Sunday, March 18, 2018

Passiontide Begins....

Crucifixion with Saints by Fra Angelico (Guido di Pietro) c. 1441-42

Updated from the Archives...
Today is Passion Sunday, the Sunday before Palm Sunday. Most of us are familiar with Palm Sunday, but what is Passion Sunday? Well, it's the beginning of Passiontide. 

But what is Passiontide? 

The Catholic Encylopedia states that the season of Passiontide encompasses the last two weeks of Lent, from Passion Sunday, the fifth Sunday in Lent, to the end of Holy Saturday Vigil. The second week of Passiontide is referred to as Holy Week, which we are far more familiar with than Passiontide itself. During this time, liturgical churches cover all crosses, crucifixes, and images of Christ and His Saints with an unornamented cloth of deep purple or black. There was one year when I did cover all of my icons, crosses, and other Christian images with black cloth, but it's not a practice that I felt was particularly helpful for me.

But I have adopted the above image of the fresco Crucifixion with Saints by my favorite artist, the medieval genius known best by his nickname, Fra Angelico (real name: Guido di Pietro), as the wallpaper on my laptop during Passiontide as a reminder of Christ's human sufferings, which He, the sinless Son of God, bore for our sake.

However, The Catholic Encyclopedia continues, "The crosses are veiled because Christ during this time no longer walked openly among the people, but hid himself. Hence in the papal chapel, the veiling formerly took place at the words of the Gospel: 'Jesus autem abscondebat se.' Another reason is added by Durandus, namely that Christ's divinity was hidden when he arrived at the time of His suffering and death. The images of the saints also are covered because it would seem improper for the servants to appear when the Master himself is hidden."

My prayer corner during Passiontide, with images/icons veiled

In addition to the veiling of crosses and images, the Gloria Patri is omitted from the liturgy, and fasting is intensified. The focus of prayer is on the sufferings of Christ: upon the humiliations, He, the King of Kings, endured on our behalf. The lessons (our daily Scripture readings) focus on His sufferings as well. Passiontide reminds us of the humanity of Christ and the extreme physical as well as spiritual agony that He willingly endured the consequences of every single sin committed by every single person who has ever lived in the past, is now living in the present, and will ever live in the future. This is the "cup" about which He prayed to the Lord, asking His Father if this suffering beyond measure could "pass by" Him, but Jesus concluded His prayer with these amazing words: "Not my will but Yours be done."

The Collect for Passion Sunday from the Book of Common Prayer 2011 reads:

ALMIGHTY God, your Son Jesus Christ appeared as a High Priest of the good things to come and entered once for all into the holy places, securing us an eternal redemption; Mercifully look upon your people, so that by your great goodness we may be governed and protected forever, in body and spirit, by the Blood of Christ; Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and rules with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen. (References: Hebrews 9.11-12; 1 Peter 2.9-10; 1 Thessalonians 5.23.)

May Christ's prayer, as well as the Collect for this week, resonate within all of us during Passiontide as we prepare our hearts for the sorrows and joys of Holy Week.

"Not my will but Yours be done."

In His grace,

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Saints Perpetua and Felicity

Mary and the Child Jesus (center) with Saints Felicity (left) and Perpetua (right)

Since my early teens, I have been fascinated by saints' stories. Not just with Catholic saints, but with the people of God who experienced persecution and even martyrdom. When the kids were school-age, one year I read aloud daily from a book called Jesus Freaks, a collection of stories of martyrdom compiled by Voice of the Martyrs and the Christian music group dc Talk. This anthology was filled with stories of those who suffered for Christ, many in the 20th century, and also those who were persecuted and martyred in the early centuries of the church.

As a young mother, I was especially taken by the story of Saints Perpetua and Felicity, mothers of infants who gave their children to family members and faced martyrdom in Carthage rather than renounce their Christian faith.

Thanks to Franciscan Media's Saint of the Day e-mails, today I revisited the story of these two remarkable and inspiring women who love Jesus more than anything in this world--even including their children. The friendship between these two women also struck me, as Perpetua was a young noblewoman, well-educated and well-off financially, while Felicity was a slave woman. But both went bravely to their deaths. We know so much about these women because Perpetua chronicled their days of imprisonment in writing, a work that has been passed down through the centuries and can be read here as a PDF: Perpetua's Journal.

Here is the Saint of the Day entry for today, courtesy of Franciscan Media:

Saints Perpetua and Felicity
Saint of the Day for March 7
died in the year of our Lord 203

Saints Perpetua and Felicity’s Story

“When my father in his affection for me was trying to turn me from my purpose by arguments and thus weaken my faith, I said to him, ‘Do you see this vessel—waterpot or whatever it may be? Can it be called by any other name than what it is?’ ‘No,’ he replied. ‘So also I cannot call myself by any other name than what I am—a Christian.’”
So writes Perpetua: young, beautiful, well-educated, a noblewoman of Carthage in North Africa, mother of an infant son and chronicler of the persecution of the Christians by Emperor Septimius Severus.
Perpetua’s mother was a Christian and her father a pagan. He continually pleaded with her to deny her faith. She refused and was imprisoned at 22.
In her diary, Perpetua describes her period of captivity: “What a day of horror! Terrible heat, owing to the crowds! Rough treatment by the soldiers! To crown all, I was tormented with anxiety for my baby…. Such anxieties I suffered for many days, but I obtained leave for my baby to remain in the prison with me, and being relieved of my trouble and anxiety for him, I at once recovered my health, and my prison became a palace to me and I would rather have been there than anywhere else.”
Despite threats of persecution and death, Perpetua, Felicity–a slavewoman and expectant mother–and three companions, Revocatus, Secundulus, and Saturninus, refused to renounce their Christian faith. For their unwillingness, all were sent to the public games in the amphitheater. There Perpetua and Felicity were beheaded, and the others killed by beasts.
Felicity gave birth to a girl a few days before the games commenced.
Perpetua’s record of her trial and imprisonment ends the day before the games. “Of what was done in the games themselves, let him write who will.” The diary was finished by an eyewitness.


Persecution for religious beliefs is not confined to Christians in ancient times. Consider Anne Frank, the Jewish girl who with her family, was forced into hiding and later died in Bergen-Belsen, one of Hitler’s death camps during World War II. Anne, like Perpetua and Felicity, endured hardship and suffering and finally death because she committed herself to God. In her diary, Anne writes, “It’s twice as hard for us young ones to hold our ground, and maintain our opinions, in a time when all ideals are being shattered and destroyed, when people are showing their worst side, and do not know whether to believe in truth and right and God.”
* * * * *
As we approach the halfway mark of Lent tomorrow (Day 20), it helps me to focus on those who gave their lives rather than renounce their faith in Christ. Their stories put the troubles of my life into perspective. And isn't perspective something that we all need so desperately? I know that I do!! 
"The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church." ~Tertullian (c.155 -- c.240 AD)
"More Christians have died for their faith in this current [20th] century than all other centuries of church history combined." ~Dan Wooding, "Modern Persecution,"
Wishing you a blessed Lenten journey,

Monday, March 5, 2018

Review of a Favorite Lenten Devotional

Devotional Classics: Selected Readings for Individuals and Groups Devotional Classics: Selected Readings for Individuals and Groups by Richard J. Foster
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book has been perhaps the most influential book, aside from the Scriptures, that I have ever read. The selections opened my eyes to so many of the great thinkers and mystic believers of the Christian faith--most of whom I had never heard of before.

I read this book as my Lenten devotion first in 2003 when I was first exploring the idea of the catholic (small "c" catholic, as in universal) church, and again for Lent 2007.

In this large paperback, now completely dog-eared and with copious underlinings throughout the text (in two different colors from my two different readings) and even occasional notes in the margins, I met John of the Cross, Bernard of Clairvaux, Brother Lawrence, Saint Benedict, John Chrysostom, Thomas a' Kempis, Julian of Norwich, Thomas Merton, Teresa of Avila, Watchman Nee, and so many others. And I also became reacquainted with C.S. Lewis, John Bunyan, Saint Augustine, Kierkegaard, Martin Luther, John Wesley, and many more people of faith whose works I had read at Point Loma Nazarene University or since in my evangelical faith.

Each short reading (generally two to five pages) is followed by reflection questions and suggested exercises, taking these works of the Christian faith beyond the theological into the practical.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough for every Christian, whether Catholic, Eastern Orthodox (even though it rests almost exclusively in Western Christianity), or Protestant, and especially to evangelicals who may not be aware of the depth and breadth of Christian thought through the two millennia of the Church.

A brilliant book. If I could give it ten stars, I would. Truly.

View all my reviews

With Lenten blessings,

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Winter Arrives--and My Review of What Angels Fear

Winter in Pine Valley

As winter finally arrives in Pine Valley with snow flurries and what we call "snail"--hail-like balls of ice that float to the ground like snow--reading in front of the fire with a cup of tea is the epitome of bliss. It's been a mild, mild winter so far, with highs usually in the 60s and even the 70s through most of December and January. Then finally in mid-February, winter decided to pay us a visit with lows in the mid-teens and highs in the 30s.

The woodburning stove is burning nearly 'round the clock, and the new wood splitter that Keith bought with our Christmas money from my parents is getting quite the workout. The huge pile of wood that Keith accumulated over the summer and fall months is slowly being split, the older stuff first, of course. Then we wheelbarrow each load to the front porch and from there we bring armloads into the house. 

So here's my newest read--the beginnings of a wonderful series set in the Regency period in England. I love the characters already and am looking forward to their next adventure. 

What Angels FearWhat Angels Fear by C.S. Harris
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Set in 1811 London, What Angels Fear is a very interesting mystery (the first in a series) in which Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, is accused of the horrendously violent rape and murder of a beautiful eighteen-year-old stage actress--in a church, no less. As he seeks to clear his name, Devlin is forced to work with Kat Boleyn, also an actress and the woman to whom he proposed marriage six years earlier, who left him so that she would not ruin his life. Meanwhile, more and more "evidence" seems to pile up against the Viscount, and his intelligence work in the Napoleonic Wars serves him in good stead as he seeks the true murderer. All these events occur in the days prior to the Regency of the Prince as his father, George III, sinks further into madness.

Surrounded by political intrigue, familial ties that bind too tightly, his continued love for Kat as they work together to solve the murder of her friend and fellow actress Rachel, plus the fear that the killer will strike again, Viscount Devlin, along with the sneaky and bright urchin, Tom, peels back the layers of this crime only to find himself and Rachel in mortal danger as the end of the book approaches.

Well-written with deep character development and compelling suspense, I will continue reading this brilliant St. Cyr mystery series.

View all my reviews

Reading with you,

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Review: The Blue Castle

The Blue Castle The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I didn't read anything by L.M. Montgomery until I was in my mid-twenties and finally read the Anne of Green Gables series. And I was hooked. In my opinion, Montgomery writes the most beautiful prose in the English language. I've re-read the Anne series more times than I can count; my boxed set of paperbacks are nearly coming apart at the binding and the pages are well-yellowed with age and use.

I ran across this title when reading the Here in the Bonny Glen blog by Melissa Wiley, and she mentioned re-reading this book yet again. I quickly ordered it from the library and absolutely adored it!

Valancy Stirling is a character with whom I identified immediately. Her repressed childhood was nothing like mine, and I married young (at 19!). But I understand her love of nature and her longing for life to go beyond the boxed-in existence she was forced into through fear of what her family and the ubiquitous "they" might think. I cried with Valancy as she lived a life she hated and felt so fortunate myself in living in a place surrounded by natural beauty.

And I admired her reaction to the distressing medical news--her decision to go and truly LIVE her life the way she wanted. Ignoring the town gossip and her family's pleas for her to return home to her loveless mother and horrid aunt because she was making them "look bad." Leaving her home to "work"--no Stirling woman would ever stoop to work, for genteel poverty was far more respectable--shocked her family and the entire town. But only then does Valancy learn what it is to truly live.

This book is beautifully written and is ever so poignant; I found myself in tears more than once. Montgomery's beautiful prose combined with a heroine who suffers quietly for 29 years of her life and then finally breaks free of society's constraints to live at last!! I was in love!!

This is a book that I, like Melissa, will return to again and again.

View all my reviews

Reading with you,

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Ash Wednesday and Lent

Ash Wednesday marks the 40th day (not counting Sundays which are always a celebration of the Resurrection of Christ) before Easter. 

Most evangelicals do not celebrate Lent, and in coming from a more liturgical background, mostly Presbyterian and Methodist, I have marked Lent in one way or another since my college days at Point Loma Nazarene University. 

But about twenty years ago, I became quite passionate about celebrating the Church Year, including Advent and Lent. Partly from the wonderful book Celebrating the Christian Year by Martha Zimmerman (a pastor's wife) and partly from my interest in the Book of Common Prayer, I began celebrating Lent in great earnest. 

I was thrilled when our former church, Lake Murray Community Church, began to celebrate Advent, yet the pastors and elders would not mark Lent in any way. We celebrated Holy Week, but not Ash Wednesday or Lent as a whole. 

A few years ago, my Bible study leader at our evangelical church asked me to share about Ash Wednesday and Lent in our inductive Bible study. The pastor allowed it, but would not grant permission for another Bible study to join us. Here is a summary of my talk on Ash Wednesday and Lent which may be found in the links under the Meditative Meanderings header: On Lent

About six years ago, I spent Ash Wednesday at the beautiful Mission San Luis Rey in Oceanside, the largest of the California Missions, with my dear friend Carmen. Our day retreat concluded with the Imposition of Ashes, marking us as Christ's Own as crosses were drawn on our foreheads with ashes, a Biblical symbol of repentance. 

This Ash Wednesday I plan to attend morning services at Larkspur House with Blessed Trinity Anglican Church. 

I find Ash Wednesday among the most moving of all the services of the year. As I humble myself, marked by repentance as belonging to Christ, I feel more His than ever, and I invariably weep at the poignant sweetness of being branded (albeit temporarily) as His. 

God has impressed upon me which habits to surrender to Him this Lent. It is going to be extremely difficult in fasting from these things, but that is the nature of Lent: to remove what may be impeding our relationship with Christ and allow better habits to take their place--habits which glorify Him. It's a time of spiritual housecleaning, and it takes much prayer, effort, and discipline to exchange one habit for another. 

"A nail is driven out by another nail; habit is overcome by habit."

A few other quotations I unearthed today and added to my second Quotation Journal: 

"The observance of Lent is the very badge of Christian warfare.... By it we gain strength against the prince of darkness, for it shields us with heavenly help."
--Pope Benedict XVI, from Non Ambigimus

I respect this idea of Lent being a tool of spiritual warfare, allowing us, through the power of Christ, to vanquish our enemy. 

"Renounce yourselves in order to follow Christ; discipline your body; do not pamper yourself, but love fasting."
--Saint Benedict, from Chapter Four of The Rule

This giving up of self is at the heart of Lent, allowing us the opportunity to change our hearts' perspectives, letting go of that which binds us to the world and grasping that which pulls us closer to the heart of Christ our Lord. 

Here is the Collect for Ash Wednesday from The Book of Common Prayer 2011. This Collect is prayed daily during the Lenten season until Maundy Thursday:

ALMIGHTY and eternal God, you hate nothing that you have made, and you forgive the sins of all who turn to you; Create and make in us new and contrite hearts; As we are truly sorry for our sins and admit our guilt, may we obtain from you, the God of all mercy, complete release and forgiveness; Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and rules with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. (Wisdom 11.23-26; Psalm 51.10)

So as I pray for myself in offering up some very pleasant diversions in order to focus more on Jesus, I pray for us all who celebrate the Christian Year to have a Holy Lent, one set apart for the glory of our Lord. 

Walking the pilgrim pathway with you,

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Shrove Tuesday 2018

As New Orleans and other cities across the nation and around the world celebrate Mardi Gras tonight, our family will settle for pancakes, our traditional dinner on Shrove Tuesday.

But what is Shrove Tuesday? 

Father Gregory of Blessed Trinity Anglican Church sent out the answer to this question via e-mail this week
to the Blessed Trinity family:

Although far less widely known than Fat Tuesday/Mardi Gras, the Tuesday immediately before Ash Wednesday is also known as Shrove Tuesday. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, which is sometimes referred to as "Shrovetide" in England. Observance of Shrove Tuesday can be traced back to at least AD 1000 and was originally observed as a day of confession and penitence in preparation for Ash Wednesday and Lent. Today, Shrove Tuesday is primarily observed among Catholics, Episcopalians, Lutherans, and Methodists. The word shrove is past tense of shrive, a verb meaning “to go to confession and get absolved of sin.”

In the past few centuries, though, Shrove Tuesday has turned into more of a day of feasting in preparation for the fasting that is to occur during Lent. The feasting aspect of Shrove Tuesday originated due to the need to get rid of the foods/ingredients that are restricted during the Lenten fasting, such as sugar, leavened flour, eggs, etc. The need to use up these ingredients has resulted in Shrove Tuesday also becoming known as Pancake Tuesday, or, more simply, Pancake Day.

Although I've attended evangelical churches for the past twenty years, I've practiced Lent in one form or another since college. Even though they had both been raised Nazarene, my former roommates had taught me a bit about Lent in college, and for my first Lent I gave up my prime addiction: soda. Diet Coke was my coffee; I was drinking my first can at seven in the morning and downed them throughout the day to keep myself alert during classes and the long drive home as a commuter student. The wonderful thing was that after Lent, soda upset my stomach, so I've pretty much been on a soda fast since college--drinking water and tea is far healthier!

Lent is a time for spiritual housecleaning for me. I pray over what has a hold on my life in a possibly unhealthy way, and I ask God to loosen this thing's hold on me so that I can live a more balanced life, one devoted to loving and serving Him. In past years I've fasted from television, desserts, gluten, Facebook, fan fiction stories, reading novels, and other often non-traditional items. I don't reveal what I am fasting from during each Lent, but the idea is to not only practice self-denial and to free up time for spending with God that would be spent on less God-centered pursuits, but to offer up something I really enjoy to God as a sacrifice, allowing me to focus on Him and on how He desires to mold me into the image of His Son.

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

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

Renovaré, one of my favorite resources for practicing the disciplines of the historical church in a way that both glorifies God and grows my faith, has created a resource to guide us as we press into the season of Lent. The devotional booklet, Less Is More, prompts an intentional reflection on the aspects of our lives that stand in the way of walking in God’s spirit and encourages us to move forward in love. Each week, a classic spiritual discipline provides the entry point for self-examination, God reflection, and godly action: 
Confession: Less Guilt/More Grace
Solitude: Less Noise/More Listening
Fasting: Less Consumption/More Compassion 
Simplicity: Less Stuff/More Freedom 
Frugality: Less Spending/More Peace 
Intercession: Less Me/More Others 
Reflective Reading of Holy Week Story: Less Fear/More Love 
Renovaré hopes that the daily immersion in the life of God through these disciplines becomes a life-giving habit that extends well beyond this season of Lent.

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

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

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Yay!! Caught up with Book Reviews!

Here we are! I am now completely caught up with all of my book reviews and will now post single reviews as I read and review each book on Goodreads.

Only a few of these are from 2017; the rest were read in January of this year. This collection is quite eclectic: an Advent devotional, an Anne Perry Christmas novel, a Dan Brown thriller, and the rest are Austenesque: three are variations of Pride and Prejudice, and the last is Austen's Persuasion from Captain Wentworth's point of view.

So here we go with the last collection of book reviews for a while!

A Quest for Mr DarcyA Quest for Mr Darcy by Cassandra Grafton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read this novel as it unfolded, chapter by chapter, on Cassandra Grafton's blog--and I adored every moment of it!!! Wednesday mornings became the highlight of my week as a new chapter awaited my attention in my inbox.

The premise of this story is quite different: Mrs. Bennet and Lydia are dead; Kitty and Mary are married, and Mr. Bennet along with his two elder daughters, move away from the gossip of Lydia's failed elopement with Wickham (Elizabeth never visits Pemberley in this variation) to far-away Derbyshire, renting a modest home on Pemberley's grounds while Mr. Darcy and Georgiana travel Europe on an extended tour.

After trying for a year to forget Elizabeth, whom he last saw at Rosings, Darcy returns to find out that she is now his neighbor. Darcy also returns to Pemberley not only with Georgiana but also with Bingley's two young sisters, the twins Olivia and Viola who are quite the handful...and the complete opposite of their elder sister Caroline whom they have been driving insane with their open manners and fun-loving spirits.

And following soon on their heels arrives the family of a young lady Darcy has been considering marrying; that Darcy heir is much needed, and if Darcy can't have Elizabeth, then he doesn't much care whom he marries. But the young lady pales in comparison to Elizabeth who starts developing feelings for Darcy once she sees his tender care for his staff and tenants and his overall generosity of spirit and depth of character.

But a mystery (or three) haunts the Bennets and Pemberley: Mr. Bennet's mysterious trips to a nearby town, a seeming "ghost" seen by the twins (who chase after it), and threatening notes implying blackmail. Can Darcy protect Elizabeth and Jane while pursuing Elizabeth under the nose of the young woman to whom he was supposed to propose?

This story is quite deliciously long, extremely well-developed, and is a thoroughly enjoyable and believable variation on Austen's beloved Pride and Prejudice. Brava, Cassandra!!

A Christmas Return A Christmas Return by Anne Perry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A lovely new Christmas book by Anne Perry, A Christmas Return takes Charlotte Ellison Pitt's spunky and difficult octogenarian grandmother, Mariah Ellison, on a Christmastime trip to the country to assist an old friend, Rowena, with an unsolved rape and murder case of a 14-year old village girl which also resulted in the death of Rowena's husband...while Rowena has been suspected of her husband's suspicious death for the past twenty years. But the villages's well-respected doctor was tried for the girl's rape and murder and was acquitted. Nevertheless, he returns on the twentieth anniversary of the crime to "prove" his supposed innocence "once and for all."

Mariah teams up with Rowena's thirty-year-old grandson to unearth unassailable proof of the doctor's guilt...not only of the rape and murder of the girl, but of the murder of Rowena's husband, the doctor's lawyer who had refused to defend him at the last moment...and was found crushed by a bookcase in his library the next day.

This return is difficult for Mariah and requires much courage from Rowena and her grandson in clearing Rowena's name while proving the guilt of the doctor. This short Christmas novel is filled with suspense and wonderful character sketches--a delightfully wintry mystery, indeed!

The Dawning of Indestructible Joy: Daily Readings for Advent The Dawning of Indestructible Joy: Daily Readings for Advent by John Piper
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Given my Anglo-Catholic leanings, I wasn't so sure about an Advent devotional written by an evangelical Baptist (and I definitely wasn't sure about praying through *two* Advent devotionals!), but this lovely little book by John Piper went along very well with my Advent with the Saints devotional.

I was given *two* copies of this devotional by Father Gregory (the Great) of Blessed Trinity, and I handed the other to Pastor Noble Weeks, the pastor of our non-denominational Village Missions church, and the only church in our small mountain village. He and his family enjoyed the devotional very much. When I spoke to his wife, she mentioned that they usually celebrated Advent as a family--very cool!! :)

The readings are short and simple, reminding us of the power of God in the Incarnation of Christ. The focus is on JOY (which I really, really needed this Advent!!), and I may read/pray through it again next Advent.

Inferno Inferno by Dan Brown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This fourth adventure of Robert Langdon (I haven't read the third yet) was edge-of-your-seat from the very first scene. The plot revolves around Dante's Inferno, a book I haven't read since 1989, but I very much enjoyed the setting of Florence and later Venice and then at last, Istanbul. And all of the art and art history!! I wish that there was a full-color illustrated edition of this book so that each time a work of art was mentioned (which happened extremely frequently), we could see exactly the work of art Brown described to us. The research that Dam Brown invested in this novel is staggering; not only does the book deal with Dante's poem in extreme detail, but all of the art associated with The Inferno and the history of each artifact/museum/cathedral that held significance in this work is mind-blowing!

Some reviewers have stated that all of the exhaustive detail about Dante's life and work and about the art, architecture, and holy places slowed down the adventure of the novel, but I found that slowing down to drink in the details paced the novel extremely well. I was interested in every detail Brown gave, every description we saw through Langdon's eyes, and the people--the characters--were so rich and believable and imaginative. I spend many an extra "spin" in my jacuzzi because I was reluctant to put down this book until I reached the end of a chapter...and then the end of the next chapter, and so on. A compelling read about a serious problem that we face in the modern world, and a brilliant lunatic's plan to save humanity that must be stopped before thousands, even millions die--not a bad way to spend the last part of my evening for the past three (nearly four) weeks!

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

A short novella by Regina Jeffers, one of the most talented and (thankfully) prolific authors of Jane Austen Fan Fiction (JAFF), presents a story of Mr. Darcy's rescuing Elizabeth, but in such as way that he compromises her, and they must marry. Elizabeth comes to harm while reading Darcy's letter as she walks between the parsonage and Rosings Park, and in the emergency, Darcy's letter flutters away, only to be picked up by none other than Wickham. But Elizabeth is not happy with being forced to marry although Mr. Darcy obviously is not upset at the results of his compromising rescue. But as Elizabeth slowly becomes accustomed to the idea of marrying Fitzwilliam Darcy, the man she swore (to his face) she would never marry, trouble appears in the form of Wickham who wishes to steal away the only woman Darcy has ever loved....

Regina Jeffers seems to write her many variations of Austen's novels with ease; the different variations seem to tumble from her pen (or keyboard) with compelling characters and twisty-turny plots that keep us on the edge of our seats until, at last, all is well between Darcy and Elizabeth once again. I have become quite the fan of Regina Jeffers' many Austenesque novels and novellas, and this particular "vagary" is one of her best. I would give it a "5," but I tend to save that perfect score for classics...such as the original Pride and Prejudice. But if I could, I would give this one the score of 4.5. :)

In the Wilds of Derbyshire In the Wilds of Derbyshire by Jann Rowland
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this very different variation of Pride and Prejudice in which Elizabeth is persuaded to go to Derbyshire to mentor her young cousin Olivia. Elizabeth wants to get away from Longbourn, for Jane has returned from her wedding trip with Bingley a very changed woman, one who barely speaks to her family and no longer confides anything to Elizabeth. Bingley is just as flummoxed by Jane's changed demeanor as Elizabeth is. So Elizabeth sinks into depression which is relieved by meeting her uncle and cousins--but her aunt, Mr. Bennet's sister, remains removed and sometimes rude. Elizabeth's uncle--a gentleman farmer but in reduced financial circumstances due to the wasting of his demesne by his grandfather and father--is also neighbor to Mr. Darcy who stayed with Georgiana rather than visiting with Bingley in Hertfordshire. Elizabeth and Olivia's deep and abiding friendship with Georgiana puts her in Darcy's view, and he quickly starts to esteem her. And then more secrets, cunning plans, and diabolical schemes are unearthed as the story progresses.

If I could give this story a 4 1/2, I would; it's beautifully written, masterfully plotted, and the characters are realistic and utterly entrancing and compelling. This Darcy, while still serious, has a healthy sense of humor and sense of the absurd. Elizabeth is entrancing as always, providing a bright and loving example to both Olivia and Georgiana, encouraging them to become strong young women of grace and compassion. The story is set almost completely In the Wilds of Derbyshire and is a wonderful read.

Captain Frederick Wentworth's Persuasion: Jane Austen's Classic Retold Through His Eyes Captain Frederick Wentworth's Persuasion: Jane Austen's Classic Retold Through His Eyes by Regina Jeffers
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

To read Persuasion from Captain Wentworth's POV would be amazing, but then to take the story of Frederick and Anne into the future is even more marvelous!! Frederick reviews his whole relationship with Anne via flashbacks, and then we move forward with the couple as Napoleon once again threatens England with war. Once Napoleon is taken care of for good, the Wentworths continue in their happily-married life which is not without occasional adventure!

This book was delightful from the very first scene which places us in a battle on the high seas as Frederick and his crew pursue a French ship; Anne remains hidden during the battle to keep her safe. And from there the flashbacks begin. We see their first meeting, their almost instantaneous love for one another, their relationship as it moves toward his proposal, the meeting with Sir Walter (which obviously does not go well), and Frederick's anger at Anne when she lets him go, "for his own good."

He thinks he truly hates Anne when he returns to Somerset eight years later, and he does what he can to show her his dislike. He is petty at times--and knows it--but he wants Anne to see what she gave up. His flirtations with Louisa Musgrove are all about showing Anne that he wants a different type of woman, one who knows her own mind. Yet he also pities Anne in her subservient position at Uppercross Cottage with her sister Mary's selfish ways. And he admires Anne as she cares so compassionately for her nephews.

Through the events of Lyme, Frederick finally realizes that Anne is the only woman for him, but he seems to be committed to Louisa after her injury. But after all is sorted, Frederick follows Anne to Bath, only to find her being courted by her cousin, Mr. Elliot, her father's heir. What will Frederick do to gain Anne's mind and heart which he does not realize have always been his for the asking.

And then we get to see their married bliss and adventures that occur after the wedding--so much!!! But I don't want to spoil any surprises.

Regina Jeffers has written yet another amazing variation/continuation of Austen's works, this time with Persuasion, Austen's final book which was published posthumously. Ms. Jeffers tells a compelling and incredible story of love lost and regained, stronger than ever, and we fall in love once again with Anne and her captain.

I don't often give scores of "5" to works that aren't classics, but this version of Persuasion nearly improves upon the original. To out-Austen Miss Austen herself is a difficult accomplishment, but Regina Jeffers has done it. Brava!

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Happy reading!

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Guess What? More Book Reviews!

Yep, it's time for another round of book reviews as I try to catch up with my book reviews to the point that I can post book reviews of one or two titles each week. So here are my latest round of reviews from 2017 as I slowly make up for lost time. In fact, I may need just one more post like this to be totally caught up!

This week's post includes two Jane Austen variations, one Jane Austen mystery, two medieval mysteries, and one former bestseller. So here we go!

The Angel of Longbourn The Angel of Longbourn by Jann Rowland
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a sweet variation of Austen's Pride and Prejudice in which Darcy becomes ill with typhoid fever while riding horseback in the rain from London to Netherfield and falls from his horse. He is discovered by the intrepid Miss Elizabeth Bennet who was out walking in the rain and arranges for the handsome stranger's removal to Longbourn. Elizabeth begins to admire the gentleman whom she nurses until he regains consciousness as she is the only of the Bennet girls to have previously contracted typhoid fever.

Once Darcy awakes, he and Elizabeth find that they have much in common, and Darcy will have to regain his strength at Longbourn and not be removed to Netherfield, despite Miss Bingley's, and later, Lady Catherine's, objections. What will happen as Darcy's and Elizabeth's attachment continues to grow as he convalesces?

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. It's nice to *not* have Darcy and Elizabeth at loggerheads; their relationship grows quite naturally, much like Bingley's with Jane. I rarely give 5 stars to non-classic novels, but I found this variation to be soothing and just what I needed at this time. A lovely story!!

Angels & Demons Angels and Demons by Dan Brown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read The Da Vinci Code years ago before the movie came out, and while the adventure and suspense were compelling, the church history mistakes (or misinterpretations) rather ruined the book for me. My secular library book discussion group didn't care for my church history views, either.

But since this book deals with the fictional election of a new Pope and the return of the fabled Illuminati, the science-is-religion group that boasted the membership of Galileo, Bernini, and so many other Renaissance scientists and artists, I was able to "take the ride" of this book and enjoy the sense of suspense and the compelling characters thoroughly.

In fact, this book was sooooo intriguing that I found myself sitting in the spa long past my normal twenty minutes (and once for over an hour!) because I just couldn't put it down. A wonderful novel of adventure, history, religion, and suspense. Definitely recommend!

A Trail of Ink A Trail of Ink by Melvin R. Starr
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the third "Chronicle of Hugh de Singleton, Surgeon" by Mel Starr and is entitled A Trail of Ink; however, it is the fourth mystery in this series that I've read. I purchased the second and fourth chronicles from our library book sale and have obtained the first and now the third book in the series from our state-wide library "LINK+" program; this copy came from Contra Costa in Northern California (east of San Francisco) while I live but twenty miles north of the border with Mexico.

But back to this medieval mystery...

As I had already read the fourth chronicle, I knew the outcome of several plot lines already, but it was nice to see them unfold in detail rather than gather the major points in a quick summary as the fourth tale began. Unlike the other three chronicles I've read of this series, this tale took place mostly in Oxford as Hugh seeks twenty books (precious possessions in those days!) belonging to Master Wyclif of Canterbury Hall. As Hugh has often consulted Master Wyclif on matters both mysterious and personal, it was enjoyable to have a plot focused solely on this Oxford professor whose revolutionary theology sparked the pre-Reformation in England. I have often come across Wycliffe in my studies of church history, so his theology was not new to me.

But one of the aspects of this series that I most enjoy is the rhythm of life structured around the Holy Days of the Church and the way in which medieval life was drenched in Christian thought and practice. I enjoy also the gentle unfolding of these mysteries which may take weeks or even months to solve...which is much more realistic than the few days or perhaps a week devoted to many modern mystery novels. Mr. Starr has captured not only the slower cadence of life in medieval times but also the focus of medieval thought and life centered on worship and the Church Year. As a confirmed Anglican, I am pleased to know the dates of Michaelmas and Candlemas along with many of the other Saints' Days and other Holy Days.

This story opens dramatically with the missing books which are the basis of Master Wyclif's livelihood as well as his continued studies as a theologian and philosopher. These chronicles have such a realistic tone about them as Hugh can be taken down wrong paths as he tries to solve the various crimes that come his way. He has an aptitude for solving mysteries, but he is not exceptionally intelligent as many sleuths are; he often must be pointed into a more promising line of inquiry by Master Wyclif or Lord Talbot or later, Kate Caxton. Yet Hugh de Singleton is a gifted surgeon, and here he shines. It is his intellectual curiosity and his need to do right by God and his fellow beings that drives him in solving mysteries. Sometimes he regrets certain steps he has taken, but he always rectifies his mistakes along the way. He is a humble man, a true man, and an ordinary man thrust into extraordinary circumstances due to his life's work as a surgeon and also as Lord Gilbert Talbot's bailiff in the village of Bampton (within a four hours' ride of Oxford).

I hope to search out more books in this series, and it seems that our LINK+ system carries the first nine of the ten books currently available. I'll order the fifth and work my way through the rest as I continue to follow the "Chronicles of Hugh de Singleton, Surgeon."

Dreams and Expectations Dreams and Expectations by Wendi Sotis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I own two of Wendy Sotis' variations and continuations of Austen's Pride and Prejudice, and I have loved them both, especially All Hallow's Eve. So when I came across a few more of her books in the Kindle Store, I couldn't resist.

What I loved about Dreams and Expectations is that Darcy and Elizabeth fall in love practically at first sight. While each is the other's "dream come true," Darcy has much higher expectations for his marriage and cannot conceive of marrying the daughter of a seemingly minor country gentleman. But Elizabeth has a few surprises up her sleeve...and a few connections that Darcy does not know fact, Mr. Bennet, Jane, and Elizabeth have kept the secret from the rest of the Bennet family so that Mrs. B will not broadcast her elder daughters' noble connections all over Hertfordshire.

Yet Elizabeth has already turned down one noble suitor, experiencing the backlash of the ton's wretched gossip, and she has sworn never to marry as a result. Once Darcy realizes that his beloved Elizabeth indeed is nobly connected, he must convince her to trust him...and to trust that she will not suffer at the hands of the British nobility again.

I rarely give variations of Austen's novels the score of "5" because I save that level for true classics....such as Pride and Prejudice itself. But this variation was compelling from the very first page, and just as Darcy fell in love with Elizabeth at first sight and she was also attracted to him when she first set eyes on him, so I, too, fell in love with this story immediately and could barely put it down. I had to stop myself from reading it at night so that I wouldn't stay up until dawn finishing the whole thing at once. It's a charming, charming variation of Darcy's and Elizabeth's love for one another as they try to balance their dreams of one another with society's expectations of them and their expectations of each other.

Brava, Ms. Sotis!!!

Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor by Stephanie Barron
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This mystery started a bit slowly, but I quickly found it to be quite compelling. Jane Austen is invited to spend the holidays with a dear friend who was lately married when a tragic death occurs. It was soon discovered to be murder, and Jane's friend the Countess is accused of killing her much-older husband of only three months. The Countess charges Jane to discover the identity of the real murderer, and Jane discovers clue after clue which seemingly leads to greater confusion than greater clarity. But in the end, Jane helps to unmask the real killer, solving not only the Earl's murder but also the murder of a young maid as well.

I enjoyed this fictitious portrayal of Jane Austen, a woman mired in genteel poverty who just refused the hand of a Mr. Collins-like suitor and escapes Bath and her family only to find herself at the center of a murder investigation. Her keen observations, her quick wit, and her dogged determination make this mystery intriguing and compelling. A wonderful read!

The Tainted Coin The Tainted Coin by Melvin R. Starr
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This fifth chronicle of medieval surgeon Hugh de Singleton, also bailiff to Lord Gilbert Talbott, has Hugh solving the mystery of the death of a man, badly beaten, who was found at Saint Andrew's Chapel. Hugh tracks the clues to a nearby village where he discovers quite a treasure trove of Roman coins and jewels, plus the man's betrothed, a young, pretty widow with two sons. Hugh must find out who is after the deceased's treasure, protect the betrothed as the miscreants who attacked the dead man believe that she knows the location of the treasure, and shield his own wife and daughter from the miscreants, one of whom is well-known to Hugh and Kate, his wife.

I am enjoying this series more than I can say. The mysteries are interesting, and Hugh is a humble man who makes his fair share of mistakes--after all, he is a surgeon, not a detective. But his role as bailiff places the solving of crimes on Lord Gilbert's lands among his responsibilities. The details of medieval life are fascinating: the glossary at the beginning of each book explains much about the various church bells that tell time for the surrounding communities, the foods eaten (and Hugh enjoys his meals!), etc. We readers are immersed in medieval life in such a natural way that the 1360s in Oxfordshire feel almost familiar.

I am thrilled that there are at least twelve books in this series, and they're all available through our statewide library system. Yay!! I'm ordering volume 6 right away....

Reading with you,

Saturday, January 20, 2018

A Second Bunch of Book Reviews for 2018

Yes--more book reviews!!! I am still catching up on books I read in 2017, and I hope that by posting weekly for a bit, I can finish posting all books from last year and start on books I've read in 2018...which have only been two since Dan Brown's Inferno was a monster, indeed, at 461 pages! 

Five of the eight books here are variations of Pride and Prejudice, one is a variation of Austen's Persuasion, one is the first in a new (to me!) medieval mystery series, and one is a tried-and-true favorite that I have to re-read to remind myself of the joys of being a bookseller for the first ten years of my working life.

Particular Intentions Particular Intentions by L.L. Diamond
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

With Miss Bingley firmly forbidden to come to her brother's new home at Netherfield, she arrives with the Hursts. Now with her own establishment because of her attempts to compromise Darcy, she plans to try once again to force him into marrying her. Thwarted when Elizabeth comes to tend Jane at Netherfield, Miss Bingley locks Darcy and Elizabeth into the library, thinking it hilarious if Darcy is forced to marry a woman who obviously despises him. Elizabeth slips out the library window, shimmies down the tree to the ground, and thus manages to save both herself and Mr. Darcy from a compromising position. Darcy's reaction to Elizabeth's disdain and neat escape and Elizabeth's responses to him will be left to readers of this delightful re-imagination of Pride and Prejudice.

Compromised!: A Pride & Prejudice Variation Compromised!: A Pride and Prejudice Variation by J. Dawn King
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I enjoyed the first two-thirds of this book which, as the title indicates, explores Elizabeth's and Darcy's growing regard for each other following their being discovered in a compromising position at Netherfield. I really loved seeing Darcy and Elizabeth slowly find common ground and start building first a friendship, and then a romantic attachment. But the last third of the novel seemed to be nothing but compromise after compromise among other characters; it became almost ridiculous and nearly annoying. So I didn't care for this variation of Pride and Prejudice as much as I had hoped to.

Captain Wentworth Home from the Sea Captain Wentworth Home from the Sea by Mary Lydon Simonsen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A wonderful variation of Austen's Persuasion, Captain Wentworth returns to Kellynch to stay with his sister and her husband, the admiral, as they rent the estate from Sir William Eliot. Anne, however, remains at the home for a while after her family's removal to Bath as the Kellynch housekeeper is spending time with her family. However, suffering from a head injury that has affected his memory to the point that he was forced to resign from the Navy, Captain Wentworth does not remember his engagement to Anne eight years previously. Despite his new brusqueness as a result of his impairment, the captain and Anne become friends and then more. But should Anne tell Captain Wentworth of their previous engagement and why she broke it off? Or is this a secret she should keep as his regard for her grows?

I rarely give five-star ratings to fan fics (***** is reserved for truly excellent classics--how can one give a modern novel the same rating as Hamlet?), but the occasional variation of Austen's works deserves a higher rating than my usual "4," and this is one of them. A delight from beginning to end, I adored every moment of this novel and can see myself returning to re-read it again and again. A truly excellent variation of an Austen classic.

84, Charing Cross Road 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I just read this book for the third time, and as a former bookseller who used to answer correspondence from across the country and across the Atlantic for Harcourt Brace's San Diego bookstore (which closed in 1992), I feel so at home in this book, despite the fact that it was written in the 1940s-1960s. Helene's sense of humor, her bookish sense of wonder, and her referring to classic authors as if they were her good friends (and aren't they, after all?), plus her need to carry on conversations with authors in the margins of their books (I do try to use pencil...) all resonated with me. The whole book is mine, mine, mine. And I'm happy to share it with all of you. Such a tremendously warm yet powerful book--one of my very favorites. My inexpensive yellowed-paged paperback copy is a treasure indeed.

Only Mr. Darcy Will Do Only Mr. Darcy Will Do by Kara Louise
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As much as I love Jane Austen Fan Fiction (JAFF), I **adored** this novel!! It was one of the best books of this genre I've read...and I devoured it in fewer than 48 hours. (Being on Easter break helps, LOL!) Absolutely splendid book--and for those of you in California, it's available through the public library LINK+ system, as are the majority of books by the amazing ladies at the Austen Variations site.

I broke down and bought my own Kindle copy and enjoyed this book just as much the second time through!! Again, I devoured it within 48 hours (between assignments to grade for my research class!) and loved it all over again! Elizabeth as a governess after her father's death meets Mr. Darcy in the home of her employers; their niece befriends Elizabeth and has apparently loved Mr. Darcy for many years as she grew up on an estate near Pemberley. Convinced that only Mr. Darcy will do, the niece makes Elizabeth her confidant as the family, including Elizabeth and her beloved six-year-old charge, are invited to Pemberley. Elizabeth thinks that the invitation shows the Mr. Darcy returns her friend's feelings, but is that the real reason the cautious Mr. Darcy invited them all to his home?

Rumours & Recklessness: A Pride and Prejudice Variation Rumours and Recklessness: A Pride and Prejudice Variation by Nicole Clarkston
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A wonderful variation of Austen's Pride and Prejudice, Rumours and Recklessness starts with a tragic accident at Longbourn that changes the situation of all of the Bennet family on the morning after the Netherfield Ball. This alteration causes the party at Netherfield to not leave, as occurred in Austen's novel, and Elizabeth, practically forced into a marriage she does not want, rebels at the highhandedness of the men who visit her at Longbourn during this difficult time. Will Fitzwilliam Darcy be able to win her heart and hand after all that's happened?

I thoroughly enjoyed this variation of Pride and Prejudice. In fact, I don't usually give 5's to books that are not classics in their own right, but this book was practically un-put-downable. I had to force myself to hide my Kindle out of sight so that I could devote time that I would rather be reading to actually teaching my online classes.

And as I read the author biography at the end, I was thrilled to discover that she is also a homeschooling mom and is also an ardent admirer of Elizabeth Gaskell as well as Jane Austen...just as I am!

So Rumours and Recklessness provides a wonderful excursion back to the Regency era, allowing us readers to revisit our favorite (and not-so-favorite) characters from Austen's most popular novel and enjoy the humor and romance that makes us adore Austen's books and characters so greatly. Read and enjoy!!

And now re-reading this book just a year later, I loved it just as much, if not more. A brilliant book!!

Denial of Conscience: A Modern Darcy & Elizabeth Adventure Denial of Conscience: A Modern Darcy & Elizabeth Adventure by Cat Gardiner
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I had hoped to enjoy this book more than I did. I'm not often a fan of more modern retellings of Pride and Prejudice, but this one looked really promising. The plot was definitely intriguing; I was completely taken in by the plot and its dramatic twists and turns. But the way the story was told was just a bit crass. The diction, the tone--it just wasn't my cup o' tea. Perhaps readers more accustomed to contemporary fiction/romance will enjoy this novel more than I did. I guess I'm just an old-fashioned girl. ;)

The Unquiet Bones The Unquiet Bones by Melvin R. Starr
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Although I am usually extremely strict about reading series in order, I started with book #2 of this wonderful medieval mystery series, followed by book #4 as I discovered them on our library's 25-cent shelves. Two medieval mysteries for fifty cents? It was worth a try.

I thoroughly enjoyed the second book in the series. The mystery moves slowly, but that was fine with me as the building of characters and the setting of medieval English village life made every page rich and memorable. Written in first person, the series is narrated by young surgeon Master Hugh who has also been appointed bailiff by Lord Gilbert Talbot. Master Hugh was also a student of John Wyclif at Oxford, so much of faith and the whispers of Reformation are woven throughout the series as well.

Master Hugh is an accomplished surgeon and a humble person, with a slight sense of humor and is not unwilling to share where his suspicions go awry from time to time. Hugh is a truly honest character, and one can't help but be drawn into the mysteries he solves, almost as much for the development of Hugh's character than for the unfolding of the guilty party with all of the attendant why's and wherefore's.

This first book sets the scene with young Master Hugh, age 25, moving from Oxford to the village of Bampton after mending Lord Gilbert's leg following an accident in the streets of Oxford. Master Hugh quickly accepts Lord Gilbert's offer to move his surgery to Bampton as starting out in competitive Oxford has been slow. But when a skeleton is discovered just outside the castle walls, Master Hugh examines the bones and claims that murder has been done.

Lord Gilbert charges Master Hugh with tracking down the murderer, and as Master Hugh does so, more mysteries seem to unfold before Hugh can solve the first. Plus, Master Hugh is a wee bit distracted by the lovely Lady Joan, sister to Lord Gilbert, but Hugh knows that he cannot marry one so far above him even though he does come from nobility (a younger son of a minor Lord).

Master Hugh has much to learn about solving crimes as The Unquiet Bones is the first of a nice, long series that I can't wait to continue reading. Book #3 is currently on order from the library and is being sent down from Northern California.

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I hope that you enjoy these book reviews even partially as much as I enjoyed reading the books and writing the reviews! I have become quite addicted to the medieval mystery series by Mel Starr and plan to order even more from the library. I've been waylaid by a few other books to read first, though.... 

Happy reading!


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