Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Shrove Tuesday & Ash Wednesday

From the Archives with Additions...

As New Orleans and other cities across the nation and around the world celebrate Mardi Gras tonight, I spent Tuesday afternoon celebrating Mardi Gras with my parents at their senior care facility, and we had a lovely time with fun masks, headbands with wee masks wiggling at the ends of springy wires (I have nooo idea what those fun celebratory headgears things are called), all in purple, green, and gold. After enjoying our choice of beverage (wine, bourbon, or cranberry juice), we went downstairs to chair dance to a great DJ and have fun!! (I think we amused some of the seniors when Dad and I got up and danced (briefly) to Elvis!). (See some of our Mardi Gras photos on my Instagram link in the sidebar) Our family tradition of pancakes for supper, our usual celebration of Shrove Tuesday, was set aside this year. 

But what is Shrove Tuesday? 

Father Gregory of Blessed Trinity Anglican Church sent out the answer to this question via e-mail to the Blessed Trinity family:

Although far less widely known than Fat Tuesday/Mardi Gras, the Tuesday immediately before Ash Wednesday is also known as Shrove Tuesday. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, which is sometimes referred to as "Shrovetide" in England. Observance of Shrove Tuesday can be traced back to at least AD 1000 and was originally observed as a day of confession and penitence in preparation for Ash Wednesday and Lent. Today, Shrove Tuesday is primarily observed among Catholics, Episcopalians, Lutherans, and Methodists. The word shrove is past tense of shrive, a verb meaning “to go to confession and get absolved of sin.”

In the past few centuries, though, Shrove Tuesday has turned into more of a day of feasting in preparation for the fasting that is to occur during Lent. The feasting aspect of Shrove Tuesday originated due to the need to get rid of the foods/ingredients that are restricted during the Lenten fasting, such as sugar, leavened flour, eggs, etc. The need to use up these ingredients has resulted in Shrove Tuesday also becoming known as Pancake Tuesday, or, more simply, Pancake Day.

Although I've attended evangelical churches for the past twenty-five years, I've practiced Lent in one form or another since college. Even though they had both been raised Nazarene, my former roommates taught me quite a bit about Lent in college, and for my first Lent I gave up my prime addiction: soda. Diet Coke was my coffee; I was drinking my first can at seven in the morning and downed them throughout the day to keep myself alert during classes and the long drive home as a commuter student. The wonderful thing was that after Lent, soda upset my stomach, so I've pretty much been on a soda fast since college--drinking water and tea is far healthier! ;)

Lent is a time for spiritual housecleaning for me. I pray over what has a hold on my life in a possibly unhealthy way, and I ask God to loosen this thing's hold on me so that I can live a more balanced life, one devoted to loving and serving Him. In past years I've fasted from television, desserts, gluten, Facebook, fan fiction stories, reading novels, and other often non-traditional items. I don't reveal what I am fasting from during each Lent, but the idea is to not only practice self-denial and to free up time for spending with God that would be spent on less God-centered pursuits, but to offer up something I really enjoy to God as a sacrifice, allowing me to focus on Him and on how He desires to mold me into the image of His Son.

Lent prepares our hearts for the joy of Easter--the celebration of the Resurrection of our Living and Loving Lord. How can we truly celebrate without suffering just a little first? Through fasting and prayer, we draw closer to the heart of the One who loved us first and showed that love by suffering and dying for us.

Can we fast and pray at any time? Sure. But do we? Not enough--or at least, I know that I don't fast and pray enough. Lent reminds me to do so, to allow the Holy Spirit into the dark corners of my soul and do a spiritual "spring cleaning," showing me my sin so that I may confess it and be cleansed.

Renovaré, one of my favorite resources for practicing the disciplines of the historical church in a way that both glorifies God and grows my faith, has created a resource to guide us as we press into the season of LentThe devotional booklet, Less Is More, prompts an intentional reflection on the aspects of our lives that stand in the way of walking in God’s spirit and encourages us to move forward in love. Each week, a classic spiritual discipline provides the entry point for self-examination, God reflection, and godly action: 
Confession: Less Guilt/More Grace
Solitude: Less Noise/More Listening
Fasting: Less Consumption/More Compassion 
Simplicity: Less Stuff/More Freedom 
Frugality: Less Spending/More Peace 
Intercession: Less Me/More Others 
Reflective Reading of Holy Week Story: Less Fear/More Love 
Renovaré hopes that the daily immersion in the life of God through these disciplines becomes a life-giving habit that extends well beyond this season of Lent.

To read more about Shrove Tuesday, Ash Wednesday, and Lent, check out my post On Lent using this hyperlink or by going to the "On Lent" page beneath my blog header.

I wish you all a Holy and Blessed Lent as we all draw closer to our Lord and King!

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Some Book Reviews from 2019

Yes, I am still catching up on posting my book reviews from Goodreads here on my blog. Some of these reviews go back as far as last October, but they're solid books that I think you may really enjoy reading.

NOTE: I rarely, if ever, give modern (i.e., non-classical) literature books five stars. I mean, what written now can really measure up to Jane Eyre or Much Ado About Nothing? But very occasionally I do give five stars if a modern novel (with or without a historical setting) truly thrills me to the core.

Just know that if I were not such a persnickety person about my classic lit, nearly all of these books would receive enthusiastic "5"s rather than enthusiastic "4"s. Just saying.

And now, onto my thoughts on the following books, all of which I recommend reading:

In This Grave Hour In This Grave Hour by Jacqueline Winspear
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Maisie Dobbs finds herself facing a second war with Germany, just declared by Neville Chamberlain, and returns home to find Francesca Thomas, an operative who trained Maisie for her trip to Munich and whom she first met while teaching at Oxford while trailing a murderer, sitting on her back porch. Thomas hires Maisie to find out who has murdered a man who was a Belgian refugee during the First World War and stayed in this country even after the war ended, having married a British citizen and settled down to work, have kids, and live a British life.

Maisie suspects that Francesca knows more than she is telling Maisie, but Maisie quickly puts her assistants, Billy and Sandra, on the job as London starts to evacuate their children due to the threat of Hitler bombing London. Maisie ends up sending several people to the Dower House of her in-laws' estate, some to recover from illnesses, some as refugees, including a little girl not yet five years old and completely silent. Maisie takes this little abandoned girl to her heart and strives to locate her family in the midst of more murders of former Belgian refugees and those who helped to place them in 1916.

This mystery is extremely complex, dealing with people still suffering from the previous war as a second war with Germany threatens Britain once again. As the English people pull together once more to "do their bit," Maisie must stop another murder from occurring as she tries to unearth the murderer who may be closer at hand than both she and Francesca Thomas thought.

This is yet another brilliant mystery featuring my new favorite heroine, Maisie Dobbs. It's amazing to see how a costermonger's daughter has become a Lady...although she rarely if ever uses her title or even her former last name. She takes pride in being the daughter of Frank Dobbs and rarely uses her wealth for herself--with the exception of a rather sporty car that will likely have to be garaged during the war since all of the petrol will be needed for ambulances and airplanes rather than personal vehicles. Maisie dreads another war, but the end of this book finds her volunteering once again to help her country stave off the powers of dictatorship.

Who Buries the Dead Who Buries the Dead by C.S. Harris
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As I noticed another reader remarking, these mysteries are NOT of the "cozy" variety. Regency London my have seemed sweet to those in the ton whose only thoughts were whether they could obtain vouchers to Almack's and which gentleman/lady would be most advantageous to wed.

No, this series of books deals with the seamy underside of London and the political and social problems (terrors?) of Regency London. Sebastian St. Cyr once again is requested to assist Bow Street with a most grisly murder: a decapitated man of decent wealth and social stature. Meanwhile, Hero, Sebastian's wife (and the daughter of the most powerful man in England, the cousin of the Regent who manipulates the ruler of Britannia with skill and avarice as well as Sebastian's sworn enemy) is researching and writing a scathing article on the plight of the London costermongers and how they face poverty, illness, and death on a daily basis.

While Lady Devlin would never interfere with Sebastian's passion in solving murders and bringing a little justice into an extremely unjust world, Sebastian would never interfere with his intelligent and crusading wife, no matter how much his father-in-law wants him to bring her to heel (and threatens to kill him if anything happens to his daughter and infant grandson). Despite their adversarial and awkward beginning, Lord and Lady Devlin are deeply in love, and their greatest fear is the loss of the other and/or their infant son, Simon.

Sebastian finds himself in more danger than usual as an assassin makes several attempts to kill him and is also having Hero followed as she interviews various costermongers. Who is behind the grisly murder--and the additional murders that follow? And can the missing head of Charles I be located and returned before the Prince Regent discovers its loss?

C.S. Harris has again written another nailbiter of a mystery, one which may skirt the drawing and ballrooms of London's elite but also finds itself in the very dregs of London's poorest (and most dangerous) streets...as usual. I just love Sebastian's and Hero's spirit in seeing the other side of London and doing what they can to protect the innocent and capture (or kill, if necessary) the evil.

Fine Eyes and Pert Opinions: A Pride and Prejudice Variation Fine Eyes and Pert Opinions: A Pride and Prejudice Variation by Maria Grace
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A very different take on Austen's Pride and Prejudice!! Mr. Bennet is the longtime rector of the Pemberley living, and he and his five daughters are coming out of mourning for Mrs. Bennet, a very different type of woman than portrayed in Austen's original. Thus, the Bennet girls have grown up in the environs of Pemberley, and Elizabeth has become a trusted friend and confidant of Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, especially where Georgiana is concerned. Georgiana is more spoiled and less shy in this variation, but she has learned to consult Elizabeth on all of her complaints about her controlling older brother.

When Darcy is at his wit's end in dealing with a moody and changeable 16-year-old, Elizabeth suggests having a small house party in which Georgiana can take on some responsibilities and thus feel more grown-up. Colonel Fitzwilliam obliges by bringing along some guests who seem to be more than a little questionable in more ways than one.

This Austen variation includes allusions to events in Mansfield Park and perhaps even Persuasion as well as Pride and Prejudice. It's a masterful mash-up of Austen characters and themes, and also addresses more serious social and personal issues. In other words, there are some themes to chew on here, themes that reach all the way into the 21st century.

A brilliant book, full of heart and soul, Fine Eyes and Pert Opinions is a difficult book to put down...and an even harder one to forget.

Undeceived: Pride & Prejudice in the Spy Game Undeceived: Pride & Prejudice in the Spy Game by Karen M. Cox
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A very different and quite modern take on Austen's beloved Pride and Prejudice. Set in the early 1980s, Darcy and Elizabeth both work for the CIA. When Darcy, the famous "London Fog," comes to "the Farm" to give a lecture to newbie agents, he offends Elizabeth by his cold demeanor and distaste for the young recruits.

Fast-forward to 1982, and Elizabeth finds herself in Eastern Europe as Darcy's language expert. He falls for her innocence and wit almost immediately while she maintains an emotional distance, given her previous dislike of the man. But soon she is playing the part of his girlfriend, a part which Darcy relishes and Elizabeth does not.

I won't give away any more (I basically summarized the first chapter or so), but this book definitely qualifies as a thriller as Darcy and Elizabeth team up (usually against Elizabeth's will) in the midst of the Cold War Eastern Europe, in a world of double agents, and one who especially has it out for Darcy....

Once I got a chapter or two in, I couldn't put it down. Brilliant book--a real ride!! :D

Gunpowder Plot Gunpowder Plot by Carola Dunn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Daisy, now six months pregnant, goes to the home of a former school friend to write about the family's gorgeous estate, especially their traditional all-out celebration of Guy Fawkes' Day with a bonfire and fireworks--and an apparent murder-suicide.

What was supposed to be a relaxing weekend for Alex when he was to arrive a few days after Daisy turns into quite the case, complete with family secrets, mischievous boys underfoot, and much mayhem.

Daisy, as always, finds herself in the middle of Alex's investigation, helping however she can. Those guileless blue eyes of hers just seem to beckon confidences from the family and family friends. Alex almost can't blame her if it wasn't so maddening!

There is just nothing like a Daisy Dalrymple mystery to give one a laugh or two (and not a few quiet chuckles) while figuring out precisely whodunnit! Such a relaxing way to spend an afternoon or two!!

Death in Focus Death in Focus by Anne Perry
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book started a trifle slowly, mostly because we had to be introduced to the various characters which is quite different from reading another book in Perry's awe-inspiring Charlotte and Thomas Pitt mystery series (now with more than thirty titles). In addition, this book pivoted back and forth between the home front in Britain and Elena's adventures in Europe. By the time I reached the end of the first third of the book, I was reading with bated breath, and I compulsively raced through the second half all in one sitting...until nearly 2:00 AM despite having to get up early the next morning.

I might term this book, apparently the first in a new series, more as a thriller than a mystery although it definitely contains aspects of both genres. Although we do not see them together until the very end of the novel, the depth of the relationship between Elena and her grandfather is remarkable. Their relationship empowers the entire novel for reasons that Elena herself does not understand until the final pages of the novel.

The events of 1933, as Britain is inexorably dragged back into war with Germany despite wanting to avoid war at nearly all costs became so much clearer to me through this novel than any of my history classes were ever able to impress on me. I had never truly realized how far so many families who had lost so many loved ones were willing to appease Hitler in order to avoid a second Great War. I knew it, but in this novel, I experienced it. The deliberate blindness of the English ruling classes, as well as all classes, is breathtaking. It's so understandable and yet, on this side of history, so wrong and misguided.

In addition to enjoying a rip-roaring, edge-of-one's-seat thriller, I learned so much about the history of both Britain and Germany through this book, specifically, how the fallout of the Versailles Treaty created the perfect storm by which Hitler could gain power. Again, I knew this as fact, but now I experienced it along with Elena.

I rarely give contemporary fiction a "5" rating, but this novel truly has it all. I have been a devoted fan of Anne Perry's mysteries since my 20s, and this book may very well be her best work.

  Where the Dead Lie Where the Dead Lie by C.S. Harris
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In another dark Regency mystery by the brilliant mind of C.S. Harris, Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, is enjoying marriage and his young son, but it is the deaths of many street children in London--the invisible children, many of whose mothers were transported to Botany Bay or to America for petty crimes, often the stealing of food to feed their starving offspring. When Devlin is called in to find the body of a 13-year-old boy who had been repeatedly whipped as well as tortured sexually as well, his stomach turns and his anger and sense of justice are piqued. Unfortunately, the men at the top of his suspect list are both extremely powerful men, one a cousin to the Prince Regent himself and the other a Marquess who is engaged to marry Sebastian's only niece.

Lady Devlin, meanwhile, is writing yet another exposé, this time taking the very idea of the missing children Sebastian seeks justice for and researching the plight of the children left behind homeless and ignored when their parents, especially their mothers, are transported to Australia or to the States in punishment for petty crimes.

This is another compelling mystery, overturning the seeming romance of the Regency era to show the length men (and women) will go to retain power and to prop up a dissolute monarchy and noble class who seeks pleasure in the most disgusting and inhumane of ways. The righteous indignation of Lord and Lady Devlin make them excellent partners in solving these crimes and crusade for the rights of London's helpless and downtrodden, providing a silver lining to the darkness of the human heart in this time period, reminding us also that not much has changed even now in the 21st century.

* * * * *

I hope that you might pick up one or more of these books; they're all excellent reads, and I highly recommend every author on this list. Check out my Goodreads (follow the previous hyperlink or see the sidebar of this blog) for even more of my book reviews and to see what I'm reading now. 

And please post any recommendations for me! I'm always looking for new books to read...especially series! 

Have a wonderful week (of reading), everyone! 

Bookishly yours,

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Books Read in 2019

Well, this year has definitely been a year of books. I joined the Goodreads Challenge last January 1 with the goal of reading 80 books in 2019. I exceeded this goal, reading 94 books, much of those mystery novels in series forms as well as many Austenesque novels of varying sorts.

My favorite find of 2019 was the Maisie Dobbs mystery series by Jacqueline Winspear, starting in Maisie's childhood as the daughter of a costermonger; her mother died when she was thirteen, and her father, unsure of how to raise a teenage daughter himself, sent her into service at the London home of Lord and Lady Compton, philanthropists and well-known in the social scene. Lady Rowan soon discovered Maisie's thirst for knowledge and offered her time to study under the tutelage of Dr. Maurice Blanche until Maisie was accepted at Girton College. The first book takes us through Maisie's experiences in the Great War, her recovery, her return to college, and her position as Dr. Blanche's assistant.

The second book sees Maisie take over Maurice's investigative business, and currently, I'm starting the most recent 15th book which takes place during the opening years of the Second World War, published earlier this year. I had hoped to read the entire series in 2019, but this last book brought forth a character from a previous case, so I wanted to re-read that book before starting this most recent. It's a brilliant series where less is more, where characters run deep and are fallible yet so, so real that I feel I would know Maisie on sight should I see her walking down the street (yes, even in modern clothing). I can't recommend this mystery series highly enough; there is so much to ponder over beside the mysterious cases Maisie takes on in each novel.

Some of my other favorite mystery series from 2019 are the Daisy Dalrymple series by Carola Dunn (23 books in series), the Sebastian St. Cyr series by C.S. Harris (14 books in series), and lately, the Lady Darby series by Anna Lee Huber (7 books in series).

So, Goodreads seems to have a glitch in their Reading Challenge set-up in which some books I've read are listed twice (despite my only reading them once), and the connection between my Kindle and Goodreads added several books as "read" although I only accidentally opened them when scrolling through my libraries. I've now severed the connection and will add my finished books to Goodreads by hand in 2020. So please know that despite the apparent 103 books Goodreads claimed I read in 2019, it's truly only 94. I checked twice. ;)

So here are my books in reverse order, starting with the ones read in December and working our way back to January 2019:

If you would like more information on the books I read in 2019, most of which include reviews I wrote for most of the books, you may also check out my Goodreads page by clicking on my Goodreads widget in the sidebar of this blog or by going to my page on Goodreads: Susanne Barrett's Goodreads.

So have you read any amazing books in 2019? I'd love to hear about them! Please share the Goodreading bookish goodness!!

Happy New Year, everyone!! I wish you all a healthy, joyous, and blessed 2020!!


Sunday, December 15, 2019

The Third Sunday in Advent: Joyful Sunday!

Today is the Third Sunday in Advent, also called Gaudete Sunday ("Gaudete" comes from the French word for "rejoice").

So what exactly is Gaudete Sunday? Wikipedia informs us:
Gaudete Sunday (ɡˈdt) is the third Sunday of Advent in the liturgical calendar of the Western Church, including the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Communion, the Lutheran Churches, and other mainline Protestant churches. It can fall on any date from 11 December to 17 December. 
The day takes its common name from the Latin word Gaudete ("Rejoice"), the first word of the introit of this day's Mass: 
Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete. Modestia vestra nota sit omnibus hominibus: Dominus enim prope est. Nihil solliciti sitis: sed in omni oratione petitiones vestræ innotescant apud Deum. Benedixisti Domine terram tuam: avertisti captivitatem Jacob. 
This may be translated as: 
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Let your forbearance be known to all, for the Lord is near at hand; have no anxiety about anything, but in all things, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God. Lord, you have blessed your land; you have turned away the captivity of Jacob.— Philippians 4:4–6; Psalm 85 (84):1 
The incipit for the Gregorian chant introit from which Gaudete Sunday gets its name. 
On Gaudete Sunday rose-colored vestments may be worn instead of violet which is otherwise prescribed for every day in the season of Advent. This tradition, previously informally observed in the Anglican Church, was formally noted as an option in the Church of England in the Common Worship liturgical renewal. In churches which have an Advent wreath, the rose colored candle is lit in addition to two of the violet colored candles, which represent the first two Sundays of Advent. Despite the otherwise somber readings of the season of Advent, which has as a secondary theme the need for penitence, the readings on the third Sunday emphasize the joyous anticipation of the Lord's coming. 

So with this Sunday being the Third Week of Advent, we light our rose candle in addition to our two purple candles as we celebrate Advent as a church this morning and as a family tonight after dinner. There is just something so elemental and sacred in gathering around candles to read God's Word and pray together as a family--it's why Advent is one of my favorite times of the year.

I am so thrilled with Pine Valley Community Church's practice of celebrating Advent. Last year, Pastor Joe Murrell, newly returned to Pine Valley with his lovely wife Jenny, preached on each of the themes of Advent each Sunday: Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. His sermons were especially poignant as he and Jenny had just lost their home in Paradise, California, just before their move back to Pine Valley where they had served for a decade. 

This year, Pastor Joe is continuing his sermon series on Making Sense of Suffering while working the theme of Advent clearly into each sermon. In addition, families are lighting our church's Advent wreath (the one Keith built for Lake Murray Community Church) and reading Scriptures to the congregation during both services. 

The readings today in the Book of Common Prayer 2011 centered on the life and ministry of John the Baptist. And the Collect for the Third Sunday in Advent is as follows:
LORD Jesus Christ, at your first coming you sent your messenger to prepare your way; Likewise, may your servants  and the stewards of your mysteries prepare and make ready your way by turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; So that at your second coming to judge the world, we might be found a people acceptable in your sight; Who lives and rules with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen. 
So I rejoice in the Advent celebrations at Pine Valley Community Church, grateful for the valuable traditions that lead us into the Presence of Our Lord and Savior and that His Word is always present to teach our minds and encourage our hearts as we seek to be conformed to the Image of the One who lived, died, rose again, and shall return for us.

Wishing you a blessed Advent,

Monday, December 9, 2019

Reviews of My Favorite Mystery Series

I have done a great deal of reading this fall. When pain levels rise, I medicate myself with excellent books, especially compelling mystery series. Since these reviews are all rather detailed and thus longer than usual, I'm only posting four rather than the six to seven reviews I usually post together. Three of the four reviews in this post are from my three of my favorite British historical mystery series of this year: the Daisy Dalrymple series (set in the 1920s) by Carola Dunn, the brilliant Maisie Dobbs series (starting in the Great War and now entering the Second World War) by Jacqueline Winspear, and the Sebastian St. Cyr mysteries (set in the Regency era) by C.S. Harris.

I have read at least a dozen books of each series, and they are all very different yet exceedingly compelling. Dunn's Daisy Dalrymple series is more of the cozy mystery genre with humor and lightness in the midst of murders while Winspear's Maisie Dobbs mysteries are deeper and more psychological in nature--very thoughtful and methodical and oh-so-intriguing.

Harris' Sebastian St. Cyr mysteries are by far the darkest of the three as they explore the underbelly of  Regency London with the crusading Viscount Devlin (Sebastian St. Cyr) solving murders, often in the slums of the city, and his equally noble and crusading Viscountess who writes stories depicting the life-and-death struggles of the poor of London. The Devlins are two sides of the same coin, born to the nobility yet with compassion for the poverty-stricken; it's all political and quite messy.

Also included with these mystery series is Julie Klassen's The Tutor's Daughter, a rather Gothic tale that leans toward the mystery genre (as all great Gothic novels do). I've read a couple of Klassen's books before (she writes in the Christian genre, a subset of books I don't usually enjoy much since the writing often seems substandard to me), and they were enjoyable enough but not particularly noteworthy or compelling. However, The Tutor's Daughter, a British historical novel, was both compelling and much better developed than the previous books I've read by this author. I very much enjoyed it, and Klassen's mysterious tale holds its own in the company of Dunn, Winspear, and Harris.

So let the reviews begin!!

A Mourning Wedding A Mourning Wedding by Carola Dunn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The thirteenth novel in the brilliant Daisy Dalrymple mystery series finds Daisy at her former roommate Lucy's ancestral home, Haverhill, amid her very extended family of Lords and Ladies in preparation for Lucy's wedding to Lord Gerald ("Binkie"). But the murder of Lady Eva, who was a well-known collector of gossip on everyone in the family, causes Daisy to have to call Alec--Detective Chief Inspector Alec Fletcher--up to Haverhill several days before he had planned to arrive. As usual, people flock to Daisy to tell her their innermost secrets--it's those guileless blue eyes, says Alec--which aid Alec and his team in solving not one but multiple murders and attempted murders.

I adore this series; it's light and frothy, filled with all sorts of British slang of the mid-1920s, and Daisy's somewhat loopy yet somehow correct insights both annoys and amazes Alec while Sergeant Tring and DC Piper both believe, as usual, that Daisy can do no wrong. After all, she has assisted in solving many cases for New Scotland Yard both before and after her marriage to Alec. Daisy is a delightfully human protagonist, smart in some ways and rather obtuse in others, yet as an "Honourable," she has access to the nobility (or "nobs," as Sergeant Tring calls them) that Alec often requires as he solves his cases. Overall, this series, and this particular novel in the series, is definitely "Right-O!"

  A Dangerous Place A Dangerous Place by Jacqueline Winspear
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I had taken a short break from the world of Maisie Dobbs; I could sense heartache ahead of her throughout the tenth book in the series, and with all that's going on in my life right now, I wanted something light and fluffy. And Maisie, although intriguing, is not light and fluffy.

I requested the e-book from the library, but then waiting until it was nearly due three weeks later before I started it...and with more than a bit of trepidation. And I was right about the heartache. I had thought that the heartache could go one of two ways, and it did go one of these directions, but with deeper repercussions than I had guessed. I won't say more; as River Song reminds us so often in Doctor Who: Spoilers!

This mystery finds Maisie on Gibraltar in 1937. Just across the Spanish border of the British protectorate, civil war brings great suffering as the Fascists attempt to rout the Nationalists. Britain is walking a dangerous tightrope of appeasement in their attempts to avoid another European war like the one twenty years previously, a war in which Maisie had worked as a nurse near the front in France (see Book #1). But appeasing Fascism and Nazism will not work, as those on the ground are seeing daily.

Maisie happens upon a man who had just been murdered on the grounds of the premiere hotel in Gibraltar. And despite taking an extended break from her work as a psychologist and investigator, Maisie jumps right back in, delaying her journey home to Britain from India. The man killed was a well-known Jewish photographer who supported two sisters, and Maisie meets many intriguing people in her quest to discover Sebastian's murderer, including one who is linked to a beloved mentor in Maisie's life; she also finds herself facing an old acquaintance and the possibility of soon seeing others she knows from her work in Britain.

It's a bit of a slow burn, as many of the Maisie Dobbs mysteries are, but I love the depth in which Winspear takes her readers, revealing much of Maisie and of life and reality and learning to face both after major changes have hacked their way through one's existence. Once I got through a couple of chapters, I was hooked again.

Maisie Dobbs may be one of my favorite fictional characters of all time, and for someone who reads close to 100 novels a year, that's saying something. I would love to have all of the series in hardcover lined up on my bookshelves so that I can dip into them at any time, but in the meanwhile, the library's e-book borrowing program works nicely, especially when I want to jump into the next book immediately.

I rarely give novels that are not classics higher than a "4," but this one deserves a "5" which I have only given to the first book in the series. After this book, I have only four more left in the series until Winspear pens another, so I may read some other books and then return to this series to savor my time with Maisie.

The Tutor's Daughter The Tutor's Daughter by Julie Klassen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A Christian novel/mystery that isn't too preachy. Miss Smallwood accompanies her tutor father to the home of two former students who used to stay at their academy as the younger brothers require instruction, and Mr. Smallwood needs a change after the death of his wife two years previously.

Emma Smallwood had become friends with the younger Weston brother, Philip, but the older brother, Henry, had antagonized her constantly during his years at the Smallwood Academy. While her father is refreshed by the sea breezes of Cornwall, Emma finds herself in the odd position between servant and guest as she assists her father in teaching the 15-year-old twins, Julian and Rowan.

But their arrival is met with surprise as Lord Weston had forgotten to inform the rest of the family regarding his invitation to Mr. Smallwood and his daughter. Lady Weston, stepmother to the two older sons and mother to the twins plus ward to seventeen-year-old Lizzie Henshaw, is immediately suspicious of Emma's motivations, thinking that she seeks a husband of one of her older sons. Her rudeness dims Emma's usually positive attitude.

In addition, soon after their arrival, mysterious events begin to occur. The north wing of the house is forbidden, but Emma hears strange howls from its empty hallways. Someone enters Emma's room at night to steal her journal, then later returns it with a page torn out. Exquisite pian music wafts from the music room in the middle of the night, but Emma finds no one present when she seeks the mysterious musician. Philip suddenly returns home from Oxford with a garbled explanation, while Henry continues to be aloof; he also seems to be running the house instead of Sir Giles...and he never stops needling Emma just as he did when a boy. The twins are resentful and disrespectful, but Mr. Smallwood starts getting them in hand.

The Cornish coastline has long been the site of many a shipwreck, but the poorer people treat the cargo recovered from shipwrecks as their own, which they can do legally if there are no survivors. When Henry seeks to assist in the rescue of sailors as well as warning ships away from the rock-lined coastal beaches, he finds himself at odds with many villagers, including a sly, read-headed man named Teague who steals from survivors and seems to have an odd relationship with the Weston family.

When the threats become both more personal and dangerous, what will happen? And will Emma's faith, grown cold after the death of her beloved mother, finally find its way back, especially when confronted by the very real chance of death at sea?

This was a much better book than the other series I read by Julie Klassen. The characters were better-developed, and the faith elements were woven naturally into the story rather than being awkwardly forced. Overall, this was a mysterious tale with Gothic elements, a bit of romance, tons of suspense, and some thrilling excitement!!

Why Kings Confess Why Kings Confess by C.S. Harris
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This ninth book of the Sebastian St. Cyr mysteries was amazing!

More people from Sebastian's past seem to be making appearances as the most propitious time in his life is about to occur. He finds himself a target as some of the French emigres from the French Revolution remain in London, including the Bourbons who are hoping to take back their throne from that Corsican upstart, Napoleon.

When a young doctor is murdered just before Sebastian happens on the scene, he feels drawn to solving the murder--and several more that occur, all seemingly focused on discouraging a small delegation from France who hopes to gain English support for a return of the royalists to France. The man who would become Louis XVI remains in England as well as the daughter of Marie Antoinette and King Louis XIV, both hoping to be restored to their "rightful" place in Paris.

In the middle of all of this drama is Paul Gibson, a one-legged Irishman and Sebastian's best friend. He does autopsies for the police and brings home the sister of the murdered man. She was badly beaten but left alive when her brother was killed and his heart ripped out. Her life also seems to be in danger from the same ones who killed her brother, plus because she testified against a man for killing his wife and the man died in jail, the man's brother is stalking her and threatening to kill her.

Sebastian finds himself embroiled in the story of the possible escape from the Bastille by the young Dauphin and the possibility of his existence is a question that seems to be at the heart of the murders being committed on the wet streets of London while France is once again undecided between a republican government or the "return of the King."

Sebastian must also face the very real fears regarding what frightened many a young man in this time: the coming birth of a child and the dangers inherent for both mother and offspring during this time when the best specialists in delivering children are men who still believe in "balancing the humours" by bloodletting and basically starving pregnant women to keep them calm. With pregnancy complications, things do not look good...and if the mother dies, her father promises to kill Sebastian.

So yes, suspense fills this novel from the first chapter to the last, and it's a difficult book to put down. It's wonderful to see Sebastian in love again even if he fears the outcome of the pregnancy that he both hopes for and dreads. He's rather a changed man in some ways but not at all in others, but I find him and the other main characters to be fascinating characters with depth and breadth. A very well-written series!

* * * * *

Three of these books, as I mentioned before, are titles from my three favorite mystery series of the year. I read these earlier in the fall and have read additional books in all three series since I read these. In fact, I have only one book left in the Maisie Dobbs series, and only two left in the Sebastian St. Cyr series. I'm currently reading The Bloody Tower, the 16th book of the 23 titles in the Daisy Dalrymple series, so I have a few more delightful Daisy mysteries ahead of me. I'm saving the final Maisie Dobbs for the week between Christmas and New Year's, and I'll likely finish the Sebastian St. Cyr series in January.  

Happy Reading!

Sunday, December 1, 2019

A Joyous First Sunday in Advent!!

I am overjoyed that Advent has been celebrated at Pine Valley Community Church in the past, so when I asked Pastor Jeff about continuing the tradition last Advent, he was all for it. And Pastor Joe, returning to PVCC after serving up north (and he and Jenny coming off the loss of their home in the Paradise Fire), gave a thought-provoking and heart-provoking sermon series on Advent that I will never forget. 

 A year later, and PVCC is gearing up for another celebration of Advent, and I couldn't be more thrilled!! Yes, we celebrate Advent at Blessed Trinity Anglican Church, my other church home, but somehow it feels even more special to celebrate a holy season whose tradition dates back to the sixth century in an evangelical church!

The Propers, which includes the Collect (a prayer prayed for the whole First Week of Advent by all Anglican Churches) and the Scriptures read in the Sunday service from The Book of Common Prayer 2011:


ALMIGHTY God, give us grace to cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light, now during this present life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility, so that at the last day when he will come again in glorious majesty to judge the living and the dead, we may rise to eternal life; Through him who lives and rules with you and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen. (References: Romans 13.12; 2 Timothy 4.1; Philippians 2.5-8; 1 Thessalonians 4.16-17)

Romans 15.4-13
Luke 21.25-33
Psalm 25.1-6
Psalm 85.4-7
Micah 4.1-7

Our kind church family at Lake Murray Community Church allowed us to "borrow back" the Advent wreath Keith made about 15 years ago when Pastor Rollo was the worship pastor. So we have resurrected the wreath and the tradition now at PVCC, and I'm so thrilled! So we will light the indicated candles each Sunday of Advent, including the large white Christ Candle on Christmas Eve, and read Scriptures aloud as we celebrate Advent this month at Pine Valley Community Church. 

Here's the post I wrote for last year's PVCC Blog: What Is Advent?

Ever since we moved to Pine Valley in 2001, our family has celebrated the season of Advent. Keith made a simple wooden Advent wreath for our kitchen table, and every Advent season we have darkened the room, lit the candles after dinner, and read and prayed aloud together from one of the many Advent devotionals we’ve used as the kids grew up, focusing our minds and hearts on the coming of Christ in His Incarnation and looking forward to His Second Coming.

The term "Advent" means "coming" or "arrival" and refers to the first Incarnation of Christ as well as the expected second coming of Christ. Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day and ends on Christmas Eve. If Christmas Eve is a Sunday, it is counted as the fourth Sunday of Advent with Christmas Eve proper beginning at sundown.

Advent also marks the beginning of the Christian Year for most churches in the Western tradition. The season of Advent is richly symbolic. The light of the candles reminds us that Jesus is “the light of the world” and that we are also called to “walk in the light, as He is in the light.” The purple of the candles symbolizes the royalty of Christ, the Almighty who “made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” The rose candle, lit on the third Sunday, reminds us that hope and peace are near, available only through God. Lit on Christmas Day, the white candle which is called the Christ candle, recalls Christ’s holiness, purity: He who was without sin who died for the sins of all. 
The central location of the Christ Candle reminds us that the incarnation is the heart of the season, giving light to the worldThe greenery, symbolizing abundant life, surrounds a circular wreath: never-ending, eternal life. The red of the holly berries reminds us of His blood to be shed on the cross for us.

The Advent wreath Keith made while we were at Lake Murray and now are using at PVCC

The origins of the Advent wreath are found in the folk practices of the pre-Christian Germanic peoples who, during the cold December darkness of Eastern Europe, gathered wreaths of evergreen and lighted fires as signs of hope in a coming spring and renewed light. Christians kept these popular traditions alive, and by the 16th century, Catholics and Protestants throughout Germany used these symbols to celebrate their Advent hope in Christ, the everlasting Light. From Germany, the use of the Advent wreath spread to other parts of the Christian world.

The purple theme of Advent is also the color symbolizing suffering which is used during Lent and Holy Week and points to an important connection between Jesus’ birth and death: The Nativity--the Incarnation--cannot be separated from the Crucifixion and Resurrection. The purpose of Jesus’ coming into the world, of the "Word made flesh" and dwelling among us, is not only to reveal God and His grace to the world through Jesus’ life and teaching, but also through His suffering, death, and resurrection.

The focus of the entire season is the celebration of the birth of Jesus the Christ in His First Advent, and the anticipation of the return of Christ the King in His Second Advent. Thus, Advent is far more than simply marking a 2,000-year-old event in history; it is celebrating a truth about God, the revelation of God in Christ whereby all of creation might be reconciled to God. This is a process in which we now participate, and the consummation of which we anticipate. Scripture readings for Advent reflect this emphasis on the Second Advent, including themes of accountability for faithfulness at His coming, judgment of sin, and the hope of eternal life in this double-focus on past and future. 

Our family's Advent "wreath" which has been used for many, many years. 
Advent also symbolizes the spiritual journey of individuals and a congregation as they affirm that Christ has come, that He is present in the world today, and that He will come again in power and glory. That acknowledgment provides a basis for Kingdom ethics, for holy living arising from a profound sense that we live "between the times" and are called to be faithful stewards of what is entrusted to us as God’s people. 

So, as the church celebrates God’s in-breaking into history in the Incarnation and anticipates a future consummation to that history for which "all creation is groaning awaiting its redemption," it also confesses its own responsibility as a people commissioned to "love the Lord your God with all your heart" and to "love your neighbor as yourself." The primary focus of Advent is Jesus the Christ, the Son of the Living God, as we wait together to celebrate His birth, death, glorious resurrection, and imminent return. 

Here is a prayer we’ve prayed together each Sunday in Advent:

O God, rejoicing, we remember the promise of your Son.
As the light from the candles fills this room,
may the blessing of Christ come upon us,
brightening our way and guiding us by His Truth.
May Christ our Savior bring light and life into the darkness of our world,
and to us as we wait for His coming. Amen. 

Wishing you a holy and joyous Advent season,


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