Saturday, February 20, 2021

Celebrating My Favorite Artist ... Who Is Also a Saint!

Deposition from the Cross by Fra Angelico

Updated from the Archives...

While the art of the Pre-Raphaelites remains my favorite period of art, I cannot narrow down all of their talent to a single "favorite artist." And considering that my Master of Arts in English from Catholic University of San Diego was in Medieval Literature (with many courses taught by an amazing nun with a Harvard Ph.D.), it's not surprising that my favorite artist would also be from the medieval period.

Fra Angelico was born approximately the same year in which Chaucer died: 1400. Although he only lived fifty-some years, he produced an incredible body of artistic work.

Today the Church celebrates his Feast Day, and the following is from the "Saint of the Day" e-mail from AmericanCatholic.org:


Monday, February 18, 2019
Blessed John of Fiesole
(c. 1400-1455)

The patron of Christian artists was born around 1400 in a village overlooking Florence. He took up painting as a young boy and studied under the watchful eye of a local painting master. He joined the Dominicans at about age 20, taking the name Fra Giovanni. He eventually came to be known as Fra Angelico, perhaps a tribute to his own angelic qualities or maybe the devotional tone of his works. 

He continued to study painting and perfect his own techniques, which included broad-brush strokes, vivid colors and generous, lifelike figures. Michelangelo once said of Fra Angelico: “One has to believe that this good monk has visited paradise and been allowed to choose his models there.” Whatever his subject matter, Fra Angelico sought to generate feelings of religious devotion in response to his paintings. Among his most famous works are the Annunciation and Descent from the Cross as well as frescoes in the monastery of San Marco in Florence.

He also served in leadership positions within the Dominican Order. At one point Pope Eugenius approached him about serving as archbishop of Florence. Fra Angelico declined, preferring a simpler life. He died in 1455.

So let's take a look at some of his more famous works:

The Annunciation by Fra Angelico
The Visitation by Fra Angelico
Madonna and Child by Fra Angelico
The Crucifixion by Fra Angelico
The Resurrection of the Christ by Fra Angelico

The last painting here was the one and only wallpaper I ever used on my first laptop computer. The colors, especially of the first three paintings, are still so vivid, and his figures are pre-Renaissance in their three-dimensionality versus the usual flat, two-dimensional work of the medieval period. 

So I hope that you will enjoy the work of this amazing medieval artist as much as I have and continue to do!

Artistically yours,


Friday, November 27, 2020

Getting Ready for Advent

 




This post is quoted directly from Life for Leaders, written by Mark D. Roberts. To view this post on the website, please click here: Life for Leaders; Getting Ready for Advent.

LIFE FOR LEADERS

Getting Ready for Advent

Written By Mark D. Roberts
For God alone my soul waits in silence,
      for my hope is from him.

Focus

The season of Advent is almost here. We’re coming into a time when we get in touch with our yearning for healing, justice, peace, and salvation. Most of all, Advent is a time for us to feel more strongly our yearning for God, even as we prepare our hearts to celebrate the birth of the Messiah at Christmas.

We have two online resources to help you have a rich celebration of Advent:

Welcome to Advent: Discover the meaning and spiritual value of Advent. I share my personal experience of Advent, including “My Greatest Advent Discovery.”

Devotions for Advent: Five devotions, centered around the use of an Advent wreath. For individuals, families, or small groups.

Devotion

The season of Advent is almost here. In this devotion I’d like to help you get ready for a rich experience of God’s grace in this special season of the year. I have found Advent to be a time for deepening and enriching my relationship with the Lord. I’d love to help this be true for you also.

Officially, Advent begins this coming Sunday, November 29th, the first of four Sundays prior to Christmas Day. The length of Advent varies a bit each year because Christmas Day moves around in the week. In 2020, with Christmas Day on a Friday, Advent lasts for 26 days, beginning on November 29th and ending on December 24th, Christmas Eve.

As you may know, the word “advent” is derived from the Latin term adventus, which means “visit” or “coming.” During Advent, Christians focus on the advent of Jesus . . . actually on two advents. We remember the ancient Jewish longing for God’s salvation through the Messiah, the Anointed King. In this way we yearn for the first advent of Jesus. Also, we get in touch with our own longing for Christ’s return, when God will establish his kingdom and wipe away every tear. Thus, Advent stirs up our yearning for the second advent of Jesus.

Many people I know—including me—feel glad about the approach of Advent, much as we might feel about the pending visit of a dear, old friend. Yet, many others among my friends don’t really pay much attention to Advent. These include quite a few of my Christian friends, by the way. They really aren’t even sure what Advent is or why anyone should be excited about it.

Why do I love Advent? First of all, it is a season of preparation for Christmas. It helps us prepare our hearts for a truly joyous celebration of the birth of Jesus. Advent, though, isn’t just a kind of Christmas-lite. It has its own distinctive themes, moods, and colors. Christmas decorations feature red and green, backed up by white, silver, and gold. The major Advent color is, depending on your church tradition, either purple or deep blue, with pink as a secondary color. The distinct colors of Advent illustrate the fact that it isn’t only a time to get ready for Christmas. (If you want to learn more about Advent colors, check out Welcome to Advent.)

Above all, Advent is a season of waiting and hoping. Remembering what the Jewish people experienced as they waited and hoped for the Messiah, we also wait and hope for the two advents of Christ. Psalm 62:5 captures the spirit of Advent perfectly: “For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him.” Even the mention of silence is an Advent sort of theme. Whereas Christmas celebrations can be happily loud as we belt out “Joy to the World” and or the “Hallelujah Chorus,” Advent invites us into a time of quiet reflection.

In a day where there is so much about our world that is broken, my heart is unusually eager for Advent. The pain in our lives stirs up my hope for God’s salvation. Plus, in this time, we are waiting. Yes, we are waiting for a vaccine that will stop the scourge of COVID-19. Yes, we are waiting for an improved economy and for a more just world. But, when we take time to reflect, we realize that we are waiting, most of all, for God. As we read in Psalm 62:1-2, “For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall never be shaken.”

Reflect

What is your experience of Advent? What, if anything, does Advent mean to you?

In what way (or ways) are you waiting on God right now?

In what way (or ways) are you hoping in God right now?

Act

If you have Advent traditions that you cherish, then make plans to invest in those traditions this year. If Advent is new to you, consider adding an Advent practice in your life. You can find lots of ideas in my Welcome to Advent article.

Pray

Gracious God, as we come upon the season of Advent, I would love to draw near to you in a special way. I’d like to enter into this time of hope and waiting in a way the renews my relationship with you. I’d like to prepare my heart for a more meaningful celebration of the birth of Jesus. So I ask you to help me reorient my heart in the coming season. May I be more attentive to you and more in touch with my soul’s longing for you.

For you alone, Lord, my soul waits in silence; from you comes my salvation. You alone are my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall never be shaken. Amen.
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Wishing you all a blessed and holy Advent season,




Monday, November 2, 2020

Day 1 and Day 2 of 30 Days of Gratitude

 


I have stolen--um, I mean borrowed--this set of daily gratitude prompts from Maria Grace @ Random Bits of Fascination with the grand idea of trying to respond to each post during the month of November. Now seems to be an excellent time as we have sold our home of 19 years in our beloved little town of Pine Valley, California (population 1600 souls), and we are taking a HUGE leap o' faith as we wait to see where God will put us. The kids and I are hoping for Oregon since we have so many friends there, but it will need to be a special house in a special price range--in other words, pretty much a miracle. But God is indeed the One Who Does Miracles, so we are trusting Him for this miracle and for His clear direction if He wants us to go elsewhere. It may be a wild ride, friends!! :D

And as I was just jotting down quotations on gratitude from Ann Voskamp's amazing book on gratitude, One Thousand Gifts, it seems that God is working on me, developing a heart of gratitude rather than a heart of anxiety considering our move, the election, the pandemic, family relationships, etc. 



So I will be responding to the first two questions above in this post:

1. What made you smile today? 

I so enjoy laughing with my Bible study group from Blessed Trinity Anglican Church on Zoom. We meet each Monday evening to get an overview of a book of the Bible and discuss it, and so far we have discussed several books including Psalms, Genesis, Jonah, Philippians, Isaiah, and tonight was Colossians; next week we'll be discussing Esther. 

Father Gregory always makes us laugh, and we can be as silly as we like. We almost always add the Zoom video effects, so I was wearing my halo, and Father Gregory and his grown daughter Ashley were wearing little green leaves sprouting out of their heads. We also use the responses, including the heart, the thumbs-up, the party blower, the applauding hands, the thumbs-up, the laughing-'til-you're-crying, etc. We had a wonderful time gaining an overview of Colossians, and I read my favorite verses from this "prison epistle" written by the Apostle Paul: 

Colossians 3.12-17 (ESV):

12 Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. 

These verses make me smile, too--they describe our life and our joy in Christ so perfectly!! 



2. Who are you grateful for?

There are so many people I could list here: the members of my family, our priests/pastors (both current and former), my women's Bible study at Pine Valley Community Church, I am grateful for my friend, mentor, confidant, and former neighbor Judith. She is in her mid-80s but has the spirit and overflowing joy of her early 20s. (She says that she feels like she is in her teens, but she's a bit too wise for a teenager!đŸ˜‚) Judith has been my friend for about seventeen of our nineteen years in Pine Valley; our mutual friend Kitty introduced us, and we've been bopping over to one another's houses, texting and emailing, giving gifts and tech help and editing help and advice on poems and prose and being part of the same writers' workshop which meets monthly at our county library branch (and on Zoom during COVID). 

Judith tells the truth gently, but she tells the truth. She has such insight--truly she's a prophetic spirit--and I find her advice and help so grounded, Biblical and TRUE. She's an incredibly modest woman as well as an extremely talented one; not only is she a gifted poet and writer of prose, but she is also a musician and an artist. Talk about a real triple-threat!! But Judith is as far from a threat as a human could possibly be. She is infused with joy even when having a rough Lupus day; her eyes sparkle with mischief, and she is a woman truly "after God's own heart" as she speaks His Truth while His Love flows from her every pore. Her lovely face is so animated with her love for our Savior that she can't help but inspire all whom she speaks to, whether they are Believers or not. And her compassion, her righteous anger, her love for people, and especially her passion for saving God's Creation inspire all who hear her speak on these vital topics. 

Before I met Judith and Kitty, I had never met strong Christians who were Democrats, and, at first, I wondered how they could support the other political party. Now, nearly two decades older and a bit wiser, I can see why, and I have joined them in desiring to be compassionate, to help the poor and the helpless precisely as Jesus commands, to seek common ground with people rather than dividing them with any wedge that can be found. 

Our Writers' Workshop writing together on a NaNoWriMo "Write-In"
at the Pine Valley Library; Judith is second from the right.

So many more reasons exist for why I am thankful for Judith, so consider this post a mere beginning!!   

Soli Deo Gloria,



Sunday, October 4, 2020

Quotation of the Week

 


Have a lovely week, everyone!! I am buried in grading preliminary drafts of MLA research essays, so I will post more when I'm done with class. Until then, enjoy this quotation from my Commonplace Book!! 

Soli Deo Gloria,



Sunday, September 13, 2020

Ponderings on the 19th Anniversary of September 11th

 


It seems a lifetime ago, yet it seems so immediate that it could have been yesterday. We were so removed from the actual events of September 11, here on the West Coast, awakened by my father's phone call after pulling into our family's mountain cabin with four sleeping kids at 2:00 AM just a few hours previously. We had finished packing up our city home of ten years, picked up the kids from my parents' beach house, and drove an hour east, past the small mountain town that we were moving to, and arrived at my family's 500 square foot cabin to stay until we could move into our new-to-us mountain home. 

We had only "rabbit ears" on the small TV in the cabin, so most of the news was blurry and static-laden. I remember being half-asleep all day, trying to watch the news, setting up my laptop on the kitchen table but only able to be online for half an hour at a time in order to keep the phone lines free to talk to family, the realtors, etc. All while taking care of four kids ages 18 months to nine years old. The little guy was still nursing, and I was trying to homeschool the older two kids while the preschooler created mayhem. 

Because I was so news-deprived, I tend to spend each anniversary of September 11 watching crystal-clear videos of the events in New York, the Pentagon, and Pennsylvania. But the first anniversary was the most powerful because I could finally see, with astonishing clarity, the videos and photos of all that I couldn't see on September 11, 2001, and for several weeks afterward, as our escrow was delayed because of the New York banks needing time to start back to work again. 

But what really caught my attention was a moment in which the US Poet Laureate, Billy Collins (whom I would meet in 2013 at the Writers' Symposium by the Sea at Point Loma Nazarene University), read aloud his poetic tribute on the first anniversary of September 11. "The Names." It struck me viscerally, even more than U2's "Beautiful Day" and "Walk On" (two of my favorite songs by my favorite band) at the Superbowl halftime show a few months after the tragedy. 


Poet Billy Collins at The Writer's Symposium by the Sea, 2013

The thing I love about Billy Collins' work is that he is supremely unpretentious. With his poetic talent and his academic cred, with his position as our nation's Poet Laureate for two years, he could easily be as pretentious as all-get-out. But he's not. He is (no past tense here!!) our nation's poet. He speaks the language of the everyday American, with a hint of sarcasm, with a twinkle in his eye. But not with this poem. Here he is, reading "The Names" again, at the request of PBS:

 


If you would like to read more about Billy Collins and his poetry, check out his page on The Academy of American Poets at poets.org: Billy Collins. (To read some of his poems, click the bar beneath his photo.) 


US Poet Laureate Billy Collins

Thanks for allowing me to remember those dark days, but not very dark as I was a continent away, in a wee mountain cabin with four small children, trying to find out what the heck was happening on this beautiful autumn day, a day of change as we moved from one house to another nineteen years ago. I knew that what was happening was big and scary, even through the static fuzz of the 12-inch TV screwed into the wall seven feet from the floor. 

But Billy Collins made it real the next year, made it actual. Made it tangible. And I can't thank him enough. 

Poetically yours,



    

Monday, August 31, 2020

My 2020-2021 Essay Grading Service



Susanne Barrett: Essay Grading Service via E-Mail

2020-2021 School Year

So this is how my grading system works: Just send me the essay you would like to be graded as a Word attachment (no Google Docs, please!), and please include the assignment directions either in the text of the e-mail or also as an attachment. Also, please let me know if you would like comments only or comments with a letter grade. Please alert me also to anything else I may need to know (such as learning challenges, reluctant writing, etc.) so that I can respond to the essay in the most helpful way possible.

I will respond via e-mail within 24 hours to let you know that I received the essay and on which day you can expect to have it returned to you, usually within 3-5 school days. If you need an essay graded sooner, let me know, and I'll see if I can slip it into my schedule.

Also, with each assignment, please include the writer’s age, grade level, and whether you want a letter grade since I grade for many families and may not recall your family’s preferences. 

I then download the essay, mark corrections, make comments, and offer suggestions in the right margin comments. At the end of the essay, I write an overall summary of what was done well in the essay and what needs further attention. My over-arching goal is to encourage growth in the art and craft of writing, including format/structure, organization, fluency, vocabulary, and mechanics.   

Then when I return the graded essay, which I send in Word and also as a PDF (because some Apple computers/tablets don’t show the review comments in the right margin of Word documents), I will let you know the fee which is the number of words in the essay (excluding any notes for me) times $.03 (3 cents per word) with a $10 minimum fee per essay. If you wish to have your writer revise the essay and submit it to be re-graded, I charge half as much (1½ cents per word with a $5 minimum) for grading revised essays.




Then I ask you to remit via PayPal at PayPal.Me/SusanneBarrett when I return the essay. I will grade the essay first and then receive payment after returning the essay to you. Please remit payment within 48 hours of my returning the graded essay to you.

Regarding research essays, I am well-versed in the latest Modern Language Association (MLA) format style according to the MLA Handbook, 8th Edition (2016) which is the format most commonly used for research in the humanities. Because I am not at all familiar with other research formats such as APA, CMS/Turabian, etc., I only grade research essays formatted according to the MLA style, 8th edition.

Please let me know if you have any questions; I’m always happy to explain and/or discuss my essay grading services.

I also teach my Beginning Writing, Expository Essay, and MLA Research Essay high school classes via e-mail on a semester basis. Please e-mail me if you would like more information. 



So e-mail me an essay whenever you're ready, and we'll go from there! I look forward to working with you and your young writer(s)! 

Writing with you,
Susanne 

SBarrett0085@gmail.com 
www.SusanneBarrett.com

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Small Town Dungeons and Dragons

 

Critical Role Second Campaign Characters, L to R: Yasha (Ashley), Fjord (Travis), Jester (Laura), Nott (Sam), Beau (Marisha), Caleb (Liam), and Mollymauk (Taliesen)

A couple of years ago, T started watching a live-streamed game of Dungeons and Dragons. The players and the Dungeon Master (DM) are all first-rate voice actors of anime and video game fame. But, more than that, they are friends who started playing over five years ago as a birthday present to one of the group of eight. That one-shot morphed into a homebrew game based in a wonderful world called Exandria, as devised by the creative mind (and voice) of Matthew Mercer. Matt led the players: Marisha Ray (who was dating Matt at the time; they are now married), Sam Riegel, Liam O'Brien, Ashley Johnson, Taliesen Jaffe, and another married couple, Laura Bailey and Travis Willingham. A couple of years later, they were approached by Geek and Sundry to play their home game live on Twitch. Thus, Critical Role started. 

The cast of Critical Role, L to R: Liam, Ashley, Travis, Laura, Matthew, Marisha, Taliesen, Sam

I could go on and on about Critical Role and all that they have done, along with many other live-streamers, to bring D&D mainstream. But after watching for a while, we got the itch to play. First, T played a short campaign (eight sessions) with younger brother J and J's wife Ems, plus a couple from our church. After they finished up as the DM was leaving for law school, T decided he wanted to DM ... and he has created a homebrewed world that combined Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition (5e) with the video game world of Elder Scrolls. After much planning of his world of Varmmyr, T, E, and I started playing with neighbor C, and in the eighth session, her husband D joined the party, now consisting of four plus the DM. 

One of our first battles!! 

I can't tell you how much I look forward to Sunday afternoons and four hours in another world. My character is an Aasimar (a part-angelic race) Light Cleric named Fionnlagh (pronounced "Finlay"); Fionn is basically a demon hunter sent by her mentor, Benedict (yes, based on St. Benedict) to help quash a demonic cult; this is Fionn's first solo assignment, and she has been sent to meet with one of Benedict's friends, Leland, a priest. Once she entered the small town of Eda'Linn, she goes to the temple where she is to meet Leland, and they are ambushed by demonic beings who quickly kill Leland before Fionn can get any answers from him...besides finding a letter from Benedict about a girl Leland has recently taken into his care. 

Also in the temple, Fionn meets a small girl named Tehn (pronounced "Ten"--E's character) who was under Leland's care and seems to have magical powers that Benedict is very interested in--according to his letter to Leland. They also meet a Tabaxi (cat-person--C's character) named Ember who is very handy with bows and arrows. These three start an adventure, all for different reasons, tracking down the source of the demonic attack and learning to trust one another along the way.

After several adventures in and around Eda'Linn, the trio travels to Port Eroth, and on the way, they come across and fight alongside a human named Ethrond who is an Eldritch Knight (D's character), and he joins the party since he has several contacts in Port Eroth. And thus the foursome starts tracking down the clues that will lead them far from Eda'Linn and Port Eroth across the mountains and into the Ghodeir Desert where they discover an archaeological dig that seems extremely hinky. And many fights and adventures, mummies and curses, come their way. 

Fionnlagh in her Iconoclast's Aegis Armor

We have now returned to Port Eroth at the end of our first arc. And has it ever been amazing!! When we returned to the Port near the end of our last session, Fionnlagh was finally able to hand over the Abyssal Sigil Stone to the Orc Prior Durmak, whom her mentor Benedict had told her to meet, telling him that they had kept the Stone from the mummified Ashen Prince, preventing his complete resurrection. Then Prior Durmak put Fionn through her paces in fighting a Shadow Demon ... with the caveat that she could not destroy the wooden warehouse in which she fought it. 

After decimating the demon (and not damaging the warehouse), Fionn is offered membership in the Iconoclasts, a secret espionage-type group within the Order of the Fallen Star. Above is her new armor which gives her two more points to her Armor Class, among many other awesome benefits. Plus, Fionn was very touched that Ember had sneakily followed her when she met and then completed her "test" with Prior Durmak, even to the point of congratulating her after her win.  

T voices so many amazing NPC (non-playing characters), draws so many awesome maps, creates so many fights and adventures for us, that we have a blast, and four hours just fly by every Sunday afternoon. This afternoon, we'll be starting our 27th session since beginning the campaign in early January; we've missed only one week, I believe. We'll bee off to the floating city of Vellestra for a bit of shopping and other fun!!  

One of T's maps of the underground caverns through which we sought the Ashen Prince.

Even though C and D live three streets down, we went to Zoom for our sessions once the pandemic hit in mid-March. They work from home, but C also has some health issues that keep her careful, as does T, so we may meet on C and D's deck outside if a particular Sunday is forecast to be cool enough. Unfortunately, today's temperatures are supposed to reach 100 degrees, so meeting outside is a no-go this week.  

My cask of dice, Fionn's mini for fighting (yes, Fionn actually has angel's wings!!), plus Fionn's magical Feather Letter Quill and fine ink. 


So this is the world of Dungeons and Dragons, and oh, is it ever amazing and exciting!!

And now we just need to name our group!! ;)

Preparing to fight evil once again,  


Sunday, June 28, 2020

Catching up on Book Reviews...



One would think with a pandemic going on that I would have tons o' time for reading, but, unfortunately, this has not been the case. Perhaps it's the time I've been investing in our homebrew of Dungeons and Dragons with a strong whiff of Elder Scrolls (we are playing our twentieth session this afternoon!). But it's been more a mental laziness.

I've been pushing myself through teaching my classes, finding concentrating difficult and time-consuming. I adore my students and love my classes, but just everything is taking more effort. Even reading. I am in a re-reading kind of mood, wanting something familiar rather than new to read. I've been depending on Jane Austen Fan Fiction (JAFF) and historical mystery series for the most part, but even these familiar characters are a bit of a challenge.

I find myself watching too much CNN and MSNBC on YouTube, then turning to re-runs of Critical Role's second D&D campaign (and the first new episode to stream in over one hundred days is due out this Thursday!). So I got real and reduced my Goodreads Reading Goal for 2020 from 80 (I read 96 books in 2019) to 50 which will likely still be a stretch as I have only read 17 or 18 books thus far.

Here are some thoughts about books I read earlier in the year and posted on Goodreads. I'm not posting many full reviews this year--mostly just giving a book its rating and the dates I read it, and then I move on. Ugh! I hope that the brain fog will clear and I can once again have my usual somewhat scattered but always book-hungry mind back for the second half of 2020.


To Conquer Pride: A Pride and Prejudice Variation To Conquer Pride: A Pride and Prejudice Variation by Jennifer Altman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A wonderful variation of Austen's most popular novel finds Darcy and Elizabeth encountering one another at an inn during a snowstorm. When the coach sent by Elizabeth's uncle does not arrive because of snowy conditions after she sent off the conveyance provided by the Collinses, Mr. Darcy offers her a ride in his carriage so that she doesn't have to face staying in the inn by herself. But the snow doesn't stop even for Fitzwilliam Darcy, and from this point, drama ensues.

Jennifer Altman provides a lovely tale of Elizabeth's growing regard for Mr. Darcy after she comes to know him much better during their stay in an empty hunting cottage after a serious accident with Darcy's carriage. The novel is very well-written, and the pacing is just right. I am often frustrated by some Austen variations (including Austen's original novel) for not giving us readers enough time to enjoy Darcy and Elizabeth as a couple before the novel ends. But this novel provides plenty of time to enjoy the love of Darcy and Elizabeth which is highly satisfying.


A Pressing Engagement A Pressing Engagement by Anna Lee Huber
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An intriguing novella, popping into the Lady Darby mystery series between Books 4 and 5. This one relates the engagement of Kiera to the man she first despised and then grew to love: a man of secrets hidden so deeply that Kiera couldn't help but wonder if she would ever really know the enigmatic yet oh-so-charming man she had agreed to marry.

But Kiera, despite knowing that her soon-to-be second husband is nothing like her first, the cruel Lord Darby who had forced her to use her considerable artistic talents to illustrate his anatomy textbook--the only reason he married her. Under threat of his breaking her fingers so that she could never hold a paintbrush again, Kiera reluctantly creates the illustrations for the well-known anatomist's textbook, gaining much knowledge of death and murder as a result.

While this knowledge proves invaluable in her partnership as an investigator, it was hard-won at the price of Kiera's ability to trust men. After all, her first husband has seemed perfectly amiable and kind...until they married. Although Kiera knows in her head that her fiance truly loves her, fear does creep in, causing her head knowledge to not quite reach her heart.

Will she be able to marry this man who adores her? Whom she adores? Or will both of their pasts come back to haunt them over and over again?

I am utterly entranced by this historical mystery series set in the early 1830s, and ranging from the wilds of Scotland to Ireland, to England, and even to the London ton. Kiera is a heroine worth knowing: she is intelligent, intuitive, talented, perceptive, and reads people sometimes too well. She knows her weaknesses all too well and hopes that she will not be mistaken in this marriage as she was in her previous one.

But she truly loves her fiance, unlike the mere friendliness she had shared with her first husband who had been chosen by her father. So we hope with Kiera that all will be well in this auspicious marriage!


  As Death Draws Near As Death Draws Near by Anna Lee Huber
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Now married, Kiera and Gage are forced to leave their honeymoon in the Lake District as Gage is sent by his father, Lord Gage, to investigate the death of a nun in Ireland. Despite the incomplete information provided by Lord Gage, Kiera and Sebastian are on the case almost immediately, but they are also accompanied by the extremely annoying Lothario, Lord Marsdale, who insists on assisting with the case.

Kiera and Gage find themselves in the middle of Irish rebellion against the English who are taxing the Irish above and beyond what is usual. Secret passages, secret cousins, secret relationships--all make Gage and Kiera's investigation fraught with danger.

It's another amazing mystery featuring Lady Darby--now Mrs. Gage, and Sebastian Gage, truly partners in marriage as well as in solving crime.


A Brush with Shadows A Brush with Shadows by Anna Lee Huber
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Forced to leave Ireland in a rush at the behest of Gage's grandfather, Gage and Kiera now travel to Dartmoor, to the home where Gage was raised and has not returned to in fifteen years, since the burial of his mother.

Gage has been estranged from his mother's family: his grandfather (his mother's father), his cousins Alfred and Rory, and his widowed aunt Vanessa. So this request to come to the moors from his grandfather is not welcome, but out of duty, they travel as quickly as they can from Ireland.

Mysteries abound. Gage's elder cousin, his grandfather's heir, has been missing for ten days, and it isn't clear whether he is in hiding or if something has happened to him. Gage is on edge constantly, arguing with his bedridden grandfather, his haughty and mean-spirited aunt who seems quite upset at Alfred's disappearance, and his rollicking cousin Rory who seems much more responsible than his missing elder brother, the heir.

The curse of Gage's family, the danger of the moors, and the feeling of being distinctly unwelcome despite Lord Tavistock's request for their presence, all combine to create a prickly feel to daily life in the beautiful old home. But does more danger lie in wait for both Kiera and for Gage?

Another edge-of-the seat read, courtesy of Anna Lee Huber and the Lady Darby mysteries!!


A House of Ghosts A House of Ghosts by W.C. Ryan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is an incredible read. Part classic British country house mystery, part World War I spy story, part exploration of the paranormal, and part romance, I was extremely disappointed that this author apparently has not published any other books. The balance of all of these genres is exquisite and compelling. The switching of third-person point-of-views throughout the novel is smooth and extremely insightful; I felt as if I received the whole story. By retaining the third-person point-of-view, the writing style remains smooth and consistent while providing enlightening details from various characters' viewpoints.

I rarely give "5" ratings to books that are not classics by Shakespeare, Austen, Dickens, and the Bröntes, but this book was definitely a "5" on my scale. It's a complex novel while remaining clear and concise, and was extremely difficult to put aside and go to sleep at night; I'd rather keep reading. Truly, an extraordinary novel, and I truly hope it is the first of a series as the ending may suggest.


Let me know what you're reading this summer!!!

Reading with you (at least a little),

~Susanne

Sunday, June 21, 2020


I have long been a reader and devoted follower of the Life for Leaders Daily Devotions. Mark Roberts writes the devotions for Monday-Friday, and various others write the weekend devotions.

This weekend's devotions are written by InĂ©s Velasquez-McBryde, one of my favorite weekend devotional writers at Life for Leaders. 

I would like to share the thoughts on this devotion with my brothers and sisters in Christ and with anyone willing to ponder these thoughts. I found in them a personal challenge that I pray will help me to extend the love of Christ into our world that is hurting more than is usual right now. (Or, at least the hurt is being shown, addressed, discussed, and acted upon more than usual.) This message is not political; it's spiritual. 

All credit here is given to InĂ©s Velasquez-McBryde and the Life for Leaders Daily Devotions team. Many thanks for consistently challenging me to grow in my faith. 

From PART I: THE BEATITUDES ARE NOT FOR THE BLESSED
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. He opened his mouth and began to teach them saying: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” 

As a leader, I am a woman of color, but I am not African-American and cannot speak for my African-American sisters and brothers. Yet I can mourn with my siblings who mourn. A Christ-like leader cannot depart from the Christ on this mount. The message of the Beatitudes is ensconced in a painful present. Yet the Messenger of the Beatitudes points to a present and future hope in the midst of dark realities. I am called to mourn the systemic inequities that brought about the death of yet another African-American brother.
...
In light of all the national racial trauma, I realized that the beatitudes are not for the blessed; they’re for the oppressed. Jesus sees the marginalized crowds whose bodies and lives have been taxed heavily by both state and synagogue, which at the moment was the Roman empire and local religious leaders, respectively. Jesus sees the crowds and knows that they have been exploited and abused. Jesus is aware of the inequities for they have been waiting for 400 years in a hard, long and unresolved waiting to be saved from this empire. Justice has been denied to the people as well. Social relationships were marked by hierarchy and order of importance. The elite were growing rich at the expense of the poor. The people who sat down in front of Jesus… were tired of waiting, too.
...
The message of the Beatitudes is ensconced in a painful present. Yet the Messenger of the Beatitudes points to a present and future hope in the midst of dark realities. I am called to mourn. I am called to comfort. I can do both. As I marched with my sisters and brothers I listened, lamented, and learned. I felt the presence of the Jesus on the mount walking in the midst of the march, marching to the heartbeat of heaven with that beautiful upside-down kingdom. The leader of that mount led a peaceful protest, for God is the God of the protest and the redeemer of the oppressed.
May we as leaders listen, lament and mourn as we live into this blessed beatitude.

PRAY

Jesus, we as your disciples have romanticized and individualized your sermon on the mount. Teach us to let it discomfort us and expand our imagination for our collective family. Lord, we mourn over our blindspots; show them to us. We mourn over our apathy; inject us with your heart. We mourn over historical inequities shown to our African-American sisters and brothers; show us our complicity. We mourn over a late awakening; invite us into your resurrected and restorative life that rights the wrongs. First, let us mourn, alone and with our sisters and brothers. Amen.

And from today's Part II: PRAYING THE BEATITUDES BACKWARDS
“Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons and daughters of God.”

In this familiar passage of the Sermon on the Mount, it is easy for us to insert ourselves and our desire to receive individual blessings. However, Jesus is speaking to a crowd with collective, historical pain. It’s a communal message, not an individual message. What would it look like to turn the message into a prayer of confession with an outward-facing Kingdom imagination?
...

PRAY

Jesus, may we sit at your feet as you sit on the mount. May the heart of your message cut to the heart of our misses and mistakes. May we be the students and you the divine teacher. May we reflect and rest on every word that pierces, convicts and comforts. May the heartbeat of this message give us life and breath in our life’s message. May we live into this message, that others would recognize the one that has sent us with this message. Help us be brave and courageous. Grant us grace that points to your grace. Amen.
Thank you, InĂ©s Velasquez-McBryde!! 
Soli Deo Gloria,

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