Sunday, June 30, 2019

A Highly-Recommended Historical Mystery Series

Although this spring has been crazy-busy with family and work, I have made time for my most important self-care: reading. And have I ever found an incredible mystery series to share with you!! Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs series is simply brilliant. (The "Maisie Dobbs" link sends you to Goodreads' complete list of the books in this series.) Set in the years between the World Wars, Maisie is an unusual young woman with brains and talent who was blessed with a university education despite being the daughter of a London costermonger.

The first book in the series is all background: how Maisie Dobbs becomes Maisie Dobbs, including her childhood, her time in service, her training, her time at university, her service as a nurse during the Great War, the rest of her time at university, her training under Dr. Maurice Blanche, to her finally opening her own investigative service. Currently, there are fifteen books in the series, and I have worked my way through the first nine thus far, and all are brilliant with deep character studies (with many characters becoming regulars as the series continues).

Yet the mysteries themselves are rather slow burns, reminding me greatly of the pacing and development of Dorothy Sayers' Peter Wimsey mysteries. I really want to purchase each one and re-read them several times. The books are available both as print and e-books through the San Diego County Library system and are likely to be available via most library systems as well as through Amazon/Kindle.

So here are my reviews of the first three books of this series (I was going to give you six reviews, but then I discovered how LONG these reviews are!):

Maisie DobbsMaisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This first book in the Maisie Dobbs series is less about solving mysteries and more about Maisie's life: her childhood, going into service, her education, and the Great War which reverberates for decades afterward. This book provides a compelling and memorable backdrop to the series which is beautifully written, character-driven, and simply amazing. For fans of British "whodunnits," this series is NOT TO BE MISSED!!

Maisie is a remarkable character, one who succeeds brilliantly in her professional life but who stumbles frequently in her private life, especially in romance. One of the major reasons for her loneliness stems from events described in this first book. I found it fascinating to watch Maisie grow from a young girl to a professional woman over the scope of this first novel.

Ms. Winspear causes us to dig deeply and thus care deeply for the characters in this series, and we readers learn to care for Maisie Dobbs most of all, cheering her on in her successes and mourning her many losses. She is a flawed character (in this she also reminds me greatly of Sayers' Peter Wimsey, also scarred by the Great War), yet her balance of intelligence and compassion drives her to pursue each case to its (often slightly bitter) end (again, much like Peter Wimsey). 

Originally I read this book via Kindle Unlimited, but now I have purchased my own copy so that I can go back over the details of Maisie's life as needed. I am now reading well into the series and am very glad that I have a copy of this first book at hand to in order to revisit certain scenes.

Birds of a Feather Birds of a Feather by Jacqueline Winspear
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In this second novel in the Maisie Dobbs series, we actually find Maisie embarking upon her first case: a missing heiress. It's now 1930, over a decade since the Great War devastated Europe, including England as well as Maisie's past and, in a way, her future.

While the first book of the series provided us with Maisie's voluminous and fascinating backstory, we get to see Maisie at work now, employing all that she has gleaned during her training by Dr. Maurice Blanche who has become like another father to Maisie. So now that Maurice has retired, Maisie "puts up her shingle" and takes her first case.

In these novels, it's not so much the "whodunnit?" as it is the "why did they do it?" Maisie is not merely an investigator; she is also a trained psychologist, again thanks to Maurice. She has learned his methods of quieting her mind, of putting herself almost literally into others' "shoes" by mimicking their posture, movement, and even their walk. Often Maisie gets a fairly clear idea of the "who," but until she has clearly settled the "whys," she is never satisfied.

In this book, we are also introduced to Billy Beale, a wounded veteran of the Great War (has a "game leg" and damaged lungs from mustard gas) who eventually becomes her assistant just as she was Maurice's. The lovely part for Maisie is that Maurice is nearby, having purchased the Dower House at the Comptons' estate in Kent. Lady Rowan and Lord Julian, for whom Maisie had been a maid starting when she was twelve, continue to support Maisie by insisting that she stay in their London townhouse as they live mostly in Kent at this time. And Maisie's father, a costermonger by trade but a horse expert at heart, remains the head of the Comptons' stables and lives in a cottage near the Dower House.

Thus, Maisie often drives her MG (which she purchased from Lady Rowan) to Kent in order to visit her father, keep Maurice apprised of her cases (and he is happy to point her in a particular direction), and visit with Lady Rowan. From time to time, Maisie also calls upon Lord Julian because of his connections during the war may help with her cases.

I find the way in which Maisie's mind works fascinating. The way in which she and Billy create a "case map" on the back of old wallpaper in order to track all of the various threads is brilliant (as Maurice trained her, of course), and her frequent run-ins with Detective Inspector Richard Stratton, a widower with a young son, is also intriguing.

I'm rather reviewing all nine of the books I've read here--they've all bled together in my mind after I galloped through them without making notes or writing reviews this spring as there simply wasn't time. But I adore Maisie Dobbs, and right now I'm on the waitlist for the tenth of fifteen books in this series.

Pardonable Lies Pardonable Lies by Jacqueline Winspear
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The third novel of the Maisie Dobbs series finds Maisie searching for the truth of an airman's death during the Great War, eleven years after the Armistice. Maurice is concerned about Maisie returning to France to discover the precise events of the airman's death, especially as it seems that one of her best friend's brothers (Priscilla lost all three of her brothers in the war) may also be involved. Maurice knows that Maisie still bears scars from her wartime service as a nurse, especially the bombing of the aid station near the Front where she worked alongside her fiance-in-all-but-name, Dr. Simon Lynch. Together, they had treated Billy Beale who becomes Maisie's assistant, Simon miraculously saving Billy's leg when almost any other surgeon would have given up or failed.

Many secrets are revealed during this time in Maisie's life, including how deeply involved Maurice was in the war effort--namely, in espionage. Maisie unearths much about the death of Priscilla's brother and his involvement in the war and with a young French girl. But following this line of inquiry is extremely taxing for Maisie who has buried so much of the horror of the war deep within her psyche.

She continues to avoid visiting Simon, who survived the war but lost his mind in the attack that nearly killed both him and Maisie. Unable to speak, to recognize, to feed or dress himself, Simon remains in a wheelchair, eyes unfixed on anything, lost in time and space. Maisie forces herself to see him, but each visit is heartbreaking for her.

So Maisie methodically uncovers the truth of the airman's death, also unearthing the truth of Priscilla's brother's death, his legacy, and Maisie's own fragility is also revealed. For her, as for many, many others, the Great War may never cease. A brilliant study in PTSD, the psychology of wartime, the scars left by this first of the world wars, the machinations of governments, and the secret loves that burgeoned during global upheaval.

* * * * *

So I hope I haven't given too awfully much away in my reviews of this series. I have read and reviews the seventh, eighth, and ninth books in this series as well as I await the tenth from the library. While I wait, I am reading the latest Gaslight Mystery by Victoria Thompson, and as I started reading it, I realized that I had somehow missed a couple of books preceding the last few of this series, so I'm going back to re-read the one before the two I missed, then I'll read those two. I've checked out all three e-books from the library. So I can now wait without too much angst for the tenth Maisie mystery with these lovely turn-of-the-century New York mysteries to keep me company.

Reading avidly,

Sunday, June 9, 2019

A Blessed Pentecost to You!!

An Eastern Orthodox icon of the Christian Pentecost. This is the Icon of the Descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles. At the bottom is an allegorical figure, called Kosmos, which symbolizes the world. (Source: Wikipedia)

A re-post from the Archives as I attempt to keep up with my wonderful Brave Writer families and students in Literary Analysis: Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing...

I just do not understand something. Why don't evangelical churches celebrate Pentecost? Because of a family emergency last night which meant I didn't get to bed until after 3:00 this morning, I was not able to attend church this morning. Thus, I have no idea if this year was different and our church, Pine Valley Community Church, celebrated Pentecost during the church service. I hope so! It broke my heart not to attend, but I really could not move until after church was over, and even past that. 

Scripture tells us that the Gift Jesus promised His disciples has arrived at Pentecost: the Holy Spirit. We read Christ's promise in the 14th chapter of the Gospel according to Saint John, beginning at the 15th verse:
15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.... 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you..." (ESV).

Then on the Feast of the Pentecost, with Jerusalem filled with Jews from around the known world, Christ fulfilled his promise fifty days after His Resurrection. We read in the second chapter of The Acts of the Apostles:
2:1 When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. 5 Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6 And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. 7 And they were amazed and astonished, saying, 'Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? 9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, 11 both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.' 12 And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, "What does this mean?" 13 But others mocking said, "They are filled with new wine” (ESV).

Peter then preaches to the astounded visitors to Jerusalem (also in the second chapter of Acts), quoting the prophecy of Joel hundreds of years past as well as passages from the Psalms of David while also relating what he and the other disciples witnessed of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection as well as the many sightings of Christ following His resurrection from the dead until His ascension to the right hand of the Living God. Peter concludes:
"32 This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. 33 Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing" (Acts 2, ESV).
And then we read the response of the crowd listening to Peter:
37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?" 38 And Peter said to them, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself." 40 And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, "Save yourselves from this crooked generation." 41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls" (Acts 2, ESV).

The events of this Pentecost are simply incredible, and it is from this amazing Gift of the Comforter, the Counselor, the Holy Spirit of God, that the Gospel of Christ first began to spread and the Church began to form. Why evangelical churches do not regularly celebrate Pentecost is a mystery to me. It always lands on a Sunday and thus it can be easily celebrated with Scripture readings, with praise songs and hymns about the Holy Spirit, with sermons focused on the Holy Spirit, and perhaps even with baptisms since approximately 3,000 people were baptized and added to the Church on the first Pentecost after the Resurrection in Acts 2. Pentecost is a Biblical holy day, and we can celebrate it Biblically, too, with "psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with [our] heart[s]" (Ephesians 5:19, ESV).

In the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, one of the Collects (collective or public prayers) for Pentecost reads thus:

Almighty and most merciful God, grant, we beseech thee, that by the indwelling of thy Holy Spirit, we may be enlightened and strengthened for thy service ; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee in the unity of the same Spirit ever, one God, world without end. Amen.
And the Book of Common Prayer 2011's Collect for Pentecost (also in the sidebar of this blog):
"O GOD, you teach the hearts of your faithful people by sending us the light of your Holy Spirit; By your Spirit, give us right judgment in all things, so that we may rejoice forever in his holy comfort; Through the victory of Christ Jesus our Savior, who lives and rules with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen." (References: John 14.26; Acts 2.1-4; Philippians 1.9-10; Acts 9.31)
The Anglican Church has an interesting name for Pentecost: Whitsunday which comes from the white garments worn by those who are baptized this day, just as over 3,000 people were baptized on that first Pentecost in Acts 2. In the above hyperlink to the Catholic Encyclopedia entry of "Whitsunday," an interesting fact is given:
Whitsunday, as a Christian feast, dates back to the first century, although there is no evidence that it was observed, as there is in the case of Easter; the passage in 1 Corinthians 16:8 probably refers to the Jewish feast. This is not surprising, for the feast, originally of only one day's duration, fell on a Sunday; besides it was so closely bound up with Easter that it appears to be not much more than the termination of Paschal tide [Eastertide].

So why is this important Biblical Holy Day, celebrated from the very earliest days of the Christian Church, hardly mentioned in evangelical churches, including my own? I don't know. I simply don't get it. But I pray that the evangelical churches will indeed start to celebrate Biblical Holy Days more and more in the future, pulling on the rich, 2,000-year heritage of Pentecost/Whitsunday.

I close with this quotation (also in the sidebar of this blog) on the importance of Pentecost:

"Bethlehem was God with us, Calvary was God for us, and Pentecost is God in us."

~Robert Baer

Wishing you a blessed Pentecost,

Saturday, June 1, 2019

A Blessed Celebration of the Ascension!

Updated from the Archives...

Today is the Sixth Sunday After Easter, also known as Sunday after Ascension Day which was celebrated on Thursday. Ascension Day is celebrated forty days after Christ's Resurrection when He gave His final earthly encouragement and directions to His disciples before Ascending to the right hand of the Father. The Epistle reading for the Feast of the Ascension is from Acts 1:

1 In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, 2 until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3 He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.

4 And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” 9 And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, 11 and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (English Standard Version)

The Gospel reading relates the same event, also told by Luke at the close of his gospel account:

50 Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. 51 While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. 52 And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, 53 and were continually in the temple blessing God.(ESV)
"Ascension" by Benjamin West
The Collect for Ascension Day from The Book of Common Prayer 2011 which Father Keith Acker of Alpine Anglican Church of the Blessed Trinity modernized and I helped to edit:   

ALMIGHTY God, as we believe your only eternal Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, ascended into heaven; Grant that we may also ascend into heaven in heart and mind until, at the last, we may dwell with him forever; Who lives with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and always. Amen.

Father Bosco Peters, an Anglican priest in New Zealand who runs the amazing site, posted a wonderful reflection on Ascension can be read in its entirety here: Ascension Day.

On Twitter, Father Peters noted that Ascension Day is a holiday in several European countries, such as France, Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands, etc. Yet we in America hardly even know of this Biblical holy day, at least among American evangelicals. Part of Eastertide which lasts until Pentecost (just one more week!), Ascension is obviously noted in Scripture as being forty days after Christ's Resurrection. 

This holy day has been celebrated since the early years of the Church, as the Catholic Encyclopedia notes:
The observance of this feast is of great antiquity. Although no documentary evidence of it exists prior to the beginning of the fifth century, St. Augustine says that it is of Apostolic origin, and he speaks of it in a way that shows it was the universal observance of the Church long before his time. Frequent mention of it is made in the writings of St. John Chrysostom, St. Gregory of Nyssa, and in the Constitution of the Apostles. The Pilgrimage of Sylvia (Peregrinatio Etheriae) speaks of the vigil of this feast and of the feast itself, as they were kept in the church built over the grotto in Bethlehem in which Christ was born (Duchesne, Christian Worship, 491-515). It may be that prior to the fifth century the fact narrated in the Gospels was commemorated in conjunction with the feast of Easter or Pentecost.... Representations of the mystery are found in diptychs and frescoes dating as early as the fifth century.
You may read the full article from the Catholic Encyclopedia here: Feast of the Ascension.

"Ascension" by Giotto di Bondone, 1305

I just don't really understand why American evangelical churches do not celebrate these Biblical festivals, or at least Pentecost if not Ascension. Pentecost lands on a Sunday every time, so there's really no excuse not to at least mention it...if not read the Scriptures recounting the gift of the Holy Spirit to the waiting disciples and perhaps even preach on the subject. Yes, every day of our earthly existence should be a celebration of what Christ has done for us, and every Sunday should indeed be a celebration of the Resurrection power and love of Jesus. But noting and celebrating these other Biblical holy days seems like a wonderful idea to me, one in which we can walk in the footsteps of our Risen Lord, glorifying Him who first loved us.

Enjoy a blessed Octave of the Ascension,


Blog Widget by LinkWithin