Sunday, January 20, 2019

The First Book Reviews of 2019

I have been sooooooo busy in late autumn through the winter that I have over a dozen books to add to my 2018 list of books I have finished, much less the several books I have read in the first weeks of 2019. (I am very much enjoying the free month of Kindle Unlimited that came with my new Paperwhite, my Christmas present!)

So while many more reviews will be coming as soon as I have time to breathe among teaching an online poetry workshop at Brave Writer, grading essays for my online essay grading service, taking care of my parents who are needing me to drive the hour each way to see them twice a week now for doctors' visits and shopping trips, and our youngest (diagnosed with autism five months ago) who is in college in Arizona and needs help with his assignments, here are a few from early autumn 2018.

Edenbrooke Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's very rare that I read a book in a single sitting. Especially when sitting in a Jacuzzi. But that's exactly how I read Edenbrooke.

It was a simply delightful three hours. I don't know if I've ever read a book of this length (250+ pages in a large trade paperback format) in so short a length of time. I couldn't put it down despite shivering in the outside spa while finishing the last chapters.

I can definitely see the influence of Austen and Georgette Heyer in this lovely Regency story of Marianne who lives with her irascible grandmother in Bath after the death of her mother. While her father retreats to France to grieve, Marianne's twin, Cecily, goes to London with their cousins while Marianne is exiled to Bath, a city she grows to dislike, mostly because she misses her family's estate where she had followed tomboy and artistic pursuits in her beloved orchards and fields.

Events begin to unfold as Marianne's grandmother decides to disinherit her profligate nephew in favor of Marianne on the condition that she works on becoming a lady of the ton. Her training is to begin at the country estate, Edenbrooke, of her mother's dear friend Lady Caroline. While en route in her grandmother's carriage to Edenbrooke, Marianne and her maid are beset by a highwayman, and after her maid takes a shot at the brigand with the pistol hidden in the carriage, Marianne drives the carriage with their wounded driver and maid to the nearest inn. There Marianne meets a rude young gentleman who refuses at first to assist her...and she informs him that he is not a gentleman. As she settles her maid in a room and cares for the driver who was shot by the highwayman, she wins the grudging respect of the gentleman who only gives his name as Philip.

Arriving at Edenbrooke the following day, Marianne discovers that the mysterious Philip is none other than Lady Caroline's son, and they quickly become fast friends. But when Cecily, Marianne's twin, writes that she is determined to marry Philip, Marianne prepares to step aside, as she always has done, for her sister. After all, Cecily is an accomplished lady who has just experienced her first London Season and has chosen Philip as her future husband based on his title, wealth, and handsome appearance. But Marianne has learned to love Philip based on his kindness, his intellect, and their discussions of literature, history, and nature.

This story is gentle and compelling, with characters who are far more developed than the usual "stock" characters of Regency romance stories: the plucky female, the calculating and spoiled brat, the rascally rogue, the annoying fop, etc. I really didn't know what to expect of this novel and these characters; they truly kept me guessing most of the way through the book. And the characters were written so winsomely and without the usual "saccharine sweetness" typical of less-accomplished writers of this genre.

This book is subtitled "A Proper Romance" which is lovely--there are no scenes to cause embarrassment if a young teen were to read it. It was a pure story--not overtly religious in the least yet following the precepts of Philippians 4:8: "...whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things" (ESV).

This book was brought to my attention via either BookBub or Book Gorilla, both of which are daily emails of e-books on sale (usually $2.99 or less, often free) in genres chosen by the recipient. I enter the titles that appeal to me into our library's database and order any of them that I can. If a book isn't available state-wide, then I consider whether to purchase it or not.

I rarely give "5" votes to books that are not established classics (Jane Eyre, Anne of Green Gables, etc.), but Edenbrooke was truly THAT good. It's a wonderful lighter read that is completely enjoyable.

ESV Illuminated Bible, Art Journaling Edition ESV Illuminated Bible, Art Journaling Edition by Anonymous
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a gorgeous edition of the English Standard Version of the Bible. It's a cloth hardcover in a beautiful, sturdy slipcover, and the "gold" leaf decorating the dark blue cloth cover, the cardboard slipcover, and magnificent title page--WOW!! And then the golden ink in the margin Scripture quotations and the whole-page quotations in Art Deco and Art Nouveau fonts and illustrations--mindblowingly beautiful!!

Next to having a Bible filled with medieval illuminations, this is the most richly, smartly, and beautifully illuminated Bible I could ever imagine!! The wide margins for notetaking, journaling, and sketching are so inviting, and the whole Bible is simply "a thing of beauty and a joy forever," to slightly misquote Keats.

I love the ESV translation anyway, and then to add the illuminations and the artwork throughout--it's going to be my favorite Bible for the rest of my life. (Unless someone gives me a Bible filled with medieval illuminations, of course.)

I would give this edition of the ESV Bible ten stars if I could. Such a lovely birthday gift from my husband!!

Sparks Fly, Tires Skid: A Modern Pride and Prejudice Variation Romantic Comedy Sparks Fly, Tires Skid: A Modern Pride and Prejudice Variation Romantic Comedy by Ari Rhoge
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An intriguing modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice in which Elizabeth and Jane meet Darcy and Bingley when they get into a fender-bender. Darcy is Bingley's attorney as Bingley seeks to expand his family's hotel empire, while Elizabeth is a kindergarten teacher with a foul mouth and Jane is simply perfectly-perfect. It's a fun romp through Austen's original with lots of twists and turns along the way. Charlotte is Elizabeth's roommate and seeks to marry Bill Collins, a physical therapist who works for Catherine De Bourgh. This book is funny, too--Lizzy especially is a hoot in an endearingly strange sort of way, and we can see how straightlaced Darcy falls for her fun-loving spirit. It just keeps getting more and more intriguing as the story continues.

I first read this book on (and yes, I used a fanfiction downloader to get my copy of this book; I'm making up for it by writing this review and publishing it on Goodreads and my blog, and thence to Facebook and Twitter), and I'm thrilled that the author has published it on Amazon where it's now available for purchase. This was my second reading of the tale, and I enjoyed it even better the second time. It's funny, poignant, depressing, and hilarious all by turns, and it really takes the reader on a rollercoaster ride of emotions. It's a great read, and I definitely recommend it!

A Season Lost: A Pride & Prejudice Continuation A Season Lost: A Pride and Prejudice Continuation by Sophie Turner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An amazing continuation of this series, I am riveted as always by Sophie's Turner's brilliant characters, compelling dialogue and plots, and beautiful prose. The amount of research that must have been invested in this series astounds me; Sophie's attention to detail, especially the different ports of call that Matthew and Georgiana experience, is exquisite. I felt as if I have learned so much and in such a pleasant and entertaining manner!!

The first two books in the series, A Constant Love and A Change of Legacies are also outstanding novels, and A Season Lost makes much more sense when both books are read before tackling the third in the series. (Or at least read the second book before the third, but all three books are definitely woven together masterfully!). I read the first two on, then I broke my meager book budget by purchasing the third book in the series, and I am sooooo glad I did!!

This third book was even more addicting than the first two as it switched back and forth between the Darcys at Pemberley and in London and with Georgiana and her Navy Commodore as she accompanies him on the Caroline on a trip that was far more extended than the original orders to Gibraltar. I truly could NOT put this book down, and my teaching and grading suffered as a result.

A truly outstanding continuation of this series--the best yet!! I highly, highly recommend Sophie Turner's books!!

* * * * *

And these are all of the reviews I have handy now until I start writing more. I have three pages of notes on all of the books I've read and have yet to review. Lots more book reviews (and not all of them Austenesque) are on their way this winter and spring! 

Happy reading!

Sunday, January 6, 2019

A Blessed Epiphany!!

Today the Anglican Church, along with other liturgical churches, celebrates Epiphany. 

The Epiphany, January 6th, marks the close of the Christmas Season with Twelfth Night (the Twelfth Day of Christmas) on January 5th. Epiphany, then, is a kind of extension of the Christmas season as we remember the events of Matthew 2 in which "wise men from the east" come to Judea, looking for the "infant King of the Jews." Herod asks his advisers about the Messiah, and they tell him that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem:
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:
“‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.
--Matthew 2:1-12, ESV

The Baptism of Jesus is celebrated a week later, on the Octave (8th day) of Epiphanytide, the day in which Christ was manifested as the Son of God, as related in Matthew 3:

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" But Jesus answered him, "Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness. Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest upon him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased."
--Matthew 3:13-17, ESV

From the CRI website:
The Season of Epiphany
Dennis Bratcher

In western Christian tradition, January 6 is celebrated as Epiphany. Epiphany is the climax of the Advent/Christmas Season and the Twelve Days of Christmas, which are usually counted from the evening of December 25th until the morning of January 6th, which is the Twelfth Day. This is an occasion for feasting in some cultures, including the baking of a special King's Cake as part of the festivities of Epiphany. The Season of Christmas begins with the First Sunday of Advent, marked by expectation and anticipation, and concludes with Epiphany, which looks ahead to the mission of the church to the world in light of the Nativity. The one or two Sundays between Christmas Day and Epiphany are sometimes called Christmastide. For many Protestant church traditions, the season of Epiphany extends from January 6th until Ash Wednesday, which begins the season of Lent leading to Easter. In some western traditions, the last Sunday of Epiphany is celebrated as Transfiguration Sunday.

The term epiphany means "to show" or "to make known" or even "to reveal." In Western churches, it remembers the coming of the wise men bringing gifts to visit the Christ child, who by so doing "reveal" Jesus to the world as Lord and King. In some Central and South American countries influenced by Catholic tradition, Three Kings’ Day, or the night before, is the time for opening Christmas presents. The colors of Epiphany are usually the colors of Christmas, white and gold, the colors of celebration, newness, and hope that mark the most sacred days of the church year. 

As with most aspects of the Christian liturgical calendar, Epiphany has theological significance as a teaching tool in the church. The Wise Men or Magi who brought gifts to the infant Jesus were the first Gentiles to acknowledge Jesus as "King" and so were the first to "show" or "reveal" Jesus to a wider world as the incarnate Christ. This act of worship by the Magi, which corresponded to Simeon’s blessing that this child Jesus would be "a light for revelation to the Gentiles" (Luke 2:32), was one of the first indications that Jesus came for all people, of all nations, of all races, and that the work of God in the world would not be limited to only a few. 

The day is now observed as a time of focusing on the mission of the church in reaching others by "showing" Jesus as the Savior of all people. It is also a time of focusing on Christian brotherhood and fellowship, especially in healing the divisions of prejudice and bigotry that we all too often create between God’s children. 


Our Collect for Epiphanytide from the Book of Common Prayer 2011, to be prayed throughout the Octave of the Epiphany:

O GOD, by the leading of a star you revealed your only eternal Son to the peoples of the earth; In your mercy grant that we, who know you now by faith, may after this life behold your glory and power face to face; Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

And, of course, the most well-known of all Epiphanytide carols, "We Three Kings":

We three kings of Orient are;
Bearing gifts we traverse afar,
Field and fountain, moor and mountain,
Following yonder star.

O star of wonder, star of night,
Star with royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Guide us to thy perfect light.

Born a King on Bethlehem’s plain
Gold I bring to crown Him again,
King forever, ceasing never,
Over us all to reign.


Frankincense to offer have I;
Incense owns a Deity nigh;
Prayer and praising, voices raising,
Worshiping God on high.


Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume
Breathes a life of gathering gloom;
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying,
Sealed in the stone cold tomb.


Glorious now behold Him arise;
King and God and sacrifice;
Alleluia!, Alleluia!,
Rings through the earth and skies.


Music and lyrics by John Henry Hopkins, Jr., 1857

Note: Wikipedia tells us, "John Henry Hopkins, Jr. organized the carol in such a way that three male voices would each sing a single verse by himself in order to correspond with the three kings. The first and last verses of the carol are sung together by all three as 'verses of praise,' while the intermediate verses are sung individually with each king describing the gift he was bringing."

Last night I joined the Blessed Trinity Anglican family at Father Acker's and Alice's home to celebrate the Twelfth Night of Christmas and the Eve of the Epiphany. Father and I prayed the Evening Prayer service from the Book of Common Prayer 2011, and then Father Gregory brought others as we prayed the Epiphany Collect above and burned our Christmas greens (fortunately, it was raining, so we didn't have to be concerned about fire danger here in Southern California!). Then we celebrated with Alice's baked good (decadent and delicious!) and my favorite cream sherry, Anglican-style. It was a lovely time to gather as a church family and shine the Light of Christ to one another and thence to others. 

So as we enter Epiphanytide, the time in which Jesus was made manifest not only to the Jews but also to the Gentiles--basically, the fact that He came to save everyone, no matter what sex, race, religion, creed--we welcome Him into our hearts with joy and gratitude, "for this is the day which the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it" (Psalm 118.24).

Rejoicing with you this day, 

Monday, December 24, 2018

Fourth Sunday in Advent

This season of Advent has been amazing. On the Sunday before Advent began, I approached our associate pastor and asked if we could celebrate Advent this year. We were already looking forward to Pastor Joe Murrell's return to Pine Valley Community Church after a four-year absence following ten years of pastoring here previously. Pastor Joe and his lovely wife, Jenny, were packing their home in Paradise, California in preparation to return to Pine Valley when the Camp Fire swept through Paradise, destroying their home along with nearly 16,000 additional residences, businesses, and other structures. So Pastor Jeff thought that celebrating Advent, which Pastor Joe had done in his time previously at PVCC, was a great idea. We worked out the details, and it's been wonderful celebrating Advent as a church together, especially during this time of transition. 

Since Pastor Joe returned, he has preached on "Advent and Joy" and, today, on "Advent and Love." So Advent at PVCC this year has not merely been about families coming up to light the Advent candles and read the Scriptures covering the four themes of Advent: Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. Advent has permeated the entire service, from the sermons to the prayers to the worship songs. And this morning four members of our worship team sang a lovely arrangement of the German Advent carol "Es ist ein Rose entsprungen" which was first published in 1599 and was translated into English by Theodore Baker in the 1890s and renamed "Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming." The poetry of this hymn is absolutely incredible, and hearing it sung in four parts acapella was even more impressive. Here are the English lyrics: 

  1. Lo, how a Rose e’er blooming
    From tender stem hath sprung!
    Of Jesse’s lineage coming,
    As men of old have sung.
    It came, a flow’ret bright,
    Amid the cold of winter,
    When half spent was the night.
  2. Isaiah ’twas foretold it,
    The Rose I have in mind;
    With Mary we behold it,
    The virgin mother kind.
    To show God’s love aright,
    She bore to men a Savior,
    When half spent was the night.
  3. This Flow’r, whose fragrance tender
    With sweetness fills the air,
    Dispels with glorious splendor
    The darkness everywhere.
    True man, yet very God,
    From sin and death He saves us,
    And lightens every load.
  4. Although I know best the version sung in German by the Kings Singers of Kings College, Cambridge, Charlotte Church sings a lovely version in English that I've included for you here, with the lyrics included. 

What a way to celebrate the fourth and final Sunday of Advent with Christmastide peeking around the corner!! 

And here is the Collect for the Fourth Sunday in Advent from the Book of Common Prayer 2011:

O LORD, raise up your power, we pray, and with great might come among us; And, as our sins and wicked ways greatly hinder us in running the race that is set before us, let your abundant grace and mercy come quickly to help and deliver us; Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit, belongs all honor and glory, now and always. Amen. (References: Isaiah 51.9; Hebrews 12.1; Romans 3.24-26)

Wishing you all a blessed Advent and a joyous Christmastide!!

With love,


Saturday, December 15, 2018

What Is Advent?

Although today marks the Third Sunday in Advent, which is known as Gaudete Sunday, when we light the rose-colored candle, I wanted to share a blog post I wrote for the Pine Valley Community Church blog as Pastor Jeff decided to celebrate Advent this year. Advent has been celebrated at PVCC in the past, so when I asked Jeff about continuing the tradition, he was all for it.

Our kind church family at Lake Murray Community Church allowed us to "borrow back" the Advent wreath Keith made about 15 years ago when Pastor Rollo was the worship pastor. So we have resurrected the wreath and the tradition now at PVCC, and I'm so thrilled!

Here's my blog post: What Is Advent?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our family's Advent "wreath" which has been used for many, many years. 
Advent also symbolizes the spiritual journey of individuals and a congregation as they affirm that Christ has come, that He is present in the world today, and that He will come again in power and glory. That acknowledgment provides a basis for Kingdom ethics, for holy living arising from a profound sense that we live "between the times" and are called to be faithful stewards of what is entrusted to us as God’s people. So, as the church celebrates God’s in-breaking into history in the Incarnation and anticipates a future consummation to that history for which "all creation is groaning awaiting its redemption," it also confesses its own responsibility as a people commissioned to "love the Lord your God with all your heart" and to "love your neighbor as yourself." The primary focus of Advent is Jesus the Christ, the Son of the Living God, as we wait together to celebrate His birth, death, glorious resurrection, and imminent return. 

Here is a prayer we’ve prayed together each Sunday in Advent:
O God, rejoicing, we remember the promise of your Son.
As the light from the candles fills this room,
may the blessing of Christ come upon us,
brightening our way and guiding us by His Truth.
May Christ our Savior bring light and life into the darkness of our world,
and to us as we wait for His coming. Amen. 

Wishing you a holy and joyous Advent season,

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Christ the King

Today is the final Sunday of the Christian Year, the celebration of Christ the King. 

And the daily devotional at Life for Leaders was superb in explaining this observance. I have copied the devotional in its entirety:

Make a Joyful Symphony to Christ the King
by Mark D. Roberts
Psalm 98:1-9

Sing your praise to the LORD with the harp,
with the harp and melodious song,
with trumpets and the sound of the ram’s horn.
Make a joyful symphony before the LORD, the King!

(Psalm 98:5-6)

Today is a special holiday in the Christian year (sometimes called the liturgical year or the church year). It is Christ the King Sunday. This holiday is not as well-known as other celebrations such as Christmas or Easter. But it holds a unique place in the Christian year as the last Sunday of the year. On Christ the King Sunday, we celebrate the coming reign of Christ as King of kings and Lord of lords. We delight in the fact that when Christ reigns, the world will be restored, peace shall reign, justice shall be established, and all people will live in the fullness of the kingdom of God.

In the providence of God, our chapter from the Psalms for today perfectly fits the themes of Christ the King Sunday. If you’re new to the Daily Reflections, I should mention that on the weekends I focus on the Psalms, working psalm by psalm through the entire collection of 150. Today “just happens” to be the day for Psalm 98. This whole psalm resonates with the victory celebration. God has won. It’s time to rejoice. Verses 5 and 6 focus our praise: “Sing your praise to the LORD with the harp, with the harp and melodious song, with trumpets and the sound of the ram’s horn. Make a joyful symphony before the LORD, the King!”

Every Sunday, Christians gather to celebrate the victory of God through Jesus Christ. The one who was crucified was raised on Easter Sunday, thus defeating sin and death. On Christ the King Sunday, we shout to Christ the Lord with gratitude for his sacrifice. We announce his victory to the world, inviting them to join us in our celebration: “Shout to the LORD, all the earth; break out in praise and sing for joy!” (98:4).

On Christ the King Sunday, we complete the cycle of the Christian year. It began almost one year ago with Advent. In that season prior to Christmas, we set our hope upon God, yearning for our Savior, as did the Jews so many centuries earlier. Today, we celebrate the fact that the Savior came, born in a manger. That he lived among us, proclaiming the kingdom of God. That he died, taking upon himself the sin of the world. And that he was raised from the dead, breaking the power of sin and death itself. Christ rules today as King of kings. This we celebrate, even as we look forward to the time when we will fully enjoy the life of his kingdom.

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Do you live as if Christ is the King of kings? What would it mean for you to acknowledge his kingdom each day? How can you celebrate Christ the King in your life today? How can you celebrate Christ the Kind in your daily work this week?

Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
For the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth.
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

The kingdom of this world
Is become the kingdom of our Lord,
And of His Christ, and of His Christ;
And He shall reign forever and ever,
Forever and ever, forever and ever,

King of kings, and Lord of lords,
King of kings, and Lord of lords,
And Lord of lords,
And He shall reign,
And He shall reign forever and ever,
King of kings, forever and ever,
And Lord of lords,
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

And He shall reign forever and ever,
King of kings! and Lord of lords!
And He shall reign forever and ever,
King of kings! and Lord of lords!
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

In England, this Sunday Before Advent is called "Stir-Up Sunday" for two reasons. The first may be seen in the Collect from the Book of Common Prayer 2011 below as we pray for the Lord to "Stir up, O Lord, the wills of your faithful people...." The Collect from the British 1662 Book of Common Prayer which would have still been in use in Jane Austen's time, as well as the Collect from the American 1928 Book of Common Prayer, begin the prayers with "Stir up, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people...."

Secondly, "Stir Up Sunday" also marked the day that the Christmas puddings were stirred up and set to soak in brandy until Christmas Day when it was lit afire. We can read about this tradition in a fan fiction story written by Maria Grace from Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice in which the Bennet family (including the odious Mr. Collins) prepares the Christmas pudding with all of the various familial and religious connotations of each step at Austen VariationsPride and Prejudice Behind the Scenes: Stir-It-Up SundayEnjoy!!! 

And from the Book of Common Prayer 2011:

Propers for the Sunday Before Advent: Christ the King:

ALMIGHTY and eternal God, who restores all things in your Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords; Stir up, O Lord, the wills of your faithful people, so that we may abundantly produce the fruit of good works and be abundantly rewarded in your eternal kingdom; Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and rules with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Jeremiah 23.5-8; John 6.5-14; Psalm 85; Hebrews 7.1-7 

So we pray the old Christian Year out in thanksgiving and praise as we welcome in the new Christian Year beginning next Sunday with the First Sunday in Advent!! 

Wishing you a blessed day of victory in Christ Jesus our Lord,

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Some Early Autumn Reviews

Ahh, an autumnal reminder of all that goes on at Hogwarts and around the literary world as the days grow shorter and the leaves shift colors and the stars grow brighter in the cool night air...

I love autumn...more even than spring because autumn brings the promise of cooler days and cold nights. It's nearly time to change the regular sheets for flannel ones, and I've put away the cotton capris of summer in favor of fleecy pants of coming winter. I can't wait for fires in the woodstove, heating the house and warming our hearts.

So here are some of my late-summer and early-autumn reviews of books I've been reading--and guess what? There's not an Austenesque book in the bunch!! I hope you'll enjoy my thoughts and perhaps find a title or two to add to your own reading lists...

I've Got My Eyes on You I've Got My Eyes on You by Mary Higgins Clark
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have been reading Mary Higgin Clark since high school in the early '80s, and I always enjoy them. I found her first dozen or so books to be absolutely compelling; I quite remember staying up all night reading A Cry in the Night and then reading it every spare moment that morning before school: at the breakfast table, as I brushed my teeth, as I put on my makeup. And then I did the unthinkable for this "good girl/excellent student": in my high school Algebra II class, I tucked the paperback between my textbook and my lap and continued reading, for who could possibly leave such a tale of psychological terror a mere thirty pages from the end?

But after a while, Mary Higgins Clark's books became fairly predictable, and although I still read them, I was quickly bored. I could pick out the murderer/stalker within the first half-dozen chapters and the same with the "love interest." Then the last few books before this one were much more interesting; in fact, they got almost twisty-turny again, and I didn't figure them out until close to the end. So with her latest track record in mind, I looked very much forward to this newest offering by a long-time author-friend, expecting more twists and turns and surprises along the journey.

Sigh. Not so with this one. I had the culprit pretty much figured out in the first quarter of the book. There were some nice red herrings along the way, but nothing that really put me off the track for long. It didn't help that the obvious murderer was eliminated from the get-go, and the rest of the story was interesting but not compelling. The characters felt "stock"--I wasn't really interested in any of them. I didn't really care about them at all, even the ones dealing with the grief of a murdered family member. It all felt stilted and cardboard-y.

So while I enjoyed the book, I didn't find it nearly as gripping as the last few before this one. I wish I had.

Buried in Books Buried in Books by Kate Carlisle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

To quote River Song..."SPOILERS!" So this will be a short review because I don't want to give away much at all, despite my opening caveat. ;)

This is the big one...the Bibliophile mystery in which Brooklyn and Derek get married!! But trouble it always does for Brooklyn. Her mother invited Brooklyn's her two college roommates to the bridal shower, but these two hadn't spoken to each other in years because one ran off with the other's boyfriend. Both arrive, and it's fireworks for a bit. Both of them give Brooklyn gorgeous rare first edition books as gifts, but when one of them is murdered, one of the books is found to be to be a forgery.

It's a wonderful adventure, as all Bibliophile books are, and I absolutely LOVED it!! A delightful series, and definitely a delightful wedding!

Horribly Haunted in Hillbilly Hollow Horribly Haunted in Hillbilly Hollow by Blythe Baker
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a cute paranormal mystery in which Emma Hooper returns from the big city to recover from a traumatic brain injury at her grandparents' home in the Ozarks where she was raised after the deaths of her parents. She feels guilty for not making it home more often, and she doesn't even tell them about her being hit by a taxi when crossing a street.

But the real problem is that after the accident, Emma can see spirits. And when the town's pastor is murdered nearby, seeing his ghost doesn't help her to believe that all of this spirit-stuff will just go away as her brain heals--which is her hope, one that wanes the longer she's in Hillbilly Hollow.

Emma quickly picks up her high school of which may become "more than a friend." And she also adopts a "dog" (actually a goat) named "Snowball" who follows her around the farm and even inside the farmhouse. And while her grandparents seem hale and hearty at first, there are some problems with her grandmother that make Emma want to stick around for a while. Emma keeps nosing around, and it's only with the help of Preacher Jacob's ghost that the murderer is captured and brought to justice.

This was a cute cozy mystery with the right amount of humor and paranormal without being creepy. I think that the series will continue to develop well. I definitely enjoyed it.

Flowers and Foul Play Flowers and Foul Play by Amanda Flower
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A fun first book in the Magic Garden Mystery series: Fiona flies to Scotland with her "tail between her legs": her fiance ran off with the cake decorator and her flower business failed, all within the same month. So when her beloved Scottish godfather dies and leaves her his cottage, Duncreigan--with a possibly magic garden adjoining--she flies to Scotland almost without thought.

Fiona and Hamish, her godfather's caretaker, go to explore the garden which seems "mostly dead" yet is coming back to life, apparently, from the moment she stepped foot in Scotland. But an unwelcome surprise meets them in a corner of the garden: a dead body who turns out to be the lawyer she's supposed to see about her inheritance. She is immediately questioned by Chief Inspector Neil Craig, who is decidedly handsome, but who is also closed-mouthed about the murder investigation.

So Fiona begins to nose around herself and finds that her lawyer was in the middle of a huge land dispute in the small Scottish village nearby. But each question she asks puts Fiona in more and more danger, with Neil trying to save her from herself and from those who have high stakes in the land deal.

This was the first of this series, and I could have cried--I want another book in this series right away!! I really enjoy Amanda Flower's book series, but she seems to be spread a little thin, writing the first and second books of several series rather than concentrating on establishing one series for a bit before starting another (and another). Well, I sincerely hope that she will continue to add to both the Magic Garden series and the Magic Bookstore series...and that she writes FAST!!

What Remains of Heaven What Remains of Heaven by C.S. Harris
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After his and Hero Jarvis' near-death experience at the end of the fourth book, Sebastian St. Cyr is called in by his aunt and the Archbishop of Canterbury, one of her dear friends, to solve the murder of the Bishop of London in an ancient crypt in a village outside of London.

The mysterious part? The Bishop's body lies atop another body, an unidentified man apparently murdered 20+ years previously in the same crypt which had been sealed up about the time of the unidentified man's murder.

But Hero Jarvis has been seeing the Bishop, also a friend of hers, on a very important mission: to find a home for her unborn child, fathered by Sebastian when they both thought they were dying together.

Sebastian has almost too many suspects to choose from, including the son of Benjamin Franklin and a butcher from the slums of London whose brother has sworn to kill Sebastian after they served together on the Continent. Then an ugly family truth is revealed that may bring Sebastian's ruin...and his ultimate happiness with his beloved Kat Boleyn after all.

A Morbid Taste for Bones A Morbid Taste for Bones by Ellis Peters
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

With my love for all things medieval, I've long wanted to read this series set in the 1130s, and I found it as wonderful as I thought I would. Brother Cadfael is likable although not too terribly religious (more human than religious, if such a thing may be written), with an expansive understanding of human nature and an insightful intellect that solves many a problem, even a gritty murder such as the one that occurs when Brother Cadfael accompanies a group of monks from Shrewsbury Abbey to his native Wales where they wish to co-opt the body of Saint Winifred for their own. Naturally, the Welsh people don't really want to give up the saint's body although her grave has been sorely neglected.

When the Welshman most opposed to moving Saint Winifred away from her native Wales to English soil is murdered, it's down to Brother Cadfael to solve the crime. Much is not as it seems, with one brother's ecstatic visions telling one story and a secret romance telling quite another. Brother Cadfael sets several traps and manages to reveal the killer and also keep the peace with the Welsh village where Saint Winifred was laid to rest.

I like Cadfael--the way his mind works, and the way his heart works. He may not be the most pious monk, but he is indeed "wise as a serpent and gentle as a dove," especially in preventing further bloodshed from occurring among the warlike Welsh and the pompous, superior English contingent.

I'm definitely going to continue with the series...and then and only then will I watch the 1990s TV series with Derek Jacobi, one of my favorite Shakespearean actors.

The Case Is Closed The Case Is Closed by Patricia Wentworth
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This second Miss Silver mystery, set in the late 1930s, features a woman whose husband, Geoffrey Grey, has been convicted and imprisoned for the murder of his uncle, yet he swears his innocence, and his wife believes him as does his wife's cousin, Hilary.

But when Hilary starts nosing around the uncle's house and interviews some of the former staff employed by Geoff's uncle, she finds herself the victim of attempted murder. At this point, Hilary's former fiance steps in to help, wisely employing the unflappable Miss Silver to assist. It was a wonderful mystery, so 1930s in dialog and dress, yet exciting; I found myself on the edge of my seat more than once, especially when Hilary was being chased by men trying to murder her in the dark fields of the English countryside.

I am ordering the third book in the series as soon as I can; this one was available only as an electronic resource since the series has been republished as e-books, but I'd rather than a hold-in-the-hands book for this series!

Gone Girl Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As River Song says: SPOILERS...and seriously, there are some complete SPOILERS here, so take warning!

I had tried to read this book previously (a couple of times, actually), and just couldn't. I loved the writing style, but something about the first section of the book really bugged me, and rather than putting down the book again and sending it back to the library unread once more, I admit to skipping about half of the first section. Maybe more than half of the first section. It was clear as day that Nick wasn't guilty of killing his wife, Amy, yet he looked so, so terribly guilty, with so, so much evidence mounting against him. I liked the woman revealed by the diary entries, but she seemed so perfect. So smart. Maybe too smart. I could tell something wasn't right, but I didn't know what.

When I skipped forward to the second section, it all became clear, and I was both thrilled and repulsed. And I couldn't stop reading. I kept hoping that they would catch her, but she really is a "psychopathic bitch" as Nick calls his wife when she finally returns after committing murder that she calls "self-defense." She's a long-term planner, and she does her research, and she has no conscience whatsoever. She calls it "discipline" to kill the man who had protected her (rather smotheringly, yes, but he did protect her), to cut his jugular with a single stroke of a butcher's knife before "escaping" and coming home.

One of the police officers believes Nick's story that Amy set him up for her murder and that she did actually murder her "protector," along with Nick's twin sister, Margo, but they had no evidence. Just he said, she said, despite Amy's confession in the shower with the water on full-blast so that no recording devices could be used. And then she every so neatly traps him...and it's utterly maddening. When I finished, I both loved and hated the book. I so admired the way the author manipulated the readers, but I also hated being manipulated.

It's a tough book...and I stayed up way too late to read it the last three nights once I skipped forward. It was utterly fascinating and compelling, but the whole time it left such a bitter taste in my mouth...and in my spirit. How can people act this way? It was maddening. I wanted to drown the book right there in the jacuzzi. Seriously. It deserved it.

* * * * *

So there we are...eight books and not an Austenesque book among them! Pretty much all mysteries and suspense, which is exactly how I finished the summer and headed into autumn, happily reading "whodunnits" Not a bad way to end a season and begin the new one, to my way of thinking, anyway. 

Happy reading! 

Sunday, October 7, 2018

A Variety of Reviews of Summer/Fall Reads

I spent a couple of hours this past week, catching up on my summer reading list at Goodreads, so now I can share them here on my blog as well. I won't post all at once--but about half a dozen at a time. I read more mysteries and other novels this summer rather than Austen-inspired literature...the last two are seriously amazing books that I first read several years ago on, so I'm thrilled that the author has published them now in e-book form. Yay!!

Now that I've caught up, I'm within only nine books of my 2018 Reading Goal of 70 books, eight books ahead of the pace I need to finish my goal by the end of the year. I've actually just finished another book this week, so I'll have to add that one, too. So only seven left to finish. Perhaps I ought to try a really long one, such as Les Miserables, to slow me down a bit. Our librarians love me, though!! 

So here are the next six books I read over the summer--quite a variety!

Come Rain or Come Shine Come Rain or Come Shine by Jan Karon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This thirteenth Mitford novel is focused less on Father Tim and more on Dooley and Lace as they prepare for their potluck wedding at Meadowgate Farm where Dooley, now Dr. Kavanaugh, is taking over Hal's veterinary practice. We see most of the events through Lace's POV, but also through Dooley's and Father Tim's viewpoints. The Mitford folks are out in full force, and we also get to meet some newer friends as well...including a notorious bull!! :)

This novel is bittersweet as Lace faces health issues and a hard prognosis, yet joy arrives with the challenges, as is almost always the case in Mitford. It's the kind of place where tears and laughter are consistently intermixed, where hardness is healed and difficulties are prayed over with "the prayer that never fails": "Thy will be done."

Welcome home to Mitford once again--or, in this case, Meadowgate, and see the joyous craziness of the Big Day coming ever closer...until it arrives at long last.

Where Serpents Sleep Where Serpents Sleep by C.S. Harris
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In this fourth of the Sebastian St. Cyr mysteries, Sebastian is sought out by the daughter of the Prince Regent's cousin and advisor, Hero Jarvis, after the murder of eight former prostitutes in a Quaker house of refuge (which was also set afire to conceal the murders). One of the women obviously came from quality and was giving Hero an interview when the men broke in and started killing the girls. Hero and the woman ran away, but the woman was shot as she and Hero tried to escape. In frustration over the resulting cover-up of the murders, Hero approaches Sebastian to help her to discover the young woman's real identity and the reason and culprits behind the murders.

Once again, Sebastian finds himself working with a strong-minded woman, this one extremely powerful because of her father's position, in solving the mystery of the women's deaths and bringing their murderers to justice.

Cold Terror Cold Terror by Susan Sleeman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Hannah Perry and her son are in Cold Harbor where Hannah, a forensic artist, is helping with a murder case when their cabin is breached and they flee in a boat to the mainland. When their boat capsizes, they are rescued by former Navy SEAL Gage Blackwell, Hannah's former fiance who abandoned her years previously.

Gage vows to protect the recently-widowed Hannah and her son, especially since Hannah's husband had been one of Gage's SEAL team members. He takes her to his compound, Blackwell Tactical, which is manned by former SEALs as they try to solve the mystery of the young woman's death and, in the process, are faced with the possibility that one of their former SEAL members may have not only murdered the young woman but also Hannah's husband as well.

Gage, the father of an autistic daughter and now a widower, finds himself falling in love all over again with Hannah. But can Hannah trust the man who left her a decade previously? And can she learn to trust God again, as well as Gage?

This mystery dragged at times and seemed focused too much on simplistic faith and vacillating emotions. It was okay, but I don't have any desire to continue reading the series.

Grey Mask by Patricia Wentworth
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The first of the thirty-something Miss Silver mysteries, which have all been republished in e-book form (yay!!!), this 1928 novel focuses on a young and very "blonde" (in every way imaginable) heiress named Margot after the death of her father. A young man named Charles overhears a plan to "remove" Margot so that the next heir, her cousin Egbert, can inherit all of the riches after the death of Margot's father. In overhearing this plan, Charles finds that he has stumbled onto a criminal syndicate of sorts, led by a completely amoral man wearing a grey mask.

Margot, only just eighteen, is vapid and innocent and has no idea of the danger she is in; she is far more interested in eating chocolates. Fortunately, the other young people she befriends, including Charles, his former fiancee Margaret, and Charles' friend, try to protect her, with the help of Miss Silver, a former governess-turned-private investigator, who is always invisibly present when needed.

This was a fun British mystery, and I really enjoyed it. The characters are appealing and even compelling, the twist was really twisty and one I did not see coming (Yay!), and the ending wonderfully suspenseful. I loved the 1920's slang and Miss Silver's cleverness which was masked perfectly beneath her primness. It's difficult to get ahold of the series in book form; I believe I checked out the only copy available in the entire state of California which sported a sticker from the San Francisco Library stating "Last Copy." But the books are available as e-books, and I may have to go that way for the second book since I can't find a copy anywhere in the Link Plus statewide library system.

This series reminds me of Dorothy Sayers' Lord Peter series although this one is much more lighthearted...and just lighter in general. It's as if Miss Wentworth were gently spoofing her own time/place of late-1920s London, and I loved every minute. I'm hoping to read through the whole series eventually, even if I need to check out e-books rather than the actual book-books. ;)

A Constant Love: A Pride and Prejudice Continuation by Sophie Turner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I first read Sophie Turner's books on, so I'm thrilled to find them published as well! I think I've read this series at least three times, and I loved it more every time I read it. My favorite Austen fanfics are continuations: what happens after Pride and Prejudice (and other novels). Sophie shows us such delightful relationships being developed after the events of Pride and Prejudice such as the friendship between Elizabeth and Georgiana. It's a lovely story...and the first of a series, too! Read 'em ALL!!!

We get to see Elizabeth and Georgiana take on a London Season and the ton, and both succeed well. But becoming "Mrs. Darcy" is a stretch for Elizabeth who becomes much happier after returning to Pemberley at the end of the season. Georgiana gains more experience with gentlemen, finding that sometimes being an heiress is more challenging than being relatively poor like Elizabeth was before her marriage. Both learn a great deal about society and themselves along the way. And we get to see Darcy and Elizabeth fall even more in love as their marriage progresses. A lovely, thoughtful novel.

A Change of Legacies: A Pride & Prejudice Continuation A Change of Legacies: A Pride and Prejudice Continuation by Sophie Turner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I loved this second novel in the Constant Love series. This book focuses more on Georgiana and her marriage but still on Elizabeth and Darcy as well as they prepare for the birth of their first child. We also get to see Mary, the unmarried sister, perhaps start to fall in love, too--or at least she's interested in the younger brother of Georgiana's naval husband. There is so much wonderful development of the characters we know and love--and some intriguing angst, too--that this series remains one of my favorites. I don't want to say too much and give away spoilers, so I'll stop here. I'm so glad that Sophie Turner published her books so that I can re-read them over and over!! They are utterly delightful!!

* * * * *

Obviously, I did a good deal of reading over the summer, as usual. The heat just saps my energy, so I end up reading a lot. Also, when my pain levels get rather nasty, reading helps me to ignore it as much as possible. So from my reading list, I think we can tell it was rather hot and my pain levels were above normal as well. ;)

Happy reading, everyone! 


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