Sunday, January 20, 2019

The First Book Reviews of 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

Happy reading!

Sunday, January 6, 2019

A Blessed Epiphany!!

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

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

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

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

From the CRI website:
The Season of Epiphany
Dennis Bratcher

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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

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

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

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

Rejoicing with you this day, 


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