Thursday, October 31, 2019

"A Darkly Hidden Truth" by Donna Fletcher Crow

American Felicity Howard is studying at a seminary in England. What she’s actually considering is becoming a nun, and a spiritual advisor suggests that she visit a number of houses and convents before she definitely makes up her mind. She’s also attracted to fellow ordinand Father Antony Sherwood, and she keeps trying to suppress that attraction because, well, she wants to be a nun. And sooner rather than later.

Then an icon goes missing from the chapel. A good friend of both Felicity and Antony and a fellow ordinand, Neville Montara, seems connected to the theft. Felicity begins her visits to various religious houses and orders, and another icon goes missing, with Neville in the vicinity. Neville himself disappears, until he calls Antony and asks for a meeting at a ruined abbey in the Broads, the famous marshy area near Norfolk. Antony and Felicity arrive at the abbey, and they find Neville’s body. He’s been murdered. 

Because Antony has been asked by his superior to try to retrieve the missing icon as quietly as possible, he and Felicity being their own investigation, apart from the police. Their search takes them to the Temple church in London, sites in London and elsewhere connected to the Knights Templar, and back to the Norfolk area. The main clue is a peculiar kind of drawn cross with various emblems. Complicating their search is Felicity’s mother, to whom Felicity has never been close. She’s arrived from the States to announce her impending divorce from Felicity’s father and that she’s considering a legal job in London.

Donna Fletcher Crow
A Darkly Hidden Truth by Donna Fletcher Crow is the second book in “The Monastery Murders” series. It is part thrilling mystery, part historical religious travelogue, part romance, and part religious history – the reader is treated to a number of readings from Julian of Norwich and Margery Kempe.

Crow is the author of some 50 books, mostly novels about British history. In addition to “The Monastery Murders” series, she has three novels in the Lord Danvers series, A Most Inconvenient Death, Grave Matters, and To Dust You Shall Return.

Felicity and Antony will face their own personal dangers during the investigation – kidnapping, attacks, and a push down an escalator on the London Underground. They’ll also have to come to grips with their feelings for each other. A Darkly Hidden Truth is a satisfying mystery filled with twists, turns, considerable information about icons, and a nice dash of romance.


Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Four Christmas Romances

Christmas is coming. I know because decorations for the shopping holiday began to show up in local stores in September. (My grocery store started with Halloween candy displays in August, so it isn’t only a Christmas thing.) And I began to see a clear uptick in the number of novels, and especially romance novels, about Christmas.

I went on a binge. I read eight Christmas romance novels. In two weeks. It was a bit like binging on the Hallmark channel. We’re not talking great Western literature here, but we are talking rather light holiday entertainment. Or pure escapism. Sometimes you need to read a story, or eight of them, that make zero demands on you. You read them and are entertained, and they make no pretensions beyond entertainment. Here are four. I’ll have the other four next week.

In A Christmas Crisis in Chancey by Kay Shostak, Carolina Jessup is summoned with the other women in the town to a crisis meeting. The summoning is done by “Missus,” the self-appointed town matriarch. The town has lost its expected grant, and the official holiday celebration is threatened. Should the town utilize laser shows and other modern elements to attract people and compete with nearby Atlanta,, or should it reach back into its history and its roots? This story is exactly a romance, but it has the same feel as one.

In Carousel Horse Christmas by Danni Roan, Audrey Alberton is a party planner in Colorado. She and a friend are driving home from Christmas shopping when they almost collide with a cowboy on a horse. Audrey receives a last-minute party to organize that will tax her to the max, and the cowboy and his family will come to play a role in making the party succeed – and in attracting Audrey’s heart.

Gift of the Magpie by Zoe McCarthy is a riff on “Gift of the Magi,” the famous Christmas story by O. Henry. Amanda Larrowe is desperately trying to finish a book manuscript under contract during the Christmas holidays. A new neighbor, Cam Lancaster, is moving next door. He’s a photographer, and Amanda is suddenly having a hard time focusing on her manuscript.

In Christmas Love Year Round by Elaine Stock, Cami Richardson and her eight-year-old son Danny live in Kindred Lake, Pennsylvania. Cami is a widow. A new neighbor moving in across the street also happens to be the new “Big Brother” Danny is supposed to get in a “Friends” program for kids without dads. When Cami realizes who it is, she’s flooded with guilt; this is the guy she and her friends ridiculed and bullied in high school because his family weren’t the “quality” the rest of them were. More than a decade has passed, and she wonders if he’ll realize who she is. He does, and so does his family. But romance is sparking.

Next week: Four More Christmas Romances


Tuesday, October 29, 2019

A Poetic Novel to Turn You Upside Down: “Lanny” by Max Porter

British author Max Porter is at it again.

Not content with his genre-bending first work Grief is the Thing with Feathers, he’s now published a longer novel, Lanny. At least I think it’s a novel. It’s certainly fiction, but it’s still genre-bending. Porter writes fiction like a practiced poet writes fiction. And it’s mind-bending. It’s fiction that turns your head upside down and inside out. It’s about art and artists and the soul of an artist. And it’s about innocence and evil and what fear can unleash.

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

Monday, October 28, 2019

“Who is an Evangelical?” by Thomas Kidd

In the early summer of 2016, we bumped into some good friends we hadn’t seen in a while. At one time we’d attended the same church, but we had both gone on to different congregations. We were at a restaurant when we saw them. All four of us would qualify as “evangelicals.”

We chatted, and then we asked, “What are we going to do about the election? How can we vote for either Trump or Clinton?” Their response pretty well summed it up: “It’s a choice between the devil you know and the devil you don’t know.” It was a handwringing moment, and an ongoing struggle, for us all.

I mention that story because of the news media’s fixation with “81 percent of white evangelicals voted for Trump in 2016.” No one cared when 79 percent of white evangelicals voted for Mitt Romney in 2012, because Romney lost. (I should point out that the “81 percent” number has been examined and dissected by a number of people, and it may only be what the news media cartoonishly presented it to be. It’s as if the election was Donald Trump in a vacuum, that it was Trump or no one – when it clearly was anything but that.) But the news media rarely looks any further than its own narrative, and it missed the quandary so many of us evangelicals faced in the 2016 election.

In Who is an Evangelical: A History of a Movement in CrisisThomas S. Kidd, the James Vardaman Distinguished Professor of History at Baylor University, concisely looks at the history of evangelicalism, its American historical context, its increasing involvement in American politics in the post-World War II period, and what he believes is the crisis it faces today. He sees the crisis as the identification of evangelicals with politics as opposed to its mission of spreading the gospel.

In an interview with Samuel James at The Gospel Coalition, Kidd noted that it’s the news media who consistently identify evangelicals with politics. In his introduction to the book, Kidd notes that he is a “#NeverTrumper,” and an evangelical. He is someone always worth paying attention to. He’s written numerous books on American history, American religious and cultural history, and related topics. His subjects have included Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine, the Great Awakening, Baptists in America, the religious history of the American Revolution, Patrick Henry, and a recent two-volume history of America entitled, appropriately enough, American History.

Who is an Evangelical? is, in part, a history lesson. It covers how evangelicals came to be, the role they played in the coming the of the Civil War, the controversy between evangelicals and “fundamentalists,” the importance of Billy Graham, the New Christian Right, and evangelicals from Reagan to Obama. (Evangelical support for Donald Trump can’t be understood without understanding evangelical reaction and response to the Obama era.) Kidd also tackles the “81 percent number,” noting that self-identification as evangelical included many Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, and that there were oddities in the polling process. And he notes the credibility crisis polling itself has been experiencing. 

Thomas S. Kidd
He also points out that, cynics and critics (and the news media) aside, politics isn’t the only defining factor as to what makes an evangelical. In fact, it may be relatively small. What is more important to evangelicals Likely remains what it has always been – the gospel, worship, charitable activity, missions, and teaching. 

Kidd’s book is an important one, whether you consider Trump an angel, a devil, or something in between. He’s telling us that evangelicals have a long history, predating the American Revolution and the Constitution, and will continue to have a history after this current “era of ill feeling” has passed. He’s warning that evangelicals are facing a crisis from too closely identifying with Republican politics. And politics is not what makes an evangelical an evangelical.


Top photograph by Robert Metz via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Sunday, October 27, 2019


After Matthew 21: 1-11

He’d been here before,
as a child, as a man,
but never like this,
the crowds, the singing,
the cloaks on the road, 
the branches of leaves
waving in the air, even
the surprise of seeing
the king arrive on a colt,
this was the moment,
the time of deliverance,
the time foretold and
expected and desired
and even demanded,
but this was the crowd
who expected earth
and received heaven,
and in three days they
will turn in anger and 
fury, the deliverance
aborted, and hosanna 
became the call
to crucify.

Photograph by Avel Chuklanov via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Saturday Good Reads

If there’s anything we’ve learned since 2016, it’s beware of opinion polls. All kinds of factors have affected polling accuracy, from the rise of mobile telephones to people refusing to participate (I don’t). An example was a recent Fox News poll about American’s sentiment toward impeaching President Trump – it was much ballyhooed in the media (it was a Fox poll!) until people looked at and discovered it has significantly oversampled Democrats.

One of the most common recent poll reported has been the rise of the so-called “Nones” – younger Americans who claim no allegiance to organized religion. That poll, too, needs to be taken with a few grains of salt. A new book, The Twenty-Something Soul, is about a large (way large) study of young Americans and religion. It found what most polls find – the continuing decline of the mainstream Protestant denominations that have played such a large role in shaping American culture, society, and politics. But it also found something else. Richard Ostling at Get Religion has the story.

Eight years ago, Adam Phillips (a pseudonym) began a journey he never expected to take – his wife was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. And he discovered that this would not be a war or a battle; instead, it was a journey, with emotional pain, distress, sadness, and laughter. Read Among the Lotus Eaters.

Eleanor Parker, who teaches medieval English literature at Braesnose College, Oxford, offers an alternative view of the Viking invasions of England. She suggests that perhaps the Vikings weren’t all about plunder but more about something more prosaic. Like expansion and settlement. Interestingly enough, I’ve been working on the last of the Dancing Priest novels, and this idea plays more than a small role in the story.

More Good Reads

British Stuff

Defending the Thames: Hadleigh Castle – A London Inheritance.

Leicester Cathedral – Barb Drummond at Curious Historian.

More About the Crystal Palace – Judith Taylor at English Historical Fiction Authors.

Life and Culture

Which Model Best Serves Religious Freedom for All? – Os Guinness at The Institute for Faith, Work, & Economics.

Writing and Literature

“Beowulf” and the Men of the Twilight – Bradley Birzer at The Imaginative Conservative.


‘Philosophy’ by Gwyneth Lewis – D.S.  Martin at Kingdom Poets.

‘Let Me Go Gentle into That Dark Night’ – Rohini Sunderam at Society of Classical Poets.

Fermata – Jared Carter at First Things Magazine.


Why is Christianity Declining in America? – Zak Schmoll at Entering the Public Square.

Genesis 1:5 – Lori Heyd at Lori’s Prayer Closet.


Sonnet 5 for Elizabeth: John Charles MacKenzie

Painting: Woman Lying Reading a Book, oil on canvas by Albert Bartholome (1883).

Friday, October 25, 2019

The significant

After Psalm 15

The glory of a life
we strive for, be it
power, or reputation,
or retribution, or wealth,
or fame, or justice,
or recognition, this is
the substance, the meaning
of who we are, the winds
we chase, the gods
we worship. We see
what gives us meaning,
and we call it 
the significant. Yet
off stage,
off stage, voice sing,
not to us,
not to us.

Photograph by Louis Hansel vis Unsplash. Used with permission.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

"Silent as the Dead" by Scott Hunter

Thames Valley Police Detective Chief Inspector Brendan Moran has left his home base of Reading and gone to the southwestern coast of Ireland. The wife of an old friend has disappeared, and Moran finds himself rummaging through the present and the past, including his own past, to find out what’s happened and where the woman is.

He’s on home turf here; this is where he was raised, and it’s the family he was raised with. And it’s his deceased first wife’s family as well. Decades in the past, she was killed in a car bombing that was meant for him.

Moran gets some leads from the local pub owner, another old friend, but the man will pay for his life for giving our t information; his body is found is found in the trunk of Moran’s car. The police haul Moran in for questioning and he spends the night in what he thinks is the police station. All signs point to Sean Black, the policeman’s old nemesis and a renegade Irish Republican. And what Moran gradually uncovers looks like a well-conceived plot to kill a prominent member of the royal family – back in Reading.

Silent as the Dead is the fourth Brendan Moran novel by British mystery writer Scott Hunter, and it’s a dandy story that keeps you on the edge of your seat. 
Scott Hunter

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.

In Silent as the Dead, the past catches up and merges with the present, nothing is ever left behind or forgotten, and nothing – not even old friends – is what it seems. 


Wednesday, October 23, 2019

"The Global and American Spirit" by Evan Lanning

It’s rare to find a collection of essays that range intelligently over a broad array of subjects, are easily readable and engaging, and fully hold your interest for 238 pages. That’s what author Evan Lanning has managed to achieve with The Global and American Spirit.

Aristotle, Cicero, St. Augustine. The Constitution and the Anti-Federalists objections to it. Alexis de Toqueville. The controversy over Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings. A fascinating survey of the American novel. How about philosophical perspectives in The Grapes of Wrath? Book reviews. An examination of Tolkien’s ideas. 

Lanning seems comfortable and eminently knowledgeable in the worlds of American history, literature, politics, philosophy, and current events. Here are a few of the standout essays.

“Aristotle and Politics” discusses the Greek philosopher’s ideas on the three associations which serve as the basis of community – the household., the village, and the polis – and how they conflict with socialism (proving there’s nothing new under the sun; ancient Greece had its socialism proponents, too). 

In “Cicero and De Oratore,” Lanning considers that convincing oratory doesn’t necessarily happen because of “rational argument, logical dialog, or elegant and adorned prose.” Convincing oratory happens through appeals to the passions and the emotions.

“Integrity and the Constitution” examines the argument between constitutionalist originalists and those who believe the Constitution should be a “living document.”

“The Jefferson Controversy: When Politics Meet History” views the Jefferson / Sally Hemmings issue through the lens of politics and delves into the actual evidence for Jefferson fathering children by his slave.

“The Continuity and Progress of the American Novel” studies how American literature has been shaped by culture, politics, religion, or some combination of the three. Lanning looks at Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s CabinThe Mysterious Stranger by Mark Twain, The Awakening by Kate Chopin, My Antonia by Willa Cather, The Sun Also Risesby Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of WrathThe Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, and Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor. 

“Taking Sides in American History” asks, and answers, questions like, did the Great Society fail? Did rock and roll upend American family and social customs? Was the Americanization of the war in Vietnam inevitable? And should America remain a nation of immigrants?

And there’s much more.

Lanning is a field representative of the Leadership Institute, which provides training for conservatives in campaigns, fundraising, grassroots organizing, youth politics, and communications. He lives in Indiana.

The Global and American Spirit is a collection of insightful, well-written essays that directly and indirectly inform many of our contemporary social, economic, and political issues.

Top photograph by Tom Coe via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Simon Armitage, the New British Poet Laureate

In May, Queen Elizabeth II appointed Simon Armitage as the 21st poet Laureate of the United Kingdom. Armitage’s literary and professional recognitions and accomplishments certainly merited the honor; not only had he published numerous collections of poetry, he had also published translations and retellings of classic British and Greek works. 

British poet laureates don’t have an official length for term in office. The first, John Dryden, was appointed by King Charles II in 1668 and served for almost 20 years; Alfred Lord Tennyson was poet laureate for almost 42 years. More recently, the poets appointed have served about 10 years. Some of the better-known laureates include Robert SoutheyWilliam WordsworthJohn MasefieldJohn BetjemanTed Hughes, Cecil Day-Lewis, and Andrew Motion. Armitage’s immediate predecessor, Carol Ann Duffy, was the first woman appointed to the position.

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

Photograph: Simon Armitage.

Monday, October 21, 2019

“Boom!” by Mark Haddon

In 1992, British author Mark Haddon published a middle grade book with the improbable title of Gridzbi Spudvetch!He says that, with a title like that, only 23 people bought the book (and he claims that number is an exaggeration). 

It went out of print, but he’d occasionally hear from fans who loved it. He’d been writing and publishing other books (like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time in 2003) and his publisher would ask him about updating Gridzbi Spudvetch! He reread the book and realized it needed more-than-serious updating, plot hole-filling, and other improvements. He put it off, until he heard from a schoolteacher in Oxford, who read it aloud to her students, who loved it. So, Haddon tackled the rewrite, and Boom! was born in 2009.

The book, still aimed at the middle grades, is now 10 years old, just about the age of its hero, Jim, called Jimbo by the family. The story is fiction, and science fiction, and comedy, and drama, and downright funny. I knew I was captured when I laughed out loud on page three, as Jimbo lets fly from a balcony a “helicopter sandwich” of cheese and strawberry jam that smacks his sister’s greasy boyfriend squarely in the face. What brother hasn’t wanted to do exactly that, or something like it?

Mark Haddon
Jimbo and his best friend Charlie get into all kinds of mischief. When Jimbo’s sister claims she’s heard teachers at school talking about sending Jimbo to a “special school” for discipline, he and Charlie concoct a plan to bug the teachers’ lounge with walkie talkies. Mostly what they hear is boring teacher talk, until only two teachers are left in the room. They begin to speak in a language neither Charlie nor Jimbo has ever heard, saying things like “Gridzbi spudvetch!”

From there, the two boys stage a break-in of one of the teacher’s homes and find strange papers and documents that look like they’re in code. One turns out to be coordinates for an ordnance map of a location on the Isle of Skye in Scotland. And then Charlie disappears. A strange policeman tries to capture Jimbo. Two men break into his family’s apartment and are fought off by Jimbo, His sister, and the greasy boyfriend. Jimbo and his sister hop aboard the boyfriend’s motorcycle, and they’re off to Scotland to rescue Charlie. 

It’s all wildly improbable. It’s completely within the imagination of a nine-, ten-, or eleven-year old, defending Earth against scheming extra-terrestrials. And it’s totally fun.

Haddon is the author of several novels and young adult novels, including A Spot of Bother (2007) and The Red House (2013). He blogs under his own name.

I can easily see my fourth-grader grandson reading Boom!, while his second-grade brother listens, enraptured, and the two saying things to each other like “Spleeno ken mondermill.”


Sunday, October 20, 2019

The light within

After Philippians 2:12-18

The light within is
not a natural thing, or
a physical phenomenon,
but one deliberately
inserted and planted,
lit from without to light
from within, and so it
needs nurturing and care,
feeding and stimulation.
It is a light that must be
worked out in fear, trembling,
its purpose not warmth
for the lightbearer but
illumination in the darkness
for finding the way home.
The light is implanted
so that others may see.

Photograph by Yeski Kangrang via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Saturday Good Reads

A favorite web site (which, if you’ve seen these Good Reads before, won’t surprise you) is The Imaginative Conservative, an online journal that follows the thinking of Russell Kirk, T.S. Eliot, Edmund Burke, Robert Nisbet, and other “imaginative conservatives.” One of its founding editors is Bradley Birzer, who reaches at Hillsdale College. He writes regularly about J.R.R. Tolkien and his works, and he has two recent articles that are excellent: St. Augustine and J.R.R. Tolkien and Fate and Will in Tolkien’s ‘Beowulf.’ Another regular contributor is Dwight Longenecker, who often writes about T.S. Eliot’s poetry. He’s been looking at Four Quartet, and has an article on Listening to “Little Gidding”

A recent Democratic candidate debate dropped a not-entirely-unexpected bomb by Beto O’Rourke, the former Texas congressman, who supported stripping tax exempt status for religious organizations holding conservative (or traditional) views on marriage. The debate was in Los Angeles, and the audience applauded his comments. O’Rourke’s focus was on churches, but there are likely more than a few orthodox synagogues and Muslim mosques also holding traditional views on marriage. The mainstream news media reported it and quickly went on to other things, but it’s not likely to be forgotten come the 2020 election. Read Rod Dreher at The American Conservative on Democrats Vs. Traditional Christians.

More Good Reads

British Stuff

Fore-Deck as Front Porch – Charlie Nash at Front Porch Republic.

The Coffee Houses of Queen Anne’s London – David Fairer at English Historical Fiction Authors.

Writing and Literature

The Art of the Book Review – Thomas Kidd at The Gospel Coalition.

The Poet in the Pulpit: On the Brilliant, Homely Homilies of Gerard Manley Hopkins – Jim Milliot at The Los Angeles Review of Books.


Until Dawn – John Blase. 

Richard Wilbur, C.S. Lewis, and the Imaginative Power of Poetry – T.M. Moore at the Society of Classical Poets.

The Odd Immortality of John Crowe Ransom – James Matthew Wilson at Forma Review.


A Monk of the Secular Age – Patrick Geary at Humanities / NEH.

Life and Culture

Elites Against Western Civilization – Joel Kotkin at CityJournal. 

The Freedom We Must Never Take for Granted – Os Guiness at the Institute for Faith, Work, & Economics.

How America Went to War Against Itself – George Stanciu at The Imaginative Conservative.

The changing face of abortion in the US – Jesse Johnson at The Cripplegate.

Rhonda Vincent & The Rage: Orange Blossom Special

Painting: Young Boy Reading, oil on canvas by Moise Kisling (1891-1953).