Saturday, October 22, 2016

More Reviews of Recently-Read Books

I have been so busy with teaching three online Brave Writer courses this autumn that my book review posts from Goodreads have fallen sadly behindhand. I tend to read variations of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice for two reasons: firstly, I am currently working on two novellas in this genre, and secondly, I haven't the brain power to meet and get to know new characters, so I stick with long-beloved book series or Austen variations. Some of these reviews date back to late August, but I'll try to post a few groupings over the next week to catch up completely.

Oh, and I rarely give "5" scores except for incredible classics such as Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, Hamlet, etc. So a "4" on a non-classic is really a great score--it means that I enjoyed the book very much indeed. And a "5" on a non-classic is really a "Wow!!"

The Coming of Age of Elizabeth Bennet The Coming of Age of Elizabeth Bennet by Caitlin Williams
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Coming of Age of Elizabeth Bennet is not a short novel, but I managed to finish it in fewer than 24 hours, partly because I took a sick day and partially because I simply couldn't put it down. Darcy meets Elizabeth Bennet when she is only 15, and mayhem ensues, with Elizabeth squarely in the middle. I don't want to write anything further because I don't want to spoil the myriad twists and turns this story takes over a six-year period. But it's an immensely satisfying read...and is definitely impossible to put down. I strongly recommend reading this book when you can clear a day to enjoy it all in one (very long) sitting, because it's quite the roller-coaster ride!!

I've given the "5" rating to only a handful (as in fewer than five) Pride and Prejudice variations out of the hundreds I've read over the past few years, but this one definitely deserves it!

Although I've read this book on Kindle Unlimited, I may have to invest in my own copy so that I can return to it again and again.

(Yes, it was *THAT* good!!)

Darcy's Ultimatum: A Pride & Prejudice Variation Darcy's Ultimatum: A Pride & Prejudice Variation by Jennifer Joy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another wonderful variation of Austen's Pride and Prejudice in which Jane and Elizabeth attend the London season with the threat of marrying Mr. Collins hanging over Elizabeth's head if she does not marry during the three months. And Darcy has a similar ultimatum: after Anne de Bourgh's rejection of his suit, he must marry within three months or his father will disinherit him. And then mayhem ensues (as it always does as soon as Elizabeth and Darcy meet). ;)

I have become quite a fan of Jennifer Joy's variations of Austen's novels; she writes with humor and depth at the same time. This is the first of the "Cousins" series, and I am definitely going to read the next two books in the series!

An Heir for Pemberley: A Pride and Prejudice Variation Short Story An Heir for Pemberley: A Pride and Prejudice Variation Short Story by Jane Grix
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A sweet short story of the birth of Darcy and Elizabeth's first child, written in third person from Darcy's point of view. I would have loved to have had this vignette expanded somewhat because it is indeed *very* short, but it was a lovely read nevertheless.

The Angel of Grove Street: A Novel of the Darcys and Bennets The Angel of Grove Street: A Novel of the Darcys and Bennets by Don Miller
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A delightful variation of Pride and Prejudice, The Angel of Grove Street shows us a very strong and independent Elizabeth who, after the death of her father at the news of Lydia's elopement with Wickham, transitions from country girl to a woman of the city. Living with Kitty at the wealthy Gardiners' after Jane's marriage to a doctor, Elizabeth devotes her time to working at and to singing to help fund Hope House, a charity for homeless girls. This charity remains dear to Elizabeth's heart after Lydia's disappearance two years previously. But while Elizabeth catches the eye of two suitors of the Ton, Darcy and a young Earl, she remains too scornful of the Ton and too independent to marry either man, good though they may be. And the story rolls on from there....

I was pleasantly surprised to find that this very well-written variation was written by a male author, and I was further pleased to come across a nice long list of previous Austen variations written by Don Miller. I think I will be reading many more of them in the future.... ;)

Earning Darcy's Trust: A Pride & Prejudice Variation Earning Darcy's Trust: A Pride & Prejudice Variation by Jennifer Joy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another wonderful and thought-provoking variation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice in which Darcy learns to trust and to depend on others, including Elizabeth, in order to protect his family against the wiles of Wickham and Caroline Bingley. A terrific plot with a theme that should make us all consider trusting others rather than trying to handle our problems all alone.

Progression Vol. 1: A Continuation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice Progression Vol. 1: A Continuation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice by Jodi L. Covey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I first read Progression (now separated into two volumes) on, and I was enthralled! I absolutely adored it, and re-reading it now was even better. A delightful continuation of Austen's Pride and Prejudice, chapters 1-36 may be found in Volume 1 and chapters 37-61 may be found in Volume 2.

Starting with the Darcys' double wedding with Bingley and Jane, we follow William and Elizabeth through their honeymoon period and into Elizabeth's (and Georgiana's) introduction into London Society at the behest of Darcy's aunt, the Countess of Matlock. Caroline Bingley is also pursued by the mysterious Marquess of Thornhaugh. Anne De Bourgh manages to stand up to her mother and remove herself to London for the Season. And Colonel Fitzwilliam goes against his family in order to go to war against the French in the Spanish Peninsula.

Much more happens in both volumes of Progression, but I'll leave that for you to enjoy...and enjoy it you will!

Second Impressions Second Impressions by Amy George
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A very different variation of Austen's Pride and Prejudice, Second Impressions begins two years after Darcy and Elizabeth part at Lambton with the news of Lydia's elopement with Wickham. Afraid to meet Darcy after the ruin of her family and especially after he does not return to Hertfordshire with Bingley, Elizabeth travels to Boston to stay with her cousin, Emeline. After Lydia marries Wickham and Jane marries Bingley, Elizabeth begins her journey, requesting Jane, who now lives a very short distance from Pemberley, to not write her any news of Darcy. But with the news that Jane is again expecting after the birth of twins a year previously, Emeline persuades Elizabeth to returning to England and even accompanies her despite her disdain for the many rules of the ton.

Much has happened during those two years in Darcy's life, and Elizabeth returns to Derbyshire to find quite a different Darcy--a gaunt, haunted man. What can Elizabeth do to revive this shell of the man with whom she had been falling in love before she left? And whom does the highly independent American cousin Emeline (despite her jaded past) find to marry in staid old England?

That should be enough reviews for now. I'll post a few more in the coming week. Kindle Unlimited is wonderful--that's how I could manage to read so many books for so little cost! :)

Reading with you,

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Thoughts on Sky Mesa Journal

Sky Mesa Journal by Judith Deem Dupree, published by Wipf and Stock Publishers

FOR LOCAL READERS: Judith will be featured at an Author Talk at the Alpine Library (1752 Alpine Blvd.) this Thursday, October 20, from 6:00-8:00 PM. She will be reading from Sky Mesa Journal and discussing the genesis and the publication of the book. Judith will also have some books for sale, and she will happily sign copies.  

*  *  *  *  *

"One could say Sky Mesa Ranch is a smallish noun, verbed out by the countryside around it. . . . 

"And, in a way, all that lies upon this small uplift, all that transpires, that respires here, is a microcosm of the Life beyond life that draws our eyes upward. A parable, something of a parallel. The mundane, the spiritual, nature in its every aspect." 

~from Sky Mesa Journal by Judith Deem Dupree

Sky Mesa consists of pale shades of brown, beige, and gray pierced by the vibrant blue skies of late summer in the arid hills of Alpine, east of San Diego.

Judith and I drove slowly through the remnants of Sky Mesa Ranch on a day in late August. Not much remains of the ranch that becomes yet another quirky character in Judith's nonfiction book, Sky Mesa Journal. In fact, the setting of Sky Mesa Ranch assumes a life of its own, complete with vagaries of mood, its ancient secrets wafting on dry puffs of breeze not at all refreshing. Just hot . . . breathlessly hot.

Houses that can best be described as cookie-cutter mansions, tall with pretension, perch on hillsides stripped of spicy-scented, pale green chaparral. Instead, manicured landscaping fills the empty spaces between newly-stamped luxury homes which stare down their long noses at us. Windows shimmer--empty eyes in empty neighborhoods--as we navigate Judith's Camry Hybrid through the narrow, winding streets, perfectly asphalted. The once expansive acres feel closed-in; I fight a swelling of claustrophobia rising in my throat.

The corner of Sky Mesa Road and LaForce Road in Alpine, California

Finally we find the corner we're looking for: Sky Mesa Road, named for the extensive ranch where Judith stayed the summer twenty-five years ago and wrote Sky Mesa Journal, meets LaForce Road, called after the former owner of the ranch, Bea LaForce.  Appearing from time to time in Judith's journal of that long-ago summer, Bea LaForce was truly a Force to be reckoned with in the village of Alpine. A town, still rather small, nestling into the nooks of hills, boulders, sharp-smelling chaparral, and wizened oaks.

But Judith describes more than the coming demise of Sky Mesa Ranch in her journal of memoir and meditation that she drafted that summer of 1991. Writing of far more than the ranch that outstripped Bea's ability to care for it, far more than the odd collection of critters at the ranch: Linda the donkey, Vesla the cat, Annie Goose, and Cockadoo the proud rooster with his bevy of hens, Judith ponders her spiritual life . . . and ours as well. How do we push forward into the places of God's richness and plenty when all seems arid, blowing further out of reach with every puff of heated wind?

Yet here at the ranch-that-was-no-longer-to-be, we can glimpse Truth with Judith through the wealth of solitude well-spent, alert with listening ear and rambling pen and eyes that see beyond hillside and boulder to the very Kingdom of God.

In Sky Mesa Journal, Judith invites us to journey with her through the hard, painful, dry places into the refreshment of spiritual oasis. Her poetic words and musical phrases mirror the rhythm of nature that surrounded her that summer a quarter century ago. Yet she revised this journal over the last few years as Writer-in-Residence for Ruminate Magazine, shaping and reshaping it with meditations on our modern world and its problems to be solved: Our crumbling environment. Our greed and covetousness. Global hunger and poverty. The "Mid-East mired in deeply and viciously in fratricide." The ever-present problem of evil and the sin in our own hearts.      

Near the end of Sky Mesa Journal, Judith writes:
You, each of you, need a Kingdom-of-God place--a Sky Mesa--some-Place to go to within when your soil is baked and cracked with drought and there is no water, no cloven clouds on your horizon. May you find your way to it. May he lead you there! For you it will be smaller or larger, greener or hillier or flatter, a back lot or back country or back bedroom, alone or not. But within its fluid borders lies your Promised Land. It's all there inside you, waiting.
That's where we want to go. That's where we need to go. We each need to find our Sky Mesa.

And may we do so.

*  *  *  *  *

It has been my privilege to assist Judith with some of the proofreading and "techy" side of publishing Sky Mesa Journal. From employing my grammar-Nazi "skillz" to learning how to insert edits into the publisher's proofs to posting Judith's amazing blogged thoughts at This Higher Point of Land to assisting with social media promotion, it's been wonderful to come alongside Judith and be her "right-hand woman." And I was fortunately one of the first to read Sky Mesa Journal . . . which is a prize in and of itself.  

This is a book unlike most others. Yes, I can claim the cliche: "I laughed; I cried." And I did. But my heart also swelled with wonder and my soul somehow grew three sizes bigger as a result of reading and pondering this little book so chock-full of truly God-sized thoughts. 

It's the Kingdom, baby. That's what Sky Mesa is.  

Wishing you all a wonderful week,

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Saint Francis of Assisi

I have always been fascinated with the lives of the saints. Whether I'm reading about the Catholic saints of yore or the modern saints'lives highlighted by Voice of the Martyrs and other sources, I love reading about the lives of God's people. in their lives, I find inspiration and a new sense of dedication.

Yesterday I was reading some canticles by Saint Francis (who lived from 1182-1226) and was impressed by the beautiful simplicity of his poetry. And so I thought I'd share the story of his life today, his Feast Day.

From Saint of the Day at

Saint Francis of Assisi’s Story

Francis of Assisi was a poor little man who astounded and inspired the Church by taking the gospel literally—not in a narrow fundamentalist sense, but by actually following all that Jesus said and did, joyfully, without limit, and without a sense of self-importance.

Serious illness brought the young Francis to see the emptiness of his frolicking life as leader of Assisi’s youth. Prayer—lengthy and difficult—led him to a self-emptying like that of Christ, climaxed by embracing a leper he met on the road. It symbolized his complete obedience to what he had heard in prayer: “Francis! Everything you have loved and desired in the flesh it is your duty to despise and hate, if you wish to know my will. And when you have begun this, all that now seems sweet and lovely to you will become intolerable and bitter, but all that you used to avoid will turn itself to great sweetness and exceeding joy.”

From the cross in the neglected field-chapel of San Damiano, Christ told him, “Francis, go out and build up my house, for it is nearly falling down.” Francis became the totally poor and humble workman.

He must have suspected a deeper meaning to “build up my house.” But he would have been content to be for the rest of his life the poor “nothing” man actually putting brick on brick in abandoned chapels.

He gave up all his possessions, piling even his clothes before his earthly father (who was demanding restitution for Francis’ “gifts” to the poor) so that he would be totally free to say, “Our Father in heaven.” He was, for a time, considered to be a religious fanatic, begging from door to door when he could not get money for his work, evoking sadness or disgust to the hearts of his former friends, ridicule from the unthinking.

But genuineness will tell. A few people began to realize that this man was actually trying to be Christian. He really believed what Jesus said: “Announce the kingdom! Possess no gold or silver or copper in your purses, no traveling bag, no sandals, no staff” (Luke 9:1-3).

Francis’ first rule for his followers was a collection of texts from the Gospels. He had no intention of founding an order, but once it began he protected it and accepted all the legal structures needed to support it. His devotion and loyalty to the Church were absolute and highly exemplary at a time when various movements of reform tended to break the Church’s unity.

He was torn between a life devoted entirely to prayer and a life of active preaching of the Good News. He decided in favor of the latter, but always returned to solitude when he could. He wanted to be a missionary in Syria or in Africa, but was prevented by shipwreck and illness in both cases. He did try to convert the sultan of Egypt during the Fifth Crusade.

During the last years of his relatively short life (he died at 44), he was half blind and seriously ill. Two years before his death, he received the stigmata, the real and painful wounds of Christ in his hands, feet and side.

On his deathbed, he said over and over again the last addition to his Canticle of the Sun, “Be praised, O Lord, for our Sister Death.” He sang Psalm 141, and at the end asked his superior to have his clothes removed when the last hour came and for permission to expire lying naked on the earth, in imitation of his Lord.

Francis of Assisi was poor only that he might be Christ-like. He recognized creation as another manifestation of the beauty of God. In 1979, he was named patron of ecology. He did great penance (apologizing to “Brother Body” later in life) that he might be totally disciplined for the will of God. His poverty had a sister, humility, by which he meant total dependence on the good God. But all this was, as it were, preliminary to the heart of his spirituality: living the gospel life, summed up in the charity of Jesus and perfectly expressed in the Eucharist.
Saint Francis of Assisi is the Patron Saint of:

Metal Workers
Soli Deo Gloria,

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Book Review: Obligation and Redemption

As I noted in my previous blog post, I have been enjoying a Kindle Unlimited subscription this summer as I way of forcing my body and mind to rest after a very stressful and over-worked year. I also shared the link to my previous post of book reviews on Twitter, and Cassandra Grafton, Abigail Reynolds, and Monica Fairview (all of whom I have become familiar with on the amazing Austen Variations where they write) all liked and retweeted my reviews as well.

And by the next day, I had two more authors of variations on Pride and Prejudice offering to send me books! I accepted, of course, and was surprised that the first book sent to me was one that I had already chosen as my next book to read on Kindle Unlimited! And it was one of the best variations of Pride and Prejudice I have read yet.

Here is the review as I have posted it on Goodreads and Amazon on Monday:


I have read over 300 variations of Austen's Pride and Prejudice, and Georgia McCall's novel Obligation and Redemption is one is definitely in my Top Five Austen-based novels. I think that out of all of my reviews, I've only given a handful of "5" ratings to variations of Austen's novels, saving that esteemed number of perfection for classics such as Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice itself. But if I had a "6" rating available, I'd give it to this book.

This is not a light and fluffy variation; it ventures into the deep, dark depths of the human soul and stays there for quite a while; hope seems distant at best and impossible at worst. Obligation and Redemption is for lovers of angst, and, for that reason, I simply couldn't put it down. In fact, I lost a whole day of grading and lesson prep on Saturday because I had to know what happened next and how this twisty-turny plot was going to somehow resolve. At times, resolution seemed absolutely impossible.

McCall's Darcy is darker than we see in most depictions of Austen's famed hero. I noted several outraged Darcy fans when I perused the reviews, but I thought that this Darcy was far less perfect and far more human, and I liked him all the better for it. I enjoyed not seeing Darcy fawning over Elizabeth from their earliest meetings; I thought his disdain and distrust were far more natural reactions to the overall situation for a man of his position and pride. He is suspicious of Elizabeth's motives from the very first and thinks the worst of her at almost every opportunity. The time it takes for both Darcy and Elizabeth to admire and trust one another seems realistic, especially given the various plot twists that cast serious doubts on the merits of the other.

And Elizabeth is not depicted as perfect, either; she has her obvious failings of temper and understanding, but she is the more forgiving of the two--and more forgiving of her own mistakes and prejudices. The experiences she undergoes would have been the ruination of many a delicate gentlewoman, but Elizabeth is strong, and despite all the forces aligned against her, she fights bitterness at the difficulties of her situation and attempts to find contentment despite the fact that a single act of kindness has apparently ruined her life.    

Christian elements of sin and redemption are woven into this novel, but not in the obtrusive or sickly-sweet manner often seen in Christian literature. It's a subtle theme, one that shouldn't be a bother to most non-Christians but one which Christians should greatly appreciate. But in the climax of the plot, Darcy has what can be compared to a modern Road-to-Damascus moment in which he, like Saint Paul, realizes the extent of his sin; as a result, Darcy returns to Pemberley a changed man. We can't help sighing with relief as Darcy finally recognizes his hypocrisy, his unmerited pride, and even his unconscious cruelty as he vows to become a man worthy of a loving wife.

Many evil machinations provide plot twists that keep us guessing throughout the book. Obviously, as a variation of Austen's romantic novel, we know that Darcy and Elizabeth will eventually reconcile and fall in love, but the strength of this particular variation is that one impediment after another keeps Darcy and Elizabeth from loving and trusting one another. They have a long, difficult journey to respecting and loving one another, but it's a journey made all the sweeter by the many woes they've endured and fears they've conquered.

My only wish for this book was that we could have enjoyed a couple more chapters of Darcy and Elizabeth's happiness together near the end. After so much angst and on-the-edge-of-my-seat drama, I would have liked to have basked in their love just a wee bit longer; the ending of the book would have been even more satisfying.  

I look forward to re-reading Obligation and Redemption often in the years to come; it has already claimed a treasured place in my library and definitely in my heart. It's brilliant, unflinching, and so heart-rending; in fact, I caught myself reaching for the tissue box more than once over these 500+ pages. For me, reading this lengthy novel was well-worth the time; I was rather sad when the book ended. Obligation and Redemption is one of those rare books that cause us to sigh in satisfaction when we finish it...and then forces us to flip back to the first chapter and immediately start reading it again.

Yes, it's that good.  


Reading with you,

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Reviews of Recently-Read Books

This summer, I invested in two months of Kindle Unlimited in order to make myself rest up. I knew that I had majorly overworked in the spring (well, all year, really), and I had to rest, one way or other. The first book I won as part of a lovely give-away on Austen Variations; the rest were straight from Kindle Unlimited with the exception of the second book (the mystery) which came from the library. Because of my very limited attention span this summer, I've read either series I know well (Anne Perry and Victoria Thompson's mysteries, each with more than 20 books featuring the same main characters) or Austen and/or Bronte fan fiction novels.

* * *

The Particular Charm of Miss Jane Austen The Particular Charm of Miss Jane Austen by Ada Bright and Cass Grafton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was completely non-put-down-able. I should have been grading stories for my online writing class, but I spent all morning finishing this book. I won my Kindle copy of this book as part of a release give-away, and I am wearing my Darcy quote necklace as I type this. :)

I found Rose and Morgan, James and Aidan, and especially Jane, to be compelling and very "human" characters. Their flaws and embarrassing moments were blush-worthy at times and laughable at others. Some of the suspense was incredible, too, as the story took what could have been a very serious turn...but dodged the proverbial (not literal!) bullet at the last possible second.

I felt that the ending left us hanging a perhaps a sequel shall be in the works????

And how in the world do two authors write in tandem so seamlessly??? So very impressive!!

What a wonderful "ride," ladies, and congratulations on a delightful book! And thank you for my lovely Austen "goodies" although I'm not so sure about the Love Hearts--I think I prefer my American version of Sweet-Tarts. ;)

Murder on St. Nicholas AvenueMurder on St. Nicholas Avenue by Victoria Thompson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A rather shorter book, and I quite missed Sarah and Malloy as this mystery occurs while they were in Europe on their honeymoon.

But Maeve and Gino, with the great help of Sarah's parents, the Deckers, a well-known Knickerbocker family, solve the mystery before Sarah and Malloy return...and before Christmas

Steampunk Darcy Steampunk Darcy by Monica Fairview
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Such an intriguing book, especially with the Steampunk fantasy world which is so very detailed that I wondered if it were not a fantasy world in and of itself outside of this one novel.

The story itself is fascinating, the characters compelling, and the overall effect was truly out of this world! I loved it!!

Mr. Darcy's Pride and Joy: A Pride and Prejudice Variation Mr. Darcy's Pride and Joy: A Pride and Prejudice Variation by Monica Fairview
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Like everything written by Monica Fairview, I adored it. Her characterizations of Darcy and Elizabeth are always so fascinating. I had not read the first two books in the series, but to find Darcy and Elizabeth on the brink of their engagement that Mr. Bennet is trying to delay if not completely destroy because of his own pride, was indeed intriguing enough to push ahead and see what happens, even if I didn't have the complete backstory. I'm glad I did. :)

Mr. Darcy's Journey: A Pride & Prejudice Variation Mr. Darcy's Journey: A Pride & Prejudice Variation by Abigail Reynolds
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A fascinating romance set against the budding social unrest in the North as the workers in various factories revolt with violence and brutality against anyone of the higher classes, despite the fact that Darcy and his family are attempting to help the impoverished workers. Elizabeth is caught in the middle of it all, of course, and her poor opinion of Darcy quickly changes as she sees his true character readily displayed in his actions rather than in his awkward words alone.

Halton Cray Halton Cray by N.B. Roberts
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I came across Halton Cray as I sought out some variations of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, my favorite novel, on This fan fiction novel picked up Charlotte Bronte's language and characters so perfectly that I could have sworn that Charlotte had left an alternative ending of her famous novel behind, and it had just been discovered. Seriously.

In the author's notes on the fan fiction site, the author noted that she had written a modern novel that is loosely based on Jane Eyre called Halton Cray, and I happily downloaded it to my Kindle. Alexandra, a 21-year old recent college graduate, takes a part-time job at Halton Cray, a British historical landmark that is open for tours. The only problem: the house is reportedly haunted. Weird and inexplicable happenings occur, but skeptical Alex doesn't scare easily. The historian/archivist, Thomas, mocks her continuously, treating her with little respect, but she is inexplicably drawn to him despite the fact that he can be rather creepy and many of the staff steer clear of him.

And I won't say any more because I don't want to spoil it for anyone. ;)

Halton Cray started a wee bit slowly, much as Jane Eyre itself does, but once I got about 25% of the way into the book, I couldn't put it down until I finished it. In fact, the grading of my summer school class suffered as a result; I just had to keep reading this book.

The parallels to Jane Eyre are surface-level, mostly in the Gothic setting and the plucky but plain main character who falls for the brash and mysterious historian who seems to date the town's richest (and greatly Botoxed) widow, much as Rochester pretended to pursue Blanche Ingram with the view of making Jane jealous and realize her feelings for him. Alex falls into the same trap herself as she tries to uncover the mysteries that enshroud Halton Cray. However, a great deal of this modern novel diverges from Bronte's most famous book; Halton Cray went in directions I was definitely not expecting but found exciting and compelling all the same.

Halton Cray is apparently the first book in The Shadows of the World series, and I am very much interested in the second book which continues the story of Alex in the aftermath of the events at and around Halton Cray.
* * *

So I have obviously done a lot of reading (and reviewing) this summer. Not bad for a mere $20 investment in Kindle Unlimited...given that I have another dozen books to post reviews on! :)

Happily reading,

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Catching Up...and This Week's Collect and Quote

The Twitter header for Judith Deem Dupree as she publishes her first nonfiction prose book, Sky Mesa Journal, available from Wipf and Stock Publishers and Amazon on Kindle and in paperback.

These last weeks between finishing my summer Fan Fiction class at Brave Writer and starting my 20th year of home education have been busy but not. I've been overtired and in more pain than usual, so I've had to slow down and rest whether I wanted to or not.

I had wanted to use these two weeks to catch up on the last of the MLA Research Essays from last spring's Expository Essay course at Heritage Christian School's East County II Class Day; I still have five more essays to grade, and I just have not been able to concentrate enough to comment on them adequately.

I have my Essay Grading Service at all spiffed up and ready for Fall 2016. Quite a few families, new and returning, have already contacted me with questions about how the essay grading service works. In fact, I just wrote a brand-new explanation of the process: 2016-2017 Essay Grading Service.

I've also been blessed in assisting my dear Pine Valley friend and mentor Judith Deem Dupree with her new book, Sky Mesa Journal. I'll post more about our journey into publishing in a week or two. But for anyone who enjoys creative nonfiction, spiritual journeys, ecology, and poetic wording, this little book may be just the thing. I highly recommend it after reading and proofreading and formatting and proofreading again and then reading once again to glean excellent quotations for social media postings. Elizabeth is helping with publicity for the book, and she's a wonder. She designed and created the Twitter header image at the top of the page. Judith's blog is also full of wisdom and insight if you'd like to check it out: This Higher Point of Land.

But now to this week's Collect and Readings from the Book of Common Prayer 2011:

ALMIGHTY and eternal God, we ask you to increase in us faith, hope, and love; And, so that we may obtain what you have promised, make us love what you command; Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and rules with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. (1 Corinthians 13.13; John 14.15-16; 19.21-23; Revelation 22.14)
Galatians 5.16-24; Luke 17.11-19; Psalm 84; Psalm 95.1-3; Jeremiah 29.1, 4-7

"Humility walks on bruised feet--but it does not limp."
                 ~Judith Deem Dupree in Sky Mesa Journal

May God bless us and guide us in following His most Holy Will, today and always!


Sunday, July 31, 2016

Pine Valley Days 2016

Pine Valley, California 

Today was our 15th Pine Valley Days celebration and the 46th year of this small town tradition. There's nothing like a small town festival to bring neighbors together...and to bring former neighbors back, plus a few friends from "down the hill," as we like to refer to the city and suburbs of San Diego.

You see, up here in a town of 1500 souls at, as our license plate frames state, "4000 Feet Above Care," we think differently than the "flatlanders." With the nearest Costco a 45-minute drive and the nearest WalMart half an hour away, we combine our trips "down the hill" and make a day of it. We depend on each other and help each other, whether it's an elderly widow who needs help with her yardwork or providing after school care for elementary and junior high kids.

Our town boasts two social "hubs" where we run across neighbors and friends on a daily basis. The first is the post office. In a town far too small for residential mail delivery, the trip to fetch our mail from our post office boxes is part of our daily routine. Our family is extremely fortunate as our "trip" to the post office is a quick stroll across the meadow; we can see the post office from our front porch, after all. Some stop by the post office on their way out of or into Pine Valley if they've been "down the hill" while others make a purposeful trip to the post office to pick up their mail; either way, we usually see someone we know, whether for a quick wave or a few moments' stop to catch up with each others' lives.

The other hub is the county library branch which is blissfully air-conditioned (and is where I've parked myself to work on my online Fan Fiction class every afternoon). Again, neighbors and friends stop by to pick up or return books and DVDs, to use the computers, for a meeting in the community room, or for one of the many programs available for preschoolers through adults. We never know what might be going on at the library or with whom we might "run into." When I worked there on Wednesday, I met up with a fellow book editor who gave me the scoop on her visit to Comic Con the previous week. (Someday I shall go!!) A henna tattoo artist was there on Thursday, so I took a break from my class work to get two (free!) tattoos, one on my left hand and the other on my right ankle.

We know we're in a small town when the parade announcer is our 80+ year old neighbor to the south, and the neighbor to the east comes over to ask me to type up and proofread the "press release" advertising Pine Valley Days which was written on a yellow legal pad. We also invited friends from the next hamlet over to park in our driveway so that they can walk across the meadow and watch their oldest granddaughter in the parade.

The Model "T" Club appears in the Pine Valley Days Parade every year....

It was stinkin' hot this year. The parade started at 9:00 AM, and Elizabeth and I were already dripping with perspiration. Fearing that we would get baked, we crossed the street to sit in one partially-shady spot in front of the port-a-potty (yep, just one of 'em) stationed in front of the veterinarian's office. A kind family offered me a folding chair (since ours are all in the back of the car that's currently at the mechanic), and Elizabeth stood.

Candy was thrown by people on floats, advertising local (as in within a few towns' distance) hairdressers, feed stores, the church (yes, we only have one in town), our winning AYSO soccer team, etc. Model T's are interspersed with Mercedes and Corvette convertibles with the pageant princesses (Miss Mountain Empire is one of my former writing students!) carefully seated so that their tiaras and crowns glint in the sunshine and their formal gowns sparkle. A fleet of John Deere tractors is followed by the mounted Border Patrol. And then comes my favorite...the bagpipes!

The parade continues with an alumni marching band from a "flatlander" high school, more horses, the ubiquitous Shriners in their little parade cars, Chinese dragons twisting and dancing from a martial arts school from Alpine (the medium-sized town (50,000 people) halfway "down the hill"), and then the piece de resistance:the final parade entry is our town fire truck. Living in a place in which wildfires are rampant and extremely dangerous (two people were killed in the recent Potrero Fire in June), we depend on our fire department not only to keep our homes safe but to also be our first stop for emergency care since the nearest hospital is over thirty miles away. We have one paid firefighter in Pine Valley, and the rest of the fire department is staffed entirely by volunteers. It's small town know-thy-neighbor and let's-pitch-in at its very finest.

Pine Valley Fire Department, County of San Diego

I have to admit to nearly tearing up a couple of times during this simple parade, watching the little ones collect the hard candy thrown to them by the various groups on the backs of trucks and trailers (as close to a "float" as we get up here), smiling at the clowns' antics, admiring the cars from the 1930's and '40's, waving at those we knew on the "floats," and clapping for our little fire department.

And late this afternoon, it rained--just a wee bit--as it so often does on Pine Valley Days weekend, the final weekend in July.

You see, we almost had to leave this town. I won't get into specifics, but we are waiting for final written confirmation that our loan has been switched over to a new lender (and a scrupulous one this time, thanks be to God!). It's been nine months of suspense, sometimes thinking that we would be forced to relocate out of state and sometimes thinking that all was well only to find that it was not. This week we received two verbal confirmations that our (prayerfully) former loan company has accepted the pay-off from the new lender. Just receiving a new loan is a miracle in itself.

So for now, Pine Valley remains our home, and we are so thankful, even for stinkin' hot days, sitting on the asphalt and watching the parade go by. That's one part of small town life that I shall treasure...always.

Warmly (well, more like hotly),


Saturday, July 23, 2016

As Yet Untitled Variation of Pride & Prejudice

As I mentioned last week, I have been writing a variation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. Such variations can be read all over Amazon and seem to do quite well in Kindle form; I have also ordered a good many through our state-wide library system Links+.

As I do wish to return to writing, I thought that posting the beginning snippet of the first draft might compel me to keep writing. So here it is....

This variation picks up after Darcy has arranged for the marriage of Lydia and Wickham with Darcy and Bingley's return to Longbourn for the first time since leaving the neighborhood the previous November.

NOTE: The characters, the places, and the lines quoted from Pride and Prejudice (1813) are the imaginative work of Miss Jane Austen (1775-1817) to whom the world is forever indebted and for the creation of two of the most famous lovers in all English literature: Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet.

Chapter One

            "Lizzy? Lizzy, where are you?"
            Elizabeth Bennet sighed over her novel, closed it with reluctance, and unfolded herself from her favorite reading perch in the windowseat of the bedroom she shared with her elder sister, Jane. Elizabeth had been re-reading one of Mrs. Radcliffe's novels, but she had become distracted, unable to focus on the book in her lap nor on the early autumn scenery spread out before her window.
            Jane certainly had not been herself lately. Before Mr. Bingley had leased nearby Netherfield Park last autumn, Jane had been Elizabeth's chief confidant and Elizabeth hers; not a single secret had stood between the sisters.
            But now sweet Jane held her secrets in silence, her eyes the only key to the sadness she felt at Mr. Bingley's closing Netherfield and returning to London—never to return, according to the correspondence of his sister, Miss Caroline Bingley. Despite Jane's continued silence on the subject, Elizabeth knew that Jane's attachment to their handsome and genial young neighbor was the cause of her sister's capricious appetite, sleeplessness, and wandering thoughts.
            Elizabeth shook her head, partly in amusement yet also with heaviness of heart. With Jane in love with a worthy gentleman of considerable means, life at Longbourn, their modest estate in Hertfordshire, was in the process of altering forever. 
            “There you are, Lizzy!” huffed Kitty, the second-youngest of the five Bennet sisters, as the bedroom door flew open with an unladylike crash. “Your presence is required downstairs,” she reported before turning on her heel and stomping down the hallway to her own bedroom door which Kitty opened and closed with an identical reverberating slam.
            Standing a bit stiffly after being seated for such a long time with her feet beneath her, Elizabeth smoothed the skirt of her morning dress and replaced her novel on the bookshelf. Stopping in front of the glass, she deftly smoothed the curls around her face and patted her back hair into place before proceeding downstairs. Puzzled by the summons, Elizabeth thought that although she had not noticed guests arriving, she had been quite engrossed in her novel…well, in her thoughts, anyway…and may have missed the arrival of guests at Longbourn.
            Hearing the hum of voices in the morning room, Elizabeth opened the door but halted abruptly and awkwardly in the doorway, her hand still on the brass knob, as two familiar gentlemen rose to their feet and bowed to her. Automatically, she dropped a quick curtsey in response and entered the room, smiling at the blushing young gentleman who had been seated beside Jane.
            “Welcome, Mr. Bingley, to Longbourn,” Elizabeth greeted warmly before turning to the second, taller gentleman. “And welcome, Mr. Darcy.” The unsmiling man nodded in response as Mr. Bingley launched himself forward to return her greeting.
            “I can see that you are well, Miss Elizabeth,” Bingley enthused as he bowed over her extended hand. “Thank you for your warm welcome. It is wonderful to be back in Hertfordshire; I have missed it exceedingly.”
            “You are always welcome at Longbourn, Mr. Bingley,” smiled Mrs. Bennet, her eyes alight with satisfaction at having a young man of Bingley’s wealth once again calling upon Jane. “And I have not forgotten the family dinner you promised to attend upon your return; no, I have most certainly not. We shall fix a date for you to join us very soon, sir, indeed.” Elizabeth winced as Mrs. Bennet’s rudeness at utterly ignoring Mr. Darcy who was standing near the window, his lips folded in a thin line that Elizabeth took for disapproval.  
            Glancing quickly at Darcy, Bingley was discomposed at the invitation which deliberately left out his friend and guest. “Certainly, Mrs. Bennet. Name the day, and we shall be here,” Bingley replied. Elizabeth quite admired his gentle reminder to Mrs. Bennet of what was due his friend, but she also knew that her mother would disregard the “we” of Bingley’s statement and not accept the subtle hint.
            Bingley turned to Elizabeth. “We were just discussing the possibility of a walk to Oakham Mount; Miss Bennet has assured us that the view is lovely, and that you know the way very well indeed. And the weather seems quite amenable.” He sent her sister a warm look, causing Jane to blush prettily. “Would you consider joining us, Miss Elizabeth?” He turned politely but seemingly without expectation to the rest of the assembled Bennets, including Kitty who had rejoined her mother and sisters. “Mrs. Bennet? Miss Mary? Miss Catherine? Would you care to accompany us on this outing?”
            While Mrs. Bennet refused with effusive apologies while winking significantly and obviously at Jane during her speech, Mary indicated a preference for her book. However, Kitty elected to join the excursion with unusual alacrity.
            A glance at Jane assured Elizabeth of the necessity of her accepting the invitation, thus allowing Mr. Bingley the opportunity to speak to her sister without the presence of Mrs. Bennet. Yet inevitably she would be in Mr. Darcy’s presence, and she was uncertain of his wishes in the matter. Yet, an opportunity to tease must never be dismissed….
            “Are you quite certain that you desire my company, Mr. Bingley?” Elizabeth queried, her eyes glinting with mischief. “Mr. Darcy and Kitty will provide adequate chaperonage, after all.”
            But Mr. Darcy, who had remained standing since her entrance, stepped forward. “We would greatly appreciate the honor of your presence, Miss Elizabeth,” he agreed as he bowed politely.
            However, Elizabeth’s eyebrows rose with surprise at his reply. Mr. Darcy seldom spoke with those outside his party at Netherfield which had included Mr. Bingley and his two sisters, one of whom was married to Mr. Hurst. Although Mr. Darcy remained unsmiling as was his usual expression, Elizabeth noted warmth in his gray eyes which seemed much lighter this morning.
            “With such an invitation, how could I possibly refuse?” Elizabeth replied, smiling. After she, Jane, and Kitty had collected their bonnets and shawls from upstairs, Elizabeth followed Mr. Bingley and Jane out the front door and into the pale autumn sunshine, Mr. Darcy on her heels and Kitty protesting behind them.

There's much, much more to write, and I am purposefully leaving Anne Lamott's quotation in the sidebar as inspiration to make time for writing. After all,

"If you can't find an hour to write, even Jesus can't help you."

~Anne Lamott

If if that quotation isn't enough to compel me to pick up my pen and continue to write, nothing will!

Hoping to write more this week,

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Back in the (Writing) Saddle Again?

Image of journal (in German) and fountain pen. I wish I could write this neatly on unlined paper!
As I looked for a good quote for this week from among my nearly fifteen years of jotting quotations into my two volumes of Quotation Journals--known at Brave Writer as Commonplace Books--I came across one on writing that intrigued me. 

I have read little by John Piper, a well-known Christian theologian and author, who wrote the hugely inspirational book Desiring God...which, unfortunately, sits unread on my bookshelf. But his thought below on writing, which I copied down more than six years ago, is a truth that needs to be acknowledged.

And is perhaps the best reason we can have for writing, and especially for journaling.

Here's the quotation which I came across in Ann Voskamp's utterly revelatory book One Thousand Gifts:

"Writing is a way of opening our eyes to see what we otherwise do not see." 
~John Piper

As I am spurred on to return to writing again--something I have done in rare bits and snatches since hanging up the "On Hiatus" sign on the sixteen chapters of my unfinished novel, published serially on two different websites eighteen months ago--Piper's insights on writing really strike me as Truth. 

While I look forward to continuing to write two different stories--variations of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice which I have been obsessed with reading for the past two years--I also desire to spend more time "thinking on the page" which is the gift that journaling gives us. 

My current journal and my usual dip pen for writing in it each week
I have kept journals all my life, managing to write daily in small vinyl-covered diaries in my freshman, sophomore, and junior years of high school, and then journaling on and off since then. For the past few years, I've journaled about once a week--sometimes less--but on a regular basis, filling two journals completely and now well into a third. I tend to write on Friday nights, the one night I allow myself to stay up later than usual, with a quiet house beckoning me to write. Sometimes I light a candle, but I almost always write with a dip pen--sometimes a metal-nibbed quill--and bottled ink in sepia, midnight blue, or violet. Perhaps I feel more Austen-ish this way, but I know that if I go too long without writing in this manner, my fingers quite literally itch to hold that pen, dip the nib into the ink, and scrawl away.   

It's a peace thing--writing like this. I feel detached from life's current problems and stressors and write away about the events of my week, line after line in my faux-copperplate penmanship that I've worked very hard to develop over the years. I hate getting to the bottom of a page because not only is it more difficult to maintain neat handwriting, but it's also because my "space" is nearly gone. But often I push onto a second page, delighting once again in filling a page with events, ponderings, wishes. 

I received another journal at the Brave Writer Staff Retreat last month, a pale pink hardcover journal that I would never have purchased for myself as I prefer my journals to be old-fashioned in appearance, classic and preferably bound in leather. But this journal has a message printed on the front that stopped me in my proverbial tracks:

Don't let anyone dull your SPARKLE.

And then I began to think about those I allow to dull my sparkle, people around whom I cannot be myself. Right then I decided that this journal was going to be different. This journal was going to be Truth, not merely what I wrote in case someone read it after I left this earth, etc. And this journal was going to be about writing. It may contain some passages of original fiction or poetry, but it's also a place to plan, to dream, to wander and wonder. 

Most of all, it shall be a place in which I will not allow anyone to dull my sparkle as a woman, as a writer, as a thinking, creating being.

I just started teaching my Fan Fiction class at Brave Writer. I believe that this is the fifth summer I've taught it, and it filled up very quickly, the first time that this class has not only been full but also had a waiting list! I started writing fan fiction novels and stories in November 2010, and my work has become extremely popular on and, to a lesser extent, on On these two websites, my ten novels and stories have garnered well over 4 million "reads" (or "hits"). 
But now I wish to switch fandoms to write JAFF (Jane Austen Fan Fiction). I follow the uber-talented writers at Austen Variations and have read most of their books, many of which I was able to track down through Link+, a California-wide compendium of libraries. Others I have bought one at a time on Amazon for my Kindle, using my online essay grading earnings to fund my obsession. 

A manuscript page from Chapter 11 of Persuasion by Jane Austen
And this is the fandom I want to write this summer. Of course, I started both stories with a quill and bottled ink before finally setting aside the lined pages of faux-copperplate in order to type it all up into Word for editing and printing purposes. I've shared the first few chapters of one story with our local Writers' Workshop which meets the second Tuesday of each month at our county library branch, and thus far the response has been quite positive. 

But I have only had time to jot a wee bit here and a little there because teaching nine online courses of 4-6 weeks each at Brave Writer, teaching a year-long expository essay class to high school juniors and seniors through our co-op Class Days with Heritage Christian School, grading essays quite regularly with my Online Essay Grading Service, and home schooling our fourth and youngest child (well, he's turning 17 in December) who will be a high school junior in the fall and who has significant learning challenges pretty much gobbles up all of my time. In addition, I've been assisting an amazing Christian poet/writer with her first traditionally-published book called Sky Mesa Journal: social media, blogging, and editing/formatting/proofreading. 

And then I teach Fan Fiction at Brave Writer each summer, so I really only have August available for significant writing. At least next year I won't be teaching at Class Day since our youngest has finished taking all of his science lab classes for high school, so we'll socialize through our local Park Day here in our small mountain village rather than driving down into San Diego every other week. But I need to find a way to squeeze in some writing time at least on a weekly basis. And I'm going to figure out how, one way or another. 

Because, after all, John Piper wrote of the revelations that come when we write, and I simply cannot miss out on those. 

Writing with you,

Monday, June 27, 2016

Julie Meets Peter Elbow!

This image courtesy of Brave Writer
Julie Bogart, the founder and owner of Brave Writer where I have taught since 2002, interviewed Dr. Peter Elbow, Professor Emeritus of University of Massachusetts Amherst. Dr. Elbow's work has revolutionized the teaching of writing. This interview goes far beyond teaching writing in home schools to the overall philosophy of writing.

I watched this interview live via Periscope while sitting in a Starbucks in Lakeside while Elizabeth had a meeting, and I was completely entranced. (And yes, the "Susanne" she mentions near the beginning of the interview is me. )

When she posted this interview on the Brave Writer Blog, Julie included this introduction:

[This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for supporting Brave Writer!]
My love affair with Dr. Peter Elbow started in the mid 1980s. My mother, a professional author, handed me his book Writing with Power as one of her chief sources of writing inspiration.
I got midway through the first chapter and my margin notes said things like, “Wait, that’s what I do!” and “I never realized other people wrote this way, too!”
Writing with Power put my writing life into words and identified the processes that came naturally to me. Even more, Peter Elbow gave me new ideas to test and new methods to aid me in expanding and exploring my mind life in writing. Writing with Power popularized the term “freewriting” and Peter’s work cascaded into a revolution of writing practices at all levels of the school system in the 1980s-1990s.
Over the ensuing decades, I’ve studied his writings eagerly adding to my “Elbow book shelf.” In 2000, after I published The Writer’s Jungle, I packed up the three ring binder and shipped it to Peter without pausing to consider the audacity of that move. Peter served as the head of the writing department as a professor at University of Massachusetts, Amherst. I told him how his work had inspired me and shaped what I teach in Brave Writer. I thanked him for his ground-breaking ideas and the influence they had on me.
I never expected to hear back.
A month later, an email arrived from Peter! Imagine my shock (and anxiety). What if he thought I was a hack? Instead, the warm voice I had come to know in his books greeted me immediately. Peter thanked me for the manual and told me he was glad I was taking his ideas to the homeschooling market since he had no access to home educators. He liked what I had written. Satisfaction and a big confidence boost came along for the ride.
A few years later, Peter’s secretary contacted me and invited me to hear Peter speak at Miami of Ohio University. I couldn’t believe he even remembered who I was! I attended a writing workshop for professors as Peter’s guest, was seated in the front row, and got to spend time talking with Peter before and after the seminar.
We’ve since had a few email exchanges, including a recent one where I praised Vernacular Eloquence. The pattern had repeated itself. As I read his latest book, I discovered that what we do in Brave Writer is exactly what his writing theories set out to assert—only in this case, we were successfully practicing the principles long before he had completed his 7 year magnum opus! All I could think was how glad he’d be to know that his deepest, most sacred beliefs about writing and process and reader response were most effectively experienced in the home, not school. I couldn’t wait to tell him!
When I realized that I would be traveling to Seattle (where Peter and his wife, Cami, now live), I let him know. Peter invited me to lunch. Cindy and I joined him at his lovely home and followed the meal with a Periscope (live video) where he and I freely dialogued about our shared writing values and strategies. It is not an overstatement to say that spending time with Peter is on par with meeting Bono in person.
For me, Peter is my writing “rock star” and I feel privileged to know him and call him my friend! We played off one another, I learned more from him, he seemed genuinely interested in what we are doing in Brave Writer, and we laughed and laughed.
His most gratifying comment to me came after we turned off the camera.
Peter said, “I meant to say this while we were filming but we kept moving forward. You articulate many of my ideas even better than I have!”
I can now die happy.
Dr. Peter Elbow is 80 years old. His commitment to the writing process and to gently holding a writer’s self-expression while giving meaningful carefully worded responses to that writing is inspiring.
With this introduction, I give you my writing guru, Dr. Peter Elbow. (Yes, I gush, blush, and fawn like a fangirl.)
May you find new inspiration for how to support your children in becoming free, brave writers.


Writing with you,


Blog Widget by LinkWithin