz’s rule was duller than the truest history you ever read and less true than the most exciting adventure story.

Starry Skies Over the Chocolate Pot Cafe–finding the magic in others

Starry Skies Over the Chocolate Pot Cafe

by Jessica Redland

Tara has worked hard to make The Chocolate Pot Cafe a success, but there are lots of heartaches and pain in her story. She has isolated herself on a personal level and focused on her professional life in response to the devastating events of her childhood and the wicked betrayals in her youth, betrayals perpetrated by those she had reason to trust the most. Now she has determined that if she doesn’t let anyone past her barriers, she can’t be hurt again.

In Starry Skies Over the Chocolate Pot Cafe, Jessica Redland has crafted a moving tale of a girl with a Pollyanna type personality, always looking for the good in others and in situations. As a child, she is wrapped in her father’s love and in the black cloak that surrounds her mother who battles depression and mental illness.

When disaster strikes the family, Tara is introduced to the foster care system. After several rough starts, she finds a real home with a loving family. Tara is finally convinced to open up to her friend Carla about her abusive experiences with her foster sister and with her own husband. In three different sessions, Tara manages to relate the trauma. In the telling, it is clear that Tara is a courageous young woman.

Another complication to the story is the return to Whitsborough Bay of Jed, the former owner of her cafe who scammed Tara during the purchase. There are many delightful characters who see Tara for what she is—kind, intelligent, caring, humble, generous, and innovative. A favorite character is Hercules, Tara’s Flemish Giant house rabbit.

Although there are difficult parts of the book that are hard to read, they are important in understanding why Tara is the way she is. Readers will enjoy following Tara’s growth as she learns to open her heart and take a chance on people again.

I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Boldwood Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: General Fiction (Adult)

Publication:   September 8, 2020—Boldwood Books

Memorable Lines:

There was no need for anyone to know anything about me outside of work. I let them see what I wanted them to see: a successful entrepreneur, an excellent chef, and a fair boss who stood for no nonsense. When you let people in—fully in—they have a habit of letting you down, so it’s easier to keep them at arm’s length. That way, they won’t break your heart.

…for the first time ever, I realised that my past had the power to do good. Instead of hiding from it, I could harness it and help others face their future.

“Facebook isn’t real, you know.” “What do you mean?” “It’s all about what people want others to see…most people I know use it to present the shiny side of life…And because it’s accompanied by a fanfare and smiles, we’re all fooled into thinking that everyone has a better life than us.”

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe–a classic

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

by C.S. Lewis

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is the book most people think of when there is mention of C. S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia.  It is, in fact, the first book he wrote in this popular series, although later he wrote a prequel. I had read the fantasy many years ago. Reading it again was an absolute delight. The erudite medieval literature professor (at Oxford and later at Cambridge) and Christian theologian was a premier storyteller. He engages the reader regardless of age, in the plot, characters, and setting from the first page where he explains that air-raids during the war send four children out of London to live with an old Professor. While playing hide-and-seek, the youngest discovers a magical world accessed through a wardrobe.

From there proceeds an enjoyable story centered around the forces of good and evil. The White Witch is the epitome of evil—beautiful, but cold and cruel. She is a mistress of trickery ensnaring Edmund, the next to the youngest, in a web of deceit, captivating him with delicious Turkish Delight. Aslan is a lion, and he stands for good, rescuing those turned into statues by the White Witch and sacrificing himself.

Part of the beauty of this masterpiece is that it can be read on several levels. C.S. Lewis says in his dedication of the book that “some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.” That is where I found myself during this reading, but I also read it for its theological underpinnings. Whatever your purpose in reading, you will find The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe both entertaining and fulfilling.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Fantasy, Christian

Notes: I read the 50th anniversary edition of the book. The backline illustrations were by Pauline Baynes who was the first illustrator for The Chronicles of Narnia, and the cover art was by Chris Van Allsburg.

Publication: 1950—Harper Collins

Memorable Lines:

“And she has made a magic so that it is always winter in Narnia—always winter, but it never gets to Christmas.”

“…if, I say, she had got into another world, I should not be at all surprised to find that the other world had a separate time of its own; so that however long you stayed there it would never take up any of our  time.”

I hope no one who reads this book has been quite as miserable as Susan and Lucy were that night; but if you have been—if you’ve been up all night and cried till you have no more tears left in you—you will know that there comes in the end a sort of quietness. You feel as if nothing was ever going to happen again.

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