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.


Poetry

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,
plucked
tasted
eaten
consumed

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.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Poets and Poems: Michael Glaser and “The Threshold of Light”


The Threshold of Light by poet Michael Glaser reminds me why I like chapbooks as much as I do. A chapbook is a small collection, often a third of a size or less of a regular collection. It’s a sampling of a poet’s work, often drawn from individual poems already published. It can be as simple as 8 ½ by 11 sheets of paper folded and center-stitched with a slightly heavier paper cover, or it can be an artistically designed format, like this one by Glaser is.

The 21 poems included all relate to light in some way – dawn, the beginning of the day, a morning walk, how light changes in different geographies, how light is muffled by fog. But light is also a metaphor, and Glaser uses it in similar but also slightly different ways. Light can represent awareness, knowledge, beginnings, wisdom, energy, life, and grace. In fact, in this collection, he seems to use it mostly as a metaphor for awareness and grace.

To continue reading, please see my post today at Tweetspeak Poetry.

Monday, June 10, 2019

'Defiant Joy' by Kevin Belmonte


Everything about G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936) seems to have been oversized. He was famous for his physical size. His literary insights were recognized almost as soon as he began writing and publishing. He was considered a master of the paradox, and he was difficult to best in a debate. His interests ranged from detective fiction to Catholic saints, and he is still unsurpassed for his understanding of Charles Dickens. 

I first “met” Chesterton via his Father Brown mystery stories. Beginning in 1911 and continuing until his death in 1936, Chesterton wrote 53 of the stories. Over the years, the priestly detective has been featured in numerous film, radio, and television adaptations, and even in manga. But the stories are really only an introduction to the Broader Chesterton, and they served me as a bridge to his literary studies, biographies, and other works. 

His works are still widely read today, more than 80 years after his death. He was a philosophical adversary of George Bernard Shaw, but they were also close friends, and Shaw mourned his friend’s death. Chesterton has a more than significant influence on C.S. Lewis, and Lewis acknowledged that it was reading Chesterton that started him down the road to faith. A thriving Chesterton Societystill exists today, comprised of his admirers from around the world. And Chesterton still sounds contemporary; the issues he debated and confronted are similar to the issues of our own day.

Biographies have been written over the years, most notably by Garry Wills in the 1961 Chesterton. Writer Kevin Belmonte, in Defiant Joy: The Remarkable Life and Impact of G.K. Chesterton, has written a literary biography that focuses less on the details of Chesterton’s life and more on his major works. It’s an excellent introduction, originally published in 2011.

Belmonte tells his story chronologically, and tells the main facts of the man’s life, but he focuses on Chesterton’s works. We’re introduced to his journalism, of which there was a prodigious amount; the literary studies that first captured the critics’ praise; his book entitled Heretics; his deep understanding of Dickens; Orthodoxy, one of his most famous books; the Father Brown mysteries; his famous poem of England, The Ballad of the White Horse; his biographies of Chaucer, St. Francis, and St. Thomas Aquinas; and his account of his travels in North America, What I Saw in America

Belmonte provides summary of the works as well as the critical responses, setting each in its historical and literary context. He allows Chesterton and his critics (good and bad) to speak for themselves, quoting long passages of reviews and Chesterton’s responses. In short, Defiant Joy is everything you hope a literary biography to be, creating an understanding of an important literary and cultural influence who was nothing short of brilliant.
Kevin Belmonte

Belmonte received his B.A. degree in English from Gordon College, an M.A. degree in Church History from Gordon-Conwell Seminary, and an M.A. degree in American and New England Studies from the University of Southern Maine. He works include D.L. Moody: A Life: Innovator, Evangelist, World ChangerA Year with G.K. Chesterton: 365 Days of Wisdom, Wit and WonderWilliam Wilberforce: A Hero for Humanity (with Charles Colson); The Quotable ChestertonA.J. Gordon: An Epic Journey of Faith and Pioneering VisionMiraculous: A Fascinating History of Signs, Wonders and MiraclesA Journey through the Life of William WilberforceJohn Bunyan; and Called to a Different Purpose: The Story of Robert Fulton and His Vision for Web Industries.

Defiant Joy provides great insight into the works of one of the most original minds of modern times. It’s an excellent reference, worth reading again and again, and has already inspired me to go back and reread my favorite Chesterton works.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

To hear that sound


After Genesis 3:1-19

To hear that sound
in the garden, of walking
in the garden, a music
in its own way, beautiful
yet ominous, terrible
and fierce, to hear
those footsteps is
to revere, to hear
those footsteps is
to fear, they move
with purpose, not idly 
to smell the flowers
but deliberately
in the knowledge
of what has happened.

Photograph by Fachy Marin via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Saturday Good Reads



Oxford is less than an hour by train from London’s Paddington Station. We’ve visited Oxford five times, and if we return to London, we will also return to Oxford. The best bookstore on the planet (Blackwell’s) is located on Broad Street, and you could spend days in that place alone.

Oxford is also the setting for the Inspector Morse mysteries, which gave birth to the Inspector Lewis mysteries, which gave birth to the Endeavour mysteries. Morse and Lewis each had 33 episodes over several seasons; Endeavour is newer and has fewer but will likely exceed 33. But the city is also a setting for more than the Morse-Lewis-Endeavour mysteries. For example, did you know that Simon Tolkien, grandson of J.R.R., has published three historical mysteries set in Oxford? Paul French at CrimesReads has the story.

J.D. Vance, author of the bestselling Hillbilly Elegy, gave a speech at The American Conservative’s annual gala in Washington recently, and created something of a stir. He suggested the Republican Party redefine itself as a pro-worker, pro-family party. This raises all kinds of conservative issues – and not only those involving Donald Trump. You can read the full text of his speech at The American Conservative. I think he’s on to something.

More Good Reads

Faith


Poetry

The One Story of Robert Graves – David Mason at The Hudson Review.

The God who Speaks in Lyric Silences: Poet Temple Cone – Tom Darin Liskey at Literary Life.

Life List – Janet McCann via Kingdom Poets.


Reliquary (4 poems) – Kerry O’Connor at Skylover.

British Stuff

The London I loved: nostalgia for a dirty old town – Anne Margaret Daniel at Spectator USA.

Life and Culture

Abortion: Realpolitik, Kulturkampf, and Evangelization – John Médaille at Front Porch Republic.

If a Tree Falls in the Forest – Hannah Hubin at The Rabbit Room.

Virtue Signaling and Historical Presentism – Thomas Kidd at The Gospel Coalition.

A Politics of Presence – Elizabeth Stice at Front Porch Republic.

Writing and Literature

Over Explaining – Janet Reid, Literary Agent.

"Word Hoard" and the Difficulties of Making Dialogue Authentic – Annie Whitehead at Casting Light upon the Shadow.

Reckoning: An Interview with Silas House – Rebecca Gayle Howell at Image Journal.


Is He Worthy? – Andrew Peterson



Painting: Girl Reading, oil on canvas (1850-1855) by Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot (1796-1875).


Friday, June 7, 2019

On the precipice


After Luke 19:11-27

On the precipice
of the crack in time,
the moment when
nothing would be
the same again,
the moment 
at the juncture
of the before
and the after,
a price was
required, a toll
to cover the before.
Eyes focused 
on the after,
they would miss
the reality
of the moment,
they would see
the wrong thing,
at least for a time,
until after the cock
crowed,
until after the curtain
tore,
until after the stone
rolled,
until after the wound
was touched.

Photograph by Cristina Gottardi via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

"A Debt of Death" by Jonathan Dunsky


Private detective Adam Lapid takes most of his meals at Greta’s Café in Tel Aviv. It is 1950, and rationing – and the black market – are the order of the day. Lapid like the café food; he likes the time he can spend there, talking with Greta and playing chess against himself; and he likes the fact that other diners leave him alone. But what he loves is the coffee, the best in Tel Aviv, he believes.

Lapid had a past that stretches back to police detective days in Hungary and the Nazi concentration camps, the camps that took the lives of his wife and daughters and the camps where he almost died. He has a postwar history in Europe, when he spent time in Germany helping to hunt down and murder some of the Nazis who escaped the Allied armies. And he has a history in the Israeli war for independence in 1947-48, when he performed a particularly heroic (or foolhardy, or both) action in the Sinai that got him wounded.

Jonathan Dunsky
He’s at Greta’s one evening when a man is found dead right outside the café. Lapid knows the man, one Nathan Frankel. He knew Frankel only recently in Tel Aviv, but he knew him even more in Auschwitz. Frankel was the man who saved Lapid’s life after a particularly brutal beating with a whip by a Nazi camp guard, the beating that left permanent scars on Lapid’s back. The detective figures he owes a debt to Frankel, one that will determine Lapid to find who killed the man.

It’s a debt that will take Lapid into people involved with illegal currency exchange, black market activities, organized crime, police corruption, and personal passion. A Debt of Death is the fourth (and most recently published) Adam Lapid mystery novel by Jonathan Dunsky, and it’s an excellent entry in an already excellent series. 

The first three Adam Lapid mysteries are Ten Years GoneThe Dead Sister; and The Auschwitz Violinist. He’s also published The Favor: A Tale of Friendship and MurderGrandma Rachel’s GhostsFamily TiesTommy’s Touch: A Fantasy Love Story; and other works. He was born in Israel, served four years in the Israeli Army, lived in Europe for several years, and currently lives in Israel with his family. He has worked in various high-tech firms and operated his own search optimization business.

Dunsky works Israeli history and its criminal underbelly so well that the reader seems to walk the streets with Lapid as he searches for a killer and pays his debt. A Debt of Honor is one fine mystery read. 

Related:




Wednesday, June 5, 2019

"Living a Life of Yes" by David Rupert


I remember about four years ago when pictures of Jordan began showing up on David Rupert’s Facebook page. The famous ruins of Petra. Mount Nebo. The Jordan side of the Dead Sea. All scenes of sites well known from the Bible but not on the usual tour of the Holy Land. 

Rupert was there because he said yes. He had made a New Year’s resolution to say yes to every opportunity God put in front of him. The first one arrived four days later – an invitation from the Kingdom of Jordan to visit and write about the Christian sites in that country. 

It was the first time he said yes, but it wasn’t the last. And now he’s written a book: Living a Life of Yes: How One Word Can Change Everything

David Rupert
It’s an easy, engaging read, but it’s also thought-provoking – and heart-piercing. Rupert is a writer; his 9-to-5 job (which understates the actual hours) is as a strategic communication specialist. He knows how to write well, and he knows how to write to communicate well. And in Living a Life of Yes, he makes a convincing case.

Note that saying yes doesn’t mean saying yes to everything. It’s saying yes to “everything God puts in front of you.” Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference, but Rupert gives practical, prayer-grounded advice on how to do that. When presented with that kind of opportunity, something more than “thoughts and prayers” is demanded, and he explains how to go beyond one of the tritest expressions in American culture today.

Through 12 chapters, he explains what happened to him when he said yes; how he overcame fear and doubts; how to get ready for changing the world (because that’s the size of the opportunity); the difficulties you can face when saying yes; and real-world examples of people living a life of yes. And he has a challenge: “There’s a time to read and hear about other people, and then there’s a time to be like those other people.”

In addition to his full-time job, Rupert leads Writers on the Rock, a large writing community based in Colorado. His articles have appeared in Christianity TodayReal LivingBreakpointThe High Calling, and other Christian and leadership publications, and he blogs at Patheos.org. He and his family live in Golden, Colorado.

So, consider Living a Life of Yes. Read it, but you need to do more than read it. 

Believe it. 

Do it.