Monday, November 11, 2019

New Release: Prayer and Praise: A Jane Austen Devotional

I am beyond excited to be a "stop" on the blog tour for the release of Shannon Winslow's Prayer and Praise: A Jane Austen Devotional!!

I first "met" Shannon Winslow at one of my favorite Jane Austen websites, Austen Variations, where Shannon is one of the featured authors of works based on Austen's novels. I fell in love with several of her books, including The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen, The Darcys of Pemberley (which continues the story of Darcy and Elizabeth), and an intriguing novel with a more modern twist on Pride and Prejudice, A Leap of Hope. I have also been a devoted follower of Shannon's lovely blog, Jane Austen Says... 

So given my love of both Jane Austen and of the Anglican (Church of England) mode of faith, you can well imagine my excitement and enthusiasm when Shannon announced that she was writing a devotional based on the prayers of Jane Austen!! Once I finished fangirling all over poor, bemused Shannon, I offered any assistance needed from a devoted Austenite who also was familiar with Anglicanism and the 1662 Book of Common Prayer Austen had used. 

Shannon kindly sent me a few of the early devotional entries, and I was even more excited; the devotions come line by line from Austen's written prayers, point readers to various Scripture passages, and discuss the topic of each devotion with Austen's characters as illustrations. Theologically, this devotional went much deeper than the other Austen devotionals I have seen, and I found myself both inspired and a little convicted by the entries Shannon shared with me.

The plan was for me to read through the whole book and comment on anything that may need a tweak here or there, but my chronic pain condition reared its ugly head, putting me out of commission for a few months during which I could barely keep up with my Brave Writer classes. I felt horrible (and sooooo disappointed!) at not being able to assist more with this wonderful book, but, really, Shannon didn't need my help. She writes truly and deeply regarding our daily walk of faith with wise insight and profound grace, using Austen's prayers and characters to illustrate her points beautifully. Shannon has struck a truly wonderful balance of all the aspects I had hoped for when I first learned about this project.

Shannon tells us:

Out of my sincere respect for Jane Austen and her legacy, I have always felt a certain weight of responsibility to do justice to the words and spirit of her novels as I write my sequels and spin-offs. How much heavier that responsibility becomes when the right handling of God’s words is at stake!
So I certainly didn’t take lightly the idea of writing a scripture-based, Austen-inspired devotional. After all, who was I to presume to teach the Bible? It’s true that, through years of study, I had accumulated considerable knowledge about the subject matter – Jane’s Austen’s work as well as scripture – but it’s not like I was either a genuine scholar or a model Christian with all the answers to life’s struggles.

God is gracious, however, and He often chooses to use very ordinary people for His purposes. I trust that’s what I experienced as I wrote this devotional because I never lacked for inspiration.

My goal for this devotional was simple: that in some way readers would be blessed and God glorified. With that, I began, taking one small bite at a time – one small section of one of Austen’s prayers for each segment. Then I waited expectantly to see where inspiration would take me. 

Sometimes a related scripture reference would next come to mind, and then an Austen illustration would follow. Sometimes it happened the other way around. Occasionally it was something else and altogether surprising!

Here’s the opening to a segment entitled Eye on the Sparrow – a line from JA’s prayer and what follows:

…we know that we are alike before Thee, & under thine Eye.
For each of these devotional segments, I look for inspiration in the day’s prayer petition. I ask that God would direct me about which truth to illuminate and what Austen illustration to use. This time, the phrase “under thine eye” immediately jumped out at me. But then I wasn’t sure I heard the rest correctly because what came to mind amounted to drawing a parallel between God and Lady Catherine de Bourgh!
Are you shocked? Believe me, so was I. But it has to do with that line in Pride and Prejudice that says that nothing was beneath this great Lady’s attention. For now, you’ll just have to take my word for the fact that it all makes sense in the end!

In some ways, this style of working isn’t so very different from the way I write a novel. Rather than having a fully developed outline like some writers do, with every scene carefully plotted and all the questions answered ahead of time, I normally start with a general idea and just see where the creative process takes me – a thrilling but risky way to proceed. Although it’s never happened yet, I realize that I could get close to the end only to discover the story doesn’t work at all. Then I’d have to throw out weeks or even months’ worth of work.

But in the case of this devotional, I knew I was in good hands. God is faithful, and when He calls, He also equips. He never left me dangling in midair with no way to finish. My safety net was His Word and the Holy Spirit my guide. When I put in the work, the elements of the devotional fell beautifully into place. With such good material (I used all 6 of Jane Austen’s novels and passages from 31 books of the Bible!), I couldn’t go far wrong. I hope you agree and that you’ll enjoy Prayer & Praise: A Jane Austen Devotional.

Prayer & Praise is available at Amazon in Paperback, Kindle, and KU. The introduction and 2+ segments of the devotional are available there to preview with the “Look Inside” feature.

The back cover blurb reads:

Did you know that Jane Austen wrote prayers in addition to her six classic novels? She was not only a woman of celebrated humor, intellect, and insight; she was a woman of faith.

Prayer & Praise is a treasure-trove of thought-provoking messages inspired by the lines of Austen’s three preserved prayers. Atop a solid foundation of scripture, these 50 devotional segments (each finishing with prayer and praise) enlist familiar characters and situations from Austen novels to illustrate spiritual principles–in creative, often surprising, ways! 

Which one of Austen’s characters developed a god complex? Who was really pulling Henry Crawford’s strings? Where do we see examples of true repentance, a redeemer at work, light overcoming darkness? With a Biblical perspective, Austen’s beloved stories reveal new lessons about life, truth, hope, and faith.

* * * * *

I hope that you all will enjoy reading, pondering, and praying through this devotional half as much as I plan to!! 

Thank you, Shannon, for sharing your latest release with us!! 

Soli Deo Gloria,

Friday, November 1, 2019

A Joyous All Saints' Day!!


Revised from the Archives...

Aaaah, one of the most joyous holy days of the year -- All Saints' Day! On this day, we celebrate all of the holy people who, for the past two thousand years, have followed Christ with all of their heart, soul, mind, and strength. This pilgrim pathway we walk in not an untrod road; Christians have walked this path, this Way, for two millennia and have given us encouragement, warnings, exhortation, and, most of all, the example of a beautifully Christ-led life. As Saint Paul taught the Church in Philippi, "Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you" (Phil. 4:9, my emphasis). As Saint Paul exhorts the Church to follow his human example as a follower of Christ, so may we also look back through the ages to the examples of other saints, other holy people, and draw encouragement and lessons from their lives. 

The term "Saints" seem to raise the hackles of many evangelicals -- but it doesn't have to be that way. The Roman Catholics, the Eastern Orthodox, and the "High Church" Anglicans seem to have the corner on the Saints of the Church, and many, if not most, of the Protestant community (especially evangelicals) misunderstand the concept and importance of Saints. Many believe, as I used to, that mistaken Christians pray *to* the Saints rather than praying to God. We'll get to that idea in a few minutes.

First of all, what is a "saint"? The Oxford Dictionary of Current English states that a saint is: 1) a holy or good person whom Christians believe will go to heaven after death. 2) a person of great goodness who is declared to be a saint by the Church after death. 3) (informal) a very good or kind person.

So, basically, if we love the Lord and have asked Him to live in our hearts, then we are saints! We see this use of "saint" often in the New Testament, especially in Saint Paul's Epistles.

Then there are the extraordinary saints, those who have lived lives of exemplary obedience to God, often to the death. The Church has designated these special people as "Saints." I find their stories extremely interesting and valuable in my own Christian life. In fact, I purchased a beautiful coffee table book called One Hundred Saints. The text is Butler's Lives of the Saints (1759), and it is gorgeously illustrated with artwork depicting each particular Saint's life. Some of my family and friends have wondered at my having such a book, but when I tell them that I purchased it at Bob Jones University, their objections are usually quelled. (Few people know that Bob Jones University has the largest collection of Christian art in the world outside of the Vatican, including room after room full of depictions of Saints and an entire room devoted to Byzantine icons, my favorites!) Although the artwork is breathtakingly beautiful, it is the text of the Saints' lives that captivate me most.

When I read about a particular Saint and their devotion (and often martyrdom) to Christ, I find that I am encouraged in dealing with my own difficulties. These Saints faced far more treacherous problems than I will likely be called upon to face, yet they demonstrate their love for Christ in remarkable ways through the strength of His Spirit. The stories of the Saints point me to Jesus, where my attention should be, and away from myself. Their examples glorify God and encourage me in loving and serving others in His Spirit.

Many believe that Catholic and Orthodox Christians "pray to the saints." In fact, some of their prayers sound very much like they are doing exactly that. But when I asked my Catholic friends about praying to the Saints, they gently corrected my misunderstanding. They replied that when Catholics "pray" to a Saint, they are asking that Saint to pray FOR them, just as we evangelicals might ask a close friend or a pastor to pray for us.

Then I asked, "Why would people in heaven pray? Aren't they in eternal bliss, not to be disturbed by sorrow, etc.? My Catholic friends replied with a Scripture reference: Revelation 5:8 which shows Saint John watching the Saints offer up their prayers to the Throne of Heaven. Well, for whom are the Saints praying? They can't be praying for people in heaven as they have no need of prayer. So the Saints must be praying for those still on earth, right? Yes, we pray to the Father and to the Son, but we also marshall our prayers by asking friends to pray for us, right? So why not ask someone (such as a Saint) to pray for us when they are right there in the Presence of our Father?

It makes sense to me, at least.

So the Saints inspire us to love God and others, and to show that love in ways that glorify Christ. If we want to, we can ask them for prayer, just as we would ask a dear friend or leader.

The Collect (a prayer to be prayed collectively, not only by a congregation but throughout the worldwide Anglican Communion) for All Saints' Day from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer is as follows (and is to be prayed daily throughout the Octave (for eight days, through next Thursday):

O Almighty God, who hast knit together thine elect in one communion and fellowship, in the mystical body of thy Son Christ our Lord; Grant us grace so to follow thy blessed Saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those unspeakable joys which thou hast prepared for those who unfeignedly love thee; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

And here is a more modern rendition of the Collect for All Saints from the 2011 Book of Common Prayer:

ALMIGHTY God, you have woven your disciples into one communion and fellowship in the mystical Body of your Son, Christ our Lord; Give us grace to follow your Saints in righteous and holy living, and to come to the joy beyond words which you have prepared for those who truly love you; Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and rules with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen. 

The Epistle Reading for this Holy Day can be found in seventh chapter of the Revelation to St. John, starting in the second verse. (Revelation 7:2-4, 9-17) 

The Gospel Reading for All Saints' Day is written in the fifth chapter of the Gospel according to St. Matthew, starting in the first verse. (Matthew 5:1-12, The Beatitudes).

All Souls' Day (November 2)

As I read in Oswald Chamber's My Utmost for His Highest

"There is no such thing as a private life -- 'a world within a world' -- for a man or woman who is brought into fellowship with Jesus Christ's sufferings. God breaks up the private life of His saints, and makes it a thoroughfare for the world on the one hand and for Himself on the other." ("Ye Are Not Your Own," November 1)

And as I also read in The Crozier Connection, the newsletter of the Reformed Episcopal Church, Mid-America Diocese of the Anglican Communion of North America for November of this year a letter from our Presiding Bishop, the Most Reverend Dr. Ray R. Sutton: 

"Hebrews 12:1 specifically says, 'Seeing we also are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.' Clouds are obviously in the sky. Yet these are clouds in another world. They are heavenly clouds. These clouds are filled with 'witnesses,' those who have died in Christ. They are there, but they are not dead. They are alive through faith in the Resurrected, Living Jesus Christ. And significantly, we are surrounded by them, which means somehow we who believe in Christ in the present, are with them; and they are with us.... We are together in the present in a mysterious way. As such they of old are our contemporaries."

For Christians, all of our lives entwine around each others'. No one is separate; no one is alone. And today, All Saints' Day, is one day in which we can formally and joyfully celebrate our union as brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the ages. 

And, as the daily Saint-of-the-Day e-mail from reminds us, this Solemnity doesn't just mark those Saints who have gone through the long process of being proclaimed "Saint" by the Roman Catholic Church; rather, "Today’s feast honors the obscure as well as the famous—the saints each of us have known." Amen and Amen!

A blessed All Saints' Day to you!

Soli Deo Gloria,

Saturday, October 19, 2019

The Joys of Camping: With a Horse o' Course! (Part 2)

Continued from last week's post...

Part 2 of 2

We kids would take turns going out on early morning or late afternoon trail rides with one of our parents, and the ones left behind would often hike up Stonewall Peak, a local mountain accessible from basecamp at the Paso Picacho Campground; it was two miles up the peak topped with gargantuan boulders and two miles back down, not counting the two-mile hike to the base. Or we might explore the remains of the local goldmine, Stonewall Mine, from which two million dollars of gold was unearthed in the 1880s. Now surrounded by chain-link fencing, we’d walk the perimeter, trying to peek down the huge hole that marked the main mineshaft. A small cabin nearby hosted photos enlarged to poster-size recounting the history of the most prosperous goldmine in our local mountains.

Hot afternoons were spent napping under the pines, reading quietly or playing not-so-quiet card and board games. We usually played games after dinner, too, gathered around our Coleman lantern on the red-and-white plastic tablecloth, the color worn away in places from frequent scrubbings after dinners of spaghetti or barbecued burgers or our favorite: grilled Spam with baked beans, fried potatoes and onions, and brown bread sliced from the can which we always enjoyed on our final night (after the fresh meat was long gone) before packing up and leaving for home the next morning.

Sometimes after dinner, we’d scrape the plates and leave them to soak in the dishpan while we kids leaped into the back of the ancient, bent-backed ranger's 1950’s Ford truck, and he drove us along backroads inaccessible to all but the park staff, motioning us kids to be quiet as we kept an eagle-eye out for deer and bobcats coming out to feed at dusk. One night, we counted over twenty-five deer in half an hour. The ranger, Vern, looked as if he were a century old, with gnarled hands, a thin, wrinkled face, and rheumy eyes. Several nights during our trips, he visited our campsite after dinner and told us stories about his cowboy days in the ‘20s and '30s while we munched Jiffy-Pop popcorn or gooey s’mores. Some of Vern’s stories must have been tall tales, but it was hard to tell when he was joshin' us; as we grew older, the twinkle in his dimming eyes usually clued us in.

Lake Cuyamaca and Fletcher Island before the 2003 Cedar Fire

In the summer after we reached our teens, Dad rented a rowboat for my brother and me, and the two of us spent a whole day floating on calm Lake Cuyamaca. Tom fished while I read from a stack of favorite books (usually featuring Louisa May Alcott, Nancy Drew, or Trixie Belden), and we met the rest of the family for a picnic on the island in the middle of the lake, hiking up the hill to the very top of the island where the picnic tables (and a small one-holer “toilet”) were permanently installed. Tom never caught much except for a nasty sunburn and rather sore muscles from rowing us about, and sometimes I came back with a headache from the sun glaring off the white pages of my books for more than eight hours, but the peace and quiet of the lake on a weekday were magical.

Another tradition of our camping trip was taking a day to drive into Julian, a former mining town and now a tourist area. We bought candy and snacks at the Cider Mill, browsed through some shops, and stopped at the old-fashioned drugstore for strawberry sodas at the marble soda fountain. Skipping the ubiquitous apple pies for which the town was famous, we replenished our ice chests at the corner grocery store and perhaps picked up more fresh meat before we drove back down the winding roads to Los Caballos, hoping no one would get sick in the car after all the sweets we had enjoyed.

Cuyamaca Rancho State Park near Los Caballos, before the 2003 Cedar Fire

We spent up to two weeks camping nearly every summer at Los Caballos, as our mother had before us starting in the 1950s, and as our kids did for part of their childhood; our parents loved teaching their grandkids the joys of camping. When we were younger, our grandparents, aunt, and uncle often came up for a day; my grandfather, a former member of the Escondido Police Posse, often took a short ride with my aunt who was as horse-crazy as my mother and sister. When we were older, we often brought along Scott, our neighbor from across the street, for a few days, and he insisted on climbing Stonewall Peak daily during his stay. My parents’ best friends often came up for a couple of days with us, too—although they actually slept inside their tents (perish the thought!) and thus missed most of the raccoon fights in the creek bed. We loved every moment of our trips to Cuyamaca Rancho State Park.

Unfortunately, Los Caballos burned in the 2003 Cedar Fire which devastated so much of San Diego County, and because of Native American artifacts around the camp, it was never rebuilt. Occasionally, I still drive up to Julian, always stopping to pause at the metal gates blocking access to our beloved campground, the metal horse stalls still visible through the devastation wreaked by the fire sixteen years ago.

Stonewall Peak and Little Stonewall to the left, northern exposure from Lake Cuyamaca, after the fires (2009)

Every time I drive (or am driven) down the mountain on Interstate 8 into San Diego, I automatically turn my head to the right at a certain point before the Highway 79 exit where the nearby mountains part perfectly, revealing the distinctive rocky southern face of Stonewall Peak. Every time, memories of hiking that mountain with my dearest family and friends come to mind. 

And I smile. 

Thanks for strolling down memory lane with me!


Saturday, October 12, 2019

The Joys of Camping: With a Horse, o' Course! (Part 1)

Part One of Two

Groaning at the loud, domestic arguments of the Stellar Jays in the trees above us, I woke to the scent of bacon on a brisk summer morning. Deciding the brave the cold, I stumbled out of the tangle of my sleeping bag atop a canvas cot, one of five lined up in a row beneath the magnificent oak tree in Campsite #16 of Los Caballos Horse Camp. Pulling on shoes without socks and then a jacket over my pajamas, I made my way to the tent to dress in warm clothing on this 40-degree morning. 

After hiking to the one bathroom for the sixteen campsites with my sister, we returned to toss flakes of hay to Brownie and Sweetpea whose metal-pipe stalls were within the half-circle driveway of our campsite. We filled their water buckets, and once the horses were munching away on their breakfast, we could enjoy ours. We folded our legs and slipped sideways to sit at the sturdy wooden picnic table that was the centerpiece of the site which was backed to a dry creek bed, making it more private than the other campsites. Mom placed plates filled with scrambled eggs, bacon, toast, and fried potatoes and onions before us, and we dug in, still shivering, while Dad tossed kindling and logs into the cement ring a few feet away, rebuilding the fire from the still-glowing coals of last night’s blaze.

After breakfast, my brother and I helped with washing the dishes, filling the huge aluminum pot from the nearest faucet, then carrying it back carefully between us, each of us holding a handle. Mom took the heavy pot from us and set it on the battered Coleman stove to heat the water for washing the dishes while my sister and Dad saddled Brownie, our ancient bay mustang gelding with a greying nose, and Sweetpea, our buckskin quarter horse mare, a former barrel-racer. Both were excellent, if somewhat plodding, trail horses, and getting an early start was vital before the temperatures soared into the nineties later in the day.

The three of us started washing the dishes as Dad and Tracey moseyed out of the site and crossed the paved asphalt road, picking up the trail around the perimeter of Lake Cuyamaca. Mom, Tom, and I planned to hike over later to meet them with a picnic lunch on Fletcher Island in the center of the lake. Meanwhile, the three of us might hike down to Paso Picacho, a large non-equine campground a couple of miles southwest of Los Caballos, or we might settle into beach chairs around the fire with books or play another game of Yahtzee! or Gin Rummy at the picnic table. 

I miss camping. My husband is not a camper despite his many camping trips as a child. We also grew up camping every summer, often trailering our horses up to the local mountains a mere forty miles from home to a splendid and quiet horse camp in the Cuyamaca Mountains northeast of our hometown of El Cajon, California. It was always a challenge to drive those forty miles, which felt like a hundred given our excitement and our concerns that our ancient International Travel-All, christened “Tizzie,” which pulled our equally-ancient double-horse trailer (both painted a cheap Earl Scheib chocolate-brown to match), might overheat on the journey during which we climbed nearly 4,000 feet in elevation. 

Dad drove Tizzie, which, with two of the three bench seats removed, sported two bales of hay and a huge bucket of oats plus empty water buckets for the horses in the back, while Mom drove her sporty 1971 green Plymouth Duster which hauled the small aluminum-lidded trailer that contained all camping our gear, food, and clothing. We three kids were distributed among the vehicles: two in the back seat of the Duster, a pile of pillows between us, and one in the front seat of the Travel-All beside Dad, all of us keeping our eyes peeled for potential steam coming from either vehicle despite our early departure. 

We tent-camped, but the tent was mostly used for changing and storing our clothes; we slept outside at night since the only rainstorms that attempted to drench us occurred in the afternoons. And if we camped in mid-July, as we usually did, we'd miss even those storms. Camping in August, however, was a different and much wetter story.

Part Two...Next Week! 

Awash in memories,

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Summer Book Reviews in September

I love reading and writing on my front porch, especially when the sun starts dipping behind the tall trees, then beyond the violet-blue mountains cupping our little village in its palm. Over the past few September days, the nights have become quite cool, sinking to the mid-40s, and the days have been pleasant in the high 70s to low 80s. It's perfect porch weather!

So here are more of my summer reads and reviews. I'm remaining ahead of pace for reading eighty books in 2019, currently three books to the good according to Goodreads, I believe.

Letters from Home Letters from Home by Regina Jeffers
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This story was not at all what I was expecting. As Regina Jeffers has penned many excellent Jane Austen variations and continuations, I was fully expecting this novella to be a "take" on Persuasion. However, this novella chronicles a young widow, Mrs. Faith Lamont, attending a Christmastide house party as her beautiful but selfish cousin's companion.

The new gentleman of the house, who had fought in the same military company as her husband (unbeknownst to her) had fallen in love with the woman's letters which her husband had read aloud to the entire company, although her husband viewed her beautiful earnestness and love for him as a farce to be laughed at.

However, Lord Simon Langford had fallen in love with the letters: their beautiful descriptions of England--of home--had captured his mind and his heart and had also comforted many of the other men, a development that George Lamont's young wife had never intended. Faith was embarrassed beyond belief to discover her husband's betrayal; how could he have read these most private and personal of letters aloud to the entire company?

But Simon, injured in the same battle that took George Lamont's life, is sick and tired by the usual ladies of the Ton. He finds himself delighted to have found a woman of true quality, but Faith is far more reluctant. Can Faith get past her humiliation at her husband's hands? Can Simon marry a poor war widow and remain part of London society?

Regina Jeffers never disappoints. Although this novella was not at all what I had expected when I ordered it, I found it delightful and extremely compelling. It's a quick read; in fact. I believe I read the whole thing easily within 24 hours. And while it is a quick read, it is also a highly satisfying one.

The Contract The Contract by Melanie Moreland
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When this book was first released, I had checked out a sample of it and had really enjoyed it. In addition, one of my fanfic friends, Jeanne McDonald, had highly recommended it, and I knew I would have to finish reading it at some point.

I think that this story was first a Twilight fanfic before it was edited into an original contemporary romance. Sometime in the last couple of years, I had purchased the e-book but somehow never managed to read it. When I was looking for a somewhat familiar book to read (sometimes I don't want to take the mental energy to "meet" new characters), I rediscovered this book on my tablet.

I quickly re-read the first two chapters I had received as the sample and raced through the rest of the novel, finding it unusually compelling and definitely a page-turner. The character development, the plot, the romance--all of it took me into a world that seemed both completely foreign yet oh-so-familiar. I absolutely LOVED this book and am hoping to purchase the second volume of the series when I get paid for some essay grading.

This book chronicles an incredible transformation of one man who falls for a woman far too good for him. In his stunted state, mostly due to his neglected childhood, he seems unable to love anyone, including himself. But the influence of an unselfish woman, her "aunt" with Alzheimer's, and a new cooperative work environment help this man to become a different person in a fairly realistic way.

I definitely fell in love with these characters--all of them! It's a heart-warming and heart-rending tale, and it's one that I highly recommend.

(NOTE: I save "5" for the classics or for absolutely extraordinary current writing; a "4" is an "excellent" for me while a "5" is "extraordinary.")

A Gift of Ghosts A Gift of Ghosts by Sarah Wynde
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An intriguing premise to this paranormal tale. Akira Malone, a physicist, is hired by General Directions, a vague and somewhat mysterious entity owned by Max Latimer, in a small Florida town called Tassamara. Zane Latimer, the man who hires her and the son of the owner of the company, seems to do so reluctantly, and she isn't really sure why she accepts their offer to move from her academic position in California to this rather ephemeral job across the country.

But she soon discovers the mystery behind General Directions and the reason why she is hired. First of all, the firm is headed by members of the Latimer family, including the handsome Zane to whom she reports weekly. In fact, her hiring itself was a series of tests...but not of her intellect nor of her scientific research. Although she continues her research in the area of sonoluminescence, she quickly finds out that she has been hired for a very different reason--a very personal reason for the Latimer family.

I found this book quite compelling, considering that I started reading it only last night and finished it the next day. It's the first of a series, but I'm not sure I can continue it since I will have to purchase the books through Amazon since they aren't available through our library system. With an extremely limited book budget (that encompasses 99-cent bargains through BookBub and Book Gorilla which is how I obtained this first book), I can't afford to continue reading the series.

If one enjoys stories based in the paranormal and a rather heady romance, then this book--and likely the series--will definitely appeal. The climax of the story was excellently written, and I found the whole book to be a delightful and truly mesmerizing experience.

Murder at Morrington Hall Murder at Morrington Hall by Clara McKenna
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A delightful first mystery in the Stella and Lyndy mysteries set in 1905. Lyndy, a young viscount, is amused by the young American woman, Stella Kendrick, whose father is the typical "rich ugly American" with no class but somehow became a millionaire by breeding top racehorses in Kentucky. Stella, however, is one of those Americans who possesses excellent intentions but manages to make a muck out of every honest attempt, to her eternal chagrin.

Stella and her father arrive at Morrington Hall where she discovers her father's plan: Mr. Kendrick will give the Earl of Atherly, Viscount Lyndhurst's father, the sire of the most promising thoroughbred in a generation in exchange for Lyndy marrying Stella. Having a daughter with a title seems to be the most expeditious way to get rid of Stella for Mr. Kendrick, and the father has no compassion for the position in which he has thrust his daughter: she is basically treated as part of a horse swap which does not endear her to her father's plan in the least.

Stella rebels immediately, but her argument with her stubborn and quite cruel father is cut short by the murder of the vicar who was to marry them the next day. Lyndy is afraid that his best friend may be the murderer while Stella also wishes to reveal the identity of the killer. Working together to solve the murder, Lyndy and Stella develop an admiration for one another--and perhaps even more. Stella discovers Lyndy's kind heart while Lyndy admires Stella's courage and sense of humor.

I found this first novel in the series quite compelling. Well-written, nicely detailed, with realistic and likable characters plus a wry sense of humor, I think that Clara McKenna's series will become quite successful. I know that I will be awaiting the next book in this series with a great deal of anticipation!! Brava, Ms. McKenna, on a wonderful opening book of the series!!

  Leaving Everything Most Loved Leaving Everything Most Loved by Jacqueline Winspear
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This tenth book in the amazing Maisie Dobbs series was rather heartwrenching. A woman from India was discovered, shot through the head, along the banks of the Thames. When the police fail to find any clues, they give up the case and move on. But when the murdered woman's brother shows up in London several months later seeking answers, the police at Scotland Yard come to Maisie Dobbs and ask for her assistance.

Maisie finds herself at a crossroads. She loves James Compton, yet the idea of giving up her hard-won independence in order to marry a lord terrifies her. James presses Maisie to make a decision, and she will have to search her heart and soul to see which way she will decide. And she also meets some amazing women as she searches for the killer od beautiful Usha Pramal, a former governess working in London as domestic help.

Maisie's assistant, Billy, also finds himself at a crossroads as he returned too soon from injuries that nearly cost him his life, and he is temporarily (or perhaps permanently) unable to do his job. Sandra, Maisie's other employee, is also seeking other work as well.

Perhaps, as Maisie is taken deeper and deeper into the people and culture of India right in her beloved London and as her father finds love at last, this is time for Maisie to travel, to find herself, and to be able to give James a firm answer, one way or another.

A brilliant and heart-rending book that had me in tears several times, the Maisie Dobbs series continues to deliver a thoughtful and thought-provoking heroine deeply involved in her calling yet with a loneliness within that may prevent her from ever truly loving.

Beautifully written, wisely developed, and carefully plotted, this tenth book (of fifteen books in the series at this time) is another standout in the they all are, somehow.

Finally Mrs. Darcy: A Pride and Prejudice Novella Finally Mrs. Darcy: A Pride and Prejudice Novella by Leenie Brown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A sweet novella in which a widowed Elizabeth once again encounters Fitzwilliam Darcy--a set-up managed by her uncle-by-marriage--and the sparks fly between the two of them immediately. Very little trouble remains in the way of their romance at this point, later in life. It's a story of second chances, of new beginnings, and of a true love that never wanes.

Telling much more would give away too much, but I will say that this is a sweet novella with a very happy ending, indeed!

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Thanks for reading my reviews, and please let me know if you have read any of these books--and what you thought of them--or if you would like to read them. I have included the reviews of one of the Maisie Dobbs mysteries that I have been enjoying so much. I'm on a waitlist for the next Maisie Dobbs which has been my passion this spring and summer! 

Happy reading, everyone!

Sunday, August 25, 2019

My 2019-2020 Essay Grading Service

The following is a repost from my website

Susanne Barrett: 
E-Mail Essay Grading Service 2019-2020 School Year

So this is how my grading system works: Just send me the essay as a Word attachment, and please include the assignment directions either in the text of the e-mail or also as an attachment. Also, please let me know if you would like comments only or comments with a letter grade. Please alert me also to anything else I may need to know (such as learning challenges, reluctant writing, etc.) so that I can respond to the essay in the most helpful way possible.

I will respond via e-mail within 24 hours to let you know that I received the essay and on which day you can expect to have it returned to you, usually within 3-5 school days. If you need an essay graded sooner, let me know, and I'll see if I can slip it into my schedule.

Also, with each assignment, please include the writer’s age, grade level, and whether you want a letter grade since I grade for many families and may not recall your family’s preferences. 

I then download the essay, mark corrections, make comments, and offer suggestions in the right margin. At the end of the essay, I write an overall summary of what was done well in the essay and what needs further attention. My over-arching goal is to encourage growth in the art and craft of writing, including format/structure, organization, fluency, vocabulary, and mechanics.   

Then when I return the graded essay, which I send in Word and also as a PDF (because some Apple computers/tablets don’t show the review comments in the right margin of Word documents), I will let you know the fee which is the number of words in the essay (excluding any notes for me) times $.03 (3 cents per word) with a $10 minimum fee per essay. If you wish to have your writer revise the essay and submit it to be re-graded, I charge half as much (1½ cents per word with a $5 minimum) for grading revised essays.

Then I ask you to remit via PayPal at PayPal.Me/SusanneBarrett when I return the essay. I will grade the essay first and then receive payment after returning the essay to you. Please remit payment within 24 hours of my returning the graded essay to you.

Regarding research essays, I am well-versed in the latest Modern Language Association (MLA) format style according to the MLA Handbook, 8th Edition (2016) which is the format most commonly used for research in the humanities. Because I am not at all familiar with other research formats such as APA, CMS/Turabian, etc., I only grade research essays formatted according to the MLA style, 8th edition.

Please let me know if you have any questions; I’m always happy to explain and/or discuss my essay grading services.

So send me an essay whenever you're ready, and we'll go from there! I look forward to working with you and your young writer(s)! 

Writing with you,

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Spring and Summer Reading....

Our county library branch just completed the annual Summer Reading program. Readers from ages kindergarten through the adults track the number of hours we read all summer, and for every ten hours we read, we receive a raffle ticket. When we reach the week before school begins, the Pine Valley Library holds three drawings: the adults, the kids, and the teens, with some fairly impressive prizes donated by businesses or purchased with Friends of the Library funds.

Last Tuesday night, I joined about forty adults crammed into the small community room of the Pine Valley Library. After passing around ice cream (I do love caramel-filled Drumsticks!), we settled in for the drawing. I had twelve tickets in the jar while my friend Cameron topped me with eighteen tickets. She is also a book editor, so a lot of what she read was work-related. (Please ignore any hint of envy in that last statement.😜)

Cameron was also choosing prizes for her husband while I also chose for Elizabeth. Last summer, Elizabeth hadn't won anything, so as I had won the first draw and chose the Kindle Fire 8, I gave to her (since I have a Kindle Fire 10). This year, I managed to get a $25 Target gift card which I also gave to Elizabeth, and with her name drawn late in the raffle with only a handful of prizes left, I chose a USB fan which I have been wanting for quite a while--a necessity when teaching summer school online! A very good ending to a fun and productive Summer Reading Program.

So here are some of the books I have read this spring and summer:

Return to Tradd Street Return to Tradd Street by Karen White
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the 4th of the Tradd Street mysteries, and I enjoyed it perhaps more than the others. The paranormal aspects kept me guessing. The historical research in this series is also fascinating even though the South is not my favorite topic.

The dynamic between Jack and Melanie is stronger here, and the entire plot, spread over four novels, seems to have come to a satisfying conclusion. Melanie, a definite OCD planner, has learned how to let go of control a bit, a control she has definitely needed to assert after her traumatic childhood in which her mother deserted her when Melanie was only six-seven, and her dad become a raging alcoholic after his wife left, leaving Melanie to be the parent when she was still a child. Being in control of her life, her heart, her career, made her feel safe. And ignoring her ability to see dead people was also part of her reign of control. At the end of the four novels, Melanie has softened, learned to go with the flow, and, most of all, learned to forgive her parents and Jack. Her hatred for old houses, despite the old houses of Charleston being at the heart of her career as a realtor, has also waned although she still believes that they are money pits waiting to drain one's bank account. ;) She has learned to love.

A terrific and compelling series; I checked them out via the library e-loan system so that I could start the next as soon as one was finished. There is a Christmas book being released this fall, so I'm happy to know that the series has not ended. I'm excited to see what kind of paranormal mystery Melanie will find herself embroiled in this time!

Written on the Wind Written on the Wind by Cate Dean
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this second book in the Maggie Mulgrew series. It's utterly lovely to read a series that is set in an English country village with all of its quirky characters and unique shops. Maggie, an American transplant who inherited her great-aunt's house and business in Holmestead (which makes the best it can among the tourist trade as a village with "Holmes" in its name).

In the first book, Maggie comes to like an archeology professor, Pembroke Martin, who was accused of murder but was found to be innocent and he, Spencer (Maggie's best friend and employee in her antique shop, the Ash Leaf), and Maggie uncover the culprit. Now Martin (he hates his first name) is ensconced in Maggie's flat above the shop and, as her "gentleman-caller," assists her and Spencer in the latest intrigue.

I'm growing to enjoy the villagers more and more, and I just wish that the mysteries were longer; they seem to end so quickly! They are only $3 on Kindle, but I'd hate to buy more...yet they're not available through my library system (I checked it state-wide). So I'll see if I continue reading this series when I have so many other series begging for my attention. 😏

Inspiration: A Pride and Prejudice variation Inspiration: A Pride and Prejudice Variation by Maria Grace
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is another sweet novella by author Maria Grace. I had the pleasure of reading nearly half of it online at Austen Variations, and then I helped to proofread the whole shebang. I love the premise of Fitzwilliam Darcy (and Bingley, too) as gentlemen artists. Darcy is undergoing quite the dry spell since his and Georgiana's run-in with Wickham at Ramsgate. He just has no inspiration. And then he accepts Bingley's invitation to come to Netherfield in Hertfordshire where he meets the Bennet family. While Bingley falls for the lovely Jane, it's Elizabeth who becomes Darcy's muse.

Darcy's preoccupation with Elizabeth as his muse is intense. She truly becomes his inspiration, and he cannot paint without her. So Darcy has indeed managed to paint himself into a corner...

The Subsequent Proposal: A Tale of Pride, Prejudice & Persuasion The Subsequent Proposal: A Tale of Pride, Prejudice & Persuasion by Joana Starnes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was quite the intriguing and original Austen variation in which Mr. Darcy is engaged to Anne Elliot while Elizabeth Bennet is being pursued by Captain Wentworth. The two men obviously do not mesh well, given that each one is committed (or soon will be) to the other's true love.

The most satisfying part of this novel happens fairly early on when news of Lydia's planned "elopement" (in letter form to Kitty) with Wickham is revealed, and both Mr. Darcy and Captain Wentworth travel separately to Brighton where they catch Wickham the night before they leave. Wentworth, for Elizabeth's honor (which Darcy can't claim as he is engaged to Anne), challenges Wickham to a duel, and the events that occur there are both very surprising and quite satisfying!!

The untangling of these "romances" so that each couple is set correctly again is both intriguing and quite compelling. It's a novel full of angst, mostly written from Darcy's POV, but of course, we end up with the usual HEA common to Austen variations and continuations. Very well-written and quite believable.

A Most Affectionate Mother: A Pride and Prejudice sequel A Most Affectionate Mother: A Pride and Prejudice sequel by Maria Grace
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A sweet novella by Maria Grace which focuses on the "plain" Bennet sister after the marriages of Lydia, Jane, and Elizabeth. Now at Longbourn with only Kitty and her mother for entertainment, Mary escapes as often as possible to Meryton's lending library.

While checking out a book in order to assist Charlotte Lucas with a project at Rosings, Mary is confronted by a very rude young man who demands the book Mary has just borrowed, insisting that he needs it himself. In high dudgeon, Mary leaves the young man in the dust.

But this young man is persistent and ends up at Longbourn...where Mrs. Bennet will not allow Mary to ignore him despite the fact that she is annoyed beyond words at the young man's effrontery in pursuing this book. In fact, Mary is forced to share her book with him so that Mr. Johnstone can complete a similar project for his own parish. Mrs. Bennet, with three daughters married, is most eager to plan yet another wedding and relentlessly pushes Mary at the poor gentleman. What is Mary to do?

I enjoyed this book, mostly because I always enjoy Maria Grace's interpretations of Mary as a much stronger and more intriguing and nuanced character than portrayed in Austen's original book. This Mary has quite a temper, stands up to her mother as well as she can (how can one outmaneuver a steamroller?), and takes on an incredible project at the behest of Mr. Johnstone's mother.

While both mothers attempt to make this match, will Mary and Mr. Johnstone agree?

This is another of Maria Grace's books that I had the privilege of reading half online at Austen Variations (or was it Maria's website, Random Bits of Fascination?) before proofreading the whole. It was difficult to slow down my reading in order to proofread; I kept wanting to push ahead and find out what happened!

After the Letter: A Persuasion Continuation After the Letter: A Persuasion Continuation by Meg Osborne
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An intriguing continuation of Persuasion, picking up right where Austen's novel ends. Despite Anne's happiness, Lady Russell and her father remain somewhat opposed to the match, but Sir Walter accepts the settlement with alacrity, given his financial situation. But Lady Russell continues to actively work against Wentworth, still believing that despite Frederick's wealth and increased stature, he is nothing but an itinerant sailor who will ruin Anne's life.

Will Anne have the strength to stand up against her family and Lady Russell? Or will the couple part once again, this time forever?

I always enjoy Meg Osborne's variations and continuations of Austen's works, and this one is no exception. We feel the pull of being in the middle with Anne, her love for him pitted against Lady Russell's connection to Anne's beloved mother. Frederick isn't often happy in this novella; he is frustrated by the delays suggested by Sir Walter, and it doesn't help that Mr. Elliott remains in town (he didn't elope with Mrs. Clay as in Austen's original) and continues to hang around Anne, to her extreme discomfort.

Definitely an intriguing and compelling novella; I basically read it in one sitting. 😍

Murder on Trinity Place Murder on Trinity Place by Victoria Thompson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have been a fan of this series for well over a decade! I was so excited to read the 22nd book in this series, and I definitely enjoyed it. However, I realized as I read it that I had somehow missed reading two of the more recent books in the series, so I am re-reading the book before the two I missed, and then I'll jump into the two books in the series that I haven't read yet.

This book starts at New Year's Eve as the year 1900 begins. There have been many changes in Sarah's household since the early mysteries she came across as a midwife. I won't chronicle the changes here because I don't want to spoil the series for anyone. But I do miss the rawness of the early books and the near-constant danger Sarah faced as a widowed midwife in 1890s New York City. Plus, trying to discover her husband's murderer placed Sarah in even more danger, to the annoyance of Detective Frank Malloy of the New York Police Department. Frank was a hardboiled Irish copper, not deigning to investigate a murder unless the family paid him to do so. He found Sarah to be an annoying "do-gooder" who was always underfoot at crime scenes, and Sarah found his requirement of being paid by the families of murder victims to be reprehensible. That's how the series began, and the situation of the characters has changed quite markedly 22 books later.

This series is a delight for readers who enjoy historical mysteries that focus on character development and a surprising "whodunnit?" ending. The writing is deep and thoughtful, brimming with excitement at times. The characters are memorable and become almost like dear friends, their foibles and flaws noted and accepted while their hearts desire to do the right thing to help the poor of NYC.

And this 22nd book is no exception. I feel that either I have adjusted so well to the author's style that they seem to read more easily, or she has made the series more easily accessible over the years; I'm not sure which. But I still found this book utterly delightful (despite the murders, of course!). The character development is always intriguing as is the mystery itself, one that can indeed be solved by readers who pay very close attention.

Triple Jeopardy Triple Jeopardy by Anne Perry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A clever second book, set in 1910, in Anne Perry's new Daniel Pitt mystery series. While I have read (and often re-read) the Charlotte and Thomas Pitt series (focused on mysteries solved by Daniel's parents), the Daniel Pitt series differs in that Daniel is a fledgling trial lawyer in a well-known London firm, fforde Croft and Gibson, who takes on very intriguing cases that need a bit of sleuthing to be solved.

In both mysteries thus far, Daniel relies on his parents (and this time his older sister Jemima married to an American police officer; they now reside in Washington, DC, but arrive in London for a visit and because of a case), a senior attorney named Kitteridge, Marcus fforde Croft (partner in the firm), and his daughter, Miriam fforde Croft, a pathologist.

Once again, the mystery concludes in the courtroom, with Daniel taking great chances to unmask the murderer as he questions witnesses in the stand. He's young--only 25 or so--but Daniel Pitt is making quite a name for himself in solving and winning extremely challenging cases, much as his father has done (and still does) as head of Special Branch.

I wasn't sure how much I would enjoy courtroom dramas, but I grew up watching the old black-and-white Perry Mason TV show during lunch. Raymond Burr was amazing at getting the culprit to confess, either on the stand or in the audience. And while we get to learn only what Daniel himself unearths (with the help of others), it ends up being quite a fascinating and compelling read.

I can't wait for Anne Perry to continue this series. The last Charlotte and Thomas Pitt mystery I read (#31) fell rather flat to me simply because Charlotte cannot take part in Thomas' efforts for Special Branch, and the fun dynamic between the two of them, plus their maid, Gracie, was what made the series work for so many books (32 of them!). I am quite enjoying seeing Charlotte and Thomas' children grown and solving mysteries on their own (at least in this second volume with Jemima, her Irish-American husband, and their young family visiting London).

A fascinating book, even if I guessed the murderer (but not the accomplice!) about halfway through. I wasn't sure; it was a gut-guess, I guess. 😊

* * * * *

So there we are, a handful of the books I have read and reviewed on Goodreads this spring and summer. I have lots more books that I have yet to review, and I'm currently three books ahead of "schedule" in my goal of reading 80 books in 2019. Considering that I don't watch TV anymore (just a D&D livestream that my kids got me hooked on; three of our four kids are devoted fans and we plan to start our own D&D home game this fall. More on that to come....

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Saint James the Apostle

St. James the Apostle by Peter Paul Rubens
One of the elements of Anglican worship that continues to appeal to me is the focus on Biblical saints. While we may enjoy and gain inspiration and insight from the stories of saints through the ages, both those recognized by the Church and those who are not, Anglicans celebrate the saints of the Holy Scriptures. Today, July 25, is the day we celebrate Saint James the Apostle.

The following is the e-mail from on Saint James the Apostle, also known as Saint James the Greater.

Saint James the Apostle’s Story

This James is the brother of John the Evangelist. The two were called by Jesus as they worked with their father in a fishing boat on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus had already called another pair of brothers from a similar occupation: Peter and Andrew. “He walked along a little farther and saw James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They too were in a boat mending their nets. Then he called them. So they left their father Zebedee in the boat along with the hired men and followed him” (Mark 1:19-20).
James was one of the favored three who had the privilege of witnessing the Transfiguration, the raising to life of the daughter of Jairus, and the agony in Gethsemani.
Two incidents in the Gospels describe the temperament of this man and his brother. Saint Matthew tells that their mother came—Mark says it was the brothers themselves—to ask that they have the seats of honor in the kingdom. “Jesus said in reply, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?’ They said to him, ‘We can’” (Matthew 20:22). Jesus then told them they would indeed drink the cup and share his baptism of pain and death, but that sitting at his right hand or left was not his to give—it “is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father” (Matthew 20:23b). It remained to be seen how long it would take to realize the implications of their confident “We can!”
The other disciples became indignant at the ambition of James and John. Then Jesus taught them all the lesson of humble service: The purpose of authority is to serve. They are not to impose their will on others, or lord it over them. This is the position of Jesus himself. He was the servant of all; the service imposed on him was the supreme sacrifice of his own life.
On another occasion, James and John gave evidence that the nickname Jesus gave them—“sons of thunder”—was an apt one. The Samaritans would not welcome Jesus because he was on his way to hated Jerusalem. “When the disciples James and John saw this they asked, ‘Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?’ Jesus turned and rebuked them…” (Luke 9:54-55).
James was apparently the first of the apostles to be martyred. “About that time King Herod laid hands upon some members of the church to harm them. He had James, the brother of John, killed by the sword, and when he saw that this was pleasing to the Jews he proceeded to arrest Peter also” (Acts 12:1-3a).
This James, sometimes called James the Greater, is not to be confused with James the Lesser or with the author of the Letter of James and the leader of the Jerusalem community.
An icon of Saint James the Apostle, also known as Saint James the Greater


The way the Gospels treat the apostles is a good reminder of what holiness is all about. There is very little about their virtues as static possessions, entitling them to heavenly reward. Rather, the great emphasis is on the Kingdom, on God’s giving them the power to proclaim the Good News. As far as their personal lives are concerned, there is much about Jesus’ purifying them of narrowness, pettiness, fickleness.
* * * * *
In the 2011 Book of Common Prayer, we celebrate Saint James with a collective prayer called a Collect:
Saint James (July 25)
MERCIFUL God, as your holy apostle James left his father and worldly goods without delay to follow the call of your Son Jesus Christ; Grant that, leaving behind all earthly goods and desires, we may always be ready to follow your commands; Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and rules with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen. (References: Matthew 4.21-22; 19.27-29; Acts 12.1-2; Revelation 22.14)
Acts 11.27-12.3a; Matthew 20.20-28; Psalm 15; Psalm 149.1-6; Jeremiah 45.1-5
Father Acker and I will be celebrating Saint James the Apostle at tomorrow morning's weekly Morning Prayer and Holy Communion with Healing. We will be reading the Epistle and Gospel readings above (the first two listed) in the Communion service. 
Wishing you all a blessed week in the love of our Lord!
Soli Deo Gloria,


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