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! 

Saturday, September 29, 2018


Updated from the Archives...

Today, 29 September, is the celebration of the Feast Day of St. Michael and All Angels (although Father Acker and I celebrated it yesterday at our Friday Morning Prayer and Healing Service with Holy Communion). This was a feast that I was not terribly familiar with, so I was glad to read an informative explanation in the "Saint of the Day" e-mail from

Angels—messengers from God—appear frequently in Scripture, but only Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael are named.

Michael appears in Daniel's vision as "the great prince" who defends Israel against its enemies; in the Book of Revelation, he leads God's armies to final victory over the forces of evil. Devotion to Michael is the oldest angelic devotion, rising in the East in the fourth century. The Church in the West began to observe a feast honoring Michael and the angels in the fifth century.

Gabriel also makes an appearance in Daniel's visions, announcing Michael's role in God's plan. His best-known appearance is an encounter with a young Jewish girl named Mary, who consents to bear the Messiah.

Raphael's activity is confined to the Old Testament story of Tobit. There he appears to guide Tobit's son Tobiah through a series of fantastic adventures which lead to a threefold happy ending: Tobiah's marriage to Sarah, the healing of Tobit's blindness and the restoration of the family fortune.

The memorials of Gabriel (March 24) and Raphael (October 24) were added to the Roman calendar in 1921. The 1970 revision of the calendar joined their feasts to Michael's.

Each of these archangels performs a different mission in Scripture: Michael protects; Gabriel announces; Raphael guides. Earlier belief that inexplicable events were due to the actions of spiritual beings has given way to a scientific world-view and a different sense of cause and effect. Yet believers still experience God's protection, communication and guidance in ways which defy description. We cannot dismiss angels too lightly.

As I've read much British literature over the years (mostly in graduate school but also for my own enjoyment), I have come across the term "Michaelmas" as a British holiday (along with "Candlemas" which occurs on 2 February) and never knew what it celebrated; I only knew it occurred sometime in autumn. So for my own edification and perhaps for yours as well, I discovered an article about Michaelmas from the Historic-UK Web site (read the complete entry here: Michaelmas):

Michaelmas, or the Feast of Michael and All Angels, is celebrated on the 29th of September every year. As it falls near the equinox, the day is associated with the beginning of autumn and the shortening of days; in England, it is one of the “quarter days”.

There are traditionally four “quarter days” in a year (Lady Day (25th March), Midsummer (24th June), Michaelmas (29th September) and Christmas (25th December)). They are spaced three months apart, on religious festivals, usually close to the solstices or equinoxes. They were the four dates on which servants were hired, rents due or leases begun. It used to be said that harvest had to be completed by Michaelmas, almost like the marking of the end of the productive season and the beginning of the new cycle of farming. It was the time at which new servants were hired or land was exchanged and debts were paid. This is how it came to be for Michaelmas to be the time for electing magistrates and also the beginning of legal and university terms.

St Michael is one of the principal angelic warriors, protector against the dark of the night and the Archangel who fought against Satan and his evil angels. As Michaelmas is the time that the darker nights and colder days begin - the edge into winter - the celebration of Michaelmas is associated with encouraging protection during these dark months. It was believed that negative forces were stronger in darkness and so families would require stronger defences during the later months of the year.

The Scripture readings for Morning Prayer included Revelation 12:7-12 regarding Michael the Archangel and the War in Heaven:

7 Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, 8 but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. 9 And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. 10 And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers [1] has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. 11 And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. 12 Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!”
(English Standard Version)

In the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, the Book of Common Prayer 2011, and in The Divine Hours series edited by Phyllis Tickle, I found several Collects to pray on Michaelmas, and I liked this one the best -- from Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime, Midday Prayer for Monday nearest September 28:

Everlasting God, you have ordained and constituted the ministries of the angels and men in a wonderful order. Mercifully grant now that, as your holy angels always serve and worship you in heaven, so by your appointment they may help and defend us on earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The Christian season of Michaelmas lasts from 29 September all the way to the beginning of Advent, so we have much time to pray this song during Morning Prayer, immediately following the First Reading of Holy Scripture in the Book of Common Prayer 2011

The Angels' Song of the Lamb (Magna et mirabilia):
Great and amazing are your deeds, 
O Lord God the Almighty.
Just and true are your ways,
O King of the nations.
Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your Name?
For you alone are holy.
All nations will come and worship you,
     for your righteous acts have been revealed. (Revelation 15.3-4)

So there -- we have the historical and spiritual background of Michaelmas as well as Scripture and prayer with which to celebrate this day and season, remembering that although Angels are both wonderful in their beauty and terrible in their fury, they are created beings, made by the King of kings and the Lord of lords for His purposes and for our help. We humans, formed in the likeness of God, were created but "a little lower than the angels, crowned with glory and honor" (Psalm 8:5), made by the Magnificent One, the Lord God of Hosts.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Reviews of More Summer Reads

As I continue to post reviews of the books I read over the summer, I am glad to say that I managed to venture out beyond merely Jane Austen Fan Fiction (JAFF) this past summer, reading historical as well as "cozy" mysteries. I am eagerly awaiting the third Magic Bookshop mystery by Amanda Flowers and have also read a more recent book in another series by her as well.

Murder on Union SquareMurder on Union Square by Victoria Thompson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wow, are we actually at the 21st book in the Gaslight Mystery series?? It's a brilliant mystery series set in New York City during the early 1900s. Midwife Sarah's doctor husband was murdered four years before the series began, and when one of Sarah's patients is murdered, she meets Detective Frank Malloy, a gruff Irish cop, who, like the majority of the police force, doesn't expend time and energy on cases in which he is not "tipped" by the family. Sarah is shocked and riled by Malloy's uncaring attitude, but she later finds out that under his facade is a man mourning his wife who died giving birth to their deaf son. Sarah, whose parents are one of the wealthy "Knickerbocker" families, joins with Malloy to solve the case and many others that come their way.

This case centers on the murder of an actor (a character in a previous book in the series) at the Palladium Theater on Union Square, a man whom Malloy himself is accused of and arrested for his murder. (I'm skipping a ton of background to avoid spoilers.) The actors are quite the cast of characters, including the aging leading lady, her manager husband, the actor's shrill and grabby "fiancee" (or so she says) who first accuses Malloy who finds the body in the actor's dressing room, and several minor actresses. As the plot unfolds, another character is murdered and the mystery is solved with the assistance of a previous client (another character in a previous book). It's a wonderful whodunnit which took me a while to figure out completely, and it's certainly full of twists and turns galore.

Once again, Victoria Thompson wins us over with a delightful and compelling mystery in this wonderful series that I just can't recommend highly enough.

This Disconcerting Happiness: A Pride and Prejudice Variation This Disconcerting Happiness: A Pride and Prejudice Variation by Christina Morland
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Elizabeth is informed the very afternoon of the Meryton Assembly that her father is dying of cancer, she has quite the burden to bear, especially knowing that her family must leave Longbourn after her father's death because of the entail on the estate. Mr. Darcy is also struggling with familial problems in that Georgiana has been removed from his care following the debacle at Ramsgate and is extremely unhappy at Rosings Park with Lady Catherine. But being married would give Darcy the legal standing needed to gain back custody of his sister.

After several frank conversations at and following the Meryton Assembly where they meet and talk on the balcony, Elizabeth and Darcy decide to marry, thus providing for the Bennet family after Mr. Bennet's demise and hopefully regaining custody of Georgiana. But when all does not go to plan, Darcy and Elizabeth find themselves happier than they ever thought could result from a marriage of convenience.

A very different variation, focusing as much on Georgiana's growth and decisions as it does on Elizabeth's family as her father's health fails. Nothing seems to go as planned, yet This Disconcerting Happiness gives them both the strength to carry on while grieving with one another.

NOTES on Second Reading:
I found myself in tears several times as I re-read this book. It was so compelling, yet so little filled with happiness, or, at least, happiness seemed so far out of reach as to even dim one's hopes of an HEA. I appreciate that the book ended with a pale HEA which is far more realistic than most JAFF. Still, I find this book even better the second time reading it. If I could give it a 4 1/2, I would.

Lucifer's Harvest Lucifer's Harvest by Melvin R. Starr
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This ninth chronicle of Hugh de Singleton, Surgeon, was very short compared to the previous mysteries in this amazing medieval mystery series.

Hugh has been married to his beautiful Kate for several years now, and with daughters Bessie and Sybil, they live in Galen House near Bampton Castle (a day's ride from Oxford) where Hugh is bailiff to the widowed Lord Gilbert Talbot as well as surgeon to the village of Bampton.

A message arrives one day in 1370: Lord Gilbert must provide soldiers to join Prince Edward in France. Hugh assumes that he will remain behind to administrate the affairs of Bampton Castle as he frequently does when Lord Gilbert lives in his other castle, but Lord Gilbert decides that Hugh's surgical skills may be needed on the battlefield, and he is compelled to go. Kate and the girls will move to the castle to run it in Lord Gilbert's absence, with the reeve taking on the bailiff's duties.

The long trek to Burgundy, then Limoges, is difficult, especially when Sir Simon Trillowe, who resents Hugh for winning Kate from him and also burned Galen House (and had to pay for its rebuilding), joins the soldiers from the area surrounding Oxford. Hugh must watch his back for sure. I'll leave the rest for you to discover, but Hugh also meets Prince Edward (later called The Black Prince) on a few occasions.

As always, this mystery is so well-researched and shows the unromantic realism of medieval life, especially for the peasants (this time, the peasants in the French countryside). Even the cadence and structure of the characters' speech possesses a subtle medievalism that is simply superb--not overdone nor underdone.

The glossary at the beginning of each book allows the reader to learn much about medieval life, from the ingredients to medieval dishes to the name for underwear worn in this time period.

Hugh himself is a compelling character: a humble man with some faults of temper and selfishness (like all of us), he is not a confident solver of mysteries so much as he is a careful one, a quality he has learned through experience. Hugh has earned the respect of Lord Gilbert, again through a proven track record of solving mysteries in and around Bampton, but now, in the French countryside ravaged by wars, Hugh is set to solve a mystery in order to save both his reputation and his life.

A brilliant mystery series, especially for those who thrive on details of medieval life; I just wish that there were more books available in the series. I only have one more to read, and then I'll be fully caught up and will have to wait for the publication of the next Chronicle of Hugh de Singleton, Surgeon.

Crime and Poetry Crime and Poetry by Amanda Flower
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A delightful first book in a delightful mystery series!! I just love the main character, Violet Waverly (a literature professor just completing her Ph.D. on the Transcendentalists, one of my favorite areas of American lit), who comes home to a small town near Niagara Falls which she had left twelve years before under a shadow of suspicion. Why does she return?

Her grandmother, affectionately dubbed "Grandma Daisy" by those who love her, told Violet that she was dying and needed her to come home. Violet drops everything and returns to her hometown to help her ailing grandmother, she is shocked to find a very healthy Grandma Daisy waiting on customers in Charming Books, her popular bookshop.

But a death in town puts Grandma Daisy under suspicion, a situation in which Violet is quite familiar. But the handsome new police chief, who happens to belong to the writers' group who meets at Charming Books each week, seems to be far more open-minded than the former chief who had railroaded Violet when she was still a high school student. Despite the new chief, Violet decides to investigate this murder on her own because of her overall distrust of the police of this small tourist-driven village.

Yet there is another mystery that Grandma Daisy reveals to Violet: a mystery that revolves around the bookshop itself. Can magic really exist in our modern world?

I found this series to be amazing. I loved the quirky characters immediately. It's so easy for "quirky" to become a cliche, but these characters truly are quirky in the best way possible. I adore Violet and her background in literature as it resembles my own, and Grandma Daisy is so wonderful! And the different villagers are warm and welcoming, except for the parents of Violet's former boyfriend, now the town's mayor, who have always seen Violet as not good enough for their son.

I'm just disappointed that there are only two books of this series so far, with a third one set to be published in February.

Prose and Cons Prose and Cons by Amanda Flower
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This second book in the Magical Bookshop series is just as wonderful as the first. Violet is adjusting to her grandmother's revelation about the magical qualities of Charming Books and has decided to take a leave of absence from her doctoral work in Chicago. She accepts an adjunct position at the local community college while also helping Grandma Daisy at the bookshop which also contains a small apartment that Grandma Daisy refurbished as an incentive for Violet to remain in Upstate New York.

Violet is also torn between two men. Nathan, the mayor, wants to pick up their relationship right where they left off twelve years ago, despite the fact that his parents persuaded him to "throw her under the bus" during the investigation into the death of her best friend during their senior year of high school. And then there's David, the police chief who also writes children's books as part of the Red Inkers, the writers' group who meets weekly at Charming Books. But when a member of the Inkers is murdered, another member of the group is under suspicion, and again Violet feels that she must solve the mystery before her friend gets railroaded by the police as she was twelve years earlier.

A delightful setting, a compelling mystery, and quirky village characters make this second book in the Magical Bookshop Mysteries a wonderful read. I only wish that we didn't have to wait until February for the next book in the series!!

Phi Alpha Pi Phi Alpha Pi by Sara Marks
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A very intriguing modern variation of Austen's Pride and Prejudice set in Lizbeth's final year of college in the Phi Alpha Pi sorority where she is the chapter president.

This book almost seemed more like a mystery than a straight Austen variation, for much is uncovered, especially about their housemother, Mrs. C.. whose son, Colin Collins, seeks to be tutored by Lizbeth. Of course, Wil Darcy, his friend Charlie, and Charlie's sister, Caroline, all transfer in from Tulane University in New Orleans. Lizbeth keeps her wealthy background a secret as she works with her mentor, Dr. Bennet, and with the other officers in the sorority including Jane, Charlotte, Marie, and Lydia.

It's an intriguing tale--a little awkward in places (but then, that's Darcy no matter in which era we find him)--and cleverly done. I'd give it a 3 1/2, but I'll boost it to a 4 for this review. Darcy seems a bit one-dimensional until near the end of the book, but that could be his famous "mask" protecting him from the undesirable elements at this university in Georgia, an interesting choice for Darcy and Lizbeth as both hail from the northeast.

I really enjoyed it and found it quite compelling and deeply interesting. A fun twist on Austen's classic, and very readable.

* * * * *

I have a huge backlog of books I've read but have not listed or reviewed yet; that's a job I hope to tackle this week! Our library's Summer Reading Program turned out to be quite rewarding, not only in all of the books I read this summer but also in the prizes given at the drawing at the end of the program. One of my (many) tickets was drawn first, so I was able to choose a Kindle Fire 7 tablet for our daughter to use in her business (I already have a Kindle Fire 8), so that was a lovely perk.  

Happy reading! 


Blog Widget by LinkWithin