Monday, September 18, 2017

A Bundle of Book Reviews

As September evenings cool and we pull another blanket over us during the welcome chilly nights, it's hard to think back to the books I read over the spring and summer and neglected to track! But here are more books I've read--and with very short review as I tried to recall details from so many books read quite quickly.

I hope you'll enjoy my reviews and perhaps pick up a few at the library to read yourself!

The Well of Lost Plots The Well of Lost Plots by Jasper Fforde
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thursday attempts to hide out, awaiting the birth of her baby, while her husband, Landen, remains eradicated by Goliath Corporation since Thursday refused to release one of their bad guys from "The Raven." She finds herself in the Well of Lost Plots, mostly hiding out but also trying to prevent the spread of "UltraWord," a new way of reading books that will basically ruin fiction for all time.

Because of memory-stealer Aornis Hades, sister to Acheron Hades who tried to mastermind the ruin of Jane Eyre, Thursday slowly loses her memories of Landen, but Granny Next, who comes to her hide out in the unpublished book Caversham Heights, tries to help her to remember him.

Another fun Thursday Next adventure, filled with literary inside jokes and much snarkiness.

Something RottenSomething Rotten by Jasper Fforde
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thursday now must deal with Hamlet and other literary characters as she leaves Jurisfiction with two-year-old son Friday and enters the alternative world of Swindon that we come to know in her first adventure, The Eyre Affair. Finally, her husband Landen is returned to her and their son while Thursday fights to stop Yorick Kaine and his Danish-hating compatriots at Goliath from bringing the world to an end. It's another rollicking adventure with snarky and fearless Thursday Next.

To Kill a Mockingbird To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I re-read this book with our youngest for American Lit this spring, and then we watched the film afterward. It's such a brilliant novel--highlighting race relations in the Deep South as a black man is falsely accused of raping a white girl. Eight-year-old Scout's father, Atticus Finch, must defend Tom Robinson from the lies of the Ewell family, despite the fact that everyone in town knows that the Ewell girl is lying. The courtroom drama, the night when young Scout inadvertently shames the white lynch mob into going home, and Boo Radley's protection of Scout and her older brother Jem when they are attacked by Bob Ewell are all memorable scenes from the book as well as the famous film. Definitely an American classic, and perhaps the best American novel ever written.

Mr Bennet's Dutiful Daughter Mr Bennet's Dutiful Daughter by Joana Starnes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

At Hunsford, Elizabeth is alerted of her father's attack of apoplexy, and Darcy confesses his love and proposes to her in order to protect her from Mr. Collins' vulture-like descent upon Longbourn just before he and the Colonel escort her back to Herefordshire. Before the end of their journey, Elizabeth accepts Mr. Darcy's proposal for the sake of her family. And thus, with her father nearly comatose, Elizabeth and Darcy's love for one another grows.

It's a very sweet story--with a huge "hitch" about 2/3 through it, and it does leave us on the edge of our seats, wondering if their marriage will endure what Darcy views as his bride's betrayal.

A Matter of Chance A Matter of Chance by L.L. Diamond
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Set in the Southern US, this modern Pride and Prejudice story has Lizzy Gardner as a single mom who escaped an abusive marriage, and William Darcy does not make the best of impressions on her. A very interesting modern twist on the Jane Austen novel that also features Jane and Bingley as major characters while Lizzy's family rejects her for leaving from her charming and abusive ex-husband.

A Fair Prospect: Volume I, II & III A Fair Prospect: Volume I, II and III by Cassandra Grafton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A three-volume set of Pride and Prejudice variations in which Darcy, after his disastrous proposal and Elizabeth's rejection, is thrown into her path by Bingley's pursuit of Jane Bennet in London. But a childhood friend of Elizabeth's now seems to be pursuing her, a gentlemen of wealth and good looks, so Darcy has competition this time around.

Earning Darcy's Trust: A Pride & Prejudice Variation Earning Darcy's Trust: A Pride and 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.

I hope that you'll enjoy reading these reviews (and, I hope, some of the books as well!).


Sunday, September 10, 2017

A Writing Workshop Anniversary

This Tuesday marks ten years of the monthly writers' workshop which meets at our local county library, the social hub of our mountain village. We started meeting on the second Tuesday of the month in September 2007, and within a couple of years, I started a website/blog for our group: MECAC Writer's Workshop. The "MECAC" stands for Mountain Empire Creative Arts Council which was started by Judith Dupree and myself back in 2006 and which soon included the writer's workshop meetings. Due to health issues and changes in our lives, MECAC is now concentrated almost solely on the writer's workshop. And that's fine.

Our group has hosted Dr. Dean Nelson, founder of the journalism department at Point Loma Nazarene University (PLNU), several times for Saturday workshops. We've also hosted poetry readings, readings by local and not-so-local writers, and even Write-Ins as part of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).We've also often attended the annual Writer's Symposium by the Sea at PLNU as a group.

2017 Writer's Symposium by the Sea line-up of speakers

But most of all, we've shared our writing with each other. We bring the next poem, the next chapter, the next editorial, the next blog post, the next reflective essay, and we distribute copies and then read our work aloud, receiving encouragement and constructive feedback. Occasionally we tackle a writing prompt together, sharing the results and commenting on the good and the "needs help" areas.

And often we celebrate publication by the members of our group, whether a poem or an editorial is published in the Valley Views or the Alpine Sun (our town's monthly publication of news & events, or the newspaper of the next-largest town on the way "down the hill" into San Diego, respectively), or an article or poem printed in a periodical, or a book self-published on Amazon, or a book published by a publishing company. It's all happened within our group over the last ten years.

Our group is ever-changing, but usually we end up with six to eight writers showing up on the second Tuesday of the month. I think our record is thirteen writers. Some of our group are published authors, and some are just now trying out their writing wings, and all are welcome. I've been with the group the longest, so by default I've become the leader, with Judith, a poet who most recently published Sky Mesa Journal with Wipf and Stock Publishers, starting to come a year or two after the group began. Teresa, a poet from Campo, has been coming for at least seven or eight years, and Dianne, who started writing memoirs and has recently embarked on a mystery novel, has been attending for at least six years. Others are a bit newer, including Elaine who moved to our mountain communities from the East Coast, and Linda who lives atop Mount Laguna and has published a series of time-travel romances. And the oral tradition remains strong with Elwood and his wife Pearl who drive up the mountain from Alpine. Mary, a new writer, also comes up from Alpine. Teresa and Mary often have their therapy dogs with them, and Lancelot and Pup Pup curl up at our feet, content to listen to stories, too.

At a Write-In at the Pine Valley Library, November 2015. From left to right: Mary, Sermsee, Linda, Judith, Dianne 

Over a year ago we lost a dear member, Betty from Mount Laguna who wrote songs and memoirs, to cancer. But we keep an eye on her rocking chair, knowing that she's ever with us in spirit. And longtime member Maureen moved from Descanso to Oklahoma after the publication of her first book, but the "gang's all here" when she can attend our meetings when she visits San Diego once or twice a year. Others come and go, but these writerly souls are the beating heart of the monthly Writer's Workshop.

I've shared poems and parts of my fan fiction novels and stories with this beloved group, but lately I usually come empty-handed, with too much grading and teaching on my plate to give me time to write regularly, if at all. Even writing in my journal is a rare opportunity. I don't want to lose the joy of writing, the freedom that comes when nib scrolls its path across the page, when words pop into mind and are committed to paper. Writing is a joyous thing, a cleansing thing, a hallowed and holy thing. 

And everyone can do it, from telling a story aloud to publishing a book and everything in between. It's a joy that I pray we can--and I pray we will--expend our hearts and time in accomplishing.

One of my writing students at our homeschool co-op Class Days wrote something in an essay that I immediately jotted into my quotation journal  (I've collected hundreds of quotations on writing in my journals and via Pinterest). Deceptively simple, this seemingly simple sentence says it all. Lydia wrote:

"Words convey far more weight than we often acknowledge." 

And while I added one of my favorite Poe quotes on writing to my Quotation of the Week in the sidebar of this blog, these words spoken by Robert De Niro at the 2014 Academy Awards give us the flip side of writing:

"The mind of a writer can be a truly terrifying thing. Isolated, neurotic, caffeine-addled, crippled by procrastination, and consumed by feelings of panic, self-loathing, and soul-crushing inadequacy. And that's on a good day." 

And Anne Lamott, my favorite writer who writes about writing, wrote:

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

So when our little group of writers gather on Tuesday evening, I'll share the joy of this tenth anniversary of the Writer's Workshop, and together we'll freewrite to a prompt, listen to each other read our work aloud, offer our two cents' worth of feedback, and, most of all, we'll celebrate the joy of writing!

Writing with you,

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Reviews of Classics, Historical, and Modern Fiction

As the heat up here in the mountains finally begins to wane for a few days, here are some more reviews, starting with a classic that B and I read together as part of his American Lit last spring, along with a few other historical and modern fiction novels. Let me know what you think if you've read some of these...or would like to!

A Separate Peace A Separate Peace by John Knowles
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Somehow I had missed reading this book in high school, but our youngest and I read it together the spring as part of his American Literature program for his junior year. It was better than I thought it would be. The microcosm of an all-boys school during the Second World War is intriguing, especially since these boys knew that they would soon be soldiers themselves. This book is about loyalty and friendship more than anything else, and it's definitely an intriguing book, one that leaves a sour taste in one's mouth (along with most 20th century American "classics").

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

A variation of Austen's Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Darcy's Bargain starts with Elizabeth and Mr. Gardiner on Darcy's London doorstep about ten months after her rejection at Hunsford. They request his help in trapping George Wickham who has apparently tricked Mr. Bennet and the good people of Meryton with a "get-rich-quick" investment scheme. The stress upon suspecting that Wickham is not on the "up-and-up" has caused Mr. Bennet to have a heart attack.

Darcy agrees to assist with entrapping Wickham . . .in exchange for Elizabeth's acquiescence to a renewal of his proposal. With her father ill and the citizens of Meryton, including her own family, facing ruin, Elizabeth agrees to Darcy's bargain.

But the scheme is far more detailed and deep than anyone suspected. Will Darcy find solid evidence of Wickham's trickery, and if he does not, will Elizabeth uphold her part of the bargain?

A complex and highly entertaining Austen variation. Regina Jeffers never fails to please!

Snowbound at Hartfield: A Sweet Tea Novella; Pride and Prejudice sequel Snowbound at Hartfield: A Sweet Tea Novella; Pride and Prejudice sequel by Maria Grace
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A very interesting mash-up of Austen characters end up at Hartfield (the Woodhouse home in Emma) during a snowstorm, including Darcy, Mrs. Elizabeth Darcy, Mr. Bennet, and Colonel Fitzwilliam of Pride and Prejudice fame, plus Sir William Elliot and Miss Elizabeth Elliot of Austen's Persuasion. Mr. Knightley invites them to stay through the storm at the home of his wife (Mrs. Emma Knightley) and her father, and other characters from Emma wander in and out at will.

But romance is brewing while the snow continues to fall. This impromptu house party definitely has some surprises in store for the neighbors of Hartfield as well as the guests who remain, warm and cozy, by the fire as the storm blusters and blows, both outside and inside as well.

I had the pleasure of proofreading this novel for author Maria Grace, and it's extremely interesting to see beloved characters from several Austen novels trapped together in a single dwelling for an extended time, especially as an unlikely pairing begin a romance.... ;)

The Eyre Affair The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It was fun to go back to this series and re-read it. The literary inside jokes and plain FUN--plus the unfolding of the mysteries Thursday Next experiences as a Literatec--make for such an enjoyable read!! From the WillSpeak machines on various corners in Thursday's hometown of Swindon to gatherings to act out Richard III in the same manner as we used to dress up to portray the various characters at midnight showings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Fforde shows us an alternate universe in which books rules the day...and the Goliath Corporation owns everything else. Thursday gets involved in trying to save Jane Eyre when the original draft of the novel is stolen by a madman who holds its characters hostage. This first book in the Thursday Next series is even more wonderful the second time through...or is it the third time??

Lost in a Good Book Lost in a Good Book by Jasper Fforde
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There is nothing quite like being introduced to Jurisfiction (the policing force within fiction) by Miss Havisham and being trained to deal with everything from Goliath Corporation to the eradication of one's own husband (while being pregnant with his child). But Thursday Next always seems to solve the mystery, and she does so again...even in the Well of Lost Plots where books are written. Things get particularly hairy when a fictional character runs for Prime Minister, and everything in Jurisfiction, as well as in the real world (the Outland, as fiction calls it) goes catawampus.

This is the second of the Thursday Next series by author Jasper Fforde, and although not quite as humorous as the first in the series, The Eyre Affair, there are enough literary puns and allusions to amuse along with an exciting plot and, of course, Pickwick, Thursday's loyal dodo.

Rain and Retribution Rain and Retribution by L.L. Diamond
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Elizabeth flees a forced marriage to Mr. Collins with the assistance of the Hills, trying to get to London to the Gardiners'. But in the pouring rain, her conveyance breaks down, and Mr. Darcy comes to the rescue. When they stop at an inn, Elizabeth becomes ill from exposure to the weather and thus is compromised, and Mr. Darcy offers marriage...which Elizabeth accepts after learning more about him. Once the several days of rain abate and Elizabeth is able to travel, they marry quickly at Darcy House...and then the romancing begins as Elizabeth must face that she has married a good man, one whom she doesn't understand in the least....

* * * * *

As we continue with our last year of home education and as I teach two concurrent Brave Writer online courses (Groovy Grammar and the Shakespeare Family Workshop), a few minutes spent reading can renew the mind and lift the spirits. 

Happy reading!

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Additional Book Reviews

Here are another half-dozen reviews of books read this spring and summer, not necessarily in the order in which I read them. I hope that you'll enjoy my thoughts on these intriguing books which vary from "cozy" mysteries to children's literature to, of course, Austen variations. Enjoy!

Mum's the Word Mum's the Word by Kate Collins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A cute "cozy" mystery about Abby Knight who had studied to be a lawyer before quitting to start her own flower shop. Then a mysterious death occurs nearby, and she must stick her nose in and find out what happens. It doesn't hurt that the new owner of the bar just down the street is a handsome ex-cop who helps her with her sleuthing. A fun series--extremely light (a little too light for me), but fun to read in the spa at night.

Slay It with Flowers Slay It with Flowers by Kate Collins
My rating: 0 of 5 stars

The second in the Flower Shop series, Abby is asked by her air-headed cousin to do the flowers for her wedding. But one of the groomsmen is killed...apparently by someone in the wedding party. Abby again has the help of the handsome bar owner/ex-cop down the street to help her to suss out the killer...before the killer gets to Abby first!

A cute series, but a bit too light. I won't be continuing to read it....

Rainbow Valley Rainbow Valley by L.M. Montgomery
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Although I have read this series many times, I never tire of Lucy Maud Montgomery's lush and memorable prose and her scintillating characters who burst off the page and into our hearts.

Rainbow Valley is not among my top "faves" of this series, but it's still a beloved book in an even more beloved series that I missed during my childhood read-a-thons and discovered in my mid-twenties.

A definite "keeper" and an integral part of this incredibly-written series that should be a part of every childhood.

Rilla of Ingleside Rilla of Ingleside by L.M. Montgomery
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Perhaps my favorite book in the Anne of Green Gables series, it is from Rilla of Ingleside that I have gleaned the clearest understanding of the Great War, World War I.

This beloved book illustrates the power of love, family, sacrifice, sorrow, duty, and even a splash or two of romance through the eyes of a rather vain and self-absorbed girl of fifteen who grows up on the home front of Prince Edward Island, Canada, during the years of the First World War.

Beautifully and poignantly written, I consider this book the best of the entire Anne of Green Gables series despite its rarity of humor. This book is just... more in every way: deeper, more beautiful, darker yet lighter, patriotic, yearning for right to prevail.

It's difficult to put into words the sheer power of Montgomery's writing in this book. The battles far away in France are seen through newspaper articles and news spread via word of mouth a full century ago. The poignancy of a girlhood in wartime with her brothers, childhood friends, and even the young man she loves, on the front is beyond my powers of description. It's a beautiful and horrible book at the same time, yet beauty prevails despite heart-rending loss.

If you have not read the entire Anne of Green Gables series, I beg you to do so. And as of 2009, a ninth book has joined the series, a book which I am reading now and is well-worth the wait.

Mistaking Her Character: A Pride and Prejudice Variation Mistaking Her Character: A Pride and Prejudice Variation by Maria Grace
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I first read this book on, and the author later sent me the published version of her series "The Queen of Rosings Park" of which Mistaking Her Character is the first.

I have read hundreds--and I'm serious, probably upwards of 400--variations of Austen's novels, and this particular variation of Pride and Prejudice is easily in my Top Five favorites.

In this variation, Mr. Bennet is "Dr. Bennet," employed as physician to Anne DeBourgh at Rosings Park. Jane and Elizabeth are daughters of his first marriage; Mary, Kitty, and Lydia are from his second marriage to the Mrs. Bennet we know and...well, are amused by. But this Mrs. Bennet has a bit more of a mean streak, especially toward Elizabeth who assists her father in his treatment of the very ill Miss DeBourgh.

Elizabeth did herself no favors when she turned down Mr. Collins' proposal, thus ensuring Charlotte's position as Mrs. Collins. And Mr. Collins kindly recommended his cousin, Dr. Bennet, when Lady Catherine desired to have a full-time physician live in one of the cottages at Rosings Park and kindly allowed his family to reside there as well.

I'll leave the background there to avoid any spoilers, but this variation appealed to me very much with Elizabeth's dedication to her father, who does not treat her well, her glib manner of turning aside Lady Catherine's frequent lectures with her quick tongue, and her and Darcy's immediate attraction. I'm currently proofreading the third book in this series, and they are all wonderful!!

Waking to Mr. Darcy: A Pride and Prejudice Novella Waking to Mr. Darcy: A Pride and Prejudice Novella by Leenie Brown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A novella, Waking to Mr. Darcy brings us an injured Elizabeth Bennet who was out walking in a storm and, in her confused state, she happens upon the small hunting cabin on the Netherfield estate where Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy are escaping from the Bingley sisters and preparing to go out hunting. Given Elizabeth's injuries, Mr. Darcy elects to care for her, thus compromising her as he must remove her sodden clothing and treat her rather serious injuries. Their regard for each other grows during the night he tends her, thus preparing the way for a happy future.

A sweet novella, this quick read is a lovely way to spend a rainy afternoon!

Rainy Days - An Alternative Journey from Pride and Prejudice to Passion and Love Rainy Days - An Alternative Journey from Pride and Prejudice to Passion and Love by Lory Lilian
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another lovely Austen variation by Lory Lilian--I have thoroughly enjoyed all of her "alternative journeys" through the events of Pride and Prejudice.

A few days before the Netherfield Ball, Elizabeth, hoping to escape the unwanted attentions of Mr. Collins, takes a long walk. An unexpected rainstorm causes her to seek shelter in a modest fishing cabin built and used by Mr. Bennet and Mr. Gardiner. On her way there, a galloping horse and its rider are heading directly for a dangerous stream, and Elizabeth yells to stop him. The horse unseats its rider and runs off, leaving an angry Mr. Darcy behind. They seek the cabin together, and during this time, Mr. Darcy reveals his admiration for Miss Elizabeth while she learns far more about Mr. Darcy--the man behind the hauteur.

After the rain stops, they are able to return to Longbourn with an excuse of finding each other on the trail on the way home, with only Mr. Bennet (to whom Mr. Darcy confesses) knowing the truth of their unchaperoned hours in the cabin. Mr. Bennet is satisfied with Darcy's promise to marry Elizabeth should the story get out. And from thence goes our story of Elizabeth and Darcy's romance....

A wonderful and memorable variation of Austen's Pride and Prejudice, Rainy Days is the third Pride and Prejudice variation by Lory Lilian that I've read this month (March 2017). I don't think that I can pick a favorite, but all three are excellent, and I heartily recommend all three.


I hope that you have enjoyed my thoughts on these very different books! I'll be posting more reviews next weekend as well. 

Reading with you,

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Recent Book Reviews...

I have had such a busy, harried spring and summer that only this week did I transfer my book reading list to Goodreads; I still need to add them to this blog (see sidebar...well, after I update it, perhaps...). Anyway, I'll try to post a few of my thoughts (which are not nearly as extensive since I'm trying to remember books that I read months ago) about each book. Fortunately, my list this year is more varied than the past few years; while I still have a good number of Austen variations listed, I've been reading other books, too. Yay!! So here are a few of the books I've read in 2017:

The Blythes Are Quoted The Blythes Are Quoted by L.M. Montgomery
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A very different book than the first eight Anne of Green Gables, these stories are told by the Blythes and revolve around different people in Glen St. Mary and environs, only touching now and then on the Blythe family. Interspersed among the stories are poems supposedly written by Anne, and a few written by Walter. Some stories are ghost stories, most are human-interest. It was a very entertaining short story collection which was supposedly sent off to L.M. Montgomery's publishers the day she died. While some of the stories have been republished over the years, this collection is the first time that the book has been published in its entirety, and it's definitely worth a read, especially for those who loved the Blythe family from Books 5-8 of the Anne of Green Gables series.

Longbourn: Dragon Entail: A Pride and Prejudice Variation Longbourn: Dragon Entail: A Pride and Prejudice Variation by Maria Grace
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This may be my favorite Pride and Prejudice variation series...and I was fortunate enough to be allowed to proofread it!! In this second book, Darcy and the baby dragon Pemberley have removed to Rosings Park where Rosings, an ancient firedrake dragon, has taken on the training of the baby. Lady Catherine continues to insist that Darcy marry Anne who is Junior Keeper to Rosings, despite the fact that Anne knows nothing about dragon care. Pemberley pines for Elizabeth's presence since Elizabeth possesses an uncommon affinity for dragons and tends to enjoy their presence more than she does most humans.

Elizabeth, meanwhile, remains at Longbourn Keep where the dragon of the same name, a grouchy wyvern, insists that she marry Mr. Collins, the dragon-deaf heir to Longbourn. Collins is horrid, hates all mentioning of dragons, and abuses the minor dragons (which he sees as birds, cats, and other creatures) of Longbourn Keep. Finally, Mr. Collins and Longbourn the dragon push Elizabeth past her endurance, and she escapes to London, accompanied by Wickham who is abnormally curious about all things dragonish. Elizabeth's Dragon Friend, April, a fairy dragon of unusual perception, warns Elizabeth of revealing too much to Wickham.

Darcy and Elizabeth run into each other at the Blue Order buildings in London, and Darcy requests Elizabeth's assistance in nursing the pining Pemberley back to health. He accompanies her to Rosings Park where the dragons all fall in love with her, as they usually do, for Elizabeth truly understands dragons...much better than she does Mr. Darcy who also seems to be respected by the wise dragons of Rosings. And then everything begins to unravel, with Pemberley's imprinting called into question, leaving her young life hanging in the balance at the dragon Conclave...which will also decide Elizabeth's future with Mr. Collins.

This is a delightful story mixing the secret world of dragons and Jane Austen's Regency world beautifully while continuing to develop the various characters of Pride and Prejudice. I've read this book no fewer than five times; I just can't get enough of it!

And the good news is that the third book in the series, Netherfield: Rogue Dragon should be written and released by the end of the year or early 2018; I'm so thrilled and hope to proofread it as well. :)

Conceit & Concealment: A Pride & Prejudice Variation Conceit and Concealment: A Pride and Prejudice Variation by Abigail Reynolds
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was the first book that I've proofread for Abigail Reynolds...and it may be my favorite of all of her books. In fact, Abigail's books were the very first Austen variations I ever read, and she became one of my favorite authors in this genre. So it was a privilege to be able to assist with the proofreading of this novel.

In an alternate timeline, France defeats Britain in the Napoleonic Wars, and France now occupies all of England. Elizabeth and her family must deal as well as possible with the French forces who think nothing of conquering the local gentlewomen as much as those who oppose them. Elizabeth befriends Mr. Darcy in the fields around Longbourn before she discovers that he seems to have made a deal with the French which allows him to come and go as he pleases and gives him also some power in the occupying army forces. Elizabeth, a patriot, despises Darcy...until he uncovers a secret to Elizabeth that could expel the French forces from the shores of England forever.

When Darcy is captured and accused of murder, Elizabeth must pick up the mantle of Darcy's secret and do everything she can to protect Darcy's precious charge and get her safely into the hands of the resistance forces. Elizabeth then becomes part of the resistance in London, working to defeat the French and force them to leave Britain behind.

This is such an amazing adventure!! I finally had to just read it for pure enjoyment first; then, I went back and prooofread for errors once I knew what happened. ;) It's a beautiful romance, a patriotic tale, and a spy novel all in well as being a variation of Austen's beloved Pride and Prejudice. I don't give many "5" scores to books that are not classics, but this variation of P and P is so extraordinary that it well-deserves this "perfect score." Brava, Abigail!!

Darcy's Hope: Beauty from Ashes: A WWI Pride & Prejudice Variation Darcy's Hope: Beauty from Ashes: A WWI Pride and Prejudice Variation by Ginger Monette
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book and the second book in this series are among the best Austen fan fiction novels I have read. Ever. Set against the backdrop of the Great War, Elizabeth and Darcy hate each other and then love each other, just as in the original Pride and Prejudice. And of course, there's Wickham to gum up the works, and Jane and Bingley are seen along the periphery as well. There is all the intrigue of being stationed at a hospital near the front in Belgium, with Elizabeth as a nurse and Darcy as the CO of the army hospital, plus spies afoot as well. An exciting, edge-of-your-seat story that continues neatly into a second book before being tied up neatly. I'm thinking that it's time for a second reading, actually.... ;)

Darcy's Hope at Donwell Abbey: A WWI Pride and Prejudice Variation by Ginger Monette
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Darcy and Elizabeth are finally in love, and he sends her to Pemberly while he takes on a dangerous assignment. But Wickham has messed things up, and Elizabeth is accused of crimes that cause her to go underground, hiding from Darcy himself so that her "shame" will not affect his career. The Great War fights on, and Darcy is severely injured and eventually improves enough to be sent to Donwell Abbey where he is nursed back to health. To say more will give it away, but it's a wonderful continuation of Monette's first Great War Romance. Together, these two books are among the very best of Pride and Prejudice variations.

Books of a Feather Books of a Feather by Kate Carlisle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I very much enjoyed this tenth book in the Bibliophile Mystery series by Kate Carlisle. Brooklyn is a bookbinder who somehow happens upon dead bodies, and with the help of her now-fiance, Derek, (former British agent), she helps solve mysteries.

This latest installment involves the Audobon Book of Birds, a copy of which I have seen myself at the Huntington Library in the Los Angeles area. Brooklyn's eclectic upbringing with her hippy-dippy but lovable parents in the Bay area contrasts with Derek's upper-crust British childhood, but he has come to love Brooklyn's family, most of whom still live in or near the commune run by Guru Bob...and also happens to be where Brooklyn was first taught bookbinding and restoration.

As a booklover myself, I adore all of the details of the restoration of various books that occur as part of the mystery series, plus Brooklyn is snarky and fun yet always sees the best in people. This is my favorite "cozy mystery" series; it's warm and funny and very, very smart without being pretentious.


I'll post a few more books with reviews next week as I try to keep up with at least weekly blogging!

Have a lovely week!!

Reading with you,

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Fall Classes at Brave Writer

This school year marks 15 years of teaching and working at Brave Writer. Julie Sweeney Bogart started Brave Writer in January 2000, and I joined the Brave Writer team (of four other employees) in 2002.

Over the past few years, I've settled into a great schedule at Brave Writer; I'm teaching 48 weeks a year now, with some overlap of classes. I love teaching kids and families, mostly homeschoolers, via these online classes. I've written most of the materials I teach; the only class I teach that I haven't written is Groovy Grammar; the rest I've either overhauled and largely rewritten or have written from scratch.

So here are the classes, with dates and links, that I'll be teaching this fall at Brave Writer:

The Groovy Grammar Workshop: August 28-September 22 (4 weeks). This family workshop turns grammar on its head! Rather than relying on boring workbooks and grammar rules that no one can keep straight, we explore how words work together to create clarity and meaning. We "collect" words, play games with them, make up words by creating a "fictionary," and then explore how words work together in Lewis Carroll's poem "Jabberwocky." We conclude the class with writing our own Jabberwocky-style poem using nonsense words. Much family fun is in store in Groovy Grammar!!

The Shakespeare Family Workshop: August 28-September 29 (5 weeks). In this family workshop, we explore Shakespeare's life through a scavenger hunt, draw or create models of the Globe Theatre, and examine the language of Shakespeare's time. Then we'll have an informal study of Shakespeare's sonnets before we explore Shakespeare's plays, spending a week each on comedies (focusing on Much Ado About Nothing), histories (focusing on Richard III), and tragedies (focusing on Hamlet). So if you want a fun and extensive exploration of Shakespeare and his works, this family workshop is ideal!

The MLA Research Essay: September 25-November 3 (6 weeks). This class is intended for high school juniors and seniors only, with a small class size of only ten students to provide maximum teacher-student interaction. Using the college textbook The MLA Handbook, 8th Edition (2016), students will research and write a 5-7 page college-level persuasive research essay using the most recent format of the Modern Language Association (MLA). Students do not need to purchase the textbook; all posts will include materials from the text, and students may contact the teacher with additional questions. Students will finish this course with a college-level essay and much knowledge of how to do academic research.

Playing with Poetry Workshop: November 6-December 12 (5 weeks). This family workshop class focuses on writing many kinds of poetry: free verse, visual poetry, Japanese poetry, traditional rhymed verse, and alternative poetry forms. We'll also explore reading and analyzing poetry, and there are several fun optional activities such as song lyrics as poetry. This workshop is a wonderful way to introduce families to the fun and games of writing poetry, providing a solid foundation in poetry analysis and the history of poetic form. So much fun!!!

I'll be teaching the same courses in the spring in a slightly different order, with the addition of a high school literary analysis course on Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice. More on that class in December when I post the spring schedule!!

Fall registration began on Monday, July 31, so please enroll as soon as possible since all of our classes were full for the entire 2016-2017 school year!! Be inspired!! Write bravely!!

Writing with you,

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Pentecost: The Arrival of the Holy Spirit

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

A repost from the Archives as I frantically attempt to keep up with my wonderful Brave Writer students in our discussions of Macbeth....

I just do not understand something. Why don't evangelical churches celebrate Pentecost? Scripture tells is 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....(English Standard Version--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 [1] 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 Act 2), 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 grounded in 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, honoring the rich, 2,000-year heritage of Pentecost/Whitsunday.

Wishing you a blessed Pentecost,

Saturday, March 25, 2017

The Solemnity of the Annunciation

Annunciation of the Lord by Leonardo da Vinci

From today's American Catholic Saint of the Day:

The Story of the Annunciation of the Lord

The feast of the Annunciation, now recognized as a solemnity, was first celebrated in the fourth or fifth century. Its central focus is the Incarnation: God has become one of us. From all eternity God had decided that the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity should become human. Now, as Luke 1:26-38 tells us, the decision is being realized. The God-Man embraces all humanity, indeed all creation, to bring it to God in one great act of love. Because human beings have rejected God, Jesus will accept a life of suffering and an agonizing death: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13).
Mary has an important role to play in God’s plan. From all eternity, God destined her to be the mother of Jesus and closely related to him in the creation and redemption of the world. We could say that God’s decrees of creation and redemption are joined in the decree of Incarnation. Because Mary is God’s instrument in the Incarnation, she has a role to play with Jesus in creation and redemption. It is a God-given role. It is God’s grace from beginning to end. Mary becomes the eminent figure she is only by God’s grace. She is the empty space where God could act. Everything she is she owes to the Trinity.
Mary is the virgin-mother who fulfills Isaiah 7:14 in a way that Isaiah could not have imagined. She is united with her son in carrying out the will of God (Psalm 40:8-9; Hebrews 10:7-9; Luke 1:38).
Together with Jesus, the privileged and graced Mary is the link between heaven and earth. She is the human being who best, after Jesus, exemplifies the possibilities of human existence. She received into her lowliness the infinite love of God. She shows how an ordinary human being can reflect God in the ordinary circumstances of life. She exemplifies what the Church and every member of the Church is meant to become. She is the ultimate product of the creative and redemptive power of God. She manifests what the Incarnation is meant to accomplish for all of us.


Sometimes spiritual writers are accused of putting Mary on a pedestal and thereby, discouraging ordinary humans from imitating her. Perhaps such an observation is misguided. God did put Mary on a pedestal and has put all human beings on a pedestal. We have scarcely begun to realize the magnificence of divine grace, the wonder of God’s freely given love. The marvel of Mary—even in the midst of her very ordinary life—is God’s shout to us to wake up to the marvelous creatures that we all are by divine design.
From the Book of Common Prayer 2011, here is the Collect for the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary:
LORD God, we ask you to pour your grace into our hearts; That as we have known the incarnation of your Son Jesus Christ by the message of an angel, by his cross and passion may we be brought to 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: Hebrews 2.9-10; 13.9; Romans 1.3-4; 5.2-5; Matthew 1.18-21; Philippians 2.20-21) 
Wishing you a blessed remembrance of the Angel Gabriel's announcement to Mary,

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Ready For Lent!

Updated from the Archives....

As Elizabeth and I plan to make pancakes (gluten-free and grain-free varieties this year) for dinner this Shrove Tuesday (or Pancake Tuesday as it's known in our household), I'm also preparing myself spiritually for the beginning of Lent.

Tomorrow morning I'll attend the Ash Wednesday Imposition of Ashes with the kind folks of Blessed Trinity Anglican as we meet together in Father Acker's home in Alpine. (Message me if you'd like to come, and I'll give you the directions. It's mind-blowing and soul-blowing ancient worship!)

I have my Lenten fast decided and my Lenten additions ready. I don't usually tell either one publicly--only my family knows so that they can help keep me accountable.

A few years ago, I had continued all year with the previous Lent's addition of The One Year Book of Hymns to my Compline prayer time before bed each night, last night's hymn struck me, and I want to share it here as well as copy it into my Common Place Book (quotation journal) as it expresses many of the reasons why Lent is my favorite time of year:

Lenten Hymn
by Claudia Frances Hernaman (1838-1898)

Lord, who through these forty days
For us did fast and pray,
Teach us with Thee to mourn our sins,
And close by Thee to stay.

As Thou with Satan didst contend
And didst the victory win,
O give us strength in Thee to fight,
In Thee to conquer sin.

As Thou didst hunger bear and thirst,
So teach us, gracious Lord,
To die to self, and chiefly live
By Thy most holy Word.

And through these days of penitence,
And through Thy Passiontide,
Yea, evermore, in life and death,
Jesus! with us abide.

Abide with us, that so this life
Of suffering overpast,
An Easter of unending joy
We may attain at last!

The Scripture verses accompanying this hymn in this devotional is Mark 1:11-12 from The Living Bible: 

"Immediately the Holy Spirit urged Jesus into the desert. There, for forty days, alone except for desert animals, he was subjected to Satan's temptations to sin. And afterwards the angels came and cared for him." 

So Lent consists of the forty days before the Resurrection, not including Sundays (which are always a celebration of the Resurrection) and thus Lent parallels the forty days that Jesus spent in the wilderness before starting his earthly ministry.

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

My Own Green Thoughts

Daffodils in my front garden a few years ago....

This morning I read Melissa Wiley's lovely blog Here in the Bonny Glen in which she wrote about her gardening adventures in a post called "Green Thoughts." Since she, a well-known author of children's books (and now a Brave Writer instructor!), also lives in San Diego, I felt a true affinity for her post and all of the lovely green things--even "weeds"--that her family has grown. I meant to write just a short reply to her post, but it soon took on a life of its own. Yep, I ended up writing a blog post in reply to her blog post! (Sorry, Melissa!)

So here it is...which some additional "green thoughts":

I've found that San Diego is a pretty forgiving place for gardening. I loved gardening when we lived in North Park; our century-old Craftsman had enough Victorian to it that it was a stand-out on the block naturally, and the family who had own the home before us (from 1945-1991 when we bought it) had planted calla lilies beneath the porch railing. Oh, when they bloomed, honey, they BLOOMED.

And, as I said, I found that I could pretty much ignore all of the gardening "rules," and everything turned out beautifully...most of the time, anyway. I could never get Canterbury Bells to grow...which I loved for the name even more than the flowers themselves. (Does anyone else do that? Choose seed packets or even six-packs of blooms based more on the name of the plant than the plant itself? No? I must the the weird one, then....)

I sowed wildflower seeds on either side of the front walk and ended up with a host of pincushions, cornflowers, Queen Anne's lace, and other English garden-y things. As much as I wanted to try foxgloves, I had little ones back then and wasn't going to chance it. Along the east-facing long side of the house I had hollyhocks (which my husband has always called "hockeypucks") growing so high that they were curling under the eaves--and that's with a significant stone foundation and then the house itself! They were close to fifteen feet! Amongst the "hockeypucks" I had six different kinds of lavender, plus rosemary and other herbs galore (and sunflowers that grew almost as high as the "hockeypucks"!). My husband put in a brick-lined rose garden for me along the backside of the fence separating the back and front yards, and roses of all colors held riots there. Gardening was definitely my "thing."

Our old house, repainted by new owners. We left it gray with white and burgundy trim....

And the kids reveled in the spring clover's "sour grass"; we'd let the lawn keep growing until we were losing toddlers in the vast greenness, and then the kids gathered up armloads of the beautiful bright yellow flowers on their long, juicy stems--the very definition of "cheerfulness." Unfortunately, they never kept long, of course, but I had bouquets of them, overflowing the jam jars as they lined my kitchen counter before the lawn mower heartlessly took 'em down. We had to watch Monty Python & the Holy Grail to calm our nerves and get us laughing again.

But up here in Pine Valley, I must choose what to plant carefully, with an eagle eye for frost-hardiness. We've had frosts as late as June 12th (our middle son's birthday--which also killed our Pippin crop that year!) and as early as the end of September, so the delicate blooms I adored in the city either need more time than I can afford them between frosts or will wilt in our summer heat (sometimes above 110!). Fortunately, two of my favorite old-fashioned flowers, pansies and stocks, are quite frost-hardy, and rosemary abounds. Lavender is a bit touchy--no Spanish lavender here--but the French and English varieties do fairly well. But with the arrival of my autoimmune challenges, I haven't had the strength to garden much, plus, we now have half an acre vs. our little city plot, so the sheer size of it is daunting.

Our mountain home since 2001

This spring I do want to plant more. The daffodils (still blooming after the 15 years we've been here and who knows how much longer before that!) are sprouting, and the purple irises will follow. I've done tulips in the past, too. Now that middle son has worked landscaping, we're going to sit down and plan out our spring plantings and see what we can rescue and what we'll need to replace and what we can add. ;)

And yes, there are a few "hockeypucks" lurking along the back fence, a true homecoming for me when we first moved in and still stubbornly self-sowing. And a few old rose bushes, half-wild now, that need some TLC. But I really want to get out there and make something beautiful in our garden this year.

As I pondered my garden today, I remembered a lovely quotation from L.M. Montgomery's sixth book in the Anne series, Anne of Ingleside:

One gold-grey smoky afternoon [Anne] and Jem planted all the tulip bulbs....
"Isn't it nice to be preparing for spring when you know you've got to face winter, Jem?"
"And it's nice to be making the garden beautiful," said Jem. "Susan says it is God who makes everything beautiful but we can help Him out a bit, can't we, Mums?"
"Always . . . always, Jem. He shares that privilege with us."

So, thanks be to God for the privilege of sharing a bit in His Creation as we plot and plant the bounty of His Beauty!!

Counting on the daffodils,


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