Sunday, July 8, 2018

Review for Homeschooling Families: The Writer's Jungle: A Survivor's Guide to Writing With Kids

As I wind up my 21st and final year of home education, I have to write a recommendation of the one textbook that influenced our family the most. I don't know where our homeschool--or my life--would be without this book and its incredible author and her outstanding business, Brave Writer.

The kudos we owe Julie Bogart are beyond expression. She not only changed the way I viewed writing--and I have taught writing at a couple of universities as well as to students from 4th-12th grades through our homeschool group, Heritage Christian School of San Diego--but the way I see education, family life, literature, and even self-care (the last of which most homeschooling mothers fail abysmally).

If you purchase one writing book for your entire K-12 homeschool, buy this one. Read it from cover to cover. Then go back and do it with your kids, one chapter at a time. And if you find this book too daunting, Brave Writer offers an online course just for mothers of young writers: The Writers' Jungle Online.

The Writer's Jungle: A Survivor's Guide to Writing With KidsThe Writer's Jungle: A Survivor's Guide to Writing With Kids by Julie Bogart
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read the very first edition of this book, right after Julie first published it back in 2001 as her language arts business, Brave Writer, was just getting off the ground.

I have to confess to being extremely biased as I've worked for Brave Writer since 2002 and have known Julie since the mid-'90s. She's a dear friend as well as an amazing teacher and a great boss, too

Putting all that aside as much as possible, this book revolutionized the way I looked at writing. I started my academic career by teaching Freshman Comp and other writing classes at a local private liberal arts college, so when I quit to home educate our four kids, I started to teach them how to write in a very rigid, academic manner...until I read The Writer's Jungle. This approach totally turned my writing world upside-down and topsy-turvy--in the best ways possible.

It was exactly what my kids needed. And more than that, it was exactly what *I* needed.

You see, The Writer's Jungle is not a writing manual. It's not really even a writing guide...or a writing curriculum...or a reference book...or a handbook...or a set of writing exercises.

It's a guide to teach us parents how to guide our kids into expressing themselves via the written word. It's a way to build the parent-child relationship almost more than it is a guide about how to write. It--and all Brave Writer products and classes--seek to address the heart and mind of children, showing them how to express their thoughts on paper in a practical way that helps young writers--and especially reluctant writers--to learn how to transfer the ideas in their heads into words on the page/screen.

Julie is often asked the question, "So how do I teach my kids to write using The Writer's Jungle? There's an online class that families can take--parent and child(ren) together--at called "The Writer's Jungle Online." Or, as Julie says to parents, "Read the first chapter. Do it. Then read the next chapter, and do it. And so on until you reach the end of the book."

I recommend reading the whole book first so that we understand the whole concept, then going back to the first chapter and proceeding as Julie says.

That's what I did for our own four kids...and then I applied the philosophy and some of the exercises from The Writer's Jungle to the co-op classes in writing that I was teaching at our private school program's Class Days, whether I was teaching junior high or high school students.

And celebrate every milestone: copywork, freewriting, dictation--all of it! Copywork became a mainstay of our homeschooling: every morning I joined the kids at the big table, and we all pulled out our journals and copied something meaningful to us in our best handwriting. As well as practicing neatness in our penmanship, the kids learned spelling, punctuation, capitalization, grammar...and the power of the written word. That words were worth keeping. That writing can be powerful.

I can't recommend this writing book highly enough. It changed my entire outlook on teaching writing, even to college students. Even if your kids are not educated at home, this book teaches so much more than just how to write. It was exactly what our family needed.

Writing with you,

Sunday, July 1, 2018

And Death Knells...

After wedding bells nearly two weeks ago, we held the memorial service for Keith's dad, Ken Barrett, Saturday afternoon at Faith Bible Fellowship in Santee, a church that Keith's dad was instrumental in starting. Pastor Gene Beezer, who has been Mom and Dad Barrett's longtime pastor, officiated the service, and he's also the pastor whom Dad Barrett helped to install at Faith Bible Fellowship.

It was a small service, about 80% family, and Kevin, Karla, and then Keith all stood up to speak before Pastor Beezer spoke, and then we concluded with singing "How Great Thou Art." Dad Barrett left a legacy of four kids, 15 grandkids, and at least eight great-grandkids as well as a legacy of supporting missionaries, some for more than thirty years...including one of his granddaughters returning in September from three years of missionary work in Ireland.

Dad's generosity, his quiet love for family and church family, and his love for our Lord all marked a life well-lived.

Soli Deo Gloria,

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Wedding Bells...

Photo by Heather Winters

Jonathan Todd Barrett married Emily Yvette Bauman (now Barrett) 

on Sunday, June 17, 2018

at Five o' Clock in the Evening

El Cajon, California

Officiated by Jeff Clabaugh

Associate Pastor, Pine Valley Community Church

Reception Followed the Wedding

Soli Deo Gloria,

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Book Reviews: The Highland Hall Trilogy

I'm rarely one to read modern Christian fiction, so although I wasn't too impressed with the first book, I kept reading and liked each book a bit more....

The Governess of Highland Hall The Governess of Highland Hall by Carrie Turansky
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I didn't realize that this novel was a work of Christian fiction when I ordered it from our local library. I found the story itself compelling, so compelling that I stayed up far too late reading it at night when I should have been sleeping.

Miss Julia Foster, a missionary in India along with her parents, returns to England with her parents because of her father's poor health. Needing funds to help support the family, Julia applies for the post of governess at Highland Hall and is hired by Sir William to educate his two children, a nine-year-old boy and a six-year-old girl, along readying Sir William's two (rebellious) nieces for their eventual come-outs in London society.

Julia quickly befriends Sir William's crippled sister, Sarah, and becomes a confidant to both siblings. Sir William confesses to Julia that he faces great financial hardship as the death duties from inheriting Highland Hall from his cousin (the father of his two nieces) makes it probable that Sir William will have to sell Highland Hall. The only person on whom Julia does not make a good impression is the housekeeper, Mrs. Emmitt. The children soon grow to love Julia, and even the nieces end up warming to her in the long run.

But while the setting (1911--very Downton Abbey-ish), the characters, and the conflicts were un-put-downable (yes, a made-up word), the way in which the Christian faith was portrayed along with the machinations of the housekeeper felt trite and clich├ęd. The prayers of the characters seemed hackneyed and unrealistic. Same with the plottings of Mrs. Emmit, the housekeeper. In both of these instances, I felt that these amazing three-dimensional characters quickly became two-dimensional, almost like cardboard cut-outs rather than human beings.

This is the very reason I read so little Christian fiction. I'm sure that there are some excellent works by Christian authors being published, but the ones I've read seem so shallow to me. Perhaps it's because it's so difficult to comprehend, much less express, how our faith deeply impacts every aspect of our lives that it's extremely challenging to express such depth and breadth in a work of fiction.

Even given these exceptions, I enjoyed the novel very much, but I'll have to think about whether to invest time in reading additional books in the series.

The Daughter of Highland Hall The Daughter of Highland Hall by Carrie Turansky
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After reading The Governess of Highland Hall, I was definitely interested in reading the next book in the series...until I found out that it focused on one of my least-favorite characters from the first book: spoiled, manipulative Kate Ramsey.

But Kate undergoes some serious changes between the books as her cousin William Ramsey, now master of Highland Hall after the deaths of her parents, becomes engaged to Julia, Kate's former governess and a former missionary to India who happens to have some higher connections in London society after all.

As the second book begins, Kate has already softened greatly, now possessing obvious respect for her cousin and his fiancee, while resenting her Aunt Louisa, her sponsor for the London Season, who, despite her title, is a social-climber of the most obvious sort. Kate begins the book wanting to end the season with an engagement to a young man of wealth and status, and almost immediately finds a gentleman who possesses these qualities in Edward Wellington who is taken by Kate's honesty and lack of social pretention.

However, Julia's brother Jonathan comes to live with them in London as he completes his medical studies and plans to return to India as a medical missionary, just as their father, Dr. Foster, had been. Dr. Foster's health does not allow him to return to the mission field, and with Julia's engagement and upcoming marriage keeping her in England, his hopes to restart the mission lie on Jon's shoulders. But Jon begins to become interested in Daystar, a medical mission right in London's East End, helping the poor families there, and often the homeless children who live in abandoned buildings.

I'll leave off here, but from the first chapter the plot becomes fairly obvious; it's just a matter of how our young heroine will surmount all of the challenges set before her, mostly in the form of Aunt Louisa's rudeness as she steers Kate through the intricacies of London society. But the Ramseys face social ostracism after William's brother, David, gets involved with a married woman, plus William's upcoming marriage to Julia, the girls' former governess, is another black mark against the family.

A great story, filled with Christian virtues and challenges, in a way that is fairly natural. I don't tend to enjoy overtly Christian fiction because the mixture of faith and fiction tends to create stilted, hackneyed plots and prose. But this series is far better than most although a few times it does become a bit preachy and formulaic.

Overall, a great read on an afternoon when one doesn't feel well....

I think I'll order the third book in the series after all!

A Refuge at Highland Hall A Refuge at Highland Hall by Carrie Turansky
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The third novel in the Edwardian Brides series finds England in the midst of the Great War. Kate is married to Jonathan, and they have adopted eight orphaned children to live in their London home as Jonathan continues to work in a hospital in a poor area of the city. Kate's younger sister, Penny, lives with them, helping Kate care for the children and for herself as the birth of their first biological child nears.

Penny is also introduced to Alex, a pilot-in-training with the Royal Navy, who is recuperating from a minor injury before he will return to his squadron in France. They agree to write to one another when Alex is cleared to return to the Front.

But a bombing by the Germans forces Jon to send Kate and the children and the London staff to Highland Hall where Lady Julia, once governess to Kate and Penny, and her husband Sir William, cousin to Kate and Penny, live. As Kate and Penny grew up at Highland, it's a homecoming of sorts, but with eight children added to William's two children from his first marriage, there are a lot of children about!

Faith is required as Britain fights on through the Great War, and the scenes switch between the kind-of peaceful days at Highland (although there definitely are some issues going on with Kate's pregnancy, the Germans who were living in Britain when the war broke out and are put to work on English farms under guard to be sure that they are not German spies, and with a cranky elderly aunt who can't stand children moving in with them) and Alex's experiences as a pilot in the war.

The story continues to unfold as Penny and Alex draw closer through letters, but then a seemingly insurmountable obstacle rears its head, possibly preventing their future happiness.

Highland Hall is indeed a refuge in many ways during the dark days of the Great War, and all who live under its roof must depend on God for their survival...and their future.

* * * * *

So what have you been reading this spring, especially as school lets out and perhaps you have a bit more time to read???

Reading with you,

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Trinity Sunday and Quotations...

Updated from the Archives...

The Sunday following Pentecost/Whitsunday is the celebration of the Holy Trinity. Trinity Sunday is a celebration of just one day, and the liturgical color is white, symbolizing the purity and sinlessness of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Now that the Holy Spirit has arrived on the scene to complete the Trinity, Ordinary Time shall begin starting next week, stretching over twenty-some weeks until the arrival of Advent in late November to early December. Nearly half of the Church Year consists of Ordinary Time for which the liturgical color is green, symbolizing the continual growth of our faith as we follow Christ and endeavor to become more like Jesus. During Ordinary Time, the weeks are counted as being "after Trinity": the First Sunday after Trinity, the Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity, etc.

But today we celebrate Trinity Sunday. The website Church Year explains:
Trinity Sunday, officially "The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity," is one of the few feasts of the Christian Year that celebrates a reality and doctrine rather than an event or person. On Trinity Sunday we remember and honor the eternal God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Trinity Sunday is celebrated the Sunday after Pentecost, and lasts only one day, which is symbolic of the unity of the Trinity. The Eastern Churches have no tradition of Trinity Sunday, arguing that they celebrate the Trinity every Sunday. Westerners do as well, although they set aside a special feast day for the purpose.
The Collect from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer:
Almighty and everlasting God, who hast given unto us thy servants grace, by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of the Divine Majesty to worship the Unity; We beseech thee that thou wouldest keep us stedfast in this faith, and evermore defend us from all adversities, who livest and reignest, one God, world without end. Amen.
For the Epistle today, the Book of Common Prayer requires the reading of the fourth chapter of Revelation; you may read it here in the English Standard Version: Revelation 4:1-11, ESV.

The Gospel reading for Trinity Sunday is written in the third chapter of the Gospel according to Saint John, the first verse through the fifteenth. You may read it here, again in the ESV: John 3:1-15.

Today is also the Feast of Title for two churches in the San Diego area, both of which have removed themselves from the San Diego Episcopal Diocese and have put themselves under the authority of Biblical leadership: Holy Trinity in Ocean Beach (along the coast in the city of San Diego) and Blessed Trinity Church, formerly in Alpine and now meeting in El Cajon. I have been attending weekday healing services led by Father Keith Acker when he was Rector of Christ the King Episcopal Church and also after he and his church left the Diocese and reformed as Alpine Anglican Church of the Blessed Trinity. The church relocated a few years ago to the more central SCAIR building on Main Street in downtown El Cajon as Blessed Trinity Church which is now part of the Reformed Episcopal Church. So blessings to both churches on their Feast of Title!

So today we give special thanks to our Lord, one God realized in three distinct persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Although we praise God for the Trinity each and every day of the year, this day we celebrate it more than usual, remembering His gracious goodness, His lovingkindness, and His ever-faithful mercy in, as Dr. Stephen Sammons, our former pastor at Lake Murray Community Church often stated, loving us as we are, yet loving us too much to allow us to remain that way. In the traditional words of the Gloria Patri, "Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen." 

Here's the Collect for Trinity Sunday from the Book of Common Prayer 2011:

ALMIGHTY and eternal God, who gave grace to your people to proclaim the true Faith, acknowledging the glory of the eternal Trinity and, by the power of your Divine Majesty, worshiping One God; Keep us standing firm in this Faith and always defend us from danger; Who lives and rules, one God, now and forever. Amen

Also, I wanted to share a few quotations on The Trinity...which are not easy to find, by the way. But I really like these words from an Anglican who started the Holiness movement:

"Bring me a worm that can comprehend a man, and I will show you a man that can comprehend the Triune God."       
                                         ~John Wesley

And another quotation, this time from a Catholic mystic of the 14th century:

"You, oh eternal Trinity, are a deep Sea, into which the deeper I enter, the more I find, and the more I find, the more I seek."
                                ~Saint Catherine of Siena 

And from another mystic, this time of the 20th century:

"He is at once infinite solitude (one nature) and perfect society (three persons)." 
                                      ~Thomas Merton 

And finally, from a saint recently gone Home to glory:

"God the Father is fully God. God the Son is fully God. God the Holy Spirit is fully God. The Bible presents this as fact. It does not explain it."                                   
                                        ~Billy Graham

Wishing you all a blessed Trinity Sunday as Ordinary Time begins once more...

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Pentecost: The Joyous Arrival of the Holy Spirit

An Eastern Orthodox icon of the Christian Pentecost. This is the Icon of the Descent of theHoly Spirit on the Apostles. At the bottom is an allegorical figure, called Kosmos, which symbolizes the world. (Source: Wikipedia)

A re-post from the Archives as I attempt to keep up with my wonderful Brave Writer families and students in both The Shakespeare Family Workshop and in Literary Analysis: The Merchant of Venice:

I just do not understand something. Why don't evangelical churches celebrate Pentecost? Our church, Pine Valley Community Church, did a lesson on Pentecost with the high school Sunday school class today, which is wonderful--but not a peep about Pentecost during the church service. Scripture tells us that the Gift Jesus promised His disciples has arrived: the Holy Spirit. We read Christ's promise in the 14th chapter of the Gospel according to Saint John, beginning at the 15th verse:

15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.... 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you..." (ESV).
Then on the Feast of the Pentecost, with Jerusalem filled with Jews from around the known world, Christ fulfilled his promise fifty days after His Resurrection. We read in the second chapter of The Acts of the Apostles:
2:1 When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. 5 Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6 And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. 7 And they were amazed and astonished, saying, 'Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? 9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, 11 both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.' 12 And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, "What does this mean?" 13 But others mocking said, "They are filled with new wine” (ESV).
Peter then preaches to the astounded visitors to Jerusalem (also in the second chapter of Acts), quoting the prophecy of Joel hundreds of years past as well as passages from the Psalms of David while also relating what he and the other disciples witnessed of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection as well as the many sightings of Christ following His resurrection from the dead until His ascension to the right hand of the Living God. Peter concludes:
"32 This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. 33 Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing" (Acts 2, ESV).
And then we read the response of the crowd listening to Peter:
37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?" 38 And Peter said to them, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself." 40 And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, "Save yourselves from this crooked generation." 41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls" (Acts 2, ESV).
The events of this Pentecost were simply incredible, and it is from this amazing Gift of the Comforter, the Counselor, the Holy Spirit of God, that the Gospel of Christ first began to spread and the Church first began to form. Why evangelical churches do not celebrate Pentecost is a mystery to me. It always lands on a Sunday and thus it can be easily celebrated with Scripture readings, with praise songs and hymns about the Holy Spirit, with sermons focused on the Holy Spirit, and perhaps even with baptisms since approximately 3,000 people were baptized and added to the Church on the first Pentecost after the Resurrection in Acts 2. Pentecost is a Biblical holy day, and we can celebrate it Biblically, too, with "psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with [our] heart[s]" (Ephesians 5:19, ESV).

In the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, one of the Collects (collective or public prayers) for Pentecost reads thus:

Almighty and most merciful God, grant, we beseech thee, that by the indwelling of thy Holy Spirit, we may be enlightened and strengthened for thy service ; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee in the unity of the same Spirit ever, one God, world without end. Amen.
And the Book of Common Prayer 2011's Collect for Pentecost (also in the sidebar of this blog):
"O GOD, you teach the hearts of your faithful people by sending us the light of your Holy Spirit; By your Spirit, give us right judgment in all things, so that we may rejoice forever in his holy comfort; Through the victory of Christ Jesus our Savior, who lives and rules with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen." (References: John 14.26; Acts 2.1-4; Philippians 1.9-10; Acts 9.31)
The Anglican Church has an interesting name for Pentecost: Whitsunday which comes from the white garments worn by those who are baptized this day, just as over 3,000 people were baptized on that first Pentecost in Acts 2. In the above hyperlink to the Catholic Encyclopedia entry of "Whitsunday," an interesting fact is given:
Whitsunday, as a Christian feast, dates back to the first century, although there is no evidence that it was observed, as there is in the case of Easter; the passage in 1 Corinthians 16:8 probably refers to the Jewish feast. This is not surprising, for the feast, originally of only one day's duration, fell on a Sunday; besides it was so closely bound up with Easter that it appears to be not much more than the termination of Paschal tide [Eastertide].
So why is this important Biblical Holy Day, celebrated from the very earliest days of the Christian Church, hardly mentioned in evangelical churches, including my own? I don't know. I simply don't get it. But I pray that the evangelical churches will indeed start to celebrate Biblical Holy Days more and more in the future, pulling on the rich, 2,000-year heritage of Pentecost/Whitsunday.

I close with this quotation (also in the sidebar of this blog) on the importance of Pentecost:

"Bethlehem was God with us, Calvary was God for us, and Pentecost is God in us."

~Robert Baer

Wishing you a blessed Pentecost,

Saturday, May 12, 2018

The Sunday after Ascension

Updated from the Archives...

Thursday was Ascension Day, exactly forty days after the Resurrection of Christ. Although I was unable to attend the Ascension Celebration on Thursday morning with Father Gregory of Blessed Trinity, I celebrated at home during Morning and Evening Prayer. 

Thus, today is the Sixth Sunday After Easter, or the Sunday After Ascension Day, and here are the Propers (prayer and Scriptures) for today. The Collect is to be prayed daily throughout the week, and the Lectionary in the Book of Common Prayer 2011 lays out the Scriptures to be read for each day of the week from the Old Testament and the New Testament for Morning Prayer, and from the Old and New Testaments for Evening Prayer as well.


O GOD, the King of glory, you have exalted your only Son, Jesus Christ, with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven; Leave us not comfortless, but send your Holy Spirit to strengthen and exalt us to the place where our Savior Christ has gone before us; Who lives and rules with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. (References: Psalm 47.5-8; Philippians 2.9-11; John 14.16-18; 1 Peter 3.22)

1 Peter 4.7-11; John 15.26-16.4; Psalm 27.1-11; Psalm 47.5-9; Acts 18.24-19.12

As I'm in the midst of teaching the Shakespeare Family Workshop and am starting to teach a new Literary Analysis class online at Brave Writer on Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice and am also leaving Sunday afternoon to go to the Editors' concert in Los Angeles, I don't have time to share more than this today...except for a quotation from the Saint of the Day e-mail from

"Meditate well on this: Seek God above all things. It is right for you to seek God before and above everything else, because the majesty of God wishes you to receive what you ask for. This will also make you more ready to serve God and will enable you to love him more perfectly."  
~Saint Paschal Baylon (1540-1592)

Wishing you all a blessed and holy week as we journey toward Pentecost and the arrival of the Holy Spirit!

Soli Deo Gloria,

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Reviews of Several Pride and Prejudice Variations

Darcy and Elizabeth from the BBC Pride and Prejudice miniseries, 1995
Since graduate school and my introduction to Jane Austen's novels, I have become entranced by the time period, the stories, and especially the characters created by this pastor's daughter with a rapier wit. I have devoured and adored several of Austen's novels: Mansfield Park, Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, and Persuasion among them. (Northanger Abbey is all right, but Emma I truly dislike...unless it's in the form of the '90s eminently-quotable chick-flick Clueless.)

So imagine my pleasant realization several years ago that an entire sub-genre of literature exists devoted to sequels, variations, continuations, and the like of Austen's works! I quickly located such books through our library branch, ordering novels by Abigail Reynolds and Maria Grace, among others. Then I discovered Austen Variations where these two wonderful writers and several more Austenesque writers shared their love of all things Austen, along with excerpts from their works. I was hooked!

I have been drafting a couple of Austenesque stories myself, and I've been fortunate enough to do some proofreading for Abigail Reynolds and Maria Grace; in fact, I'm currently proofing the third novel in Maria Grace's Jane Austen's Dragons series. Yes, somehow dragons and Austen have become the perfect pairing!! I proofread the second book in the series, and now I can't wait to see what happens in the third volume. It's a brilliant combination, and I have to admit to reading these first two novels close to a dozen times each!!

So as I proofread Netherfield: Rogue Dragon, here are a few other variations of Pride and Prejudice that I've been reading:

Mr. Darcy's Present: A Pride and Prejudice Holiday Vagary Mr. Darcy's Present: A Pride and Prejudice Holiday Vagary by Regina Jeffers
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In this "Pride and Prejudice Holiday Vagary" which takes place after Darcy and Bingley leave Netherfield after the ball, Mr. Darcy is seriously injured in a freak accident in town while shopping for Christmas presents. Somehow, the cards set with each gift, including ones he bought for Elizabeth but had no intention of actually giving to her, were mixed up, providing many tangles for Mr. Darcy to untie, including the gifts that were mistakenly sent to Elizabeth along with a card written to a former mistress. Yikes!

Darcy and Bingley return to Netherfield for Christmas to untangle the mess, and more hilarity ensues. It's quite the comedy of errors, but as we know to expect a happy-ever-after ending after so many twists and turns of fate, can we be surprised when Elizabeth and Darcy end up together at last?

A light and delightful read--truly enjoyable and very well-written. Ms. Jeffers triumphs again!

Mrs Darcy's Dilemma Mrs Darcy's Dilemma by Diana Birchall
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was an intriguing book as it looks at Darcy and Elizabeth 25 years into the future. They are the parents of three children, but Fitzwilliam, the eldest, is not like either his father nor his mother. He's a bit of a dolt with a passion for one thing: horseflesh. He races. He bets on races. He is idle and rather dissipated. Their next eldest, Henry, is much like Elizabeth. As the second son, his heart and mind are set on the church. Their youngest, whose come-out is looming, is Jane who seems to combine the best of both parents.

The "dilemma" refers to whether Darcy and Elizabeth should invite two of the Wickhams' eight children for an extended visit. The elder of the two daughters is Lydia all over again, but with Wickhams' scheming ways. The younger is a sweet girl, preparing to enter service as a governess to help her financially-challenged family. But will these two girls, who are ready for their come-outs, become hindrances to their sons? There lies the dilemma.

We also get to see the Bingleys (and their only child, a son who has reached his majority and is more like his cousin Fitzwilliam than like either of his parents, except perhaps with Bingley's impetuous, somewhat thoughtless, manner) and Lydia...and far too much of Kitty who is married to the local rector.

I found this book difficult to put down; I spent far too much time reading this book in the tub until pruney. It's a compelling read--to see our beloved characters this far into the future and measure how much--and how little--each has changed over the years.

If I could give a book a 4 1/2, I would do so here. I try to save "5" for classics and such, so a 4 1/2 would be fairer than a plain old 4.

Ardently: A Pride and Prejudice Variation Ardently: A Pride and Prejudice Variation by Caitlin Williams
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A lovely Pride and Prejudice variation taking place four years after Austen's novel...but with Darcy and Elizabeth not meeting again after his botched proposal at Hunsford; she goes to the Lake District with the Gardiners and never makes it to Pemberley. Mr. Bingley does not return to Netherfield, either.

But once Jane is engaged to a man in trade and after she reads the quiet announcements in the newspaper of Mr. Darcy's marriage to his cousin, Anne deBourgh, Elizabeth becomes restless and happily accepts the invitation of Mr. Bennet's widowed but wealthy sister, Mrs. Mountford, to visit her in Staffordshire. The visit becomes a long-term situation in which Mrs. Mountford takes Elizabeth to London for a couple of seasons and loves her as the daughter she never had. Now moving in more elevated circles, Elizabeth at age 24 has truly become the young gentlewoman she was born to be. On a visit to Bath, however, she meets Miss Bingley and Georgiana Darcy, and she soon comes face-to-face with Mr. Darcy.

The majority of the novel takes place in Bath as the recently-bereaved Darcy and Elizabeth are thrown together by Mrs. Mountford's new friendship with the Countess of Matlock, Darcy's aunt, as well as Elizabeth's friendship with Georgiana. Elizabeth is also pursued by a Mr. Yorke, an acquaintance of Darcy's, and while Mr. Yorke seems bent on marriage, Elizabeth is less certain because of her "odd" feelings for Mr. Darcy.

This variation was a delightful read!! I finished it (the first time) in fewer than 24 hours; it was truly non-put-downable (I know--it's not a real word, but it will have to do.) And I've read it twice more since then!

Very romantic, very different, with new characters introduced and old favorites (and non-favorites, i.e., Miss Caroline Bingley) returning, this is one of the most delightful Austen variations I've read.

Yes, I just re-read Ardently, and it was truly just as good the second time as the first. I did remember what happens with the young Mr. Yorke, a college friend of Darcy's, who pursues Elizabeth in Bath, but I also remembered the ending, so I wasn't too upset at Mr. Yorke and Miss Bingley as I might have been otherwise. But goodness! Miss Bingley can't help but rub salt into people's wounds when they're down, can she?

A wonderful read--very interesting, especially Darcy's reason for marrying; I had forgotten that part!!
* * * * *

I shared the beginnings of one of my own Austen variations last week at our local writers' workshop, and I think I'll continue drafting it to see if it goes anywhere. But in the meantime, I'll keep reading books in this delightful sub-genre, especially as I proofread Netherfield: Rogue Dragon for Maria Grace! 

Reading, always reading,

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Book Reviews: A Stellar Medieval Mystery Series!

The Pine Valley branch of the San Diego County Library
Last fall, after checking out my books from our little county library branch (which is basically the social hub of our mountain village of 1500 souls), I stopped at the book cart by the door to peruse the donated books for sale. I soon found two books in a mystery series set in medieval England and snatched them up for a quarter each. While I am usually adamant about reading a book series in order, one book was the second in the series, so I felt that I'd be starting close enough to the beginning and could order the rest from the library.

And I became hooked. I love historical mysteries, and this one was meticulously researched and showed the daily life of Oxford in the 1160s. I quickly liked the humble Hugh de Singleton, a young surgeon just starting his career. His turn of thought was intriguing, and the way in which faith and the church were so integrated into daily life in this time and place was fascinating. Only twenty pages into the second book of the series and with the fourth book already purchased, I quickly ordered the first and third books from the library and settled into a new favorite mystery series.

Here are my reviews of the sixth and seventh books of the Chronicles of Hugh de Singleton, Surgeon by Mel Starr:

Rest Not in Peace Rest Not in Peace by Melvin R. Starr
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This sixth adventure/mystery of Hugh de Singleton, surgeon, involves a murder in Bampton Castle where Hugh also works as bailiff to Lord Gilbert. Sir Henry, a former soldier who fought alongside Lord Gilbert, dies taking one of Hugh's remedies for sleeplessness. Lady Margery immediately accuses Hugh of murder, but Hugh discovers a very sneaky way in which Sir Henry was killed while he was sleeping deeply because of Hugh's remedy. More suspects start to line up among Sir Henry's knights and staff. Lady Margery makes herself decidedly unwelcome at Bampton Castle, and Lord Gilbert tries to hurry Hugh in his sleuthing, as always aided by Hugh's lovely and very insightful wife, Kate.

This series is just so consistently amazing in its accurate portrayal of life in a medieval English village near Oxford in the late 1360s. The author has certainly done his homework into life in Bampton; there really was a Lord Gilbert Talbot with his wife Lady Petronilla who lived at Bampton Castle during this time period. In fact, there are a few ruins of the castle still visible about the town of Bampton (where many of the village scenes from Downton Abbey were filmed). The living by the church bells and saints' days is shown as well as the dangers of the time, the food served both at the castle and at Galen House where Hugh, Kate, and Baby Bessie live, plus the different medieval occupations and levels of society are well-researched. Even the turn of phrase throughout the books never allows readers to forget the time period in which these mysteries are set.

I am now placing my order with the library for Book #7 in the Hugh de Singleton, Surgeon Chronicles. Such a brilliant series!!

The Abbot's Agreement The Abbot's Agreement by Melvin R. Starr
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another wonderful medieval mystery set in Bampton--or near Bampton, in this case, for this seventh mystery in the Chronicles of Hugh de Singleton, Surgeon. Also bailiff to Sir Gilbert, Hugh de Singleton is on his way to Oxford to purchase or commission a Bible; his trusty personal guard Arthur traveling with him for safety. Nearing an abbey where they have helped solve a mystery previously, they come across the body of a young man which has been set upon by ravens and other forest creatures. Despite the body's level of decomposition and damage from birds and other creatures, Hugh discovers that the cause of death was murder. The aging abbot, recalling Hugh's facility in solving past mysteries, offers to commission a Bible for him from the abbey's scribes if he will stay and solve the murder. Hugh agrees.

But mysterious circumstance after mysterious circumstance build, confusing Hugh and Arthur as to the identity of the murderer. Another attempted murder within the abbey walls adds to the dilemma, besides the fact that Hugh's wife, Kate, is nearing the birth of their second child, and he hates to be away from home at this time.

Another terrific medieval "who-dunnit," meticulously researched and wonderfully suspenseful!! I am sooooooo enjoying this series!!

* * * * *

And yes, I am ordering the eighth book in the series as soon as I get halfway through my current library book. 

Reading with you, 

Sunday, April 1, 2018

He Is Risen!! Alleluia!!

The Resurrection of Christ and the Women in the Tomb (c. 1440-1442) by Fra Angelico
He Is Risen, Indeed! Alleluia!! 

The liturgical greeting for Eastertide is one that goes back centuries. But my favorite Resurrection Day hymn goes back only to the eighteenth century. Written by Charles Wesley, brother of John Wesley the English church reformer, I miss singing this hymn today with great gusto and joy as it is being sung at churches around the world. These words and the soaring music truly expressed my Easter joy in a Risen Saviour!

1. Christ the Lord is risen today, Alleluia! 
Earth and heaven in chorus say, Alleluia! 
Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia! 
Sing, ye heavens, and earth reply, Alleluia! 

2. Love's redeeming work is done, Alleluia! 
Fought the fight, the battle won, Alleluia! 
Death in vain forbids him rise, Alleluia! 
Christ has opened paradise, Alleluia! 

3. Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia! 
Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia! 
Once he died our souls to save, Alleluia! 
Where's thy victory, boasting grave? Alleluia! 

4. Soar we now where Christ has led, Alleluia! 
Following our exalted Head, Alleluia! 
Made like him, like him we rise, Alleluia! 
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia! 

Last night's Holy Saturday Vigil was so powerful. Lighting the Pascal fire from flint and steel, then lighting the Pascal Candle which is embedded with five small nails representing the five wounds of Christ, then praying together before processing into the darkened chapel with "The Light of Christ! Thanks be to God!!" We stop and sing this three times, each time lighting more of the candles. Then we pray by candlelight and Father sings the ancient Holy Saturday liturgy in plainsong--it's soooooo beautiful!!

The Paschal Candle, with the Greek letters "Alpha" and "Omega", the year, and the nails representing the Five Wounds of Christ

Then we read several long Scripture passages which tell our salvation history as God's people. We then re-affirmed our baptismal vows and celebrated the First Evensong of Eastertide!! With what joy did we greet the end of this amazing vigil, definitely my favorite service in the Anglican tradition. The candles, the incense, the Scripture passages, the vows, the prayers, and the joy of the Resurrection after the sorrow of Good Friday.

The Good Friday liturgy was equally powerful, but it was filled with sorrow rather than the impending joy of the Vigil. To read the Passion of the Christ from the Gospel of Saint John be crying out "Crucify Him!! Crucify Him!!" with the crowd, to stand at the foot of the huge Santos crucifix and venerating the wood, feeling the roughness beneath my fingers as I looked on the carved wooden image representing my dying--no, my dead Lord. Kris next to me was wiping tears as was I, and Chris' wife, Mary, was sobbing. My heart was so heavy as I imagined His suffering...for us! For me! For those whom I love! For every person ever created on this earth and every person who will be created in the future. His Love is that big!! Alleluia!! Thanks be to God!! 

The Crucifixion with Saints by Fra Angelico (141-1442), fresco  
 The Collect for Easter Sunday from The Book of Common Prayer 2011:
This Collect is prayed daily through the octave (Easter Week).
ALMIGHTY God, who through your only eternal Son Jesus Christ overcame death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life; Grant that, by your mighty power going before us, we may die daily to sin and live with him forever in the glory of his resurrection; Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and rules with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen. (References: Acts 2.24; John 9.25; 1 Peter 1.3; Hebrews 2.14-15; James 1.4)

Easter Sunrise Service at Pine Valley Bible Conference Center, 6:30 AM
I rose early to attend the first Easter Sunrise Service in Pine Valley in a loooooong time! It was 34 degrees, so everyone bundled up with blankets and travels mugs full of hot drinks while we were led in worship and Pastor Noble gave the message. After breakfast in the Dining Hall at PVBCC, we attended 9:00 AM services at Pine Valley Community Church. before heading an hour away to Ramona to have Easter dinner with Keith's family.

He is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!! 
Happy Easter!


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