Sunday, October 4, 2020

Quotation of the Week


Have a lovely week, everyone!! I am buried in grading preliminary drafts of MLA research essays, so I will post more when I'm done with class. Until then, enjoy this quotation from my Commonplace Book!! 

Soli Deo Gloria,

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Ponderings on the 19th Anniversary of September 11th


It seems a lifetime ago, yet it seems so immediate that it could have been yesterday. We were so removed from the actual events of September 11, here on the West Coast, awakened by my father's phone call after pulling into our family's mountain cabin with four sleeping kids at 2:00 AM just a few hours previously. We had finished packing up our city home of ten years, picked up the kids from my parents' beach house, and drove an hour east, past the small mountain town that we were moving to, and arrived at my family's 500 square foot cabin to stay until we could move into our new-to-us mountain home. 

We had only "rabbit ears" on the small TV in the cabin, so most of the news was blurry and static-laden. I remember being half-asleep all day, trying to watch the news, setting up my laptop on the kitchen table but only able to be online for half an hour at a time in order to keep the phone lines free to talk to family, the realtors, etc. All while taking care of four kids ages 18 months to nine years old. The little guy was still nursing, and I was trying to homeschool the older two kids while the preschooler created mayhem. 

Because I was so news-deprived, I tend to spend each anniversary of September 11 watching crystal-clear videos of the events in New York, the Pentagon, and Pennsylvania. But the first anniversary was the most powerful because I could finally see, with astonishing clarity, the videos and photos of all that I couldn't see on September 11, 2001, and for several weeks afterward, as our escrow was delayed because of the New York banks needing time to start back to work again. 

But what really caught my attention was a moment in which the US Poet Laureate, Billy Collins (whom I would meet in 2013 at the Writers' Symposium by the Sea at Point Loma Nazarene University), read aloud his poetic tribute on the first anniversary of September 11. "The Names." It struck me viscerally, even more than U2's "Beautiful Day" and "Walk On" (two of my favorite songs by my favorite band) at the Superbowl halftime show a few months after the tragedy. 

Poet Billy Collins at The Writer's Symposium by the Sea, 2013

The thing I love about Billy Collins' work is that he is supremely unpretentious. With his poetic talent and his academic cred, with his position as our nation's Poet Laureate for two years, he could easily be as pretentious as all-get-out. But he's not. He is (no past tense here!!) our nation's poet. He speaks the language of the everyday American, with a hint of sarcasm, with a twinkle in his eye. But not with this poem. Here he is, reading "The Names" again, at the request of PBS:


If you would like to read more about Billy Collins and his poetry, check out his page on The Academy of American Poets at Billy Collins. (To read some of his poems, click the bar beneath his photo.) 

US Poet Laureate Billy Collins

Thanks for allowing me to remember those dark days, but not very dark as I was a continent away, in a wee mountain cabin with four small children, trying to find out what the heck was happening on this beautiful autumn day, a day of change as we moved from one house to another nineteen years ago. I knew that what was happening was big and scary, even through the static fuzz of the 12-inch TV screwed into the wall seven feet from the floor. 

But Billy Collins made it real the next year, made it actual. Made it tangible. And I can't thank him enough. 

Poetically yours,


Monday, August 31, 2020

My 2020-2021 Essay Grading Service

Susanne Barrett: Essay Grading Service via E-Mail

2020-2021 School Year

So this is how my grading system works: Just send me the essay you would like to be graded as a Word attachment (no Google Docs, please!), 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 comments. 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 48 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.

I also teach my Beginning Writing, Expository Essay, and MLA Research Essay high school classes via e-mail on a semester basis. Please e-mail me if you would like more information. 

So e-mail 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,

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Small Town Dungeons and Dragons


Critical Role Second Campaign Characters, L to R: Yasha (Ashley), Fjord (Travis), Jester (Laura), Nott (Sam), Beau (Marisha), Caleb (Liam), and Mollymauk (Taliesen)

A couple of years ago, T started watching a live-streamed game of Dungeons and Dragons. The players and the Dungeon Master (DM) are all first-rate voice actors of anime and video game fame. But, more than that, they are friends who started playing over five years ago as a birthday present to one of the group of eight. That one-shot morphed into a homebrew game based in a wonderful world called Exandria, as devised by the creative mind (and voice) of Matthew Mercer. Matt led the players: Marisha Ray (who was dating Matt at the time; they are now married), Sam Riegel, Liam O'Brien, Ashley Johnson, Taliesen Jaffe, and another married couple, Laura Bailey and Travis Willingham. A couple of years later, they were approached by Geek and Sundry to play their home game live on Twitch. Thus, Critical Role started. 

The cast of Critical Role, L to R: Liam, Ashley, Travis, Laura, Matthew, Marisha, Taliesen, Sam

I could go on and on about Critical Role and all that they have done, along with many other live-streamers, to bring D&D mainstream. But after watching for a while, we got the itch to play. First, T played a short campaign (eight sessions) with younger brother J and J's wife Ems, plus a couple from our church. After they finished up as the DM was leaving for law school, T decided he wanted to DM ... and he has created a homebrewed world that combined Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition (5e) with the video game world of Elder Scrolls. After much planning of his world of Varmmyr, T, E, and I started playing with neighbor C, and in the eighth session, her husband D joined the party, now consisting of four plus the DM. 

One of our first battles!! 

I can't tell you how much I look forward to Sunday afternoons and four hours in another world. My character is an Aasimar (a part-angelic race) Light Cleric named Fionnlagh (pronounced "Finlay"); Fionn is basically a demon hunter sent by her mentor, Benedict (yes, based on St. Benedict) to help quash a demonic cult; this is Fionn's first solo assignment, and she has been sent to meet with one of Benedict's friends, Leland, a priest. Once she entered the small town of Eda'Linn, she goes to the temple where she is to meet Leland, and they are ambushed by demonic beings who quickly kill Leland before Fionn can get any answers from him...besides finding a letter from Benedict about a girl Leland has recently taken into his care. 

Also in the temple, Fionn meets a small girl named Tehn (pronounced "Ten"--E's character) who was under Leland's care and seems to have magical powers that Benedict is very interested in--according to his letter to Leland. They also meet a Tabaxi (cat-person--C's character) named Ember who is very handy with bows and arrows. These three start an adventure, all for different reasons, tracking down the source of the demonic attack and learning to trust one another along the way.

After several adventures in and around Eda'Linn, the trio travels to Port Eroth, and on the way, they come across and fight alongside a human named Ethrond who is an Eldritch Knight (D's character), and he joins the party since he has several contacts in Port Eroth. And thus the foursome starts tracking down the clues that will lead them far from Eda'Linn and Port Eroth across the mountains and into the Ghodeir Desert where they discover an archaeological dig that seems extremely hinky. And many fights and adventures, mummies and curses, come their way. 

Fionnlagh in her Iconoclast's Aegis Armor

We have now returned to Port Eroth at the end of our first arc. And has it ever been amazing!! When we returned to the Port near the end of our last session, Fionnlagh was finally able to hand over the Abyssal Sigil Stone to the Orc Prior Durmak, whom her mentor Benedict had told her to meet, telling him that they had kept the Stone from the mummified Ashen Prince, preventing his complete resurrection. Then Prior Durmak put Fionn through her paces in fighting a Shadow Demon ... with the caveat that she could not destroy the wooden warehouse in which she fought it. 

After decimating the demon (and not damaging the warehouse), Fionn is offered membership in the Iconoclasts, a secret espionage-type group within the Order of the Fallen Star. Above is her new armor which gives her two more points to her Armor Class, among many other awesome benefits. Plus, Fionn was very touched that Ember had sneakily followed her when she met and then completed her "test" with Prior Durmak, even to the point of congratulating her after her win.  

T voices so many amazing NPC (non-playing characters), draws so many awesome maps, creates so many fights and adventures for us, that we have a blast, and four hours just fly by every Sunday afternoon. This afternoon, we'll be starting our 27th session since beginning the campaign in early January; we've missed only one week, I believe. We'll bee off to the floating city of Vellestra for a bit of shopping and other fun!!  

One of T's maps of the underground caverns through which we sought the Ashen Prince.

Even though C and D live three streets down, we went to Zoom for our sessions once the pandemic hit in mid-March. They work from home, but C also has some health issues that keep her careful, as does T, so we may meet on C and D's deck outside if a particular Sunday is forecast to be cool enough. Unfortunately, today's temperatures are supposed to reach 100 degrees, so meeting outside is a no-go this week.  

My cask of dice, Fionn's mini for fighting (yes, Fionn actually has angel's wings!!), plus Fionn's magical Feather Letter Quill and fine ink. 

So this is the world of Dungeons and Dragons, and oh, is it ever amazing and exciting!!

And now we just need to name our group!! ;)

Preparing to fight evil once again,  

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Catching up on Book Reviews...

One would think with a pandemic going on that I would have tons o' time for reading, but, unfortunately, this has not been the case. Perhaps it's the time I've been investing in our homebrew of Dungeons and Dragons with a strong whiff of Elder Scrolls (we are playing our twentieth session this afternoon!). But it's been more a mental laziness.

I've been pushing myself through teaching my classes, finding concentrating difficult and time-consuming. I adore my students and love my classes, but just everything is taking more effort. Even reading. I am in a re-reading kind of mood, wanting something familiar rather than new to read. I've been depending on Jane Austen Fan Fiction (JAFF) and historical mystery series for the most part, but even these familiar characters are a bit of a challenge.

I find myself watching too much CNN and MSNBC on YouTube, then turning to re-runs of Critical Role's second D&D campaign (and the first new episode to stream in over one hundred days is due out this Thursday!). So I got real and reduced my Goodreads Reading Goal for 2020 from 80 (I read 96 books in 2019) to 50 which will likely still be a stretch as I have only read 17 or 18 books thus far.

Here are some thoughts about books I read earlier in the year and posted on Goodreads. I'm not posting many full reviews this year--mostly just giving a book its rating and the dates I read it, and then I move on. Ugh! I hope that the brain fog will clear and I can once again have my usual somewhat scattered but always book-hungry mind back for the second half of 2020.

To Conquer Pride: A Pride and Prejudice Variation To Conquer Pride: A Pride and Prejudice Variation by Jennifer Altman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A wonderful variation of Austen's most popular novel finds Darcy and Elizabeth encountering one another at an inn during a snowstorm. When the coach sent by Elizabeth's uncle does not arrive because of snowy conditions after she sent off the conveyance provided by the Collinses, Mr. Darcy offers her a ride in his carriage so that she doesn't have to face staying in the inn by herself. But the snow doesn't stop even for Fitzwilliam Darcy, and from this point, drama ensues.

Jennifer Altman provides a lovely tale of Elizabeth's growing regard for Mr. Darcy after she comes to know him much better during their stay in an empty hunting cottage after a serious accident with Darcy's carriage. The novel is very well-written, and the pacing is just right. I am often frustrated by some Austen variations (including Austen's original novel) for not giving us readers enough time to enjoy Darcy and Elizabeth as a couple before the novel ends. But this novel provides plenty of time to enjoy the love of Darcy and Elizabeth which is highly satisfying.

A Pressing Engagement A Pressing Engagement by Anna Lee Huber
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An intriguing novella, popping into the Lady Darby mystery series between Books 4 and 5. This one relates the engagement of Kiera to the man she first despised and then grew to love: a man of secrets hidden so deeply that Kiera couldn't help but wonder if she would ever really know the enigmatic yet oh-so-charming man she had agreed to marry.

But Kiera, despite knowing that her soon-to-be second husband is nothing like her first, the cruel Lord Darby who had forced her to use her considerable artistic talents to illustrate his anatomy textbook--the only reason he married her. Under threat of his breaking her fingers so that she could never hold a paintbrush again, Kiera reluctantly creates the illustrations for the well-known anatomist's textbook, gaining much knowledge of death and murder as a result.

While this knowledge proves invaluable in her partnership as an investigator, it was hard-won at the price of Kiera's ability to trust men. After all, her first husband has seemed perfectly amiable and kind...until they married. Although Kiera knows in her head that her fiance truly loves her, fear does creep in, causing her head knowledge to not quite reach her heart.

Will she be able to marry this man who adores her? Whom she adores? Or will both of their pasts come back to haunt them over and over again?

I am utterly entranced by this historical mystery series set in the early 1830s, and ranging from the wilds of Scotland to Ireland, to England, and even to the London ton. Kiera is a heroine worth knowing: she is intelligent, intuitive, talented, perceptive, and reads people sometimes too well. She knows her weaknesses all too well and hopes that she will not be mistaken in this marriage as she was in her previous one.

But she truly loves her fiance, unlike the mere friendliness she had shared with her first husband who had been chosen by her father. So we hope with Kiera that all will be well in this auspicious marriage!

  As Death Draws Near As Death Draws Near by Anna Lee Huber
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Now married, Kiera and Gage are forced to leave their honeymoon in the Lake District as Gage is sent by his father, Lord Gage, to investigate the death of a nun in Ireland. Despite the incomplete information provided by Lord Gage, Kiera and Sebastian are on the case almost immediately, but they are also accompanied by the extremely annoying Lothario, Lord Marsdale, who insists on assisting with the case.

Kiera and Gage find themselves in the middle of Irish rebellion against the English who are taxing the Irish above and beyond what is usual. Secret passages, secret cousins, secret relationships--all make Gage and Kiera's investigation fraught with danger.

It's another amazing mystery featuring Lady Darby--now Mrs. Gage, and Sebastian Gage, truly partners in marriage as well as in solving crime.

A Brush with Shadows A Brush with Shadows by Anna Lee Huber
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Forced to leave Ireland in a rush at the behest of Gage's grandfather, Gage and Kiera now travel to Dartmoor, to the home where Gage was raised and has not returned to in fifteen years, since the burial of his mother.

Gage has been estranged from his mother's family: his grandfather (his mother's father), his cousins Alfred and Rory, and his widowed aunt Vanessa. So this request to come to the moors from his grandfather is not welcome, but out of duty, they travel as quickly as they can from Ireland.

Mysteries abound. Gage's elder cousin, his grandfather's heir, has been missing for ten days, and it isn't clear whether he is in hiding or if something has happened to him. Gage is on edge constantly, arguing with his bedridden grandfather, his haughty and mean-spirited aunt who seems quite upset at Alfred's disappearance, and his rollicking cousin Rory who seems much more responsible than his missing elder brother, the heir.

The curse of Gage's family, the danger of the moors, and the feeling of being distinctly unwelcome despite Lord Tavistock's request for their presence, all combine to create a prickly feel to daily life in the beautiful old home. But does more danger lie in wait for both Kiera and for Gage?

Another edge-of-the seat read, courtesy of Anna Lee Huber and the Lady Darby mysteries!!

A House of Ghosts A House of Ghosts by W.C. Ryan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is an incredible read. Part classic British country house mystery, part World War I spy story, part exploration of the paranormal, and part romance, I was extremely disappointed that this author apparently has not published any other books. The balance of all of these genres is exquisite and compelling. The switching of third-person point-of-views throughout the novel is smooth and extremely insightful; I felt as if I received the whole story. By retaining the third-person point-of-view, the writing style remains smooth and consistent while providing enlightening details from various characters' viewpoints.

I rarely give "5" ratings to books that are not classics by Shakespeare, Austen, Dickens, and the Bröntes, but this book was definitely a "5" on my scale. It's a complex novel while remaining clear and concise, and was extremely difficult to put aside and go to sleep at night; I'd rather keep reading. Truly, an extraordinary novel, and I truly hope it is the first of a series as the ending may suggest.

Let me know what you're reading this summer!!!

Reading with you (at least a little),


Sunday, June 21, 2020

I have long been a reader and devoted follower of the Life for Leaders Daily Devotions. Mark Roberts writes the devotions for Monday-Friday, and various others write the weekend devotions.

This weekend's devotions are written by Inés Velasquez-McBryde, one of my favorite weekend devotional writers at Life for Leaders. 

I would like to share the thoughts on this devotion with my brothers and sisters in Christ and with anyone willing to ponder these thoughts. I found in them a personal challenge that I pray will help me to extend the love of Christ into our world that is hurting more than is usual right now. (Or, at least the hurt is being shown, addressed, discussed, and acted upon more than usual.) This message is not political; it's spiritual. 

All credit here is given to Inés Velasquez-McBryde and the Life for Leaders Daily Devotions team. Many thanks for consistently challenging me to grow in my faith. 

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. He opened his mouth and began to teach them saying: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” 

As a leader, I am a woman of color, but I am not African-American and cannot speak for my African-American sisters and brothers. Yet I can mourn with my siblings who mourn. A Christ-like leader cannot depart from the Christ on this mount. The message of the Beatitudes is ensconced in a painful present. Yet the Messenger of the Beatitudes points to a present and future hope in the midst of dark realities. I am called to mourn the systemic inequities that brought about the death of yet another African-American brother.
In light of all the national racial trauma, I realized that the beatitudes are not for the blessed; they’re for the oppressed. Jesus sees the marginalized crowds whose bodies and lives have been taxed heavily by both state and synagogue, which at the moment was the Roman empire and local religious leaders, respectively. Jesus sees the crowds and knows that they have been exploited and abused. Jesus is aware of the inequities for they have been waiting for 400 years in a hard, long and unresolved waiting to be saved from this empire. Justice has been denied to the people as well. Social relationships were marked by hierarchy and order of importance. The elite were growing rich at the expense of the poor. The people who sat down in front of Jesus… were tired of waiting, too.
The message of the Beatitudes is ensconced in a painful present. Yet the Messenger of the Beatitudes points to a present and future hope in the midst of dark realities. I am called to mourn. I am called to comfort. I can do both. As I marched with my sisters and brothers I listened, lamented, and learned. I felt the presence of the Jesus on the mount walking in the midst of the march, marching to the heartbeat of heaven with that beautiful upside-down kingdom. The leader of that mount led a peaceful protest, for God is the God of the protest and the redeemer of the oppressed.
May we as leaders listen, lament and mourn as we live into this blessed beatitude.


Jesus, we as your disciples have romanticized and individualized your sermon on the mount. Teach us to let it discomfort us and expand our imagination for our collective family. Lord, we mourn over our blindspots; show them to us. We mourn over our apathy; inject us with your heart. We mourn over historical inequities shown to our African-American sisters and brothers; show us our complicity. We mourn over a late awakening; invite us into your resurrected and restorative life that rights the wrongs. First, let us mourn, alone and with our sisters and brothers. Amen.

“Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons and daughters of God.”

In this familiar passage of the Sermon on the Mount, it is easy for us to insert ourselves and our desire to receive individual blessings. However, Jesus is speaking to a crowd with collective, historical pain. It’s a communal message, not an individual message. What would it look like to turn the message into a prayer of confession with an outward-facing Kingdom imagination?


Jesus, may we sit at your feet as you sit on the mount. May the heart of your message cut to the heart of our misses and mistakes. May we be the students and you the divine teacher. May we reflect and rest on every word that pierces, convicts and comforts. May the heartbeat of this message give us life and breath in our life’s message. May we live into this message, that others would recognize the one that has sent us with this message. Help us be brave and courageous. Grant us grace that points to your grace. Amen.
Thank you, Inés Velasquez-McBryde!! 
Soli Deo Gloria,

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Love Conquers All...

"This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends." ~ Jesus, (John 15.12-13, ESV) 

"...'Black Lives Matter' simply refers to the notion that there's a specific vulnerability for African Americans that needs to be addressed. It's not meant to suggest that other lives don't matter. It's to suggest that other folks aren't experiencing this particular vulnerability." ~ Barack Obama 

"Racism is a white problem. It was constructed and created by white people and the ultimate responsibility lies with white people. For too long we've looked at it as if it were someone else's problem, as if it was created in a vacuum." ~ Robin DiAngelo

"No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite." ~ Nelson Mandela

"Race and racism is a reality that so many of us grow up learning to just deal with. But if we ever hope to move past it, it can't just be on people of color to deal with it. It's up to all of us — Black, white, everyone — no matter how well-meaning we think we might be, to do the honest, uncomfortable work of rooting it out." ~ Michelle Obama

"Activism is my rent for living on the planet." ~ Alice Walker

"In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist. We must be anti-racist." ~ Angela Davis

"The beauty of anti-racism is that you don't have to pretend to be free of racism to be an anti-racist. Anti-racism is the commitment to fight racism wherever you find it, including in yourself. And it's the only way forward." ~ Ijeoma Oluo

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that." ~ Martin Luther King, Jr. 

"Justice is what love looks like in public." ~ Cornel West

"For too long politicians told most of us that what's wrong with America is the rest of us. Them. Them the minorities. Them the liberals. Them, them, them. But there is no them; there's only us. One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty, and justice, for all." ~ Bill Clinton

"I see what's possible when we recognize that we are one American family, all deserving of equal treatment." ~ Barack Obama

"I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality... I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word." ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

"Action is the only remedy to indifference: the most insidious danger of all." ~ Elie Wiesel

"Our ability to reach unity in diversity will be the beauty and the test of our civilization." ~ Mahatma Gandhi

"Every time we turn our heads the other way when we see the law flouted, when we tolerate what we know to be wrong, when we close our eye and ears to the corrupt because we are too busy or too frightened, when we fail to speak up and speak out, we strike a blow against freedom and decency and justice." ~ Robert F. Kennedy

"None of us is responsible for the complexion of his skin. This fact of nature offers no clue to the character or quality of the person underneath." ~ Marian Anderson

Soli Deo Gloria,

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) 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,


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