Monday, September 30, 2019

“Queen Victoria’s Buckingham Palace” by Amanda Foreman and Lucy Peter

Two weeks after becoming queen, the 18-year-old Victoria moved the household from Kensington Palace to Buckingham Palace. The new home was still a work in progress; it had been a country estate until William IV convinced Parliament to fund an expansion. The money ran out before it was finished and then William died.

It would be Victoria and her soon-to-be husband Albert of Saxe-Coburg to complete the palace to the point where it would be recognizable today. But as Queen Victoria’s Buckingham Palace makes clear, they did more than finish a building. Victoria and Albert turned the palace into an icon of the royal family and Britain in general. 

Written by Amanda Foreman and Lucy Peter, the book serves as the catalog and introduction to the “Queen Victoria’s Palace” exhibition which concluded yesterday. The exhibition was staged in honor of the 200th anniversary of Victoria’s birth. The book, however, is more than an exhibition souvenir; it stands on its own as a succinct account of how Victoria and Albert transformed Buckingham Palace. 

The transformation was profound. What had been a “country townhouse” for Queen Charlotte, wife of George III, would become a family home, a venue for grand state occasions, and a symbol of the British monarchy. The vision for the palace would outlast Victoria’s self-imposed exile at Balmoral Castle in Scotland after Albert’s death from what was likely typhoid in 1861. Even after she returned more than a decade later, she generally refused to host any event similar to what she and Albert had done together. It was Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli who suggested she host something that was entirely different – and it became one of the best known events associated with the palace and the royal family: the summer garden party.

The book makes generous use of the photographs, paintings, and artifacts maintained by the Royal Collections Trust. And it includes far more than Victoria’s dresses. We can see paintings and drawings of the royal children, the fancy costume balls, the prime ministers, the state events, how the palace structure grew, and what many of the state and private rooms looked like.

Amanda Foreman
Foreman is a historian, columnist, and Honorary Senior Research Fellow in the History Department at the university of Liverpool. She is the author of the prize-winning best sellers Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire and A World on Fire: A Epic History of Two Nations DividedGeorgiana’s World; and the forthcoming The World Made by Women: A History of Women from the Apple to the Pill. She lives in New York. Lucy Peter is assistant curator of Paintings for the Royal Collection Trust and co-author of Portrait of the Artist and Royal Childhood. She lives in London. 

Queen Victoria’s Buckingham Palace is a well-written and well-researched account of how a building became what is likely the most recognizable symbol of Great Britain.

Top photograph: Lucy Peter with one of the dresses include in the Queen Victoria exhibition at the palace.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Been there, done that

After Philippians 1:27-30

I sit in a prison, here, and write
to you there. And it was there
that I was once arrested 
for freeing that slave girl 
of her demon, for giving her
a new life. The men who made
money from her enslavement,
those merchants of death, 
were not pleased. We were 
arrested because we stopped this 
one example of human trafficking.
But we were delivered, a miracle,
and now I sit in prison 
for the same reason, because 
of the threat to the order,
the existing order, the status quo.
Faithfulness is often followed 
by suffering. But it is not what
has happened to the world, how it 
has decayed; instead, it is what
has come to the world, 
the salvation of hope. That hope
unleashes servants upon the world.

Photograph by Larm Rmah via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Saturday Good Reads

Many Americans, particularly but not exclusively younger ones, seem mesmerized by socialism. Many were born or grew up after the fall the of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and don’t have any personal knowledge or experience with the Soviet version of socialism. And even though I would fall way outside the proposed limits, I see proposals like Bernie Sanders’ “wealth registry” for asset taxation purposes and think this will not end with the wealthy; there simply aren’t enough rich people to pay for all that free stuff. Perhaps we should all take a deep breath and read some Russian literature; Gary Saul Morson did, and he wrote about it for The New Criterion.

And speaking of the Soviet system, in October 1984, Jerzy PopieĹ‚uszko, the vicar of St. Stanislaus Kostka Church in Warsaw, was murdered by the Polish communist secret police. At The Imaginative Conservative, a former parishioner remembers and tells what happened

Further extending the discussion, Scribner’s has published a new edition of Darkness at Noon at Arthur Koestler, first published in 1941. Adam Kirsch at The New Yorker calls the book the most important political work of the 20th century, and it put the lie to what too many Americans wanted to believe about Stalinist Russia at the time. 

More Good Reads

Writing and Literature

Books Won’t Die – Leah Price at The Paris Review.


Routed by Liberalism: How usury killed Christendom – A.N. Wilson at Standpoint. 

The Worship Song I Can’t Bring Myself to Sing – Trevin Wax at The Gospel Coalition.

The Moral Law, Comfort, & Wishful Thinking – Alan Snyder at Pondering Principles (Hat Tip: James Doyle Moore). 

You Can’t Argue Anyone into the Kingdom – Zak Schmoll at Entering the Public Square.

Standing on Our Knees – Sophia Lee at International Mission Board / SBC.

American Stuff

Who Was the American in 1775? – Bradley Birzer at The Imaginative Conservative.


The Girl on the Roof – Seth Lewis.

The cure for consumerism – David Warren at Essays in Idleness.


For Wife and Child – Joe Spring.

‘Subversive Modernism in Art’ – Sarban Bhattacharya at Society of Classical Poets.

Consecrated – Ana Lisa de Jong at Living Tree Poetry.

Mastery – Susannah Sheffer at The Threepenny Review.

The King of Autumn – Chris Yokel at The Rabbit Room.


Bunches – Susan Etole.

The Road Home by Stephen Paulus, sung by Voces8
(Hat Tip: Paul Philips)

Painting: Woman Reading in the Studio, oil on paperboard on wood (1868) by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Friday, September 27, 2019

How should we then live?

After Philippians 1:27-30

It’s clear: yes, we have freedom,
our spirits and souls unchained,
unshackled. But no: that doesn’t
mean anything goes. Instead,
we have a command: to live 
worthy of the good news,
because the “how” signals
good reports, indicates 
a standing firm together, shows
unity in striving side by side,
and no fear of opponents. How
we live tells opponents that
their destruction will come;
it’s no wonder they hate us,
and will hate us. Belief and
firmness of spirit is inevitably
accompanied by hatred, 
by the heaping of abuse, 
by suffering. This is not
your prosperity gospel.

Photograph by Aaron Blanco Tejedor via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

“Death Walks Behind You” by Scott Hunter

Detective Chief Inspector Brendan Moran of the Thames Valley Police is doing something unusual – he’s taking a holiday. He’s rented a cottage near a small town in Devon, and he’s already discovered the local pub. He’s having a pint with the pub owner and an attractive local woman, when they’re interrupted by a loud and upset American who’s looking for a friend. She leaves almost immediately, and not too long afterward the local woman leaves as well – and quickly returns. The American is dead in her rented car. Moran’s holiday is turning into a busman’s holiday. 

Before the local police can investigate, the body and the car have disappeared. The policeman responsible for the area is loath to investigate. The owner of the area’s big du Courcy manor (the manor goes back to the days of William the Conqueror) seems involved in some way. Then come the reports of earlier deaths and missing persons.

Scott Hunter
Back at Thames Valley police headquarters, one of Moran’s top team members has been found strangled with a wire in his bed It wouldn’t be a Brendan Moran story without at least one police officer being killed). And the high-flying investigating officer seems utterly determined to pin the murder on Moran’s trusted #2, with a lot of circumstantial evidence.

Death Walks Behind You by Scott Hunter is the third in the Irish Detective series, featuring DCI Brendan Moran. And it’s a riveting tale, action-packed and creative tension on every page.

The “Irish Detective” series includes Black DecemberCreatures of DustDeath Walks Behind YouA Crime for All Seasons (short stories), Silent as the Dead, and Gone Too Soon. Hunter has also published the novels The TrespassThe Ley Lines of LushburyLong Goodbyes, and The Serpent & the Slave, and the memoir Rattle and Drum.  In addition to writing fiction, Hunter is an IT consultant and musician. He lives with his family in England.

Death Walks Behind You is a tense, tautly-woven story, making you want to do something violent to the bad guys while you’re yelling at the good guys to do something. Hunter has done a fine job with these first three Brendan Moran mysteries.


Wednesday, September 25, 2019

“The Summer of ‘76” by Ray Burston

It’s the summer of 1976 on the Isle of Wight. Eighteen-year-old Vaughn Lewis has left Birmingham to spend the summer staying with his aunt and uncle and to work as a bus conductor. Aimee Eichelberger and her friend Shelby are Americans studying at Oxford, and they’re spending a work summer as hotel maids on the Isle of Wight as well. What none of the young people know as they arrive is that their stories are interconnected in almost double and triple loops, and the summer will change their lives forever.

Vaughn’s uncle operates a toy shop; his aunt is a night club singer at the hotel where the two girls work. The aunt’s singing brings in the crowds. Aimee’s father is a U.S. general, recently responsible for the entire air war in Vietnam. But back in his youth, he was a pilot stationed in England in World War II, and he knew both Vaughn’s aunt and his mother. 

Another loop in the story is the hotel owner, a youngish amateur military historian who is also the island’s resident lecher. And he has his eye out for Aimee.

Overlaying the individual stories is a story of faith. Vaughn is considering wandering from his faith and is infatuated with Aimee. Aimee seems determined to wander from hers, but not necessarily with Vaughn. Shelby is trying to keep her friend in line, but she’s quietly falling for Vaughn. Vaughn’s aunt may be having an affair with the hotel owner.

Ray Burston
The Summer of ’76 by Ray Burston tells the stories of Vaughn, Aimee, Shelby, and the other characters. It develops slowly; Burston weaves back story with contemporary events and characters. At first the reader isn’t sure where this story is headed, until the bigger picture emerges, and we learn that families have secrets. And those secrets can transform lives and relationships. And then we realize it’s a wow of a story. 

Burston is the author of several novels, including Mr. Smith & Miss PatelThe Soughing of the WindThe Black Country GigoloTo Reach for the StarsThe Snakeman of Sneyd EndAct of AtonementAngels UnawaresThe Making of the MemberThe Making of the Minister, and Operation Spread Eagle. He lives in the English Midlands. 

Burston seamlessly weaves his story with actual news events of the time – a severe drought in England, the recent end of the Vietnam War, a new battleship, and the music of the period (especially the music). He also tells the story of the characters’ Christian faith in a realistic way. And it works incredibly well. When you finish The Summer of ’76, you finally understand what a grand story it is.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Poets and Poems: John Dorsey and “Your Daughter’s Country”

I’m reading Your Daughter’s Country, the recent poetry collection by the Missouri-based poet John Dorsey, and I’m thinking to myself that I wouldn’t want to be the subject of one of his poems. He casts an affectionate eye on his friends, acquaintances, and relatives, but it is a ruthlessly honest eye, one that sees them as they are – the good in them, the bad, the indifferent. You don’t read a poem with the title of “Coco Malone is a Bad Bitch” and expect both scalpel-like description and affection, but that’s what you get.

I’m put in mind of my Uncle Revis. He was my father’s brother-in-law, the husband of a beloved aunt who made the best biscuits in north Louisiana. If the word “garrulous” hadn’t already existed, it would have been invented just for him. For years, I spent a summer week or two with my grandmother who lived across the street from my aunt and uncle, and we ate together, picked vegetables together (my job was digging for potatoes), and watched television together. Saturday nights meant The Lawrence Welk Show, and my Uncle Revis would sit quietly until the Lennon Sisters performed, when he would start shouting “They’re ignorant!” at the television. It was something you got used to.

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

Monday, September 23, 2019

“The Civil War: A Concise History” by Louis Masur

The Civil War is a large topic, and it’s brought forth not only libraries of books but also books and accounts that are large. Bruce Catton’s Centennial History of the Civil War (1961) is three volumes; James McPherson’s Pultizer Prize-winning Battle Cry of Freedom is one volume, but nearly 1,000 pages including notes and bibliography. 

Historian Louis Masur went in the opposite direction, with The Civil War: A Concise History (2011). It’s 94 pages, or 118 if you include the notes, bibliography and index. It’s as concise as its title and length indicate, but it does an excellent job of explaining the war’s origins, contributing factors and causes, outbreak and major battles, and what happened after. 

He cites both long-term and short-term origins and causes. With all of today’s emphasis on slavery (and Masur sees slavery as a major cause), we tend to forget that a number of other factors contributed to the growing sectional feelings in the states. It was the New England states in the 1810s that first raised the specter of secession. What fueled sectional antagonism was the constant political battles over manufacturing tariffs, which the industrializing Northern states wanted and the agricultural Southern states resisted.

Louis Masur
Westward expansion, too, played a significant role, as the country argued about slavery and its extension. The Mexican-American War brought a huge block of territory to the United States, and the new states being carved from the Louisiana Purchase were a combination of slave and free.

Masur covers how the war started, the major battles, and how the tide almost inevitable shifted toward a Union victory – although it was far from certain through the war’s first three years. He also summarizes the Reconstruction period, which would lead to citizens of both former adversaries attempting to interpret and control the past – and the present.

Masur is Distinguished Professor of American Studies and History at Rutgers University. He is also the author of several historical works, including 1831: Year of EclipseLincoln’s Last SpeechLincoln’s Hundred DaysAutumn Glory: Baseball’s First World SeriesRites of Execution, and The Soiling of Old Glory: The Photograph That Shocked America. He’s also the author of Runaway Dream: Born to Run and Bruce Springsteen’s American Vision.

The Civil War is an excellent overview and introduction to a period whose impact is still profoundly felt today.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

It seems ridiculous

After Philippians 1:18-26

It seems ridiculous
to sit here, chains
adorning my wrists
and ankles, and speak
of choosing a path.
Choices become few
and narrowed in a cell.
I wait for resolution,
which might or might not
come. But as I wait,
I know that if I do
nothing more than sit
and write letters, then
the work continues,
in spheres above and
spheres below. It does
seem ridiculous and 
foolish to a man, but
eternal things usually

Photograph by Ye Jinghan via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Saturday Good Reads

Scooby Doo turned 50 years old this past week, and CrimeReads celebrated with two perspectives. Olivia Rutigliano describes the cartoon as the “perfect, weird, hopeful mystery series that 1969 needed,” and Eleni Theodoropoulos says Scooby Doo “revived gothic storytelling for generations of kids.”I wasn’t a kid, but I loved it.

What was London Bridge ended up somewhere in Arizona, but there is still the London Bridge of history and memory. Dean Hamilton at English Historical Fiction Authors.describes the bridge in the time of the Tudors

The latest issue of An Unexpected Journal is about dystopia, and it’s filled with fascinating articles (and even a poem by Annie Nardone) on George Orwell’s 1984. Try The Failure of Strength: A Study in Christian Resistance by George Scondras and Orwell’s1984, 70 Years Later: Are We the Dead?by Donald Catchings. Or just read the entire issue – it’s that good. 

More Good Reads

American Stuff

Harold Lloyd’s Death-Defying Comedy – Kristin Hunt at JSTOR Daily.

What is the Constitution For? – Bruce Frohnen and The Coups Against the Constitution – Paul Krause, both at The Imaginative Conservative.


The Ministry of Presence – Tim Challies.


Rotten STEM: How Technology Corrupts Education – Jared Woodard at American Affairs.

The Forgotten Conservative Value: Wilderness – Paul Krause at Front Porch Republic.

Juries, Judges, and Justice Thomas on Defamation – Thomas Ascik at The Imaginative Conservative.

British Stuff

Is England Still Part of Europe? – Victor Davis Hanson at National Review.

The Historic Border Town of Shrewsbury – Annie Whitehead at English Historical Fiction Authors.


‘Soaplessly in Love’ and Other Poetry – Daniel Galef at the Society of Classical Poets.

This Saying is Trustworthy and Deserving of Full Acceptance – Anne Kennedy at Preventing Grace.

Mitzvah – Paul Mariani at First Things Magazine.

Writing and Literature

Protestant Fiction Needs the Catholic Imagination – Jessica Hooten Wilson at Church Life Journal.

Weathering the Books – Rebecca Martin at The Rabbit Room.

The Golden Age of Detective Fiction Renaissance – Martin Edwards at CrimeReads.

Haunted by Grace, a little East of Eden: A Literary Apologetic – Barbara Castle at Front Porch Republic.

50 Remarkable Photos Showing Life in the 1850s

Painting: Man Reading, oil on board (1958) by Renzo Vespignani (1924-2001).

Friday, September 20, 2019

To go or to stay

After Philippians 1:18-26

What a choice: to go on
to the end, the reward,
grasping the promised
prize, and embrace 
the relief of the end
of travail; or to stay,
continuing to work,
to labor, to build up.
Both options offer
rewards, one eternal
and one earthly for now,
and I might prefer one
over the other, but 
I know the choice
Is not mine. 

Photograph by Javier Allegue Barros via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

“Grave in the Garage” by Alison Golden

The Rev. Annabelle Dixon, vicar of the church in the village of Upton St. Mary, loves her Mini Cooper. When she’s not listening to the new and excellent organist practicing at the church, she likes nothing better than to tool around the countryside, visiting parishioners, and driving her little car.

Except today, the Mini Cooper dies on her. So, she goes tromping back up the road, takes a shortcut through farmers’ fields (dealing with a few obstinate cows along the way), and finally arrives at Mildred’s Garage. But Mildred and her employees Ted and Aziz are nowhere to be found. Until Annabelle finds a body in the service bay, under a car. It’s a very dead Mildred. 

Annabelle unexpectedly finds Inspector Mike Nicholls in the pub across the street. He knows the reverend well; he also knows her penchant for getting involved in murder investigations. He’s also discovering that he’s attracted to Annabelle, and while she’s not ready to admit it, she’s attracted to him as well. It’s a potent combination of murder and romance.

Alison Golden
The assistants, Ted and Aziz, remain missing. Forty-year-old Ted mains he life like clockwork – work, pub, home. But he’s a no-show at the pub, and he can’t be found. Teenager Aziz is normally a various serious young man, and his family wants to believe that he’s just off with friends, or something. There’s an ongoing mystery that may or may not be related to the murder – the men of the village keep disappearing at night, and they’re spending a lot less money at the pub.

Grave in the Garage by mystery writer Alison Golden is part of the ongoing Annabelle Dixon series. It falls squarely in the cozy mystery sub-genre. The books in the series also include a considerable element of light humor involving Annabelle, Nicholls, and Annabelle’s housekeeper Phillippa, a wannabe matchmaker.

Golden has three mystery and suspense series involving signature detectives. The Diana Hunter series is set in Vancouver; the series includes HuntedSnatchedStolenChopped, and Exposed. The Rev. Annabelle Dixon series is set in Cornwall. And the Inspector David Graham series is set on Jersey, one of the Channel Islands. The last two are officially “cozy mysteries,” which translates as minimal violence and any romantic interest will not involve graphic sex.

Grave in the Garage is an entertaining story, with a nice overlay of the developing relationship between Annabelle and the police inspector.


Wednesday, September 18, 2019

“The Wedding List” by Autumn Macarthur

Ten years earlier, 16-year-old Beth Forrest worked as a housemaid at the stately home of the Tetherton-Harts, an Anglo-American family with the daughter of a viscount as the mother and an American business tycoon as the father. They had one child, 19-year-old James, with a penchant for physics, a brilliant, and a growing friendship with Beth. His mother wants James to marry well, and a housemaid from a poor family didn’t fit her definition. So Beth was sent packing, and James was sent off.

Ten years have passed. Beth now works in the wedding registry for the London department store Pettett & Mayfield (think Selfridge’s, Harrods, and similar stores). It’s nearing Halloween, and the store has all employees in costume; Beth is wearing a bloodied wedding dress. Who should show up desperately needing a wedding present but James, who’s now teaching at Cambridge and in line to become a professor. 

Autumn Macarthur
Beth realizes she’s still in love with James; James knows he’s still in love with Beth. But they both have considerable baggage to deal with – Beth is still hurt that he never tried to contact her, and she’s still embarrassed by her low-oncome family. James has his mother, who’s still determined that he must marry well. But James convinces Beth to attend the wedding with him.

The Wedding List by Autumn Macarthur is the story of Beth and James. It’s the first in Macarthur’s “Love in Store” series, set at Pettett & Mayfield and central London. The characters of Beth and James are drawn well – Beth is full of insecurities and James is something of the absentminded professor. 

Macarthur has written numerous books in the Christian inspirational romance genre and inspirational non-fiction. Her novels include The Macleans series, the Together for Christmas, series, the Billionaire Protectors series, the Sweetapple Falls series, the London Loves series, the Come to the Lake series, and the Huckleberry Lake series. She lives in London. 

The Wedding List is a fun, sweet story, in the Christian romance genre, with the added bonus of a fair amount of sightseeing (in this case, the wedding scene at the Tower of London Bridge).