Monday, June 17, 2019

“The Secret Orphan” by Glynis Peters

It’s 1938. Eighteen-year-old Elenor Cardew lives on a farm in Cornwall with her two brothers. Life is mostly drudgery, with her brothers’ expectations of her central role of taking care of them. And then an aunt, her dead mother’s sister, requires her to come to Coventry to take care of her as her health is failing.

At first, the aunt and her attitude seem little better than that of her brothers. A couple, George and Rose Sherbourne, and their five-year-old daughter Rose live in the home, Victoria serving as housekeeper and George behaving boorishly on a good day. He’s a tutor, and he’s often away. Rose, however, is bubbly and almost irrepressible, although she’s treated rather coldly by her parents.

As the months pass, the aunt warms to Elenor and arranges for her to buy some decent clothes. The aunt’s sternness gives way to genuine affection. Elenor grows close to Rose, while George and Victoria remain somewhat odd. And the clock is ticking toward September 1939 and the prospect of war. Elenor meets a young Canadian airman stationed near Coventry and finds herself falling in love. The aunt dies in the spring of 1939, and Elenor learns she’s her aunt’s heir.

The city centre of Coventry after the Move,ber 1940 blitz
The war starts; Elenor’s brother both enlist in the army and are caught at Dunkirk. Assigned to be the remained guard fighting the Germans while the main army escapes, neither brother returns. Elenor goes back to Cornwall to care for the farm and undertake a general rehabilitation of the property, farmhouse, and farming practices. Her brothers left a mess. 

Coventry experiences the firebombing of November 1940; only Rose survives of her family. She’s brought by a friend to Cornwall; Elenor had been listed as next of kin. It’s after she arrives that Elenor discovers the little girl carries a dangerous secret with her.

The Secret Orphan by Glynis Peters tells the story of Elenor and Rose, and what happens when Elenor determines to protect the child at all costs. It also tells the story of Coventry, of life on an English farm during wartime, the ongoing prospect of enemy bombing, even on farms, and the romance between and English girl and a Canadian airman.

Glynis Peters
The novel is Peters’ first, and when it was published in 2018, it reached several international bestseller lists. The author lives in Dovercourt, Essex, England. A grandson lives in Canada – and that’s why she introduced a Canadian pilot as one of the novel’s characters.

It’s a good story of England before and during wartime. It might have done to exclude a character or two; the Land Girl assigned to the farm was interesting but doesn’t really advance the narrative. And an epilogue that ended as the book began – with an elderly Rose reliving some of her memories – would have tied it together. But The Secret Orphan is still an enjoyable story.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Blame: a trilogy

After Genesis 3:1-19

The questions fly:

Who did this
what have you done
did you do what
I told you not to do
who told you
you were naked

It was the woman 
you gave me
(clever: a double denial,
a double shift: blame
the woman and blame
the One who gave 
the woman)

It was the serpent
who deceived me
with his slithering
words (aka, the devil
made me do it)

The serpent says nothing
but he smirks.

The condemnation flows
in reverse order:
   a curse of position
   a curse of pain
   a curse of labor, of work
   of toil, of sweat

a curse of dust
raised from dust
returned to dust

and a promise:
to be continued.

Photograph by Frederica Giusti via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Saturday Good Reads

I'm not sure what's going on with (non-fiction) books and publishers these days. Just recently, author Naomi Wolf was called out (during a broadcast, no less) for misinterpreting a Victorian legal phrase - and demolishing her book's ("Outrages") argument in the process. Now it's writer Paul Dolan, whose book "Happy Ever After" makes the claim that unmarried women are happier than married women -- based on a series of misinterpreted studies and reports. Vox has the story. Don’t publishers of non-fiction books do fact-checking anymore?

George Orwell’s novel 1984 is 70 years old this week, and it still sells well. If you’ve looked up a book on Amazon and shortly thereafter found a sponsored link on your Facebook newsfeed, it can seem like 1984 is here, it just took a few years longer that the title suggested. Not to mention facial recognition technologies. Glenn Arbery at The Imaginative Conservativehas another perspective – what the book says about propaganda and the exclusion of ideas. Which is what is happening at many colleges and universities across the United States. 

C.S. Lewis remains a popular writer, and not only because of his Narnia stories and The Screwtape Letters. Dr. Art Lindsley at the Institute for Faith, Work, & Economics considers Lewis’s warning against progress at any cost, and Samuel James at Letters & Liturgy looks at why Lewis was so persuasive.

Georgia is one of several states that has passed more restrictive abortion laws. Georgia is also home to a sizeable film industry. Netflix and Hollywood producers have threatened to boycott the state, at least as far as filming there. Justin Lee at Medium’s ARC Digital has some thoughts about the film industry doing things like this. Of course, no film company has threatened to stop distributing movies in Georgia or, in Netflix’s case, end all subscriptions in the state. 

More Good Reads

Writing and Literature

Why Do Found Texts Fascinate Us So Much? – Peter Rock at The Millions.

Is There a Poet Laureate of the Anthropocene? – Ed Simon at The Millions.

Are Crime Thrillers Our New Folklore? – Sandra Ireland at CrimeReads.

Writers Are More Prolific When They Cluster – Richard Florida at CityLab.

British Stuff

What was the real purpose of the English country house library? – Jeremy Musson at The Art Newspaper.

Brexit Did Not Cause Brexit – Carl Trueman at First Things Magazine.

Jacqueline and Eileen Nearne: Sisters and Spies – Jennifer Ryan at CrimeReads.

Life and Culture

An Acceptable Prejudice – Elizabeth Corey at First Things Magazine.

Without Athens, There is No R.E.M.: The Loss of Local Cultures – R.M. Stangler at Front Porch Republic.

The Rise of Progressive Occultism – Tara Isabella Burton at The American Interest.


Cabin in the Woods – Karl Kerchwey at Literary Matters.

Dylan Thomas – D.S. Martin at Kingdom Poets.

Gospel Flag – Joe Spring.

News Media

You Raise Me Up – Peter Hollens and 200 Kids Sing A Capella

Painting: The Reader, oil on canvas by Franz Defregger (1835-1921).

Friday, June 14, 2019

The Surprise of "The Scarlet Letter"

It’s been 50 years since I read Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlett Letter in my high school American literature class. What I vaguely remembered was a story about a woman named Hester Prynne in Puritan New England, with a baby born out of wedlock, and the narrowminded colonists who took great pride in displaying their superiority over the sinful, fallen woman. 

As I started reading the book in May, it took me all of the first two chapters to realize that what I remembered, and what had seeped into my head about the book in the past half-century, was superficially right but substantially wrong. It is much more than what I remembered. 

The biggest surprise so far has been the two significant male characters, the Reverend Mr. Arthur Dimmesdale and the man who shows up and calls himself Roger Chillingworth but is actually Hester Prynne’s long-absent husband. (You have to love the names Hawthorne gives his characters, as descriptive as those of Charles Dickens, but then, Hawthorne was writing and publishing about the same time). 

To continue reading, please see my post today at Literary Life.

A strange beauty

After Genesis 3:1-19

A strange beauty
the tree possessed,
shimmering in the light.
a shimmering so intense
that it beckoned, singing
its song, its promise,
its fruit so enticing,
so forbidden.
A hand reaches,
the fruit is touched,

The eyes open
the heart closes

Photograph by Veterzy via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Two YA Victorian Mysteries by Cora Harrison

Four pre-teen boys struggling to survive without parents might make unlikely detectives. But this is the London of Charles Dickens, roughly the 1840s, and if you're 12 years old and living on your own, you survive by your wits and taking advantage of whatever comes your way. 

The Montgomery Murder and The Deadly Fire are the first two in the Victorian London Murder Mystery Series by Cora Harrison. Due to the death of his mother from cholera, twelve-year-old Alfie finds himself head of the family. The family includes Alfie’s younger brother Sammy, who has a beautiful singing voice and is blind, and his two cousins Jack and Tom. 

They live in a basement in Bow Street, and life is focused on getting enough money each week for rent and food. The boys sing, perform tricks with their dog Mutsy, run errands, and are not above swiping a loaf of bread (or a bit more than a loaf of bread) and working as pickpockets. 

In The Montgomery Murder, Alfie is caught trying to steal a loaf of bread and is hauled off to the police station in Bow Street. Facing prison himself and a disaster for his brother and cousins, Alfie is surprised to be helped by a sympathetic police detective, who seeks Alfie’s help in trying to find out any information at all about a man found murdered, strangled with wire in the notorious St. Giles area of London. 

Alfie has seen the man before, and in fact saw him shortly before he was killed. He’s also able to show the detective that the man was not killed while being robbed. The man lived with his family in well-to-do Bedford Square, and it is there where the killer’s trail might lead. Alfie and his family, along with a few friends, are recruited by the detective to keep their eyes open and see what they might learn about the murder.

It’s an exciting story, with the blind Sammy getting kidnaped by the killer, family passions boiling over, and some solid detective work by Alfie and his fellow street urchins.

In The Deadly Fire, the operator of a ragged school (school for poor children) in the St. Giles area dies in a fire that will turn out to be arson. Only Alfie suspects that the fire was deliberately set. He, his brother, and his friends quietly investigate, finding trouble at every turn.

Alfie finds himself running afoul of Mary Robinson, known as “Queen of the Costermongers,” a loan shark who’s particularly unscrupulous and ruthless. She’s a suspect; the dead man had started a broadsheet campaign decrying her activities. So is the dead man’s younger brother, who will inherit his father’s estate now that his brother is dead. Another suspect is a land developer, who wanted the land the ragged school occupied.

Alfie faces the difficulty of his police detective friend being hospitalized with pneumonia, and his replacement more than friends with some of the suspects. But he and his band of street urchins persevere.

Cora Harrison
These mystery stories for young adults (YA) are well-plotted and well-researched. They’re filled with character “types,” who would have been more than familiar to Dickens and the people of 1840s London. What I particularly like is that these stories speak to and with and not down to the reader. And while they are clearly in the YA genre, they are also fully enjoyable for adults.

Harrison has also published three other YA London mysteries, Murder on Stage, The Body in the Fog, and Death in the Devil’s Den. She is also the other of numerous books for children and young adults and historical novels and mysteries for adults.

Alfie’s world is one of often bare-knuckle struggle, but his knowledge of the streets, his savvy for survival, and his love and care for his brother and cousins make these stories fully pleasurable reads.

Top illustration: The London slums in the 1840s.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

“Adrift” by Jaycee Weaver

Erin is in her mid-30s, the mother of two teenaged children, and mourning the death of her husband, Jonah. Life wasn’t supposed to turn out this way, with moments and sometimes days of overwhelming grief punctuated by the reality of providing for a family and running a fly-fishing shop. By herself.

Erin and Jonah had invested in the shop as a way for Jonah to leave his father’s company. He had been increasingly suffocated in his corporate job, and the fly fishing shop was a means to break free. After his death, it’s all Erin can do to hold on.

That is, until a customer walks into the shop one day, and he’s looking for outdoors clothes for an upcoming retreat scheduled by his boss. His name is Lucas, and Erin is immediately convinced he must have been a male model, with dimples that imply “heartbreaker.” 

In spite of herself, she’s attracted, in a big way. So is Lucas. They find they have a lot of things in common, including attending the same church, though they’ve never met. Erin’s kids like him as well. And she finds herself becoming increasingly involved with a man she’s falling in love with.

Jaycee Weaver
Except Lucas harbors a secret.

Adrift by Jaycee Weaver is the story of Erin and Lucas, and how a second chance at love becomes threatened by what happened during the first love. It’s a novella in length, and it’s an engaging and well-told story.

Weaver has published several Christian fiction romances, including What Could BeWhatever Comes Our WayLove, Laughter, and Luminaries, and What Makes a Home. She lives in New Mexico. 

Adrift is the story of a relationship born, threatened, and ultimately resolved. It’s a “I have to read this in one sitting to see what happens next” kind of story, and its novella length makes that possible.