Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Finding Romance in London, Part 2

Sometimes finding romance in London means going to Edinburgh and Paris first.

American Tiffany Gallagher flies to London, joining her family for Christmas. Brother Nick, a television actor, is happily in love with Cara Talbott, whom he met at the Pettett & Mayfield Department Store on Oxford Street (Believe in Me). Twin sister Zoe, the “serious” sibling, is studying psychology and working for a university in London. Tiffany, the “lightweight” one known for her ability to shop, is determined to be taken just as seriously as the rest of the family. She’s been showing her fashion designs to the big houses and designers in Paris and London.

Except no one seems interested. About the only thing she’s able to achieve is to go to fulfill a dream to attend the Edinburgh Hogmanay, the big New Year’s Eve celebration. But to do it, she has to accept the invitation from Colin Maclean, the cynical photographer helping Nick and Cara. “Mac,” as he’s called, invites her to stay with his parents at a large parsonage in Edinburgh. Mac’s family is delighted, believing Tiffany is his new love interest.

Mac has his own set of issues, including recovering from a serious leg wound while being an embedded photographer with a British military unit in Iraq. All he wants is to be pass his physical to be allowed to return to the unit. He’s not interested in anything, or anyone, else. 

You can see where this is headed, but the fun is watching it unfold..

A Model Bride by British author Autumn Macarthur is Tiffany’s and Mac’s story, a sweet romance about wo unlikely people developing an interest in each other, even when they’re determined not to. 

Sister Zoe Gallagher has her set of problems. She’s doing research in Paris, determined to prove that romance is based on hormones and never lasts. She even has a study to prove it, and she’s in the process of validating it by interviewing people on the Pontes des Artes, a place where lovers place locks to symbolize their eternal love. The bridge is busy; it’s Valentine’s Day and lot of couples are out. 

It’s on the bridge that she meets a man by himself, Gabe Ross, a fellow American who’s there to carry out a wish from his recently deceased parents. Zoe asks him for an interview, and he agrees, even though he doesn’t fit the type of people she’s studying. Then her purse is stolen, he accompanies her to the police station, and both begin to sense an attraction. But it’s not going anywhere, because she has to return to London, and he’ll be returning to America.

Gabe is returning to America, but it’s by way of an extended stay in London. He’s been engaged to undertake a project at a local university but finds himself asked to fill in for six weeks for a professor who suffers a heart attack. And, yes, it’s the same university and the same department where Zoe works. The ailing professor is, in fact, her boss. 

Autumn Macarthur
Macarthur’s Forget Paris is the story of Zoe and Gabe, an anti-romantic and a romantic gradually and not so gradually falling in love, regardless of what the psychological studies say. The nuts and bolts of psychology and romance get some hefty explanation in the story, but Macarthur manages to keep the love story on track and engaging.

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.


Top photograph by Emmanuel Appiah via Unsplash. Used with permission

Monday, August 10, 2020

“Mavericks, Misfits, and Mystics” by Arthur Hoyle

Europeans came to America for a variety of reasons. The Pilgrims and Puritans sought the freedom to worship. Others were looking to make their fortunes. Some wanted to escape the smothering class structure of European society. To survive and flourish in the New World, these immigrants, says author Arthur Hoyle, had to be both dissatisfied and ambitious, hardy of body and strong of mind, hard-working, resourceful, inventive, and practical. 

“The two seemingly contradictory traits that enabled survival in the New World – independence and cooperation – have unfolded in a dynamic tension across American history,” he writes. These traits continue to play out in contemporary society; you have to look no farther than the growing conflict between red states and blue states, urban populations and rural populations, and populists and the elites. 

In his recently published Mavericks, Mystics, and Misfits: Americans Against the Grain, Hoyle chronicles the lives of 12 Americans who have exhibited these enduring qualities of “being American” even while they often went against the grain of the society around them. In 10 chapters (two of the subjects are actually married couples), he provides fresh and highly readable accounts of who they were, what they did, and why it continues to matter,

Roger Williams was initially part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony but found the ruling Puritans to be as oppressive as the king left behind in Britain; he insisted upon a complete separation of state from the Church of England and the mingling of civic and religious authority. A contemporary, Anne Bradstreet, was the first American poet, at a time when poetry was the exclusive province of men. She evaded criticism by writing passionately religious poetry.

A fuller picture of Thomas Paine is presented than what one usually finds in the history textbooks. He was arguing against injustice long before he wrote Common Sense, but it was that pamphlet that started the tipping of the balance in opinion in favor of independence. During the French Revolution, he veered close to finding himself guillotined in Paris. Josiah Gregg was a merchant, explorer, author, news correspondent, and several other occupations; his wanderings on the prairies, the Southwest, and California, and his writings about his travels, would help feed the idea of Manifest Destiny.

William and Ellen Craft were slaves who escaped their Georgia plantation using a most ingenuous ruse. Ellen was fair enough to pass for white, and she disguised herself as a man, traveling mostly by train with her “slave” William all the way to Massachusetts. The son of a Norwegian-American farmer, Thorstein Veblen became an economist and sociologist and a major critic of capitalism. Thomas Merton was the Cistercian monk was a man of “contradictory and passionate character” Hoyle says, who sought spiritual meaning by distancing himself from society. 

Arthur Hoyle
Brummett Echohawk was a Native American, a member of the Pawnee Tribe, who set out to prove that Native Americans could be just as patriotic as anyone else, and he proved it in World Wat II. Judith Baca is a Chicana muralist who uses her art for social change. Husband and wife Warren Brush and Cynthia Harvan-Brush work in agriculture, creating small, self-sufficient farms that are “thoughtfully and deliberately integrated with the conditions and features of their local ecosystems.”

None of the Americans featured were comfortable with their society’s majority and prevailing thought. Each sought to change both their individual worlds and the worlds around them. Some ended well; some did not. But they all displayed aspects of what we might call the classic American character. 

Hoyle received his B.A. and M.A. dsgrees in English from the University of California, Los Angeles. He’s a writer, educator, administrator, naturalist, independent filmmaker, and author of The Unknown Henry Miller: A Seeker in Big Sur (2014). He lives in California. 

Mavericks, Mystics, and Misfits is a delightful and highly readable collection of essays about Americans who often infuriated their contemporaries, followed their individual stars, and yet still displayed the traits we understand and recognize as “American.”

Top illustration: Drawing of Thomas Paine.

Sunday, August 9, 2020

The Poetry of the Interview

It was the strangest interview I’ve ever participated in – on either side of the table.

A friend had talked me, or conned me, into interviewing for a job with St. Louis Public Schools – the director of communications. 

The school district was in chaos – an outside management firm had been brought in to run the district, schools were being consolidated and closed, services were being outsourced, central office layoffs had emptied more than half of the headquarters building, and protests by parents, students, employees, former employees, teachers and the teachers’ union were daily. School board factions were fighting each other through the news media. The news media was already showing up early each morning at the district’s administration building – knowing there would always be a new crisis to report.

And I wanted to insert myself into that?

To continue reading, please see my post today at Dancing Priest.

Photograph by Marten Bjork via Unsplash. Used with permission.

The chorus of don'ts

After Ephesians 5:1-20

Don’t be immoral,
and don’t kid yourself
that you don’t know
what it means because,
yes, you do and you are.

Don’t be impure,
a form of covetousness,
a form of desire
for what we don’t have
but think we should.

Don’t partner with those
who are either; darkness
mixing with light
begats murk and gloom
and only more darkness.

Don’t walk in acts
of darkness, acts
of destruction, and
instead expose darkness
to the light.

Make the best use 
of these days,
these evil days.
Give thanks.
Sing the songs.

Photograph by Petr Kratochvil via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Saturday Good Reads

For the first time it is 108 years of publishing history, the Poetry Foundation is deliberately missing an issue of Poetry Magazine. It will not publish a September issue, while it learns how to become an agent of antiracism. In recent months, the foundation has been rocked by the resignation of its president and vice president, and Don Share, Poetry’seditor, has resigned as well. This happened because of a furor over the use of a word in a poem by Michael Dickman published in the July/August issue. The poem, submitted by the poet a year ago, runs 25 pages in the issue, with 6 or 8 lines per page. I’ve read the poem, and all I can say is: So, this is how cancel culture works.

Nothing is safe from cancel culture, and especially the past. But possible candidates for safety include examples of English tomb poetry, poems inscribed on the stones of the deceased, especially those buried in cathedrals. James Tweedie at the Society of Classical Poets has four examples – three from Canterbury Cathedral and one from Exeter Cathedral

Back in the 1970s, I read all of the crime novels by American noir writer Dashiell Hammett, including The Maltese Falcon, The Continental Op, Red Harvest, and more. I’m thinking about re=reading them, to see if I would enjoy them as much now as I did then. Susanna Lee at Crime Reads explains how Hammett’s Continental Op became a Depression-era icon

More Good Reads


The Church Forests of Ethiopia: A Mystical Geography – film by Jeremy Seifert, essay by Fred Bahnson at Emergence Magazine.

On Hamilton, Criticism, and the Power of Creativity – Trevin Wax at The Gospel Coalition.

A Biblical Critique of Secular Justice and Critical Theory – Tim Keller at Life in the Gospel. 


Tolkien’s Errantry – Paul Hughes at Poet and Priest.

What makes the Silver Age of Russian poetry so important – Alexandra Guzeva at Russia Beyond.

Stilling – Joy Lenton at Poetry Joy.

Federico Garcia Lorca Blues – poems read by Justin Hamm. 

Writing and Literature

Best Books: Global Greats List – Mark Makin at The Scriptorium.

The Humanization of Authors – Kacen Callender at Medium. 

American Stuff

Some Thoughts on the Status of the Lost Cause – Sean Michael Chick at Emerging Civil War. 

British Stuff

The Villages of Great and Little Ouseburn—the Forgotten Stops on the Brontë Trail – Finola Austin at English Historical Fiction Authors. 


The Princeton Faculty’s Anti-Free-Speech Demands – Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic

Promises – Maverick City / TRIBL

Painting: Reading Woman, oil on canvas (circa 1866) by Ivan Kramskoy (1837-1887)

Friday, August 7, 2020

Loving children

After Ephesians 5:1-20

Children are loved,
and children imitate.
Being loved is walking
in love, with a holy love,
a fierce love,
the same love given
to us, the love
of faithfulness even
to death, a love
which amazes,
which terrifies,
and we ask how,
how are we loved,
how are we to love?

Photograph by Lebin Yuriy via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

“The Secret of Dunhaven Castle” by Nellie Steele

Dr. Catherine (Cate) Kensie teaches history at Aberdeen College, a small liberal arts college in the American Midwest. She loves teaching and her subject, but her department is tiny and declining. She’s been promised a tenure-track position, but the promise is getting old, and she knows it’s not worth much if anything. Her department chair has dangled the promise to keep her accepting the times and courses no other professors want. She has little extracurricular life, except for much-loved dog, Riley. And she has no family, being an only child of parents who died in an automobile accident.

At home, she finds a telephone message. The voice refers to a letter she’s never received. Someone named William Smythe, a London attorney, is arriving that evening. He refers to the letter he’d sent, and says he has a fast turnaround and must return to Britain early the next day. When Smythe arrives, to obtain a DNA sample, she learns that she may be the only heir to a title and a castle in Scotland. Cate is stunned; she has no knowledge of family in Scotland or anywhere else. 

Two weeks later, she hears the results of the DNA test. She’s the heir, and she is now a countess. With her job at a dead-end, she decides she’s going to Scotland. She learns of a few odd requirements; the now-deceased previous countess is requiring she wear a watch on a chain around her neck at all times. But that seems a relatively minor obligation. And it’s off to Britain, first to London and then to Scotland.

Nellie Steele
And Dunhaven is indeed a castle, replete with battlements and legends and stories. Cate decides to use the castle’s large library and the village library and archives to figure out her connection to the MacKensie family, perhaps to write a book about the family history. And in the meantime, there are those strange people who keep showing up in period dress, the people who seem as real as Cate herself.

The Secret of Dunhaven Castle by Nellie Steele is the story of Cate Kensie discovering who her family is and was and the secret that’s harbored by the castle. It’s a mystery with a dash of science fiction and even a hint of romance (one suspects Cate’s estate manager might become something more than an employee). It’s written almost like the narrative in a journal, with a precise accounting of what happens each day over a several-week period. 

Nellie Steele is the pen name for the Melissa Sovak, who lives with her family in Pittsburgh and teaches statistics at a local university. She’s also written The Murder at Dunhaven Castle, the second in the Cate Kensie series, and two novels on the Shadow Slayer Series, Shadows of the Past and Stolen Portrait, Stolen Soul

If you like a story of a castle in Scotland, an unexpected American heiress, and odd things happening (and I do), The Secret of Dunhaven Castle is a great and almost-addictive read. 

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

London, Christmas, and Romance

Pettett & Mayfield is a fictitious London department store. In its heyday, it competed with Harrod’s, Selfridges, and similar stores. But it’s become a bit dowdy, and any suggestions for improvement meet the fierce opposition of aging Mrs. Pettett, who runs the store and its employees with an iron fist.

British author Autumn Macarthur uses Pettett & Mayfield as the backdrop for five Christmas romance stories, grouped as the “In Store” series. The first is The Wedding Listreviewed last September. The next two in the series are Believe in Me and Least Expected

In Believe in Me, Cara Talbott is the deputy assistant manager at Pettett & Mayfield, which means she “got landed with the management jobs no one else wants and the blame when things went wrong.” And one job she clearly doesn’t want is Mrs. Pettett’s latest brainchild – American television star Nick Callaghan is going to be the store’s celebrity Santa. Cara will be responsible for shepherding him in his duties, and she’s determined to have as little to do with him as possible, no matter how good-looking he is. 

Nick comes up with an idea, the 12 dates of Christmas, to help promote the store and what it sells. He will date a store employee for 12 romantic dates, jinning up free publicity, and tied to each date will be a store window depicting the date. Mrs. Pettett decides that she loves the idea, and Cara gets to be the store employee. For herself, Cara is mortified. Not only does she have to go on 12 dates with a shallow Hollywood star, she has to bury the growing attraction she feels for him. He first became famous as a teen movie star in a Christmas movie that had her then-teenaged heart fluttering. She even had a poster of him on her bedroom wall.

The dates begin, and the whole publicity program goes off in directions no one anticipates. Cara knows she’s falling for Nick, and Nick discovers a growing attraction for Cara. It’s a fun story, full of romantic mishaps, misunderstandings, and upsets.

In Least Expected, Maggie Golding is the 50-something window dresser, a friend of Nick Callaghan’s whom he gets to do the Pettett & Mayfield store windows for Christmas. Maggie is actually a set designer who does retail displays when business is slow. Each of her store windows tell a story, and they become a huge draw for Christmas shoppers. 

Maggie is a bit unconventional. It might be her multi-colored dyed hair, matched only by the multi-colored clothes she wears. The operative description would be barely restrained flamboyance. The last person in the world she thinks she could be attracted to is the buttoned-down Edgar Pettett, 50-something son of the woman who runs the store. His mother usually blows up any romantic interests he has in women.

Autumn Macarthur
But attracted she is. And proper Englishman Edgar is equally attracted. He asks Maggie out, she accepts, but the specter of his mother is hanging over their budding relationship. And they both know it will have to be faced and confronted. Least Expected is unusual for a romance novel in that the protagonists are not young and beautiful but older, more established, and certainly more mature. But love and romance can strike at any age.

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.

Both stories are fast-paced and fast-reading stories, with the added benefit of the sights and sounds of London at Christmastime. 


Top photo: Regent Street in London at Christmas by Luke Stackpoole via Unsplash. Used with permission

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

The Poet at Work

I was working in communications for a Fortune 500 company. A large portion of the day-to-day work was meetings. We had a team-based culture, and to our work, our teams had to meet. 

The teams, and the meetings, proliferated. We had departmental meetings. We had cross-functional meetings. We had committee and subcommittee meetings. We had telephone meetings, video meetings, and online chat session meetings. We had one-on-one meetings. We had staff meetings. We had briefing sessions, strategy discussions, and crisis planning meetings. We often had meetings to plan meeting agendas.

I often wondered if the curse placed upon Adam and his work for eating of the Tree of Knowledge possibly included meetings.

To continue reading, please see my post today at Dancing Priest.

Poetry and Healing: “Waiting for Neruda’s Memoirs” by Laura Boggess

Amy Pinkleberry fears she’s losing her mind. She hears voices, disparaging voices, telling her she can’t make it on her own, that the money her ex-husband gave her will run out, that she can’t land a job. She flees what looks like a promising job interview with a bank manager because the voices are eroding any shred of self-confidence she might have. Her ex-husband may be right; she may very well be crazy.

She’s been waiting for two weeks for the Amazon delivery of Neruda’s Memoirs: Poems by Maureen Doallas. In Amy’s mind, the book has become a lifeline to sanity, because poetry is the only thing that stops the voices. Yes, it may be obsessive-compulsive disorder. Yes, it may be auditory hallucinations, as the doctor suggests. But it was only Emily Dickinson who could stop the voices last year; this year, it’s Maureen Doallas. When she finally checks her order (what happened to two-day delivery?), Amazon shows it as delivered – to a house down the street. 

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

Monday, August 3, 2020

“A Private in Gray” by Thomas Benton Reed

Thomas Benton Reed was a 24-year-old farmer living in “Halfway,” an area halfway between the towns of Natchitoches and Monroe in Louisiana. He had married in 1859, and he and his wife had a young son. His was not a slaveowning family. In 1862, he enlisted in the Louisiana company his two older brothers had joined the year before. And then he was sent with other enlistees to the Army of Northern Virginia.

Reed told his tale of the Civil War in A Private in Gray: Life in the Army of Northern Virginia from 1862 to 1865, first published in 1905. These types of memoirs by officers and soldiers alike were quite popular at the time; veterans and other participants were aging and wanting to preserve their memories and records. In reading Reed’s account, it soon becomes clear that he kept a journal; after a few introductory chapters, the account follows a straight chronology.

Accounts of battles are expected, and Reed includes them. But he also describes daily life in the Confederate army, and like similar memoirs from almost all wars, a great deal of discussion is devoted to boredom, finding enough food to eat, the weather (and especially the rain), and even the pranks soldiers played on each other.

Thomas Benton Reed
And disease. Before he gets involved in any battle, Reed comes down with the measles and spends several days recovering in the camp hospital. He’s also subject to various infections, including one on his head that he has to browbeat the doctor to lance. Later, after a minor wound in his leg during a battle, he almost comes to blows with the doctor over what Reed saw as an unnecessary amputation. He keeps his leg and recovers. 

As a soldier, Reed goes where his superiors tell him to go.  He’s not prone to name the battles he’s involved; you need to follow the account closely to identify them. For example, you don’t realize that his unit is part of the invasion of Pennsylvania that culminates in the Battle of Gettysburg, until Reed mentions the “Dutch woman” he meets and ask for food from. He was involved in the battle but didn’t participate in some of its more famous scenes. It’s one reason he lived to tell the tale. 

The most poignant parts of the book are when he describes the deaths of his two older brothers. For one, he risks his own life to find his body and bury him, and then he faces the onerous chore of having to write and tell his parents. The very last part of the book describes his return home, his life after the war, the deaths of his first two wives, and his move to Arkansas.

In turn, A Private in Gray is somber, comical, thoughtful, and occasionally profound; Thomas Benton Reed comes to understand that he’s a poor man fighting a rich man’s war. But he accepts his place and his lot, and he succeeds in making sure he survives.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Living to the law

After Romans 7:1-6

Living to the law
is abiding in death,
for the way of the law
is the way of death,
the path to oblivion.

The law brings knowledge,
like the bite of the apple, and
it brings passions, and
passions take control and
command us to death.

Released from the law,
our chains broken and
cast aside, we walk in
a new way, the new way
of that Holy Wind.

Who knew?

Photograph by George Hodan via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Saturday Good Reads

If there is one endlessly repeated mantra about COVID-19, it’s “Follow the science.” Initially, the virus was downplayed – by the World Health Organization, by the Centers for Disease Control, and others. Dr. Anthony Fauci told us January and February that it was no big deal and wouldn’t have a big impact in the U.S. Things got more serious, more was learned, things started blowing apart in Europe, and it hit home. It was like the plague, but it wasn’t. You couldn’t compare it to the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918-1919, unless you needed to. 

And then came the Black Lives Matter protests, and suddenly all the advice, all the restrictions, and all the warnings went right out the window, replaced by a deafening silence or, in some cases, tacit approval to protest. Joel Zinburg at CityJournal looks at some of these developments, and asks, “Follow the Science – Where?” His answer: we might have been told to follow the science, but we were really being told to follow the policymakers and the politics.

The Society for Classical Poets is a relatively new group that promotes traditional poetry, and especially poetry that has rhyme and meter. It held an online symposium recently and collected some of the readings in one spot. You can watch and listen here

A writer not terribly familiar in America is Michel Houllebecq, a novelist who’s a household name in France. He’s written a series of provocative novels, daring to take on what literary elites generally avoid. In all of his works, one theme is that without a solid grounding in religion, Western civilization is doomed. And yet his books are widely read, by both the French public and the literary crowd. Nicholas Merevel at Front Porch Republic takes a good, hard look at Houllebecq and his novels to see what all of this means. 

More Good Reads


How a 1990s book predicted 2020 – Ed West at UnHerd. 

The Chimera of Cancel Culture – Clint Archer at The Cripplegate.

The Unprecedented Bravery of Olivia de Havilland – Todd Purdum at The Atlantic.

Free Speech Under Siege – Michael Mandelbaum at American Interest.

China is what Orwell feared – Ross Anderson at The Atlantic.


The Violin Soldier – Paul Gallagher at The Chained Muse.

The Air in Tasmania – David Mason at Literary Matters.

“Thermidor: An Ode to Reaction” – Adam Sedia at The Imaginative Conservative.

When searching for your truth (5 poems) – Kerry O’Connor at Skylover. 


Gratitude as a Virtue – Jessica Hooten Wilson at Church Life Journal.

Writing and Literature

The Restless Bones of Dante Alighieri – Kelly Scott Franklin at Law & Liberty.

Is This the End of Writing in Cafes? – Emily Temple at Literary Hub.

In Search of Shakespeare’s Mind – Daniel Blank at Los Angeles Review of Books. Related: In Search of Shakespeare’s London at Spitalfields Life.

The Power of flawed Lists: How The Bookman invented in the bestseller – Elizabeth Della Zazzera at Lapham’s Quarterly.

American Stuff

American Disaster: In the Path of a Dirty Storm – Matthew Van Meter at Literary Hub.

1619: The Beginning of Self-Government in Virginia – Gary Porter at The Imaginative Conservative.

The Buildings That Made India

Painting: A Man Reading a Paper, oil on canvas by Adriaen Van Ostade (1610-1685).

Friday, July 31, 2020

The law of death

After Romans 7:1-6

We chafe at is restrictions,
its do’s and don’ts, this thing
we call the law. We are 
free of the law only when
we die, breaking free from
the chains of rules and
statutes and amendments
and codes.

And so
when we die to death,
when a new birth lifts us
above the law, the way
of death, no longer are we
creatures of the law but
creatures of love,
belonging to each other,
belonging to the one
who died and
lives again.

Photograph by Kai Stachowiak via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.