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.

* * * * *
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!

Saturday, January 13, 2018

First Book Reviews of 2018

I admit to reading these books last year (2017), but I'm still catching up on posting my book reviews. The first three reviews are of Austenesque novels based on Persuasion; the next two reviews are of novels based on Pride and Prejudice. The final review is of an older book I came across at a library sale, a young adult paranormal story which I read for the second time.

Reacquainted Reacquainted by Meg Osborne
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This first of three volumes of a variation of Austen's Persuasion in which Anne Elliot and Frederick Wentworth meet up again is nearly as stunning as Austen's original. Ms. Osbourne keeps Austen's characters in character (with Mary being even more annoying and complaining than in the original novel), but she also tweaks the plot just a bit. It's a lovely read, especially for fans of this final completed novel by Miss Jane Austen which was published six months after her death.

I can't help but highly recommend all three volumes of this Persuasion variation; they're just so lovely that I could barely put them down. In fact, I read all three volumes in two days!! These books are truly excellent, and if I could give a 4 1/2, I would!!

Rediscovered Rediscovered by Meg Osborne
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The second of a three-volume variation on Austen's beloved Persuasion, this volume has the group of young people: Charles Musgrove and his wife Mary (Anne's younger sister), the two Musgrove girls, Louisa and Henrietta, plus Anne and Captain Wentworth off on a short trip to Lyme to visit some friends of Captain Wentworth. But here lies the major twist in this variation: Louisa Musgrove is not injured in Lyme; it is Anne who becomes very ill after walking in the rain, causing everyone to scurry to care for her.

Through this crisis, we can see how much Anne is beloved by everyone, even complaining Mary, but especially by two men: Captain Wentworth and Captain Benwick. But whom will Anne choose? Is her choice inevitable? Will true love last through eight years of separation?

This is a lovely variation of Austen's Persuasion, and in some ways, is even more satisfying than Austen's sixth and last complete novel. I highly recommend the entire three-volume series. Ms. Osbourne captures the romance and the tension of Austen's novel while providing some of the small details so satisfying to the modern reader. A truly excellent series--if I could give 4 1/2 stars, I would!!

Reunited Reunited by Meg Osborne
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This third and final installment of Meg Osbourne's excellent variation of Austen's Persuasion finds Anne on the mend but with two suitors: the shy Captain Benwick and the withdrawn Captain Wentworth who says little, but his actions during Anne's illness show his devotion even if his words do not.

Anne knows where her heart lies, but is her eight-year love returned? And will Anne be able to withstand the persuasion of her family and her neighbor and substitute mother, Lady Russell, all of whom did not approve of young Wentworth eight years previously and may not approve of him now?

Mr. Darcy's Secret Mr. Darcy's Secret by Jane Odiwe
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A bit of a rockier road for Elizabeth and Darcy--probably more realistic, too--but a good story that was difficult to put down. :)

This story begins after their marriage, and everyone seems to be trying to separate the newlyweds. Caroline Bingley is of course cattier than usual, and Elizabeth discovers clues that seem to indicate that Darcy loved before...and may still be in contact with his beloved. Georgiana meanwhile falls in love with someone who is not of her station, yet when confronted with her brother's wishes for an illustrious match, agrees to become engaged to Darcy's choice for her. Her unhappiness infuriates Elizabeth who cannot change Georgiana's mind--or Darcy's for that matter--which drives another wedge between the young couple.

Other obstacles arrive on their doorstep, such as Lady Catherine De Bourgh, and then Elizabeth, Darcy, Georgiana, the Gardiners, and Mrs. Gardiner's Derbyshire friend Mrs. Butler all descend upon the Lake District, only to be joined by Lady Catherine and her highbrow artistic entourage. Much occurs, and Darcy and Elizabeth continue to learn much about love and marriage and...extended families.

Pirates and Prejudice Pirates and Prejudice by Kara Louise
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Pirates and Prejudice is a rather unlikely but charming tale in which Darcy, wandering London desolate for months after Elizabeth's refusal of his proposal, is mistaken in his scruffiness for a infamous escaped pirate and is thrown into prison. The next day he is released on the condition that he impersonates said infamous escaped pirate in order to capture him so that he will hang at long last. He even learns to speak roughly and to walk with a swagger to his step.

Meanwhile, Mr. Bennet and Lizzy set off for the islands off the coast of England to visit Mr. Bennet's dying sister and her family. On their return trip with Elizabeth's cousin David (who seems to like her quite a lot), their ship runs aground on rocks during a storm, and Elizabeth and some other passengers are captured by the real escaped pirate, but they are soon rescued by "Captain Smith" (Darcy in disguise). Elizabeth likes the abrupt and roughly-spoken Captain Smith who seems familiar to her, but she can't place the resemblance. More adventures ensue, and I'll let you discover the rest. It's a wonderful tale of adventure and derring-do!

Down a Dark Hall Down a Dark Hall by Lois Duncan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A young girl named Kit is taken to the remote Blackwood School by her mother and her new stepfather while they tour Europe on their honeymoon. Kit plays the usual resistant teenager, but she genuinely feels something is quite wrong when they enter the driveway to Blackwood School. Kit feels certain the evil lurks there. She spends the first night as the only pupil, looking forward to meeting all the rest of the student body who is to be arriving the next day. But only three more young ladies join Blackwood School, taught by Madame Duret, her handsome son Jules, and the elderly Professor Farley. Classes start out quite normally, but the four students experience frightening dreams and later, strange talents that work through them while they sleep. Whatever is happening at Blackwood School is much more sinister than it seems....

This is my second time through this slim volume, but I found it just as suspenseful and chilling as the first. A wonderfully enticing tale by the author of I Know What You Did Last Summer.

I'll keep posting these book reviews; it's nice to be able to send my reviews straight from Goodreads here to my blog, and then it's a fairly simple matter to gather the book review drafts into a single post and voilĂ ! A book review post is born!!

Reading with you,

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Wishing All a Blessed Epiphanytide

Updated from the Archives....

Today the Anglican Church, along with other liturgical churches, celebrate the Epiphany. January 6th marks the close of the Christmas Season with Twelfth Night (the Twelfth Day of Christmas) on January 5th. Epiphany, then, is a kind of extension of the Christmas season as we remember the events of the second chapter of Saint Matthew's Gospel in which "wise men from the east" come to Judea, looking for the "infant King of the Jews." Herod asks his advisers about the Messiah, and they tell him that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem:
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:
“‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.
--Matthew 2:1-12, ESV
The Baptism of Jesus is celebrated a week later, on the Octave (8th day) of Epiphanytide, the day in which Christ was manifested as the Son of God, as related in Matthew 3:
Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" But Jesus answered him, "Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness. Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest upon him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased."
--Matthew 3:13-17, ESV
The Collect for Epiphanytide from the Book of Common Prayer 2011, to be prayed throughout the Octave of the Epiphany (the eight days from January 6-January 13):
O GOD, by the leading of a star you revealed your only eternal Son to the peoples of the earth; In your mercy grant that we, who know you now by faith, may after this life behold your glory and power face to face; Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Here are the lyrics to the most popular and beloved Epiphany carol, often sung at Christmas despite its definite ties to the Epiphany, when the Christ is revealed to the Gentile "wise men from the east" who come to worship the Christ Child as "King and God and Sacrifice":

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

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

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


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


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


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


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

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

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

Rejoicing with you this day, 

Friday, January 5, 2018

A Happy Twelfth Night to You!!

Christmas Tree 2017

Updated from the Archives...

Tonight is Twelfth Night...the last night of Christmastide. I just got home from a Twelfth Night celebration with the fine people of Blessed Trinity Anglican Church at Larkspur House. We burned greenery in a metal tub in the Ackers' back patio (which got a little smoky!) as Father Acker prayed the Christmas Collects and then prayed that the Light of Christ would shine through our lives into the darkness and into others' lives. 

The Twelfth Night Burning of the Christmas Greens is a tradition to both banish the old year and to shine the Light of Christ into a dark world.

Then we all gathered in Larkspur House and enjoyed sherry and cake and cookies and other goodies as we celebrated the final night of Christmas and welcomed the coming of Epiphanytide on this Eve of the Epiphany. 

A past devotional from The High Calling is all about the Twelfth Day of Christmas:

Jan 5, 2013
On the Twelfth Day of Christmas...
by Mark D. Roberts
[P]raise him with timbrel and dancing, praise him with the strings and pipe. Psalm 150:4
Today is the twelfth and last day of Christmas. For many of us, the notion of Christmas as a twelve-day season is quite foreign…except for the song. Almost all of us are familiar with "The Twelve Days of Christmas" and its collection of unusual gifts, including maids-a-milking, swans-a-swimming, gold rings, French Hens, Turtle Doves, and a Partridge in a pear tree. According to the song, on the twelfth and final day of Christmas, the singers "true love" gave "twelve drummers drumming." 
You won't find any drummers in Scripture, at least not in most English translations. But you will find people dancing while playing timbrels (for example, Exodus 15:20). In fact, Psalm 150:4 calls God's people to praise him "with timbrel and dancing," or, as some translations prefer, "with tambourine and dance" (ESV). The Hebrew term behind "timbrel, tambourine" is tof, which was a small percussion instrument held and struck by one's hand. It was, in effect, a small drum.
Psalm 150 exhorts us to praise the Lord with all sorts of musical instruments: trumpet, harp, lyre, timbrel (tof), strings, pipe, and loud cymbals. The sense of the text is that we are to praise God with everything we have at our disposal. Thus, this is a fitting conclusion for our celebration of Christmas, which began with a great company of angels praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests" (Luke 2:13-14).
Praise is something we do, not only with our lips and our instruments, but also with our whole lives. You may recall that a few months ago we examined Ephesians 1:12, which says that we exist "for the praise of God's glory." We are alive for the purpose of praising God. But this does not mean we ought to put down our work and hurry to a worship service. On the contrary, we can and should praise God in all we do, including our work. So, if you happen to be a drummer, then by all means drum for God's glory. And if you happen to be a lawyer, then practice law for God's glory. And if you're a teacher, then teach for God's glory. And if you're a contractor, or a mother, or a banker, or a window washer, or…do it all for God's glory. 
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: In what ways do you live for God's praise? How might you praise God in your work? Your community? Your family? Your friendships? Your political activity? Your volunteer work? 
PRAYER: Lord, as we come to the end of the Christmas season, we end where we started…with praise. Today, we join the twelve drummers by praising you with all that you have given us. We offer our lives to you, so that we might exist for the praise of your glory. Amen. 

The Collect for Christmastide from the 2011 Book of Common Prayer remains one of my favorites, especially after praying it thrice daily for the past twelve days (and doing so for the past six years): 

ALMIGHTY God, you gave your only and eternal Son to take our nature upon him and to be born [this day] of a pure virgin; Grant us, who have been reborn and made your children by adoption and grace, daily renewal by your Holy Spirit; Through Jesus Christ, who lives and rules with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen. (Titus 3.5; Matthew 1.22-23; John 3.3-5)

So as we celebrate the Twelfth Day of Christmastide and Twelfth Night tonight, may we worship the Light who shines through the darkness with the gift of salvation for all who believe.

A Joyous Twelfth Night to you and yours,

Monday, January 1, 2018

Books Read in 2017

And here is the link if you would like to click on any of these 80 titles and find out more about them: Susanne's 2017 Goodreads Booklist. I haven't yet posted all of the reviews from this booklist, but they'll be coming along in weekly batches--I hope! That's the plan, anyway!

Starting all over with a new booklist for 2018,


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