Saturday, October 31, 2020

Saturday Good Reads

Today is not only Halloween; it's also Reformation Day. Stephen Nichols at Ligonier Ministries explains what Reformation Day is all about: "A single event on a single day changed the world."

It’s the 400th anniversary of the landing of the Mayflower in what is now Massachusetts. It may not be politically correct to talk about it, but it was a relatively small endeavor that had a momentous impact. Nathaniel Philbrick at American Heritage discusses the event’s place in history, and James Panero at New Criterion looks at the Plymouth Rock itself. 

Is it possible to study history as part of a pursuit of wisdom? These days, that would get you labeled, at a minimum, as patriarchal. But that’s how millions of us studied history, even if we didn’t know at the time. Andrew Kern at the Circe Institute says it’s not only still possible, but there are schools who are doing it.  


“Follow the science.” “Trust the science.” If we’ve heard that once, we’ve heard it a thousand times during this year of COVID-19. The problem we’ve all faced and experienced is that – sometimes – the science is wrong, or the experts representing science are wrong. If it’s done nothing else, the 2020 virus has shown all of us that science, scientists, and the experts are fallible. Michael Story and Stuart Ritchie at UnHerd discuss how the experts messed up on COVID


More Good Reads




Louise Glück and the Return from Oblivion – Ewa Chrusciel at Church Life Journal.


Uppercase – Sonja Benskin Mesher.


Your Memory Starts to Slip – Jeff Eardley at Society of Classical Poets.


Driving by the Lake with John Ashbery – Douglas Crase at Literary Hub. 


Micropoetry and the Twitterverse – Edward Alport at The High Window (H/T: Paul Brookes).


Life and Culture


The Long Road to National Healing – Mark Mitchell at Front Porch Republic.


Why should The Strand (bookstore) survive? – Douglas Murray at The Spectator US.


What is Digital Authoritarianism? – Jason Thacker.


Writing and Literature


‘I can always find solace in Middle-earth and Tolkien’s imagination’ – Jeffrey Deaver at The Guardian


How Writers Learn to Trust Themselves – Hilary Mantel at Literary Hub.




3 Causes for Political Tension between Christians – Jonathan Leeman and Andy Naselli at Crossway. 


The Church is Not a TV Show – Seth Lewis.


The Nature and Purpose of Government – Kevin DeYoung at The Gospel Coalition.


The Rose – The King’s Singers

Painting: Reading, oil on canvas by Ada Thilen (1852-1933).

Friday, October 30, 2020


After John 21:1-19

Ever the hothead, ever impulsive,
he jumps in the water to swim
to shore, swim to the man
who tells them to fish when 
they’ve caught nothing, and
then everything.

He drags himself on to the shore,
the others following in the boat,
to find all in readiness,
all prepared: the charcoal fire
glowing, fish grilling.
The man says to add the fish
they’ve caught. He hauls
the fish from the boat,
dragging the net to shore.

The man takes bread 
and shares it.
The man takes fish 
and shares it.

Photograph by Marcus Lofvenberg via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

"The Waxwork Corpse" by Simon Michael

Charles Holborne, World War II hero, Cambridge graduate, and now a London barrister, grew up in London’s East End as Charlie Horowitz, son of a Jewish tailor, would-be boxer, and a young man unafraid to use his fists. With a growing defense practice spilling over to other attorneys in his chambers, Charles finds himself in an odd position. He’s being asked to prosecute a case for the Crown, and at first the solicitor bringing the case to him won’t tell him the name of the person being scrutinized for possible wrongdoing. 

The person turns out to be a high court judge. The crime is the murder of his wife, whose body has just been found submerged in a lake. She disappeared more than a decade before. The woman flaunted her affairs with a succession of men, she treated their children shabbily at best, and she alienated virtually everyone who came into contact with her. The judge had borne her infidelities for years; what could have made him kill her at that particular time? 

The home where the crime likely occurred had been sold to other people, but the police tear it apart, looking for evidence of murder. And they find it. The judge is charged, and the parties proceed to trial. Charles’s life becomes a bit more complicated when a man from his past recognizes him as someone who likely beat his friend to death during the London Blitz. And the man tries his hand at blackmail. 

Simon Michael

The Waxwork Corpse
 by Simon Michael is the fifth in the Charles Holborne mystery and suspense series, and it’s a fascinating turn for the London barrister. As the trial is set to begin, his father moves in with him, separating from Charles’s mother after decades of marriage. Charles has been estranged from his family; they’re observant Jews and he likes nothing better than a bacon sandwich. Cut off from the family for marrying a Gentile wife, a reconciliation has only recently been brought about. But things still are tense.


The author manages all of these threads expertly, winding them through each other so skillfully that the story seems less a mystery novel and more like literary fiction.


Michael is the author of five novels in the Charles Holborne series, with a sixth set to be published in November. He studied law at Kings College, London University and was called to the Bar in 1978. He worked primarily in the field of criminal law until the late 1990s, when he focused his practice on clinical negligence. He began writing in the 1980s and resumed it when he retired from legal practice.


The Waxwork Corpse is likely the best mystery in the Charles Holborne series, and that’s saying a lot, giving the quality of the stories that preceded it. 




My review of The Brief by Simon Michael.


My review of An Honest Man by Simon Michael


My review of The Lighterman by Simon Michael.


My review of Corrupted by Simon Michael.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

"Saving Chase" by Irene Onorato

Dan Logan runs a construction business started by his father. Shortly before his wedding, his fiancée breaks their engagement so she can be with Dan’s best friend, who was supposed to be his best man in the wedding. His father convinces him to take some time off, and friends take him to a small island off the coast of South Carolina. The plan is to rest, fish, and be away from it all for three weeks, including no mobile-phone service. 

Dory Devereaux’s husband died six years before. She’s trying to raise their son Chase by herself in Massachusetts, but Chase is constantly in trouble, and now he has to pay pack $20,000 for damage he did to an expensive automobile. Frightened that the judge will send him to prison, she flees with him south to her in-laws in South Carolina. They’re there hardly anytime at all when the 16-year-old Chase disappears.  


Chase finds his way to a marina, and sees an old boat beached on the shore, offering a place to spend the night. Except the tide comes in, dragging the old boat out to sea. And Chase will find himself on the same island with Dan Logan, with no way to get word to his mother. Logan finds the boy obnoxious, but he knows that there’s something behind Chase’s general attitude. And he begins to teach him how to fish and crab, and perhaps learn how to survive


Irene Onorato

Saving Chase
 by Irene Onorato is the story of Dan, Dory, and Chase, and how three people broken by life slowly begin to help each other. Can Dan and Dory find love again? And can Chase be saved from some of his own worst impulses?


Onorato has written several romance novels in the Unlikely Love series, the Forever a Soldier series, the Holiday Corral series, and two standalone novels, Justice for Hattie Mayfair and Singapore SecretsSaving Chase is the first in the Crescent Harbor series. A native of New York City, she now lives in Louisiana. 


Saving Chase is an unusual romance story, because the romance isn’t all between the leading male and female characters. It’s also a romance about a family, one that was and one that may be again. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Meet a Dancing Novels Reader

He won’t remember, but I first met Randy Mayfield in the gymnasium of Central Christian School in the early 1990s, located across the street from Central Presbyterian Church, where Randy was on staff. I was a part of a non-denominational program called the Salt & Light Fellowship, and Randy was one of the movers behind it. With his guitar, he led us in songs, including one called “Lord, Don’t Send Me to Africa.” And I thought, who knew Presbyterians could be funny? 

Ten years or so later, I was attending Central Presbyterian (still my church now), and Randy was still on staff, leading one of the church’s most successful outreaches – missions. The program involved a host of countries, an outreach to the St. Louis County Jail and a prison outside of St. Louis, schools and universities, a seminary, and more. 

Top photograph by Paola Chaaya via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Robert Hudson Explains the House Fly - and Poetry

Flies can teach you a lot about poetry. Ask Robert Hudson. 

Hudson has been a teacher, a clerk, an editor, a translator, a book designer, a proofreader, a publisher, a writer, a bookbinder, and a printer (with a certificate in printing by hand). With a master’s degree in comparative literature, he worked for 34 years as an editor for a major publisher. He loves poetry; he’s a member of the International Dante Societyand the Thomas Traherne Association. And he’s a member of the West Michigan Thomas Merton Society.


He also knows a lot about flies. And in The Poet and the Fly, he considers how the fly has served as an object for numerous poets over the centuries. 


Yes, the fly. The common housefly. The pest who loves to discover our food when we eat outside. The one who, once inside, seems almost impossible to corral and eliminate. That fly.


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

Monday, October 26, 2020

"Land of Hope" by Wilfred McClay

If there was a subject I loved in school as much as literature, it was history. I had good teachers for both subjects, but one history teacher really stood out – my high school American history teacher. A graduate of Purdue, she faced down her classes in an all-boys public high school with wit and iron. All American history classes were required to spend six weeks on communism (this was the Cold war period), and the text most history teachers used was Masters of Deceit: The Story of Communism in America and Hot to Fight It by none other than J. Edgar Hoover. It was the strongly suggested but not mandatory text. 

My teacher said if we wanted to understand communism, we had to go to the source. Our class used Das Kapital by Karl Marx. After the first few pages, we understood that before it did anything else, communism was likely to bore you to death, or at least reading about it would. But the teacher supplemented our readings with lectures that explained the differences between capitalism, communism and socialism. It may not have been as exciting as the Hoover book, but we learned what the systems were and why they clashed.


In college, I took the two required semesters of American history. We had large lecture classes, with the professor utilizing several graduate students as graders and essay readers. Our textbook was the two-volume History of the United States edited by T. Harry Williams (1909-1979), the Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer of Huey Long, chairman of my university’s history department, a renowned Civil War historian, and the professor who taught the most highly sought after course on the entire campus – “The History of the Civil War.” During my four years there, the university was known for its football team and its history department. 


Wilfred McClay

In 1980, Howard Zinn (1922-2010) published A People’s History of the United States, likely the most influential history textbook of the part 40 years. A young people’s version was published in 2007. Forty years after publication, it remains a bestseller, used in many universities and high schools. It is also a Marxist interpretation of American history. More recently, The New York Times began to promote another alternative (and controversial) view of American history, the 1619 Project. (It should be noted that both the Times and the project’s author have dialed back some of the earlier statements they made about it.) 


More than a few of us are wondering what happened to American history. And some are asking, is it possible to write and publish an American history textbook that addresses controversial aspects of U.S. history yet still retains a sense of why and how this country was founded?


Wilfred McClay, a history professor at the University of Oklahoma, has answered that question in the affirmative. His Land of Hope: An Invitation to the Great American Story shows that it is indeed possible to tell the remarkable story of the United States and fairly address the failures, shortcomings, and tragedies that people experienced during the colonial period, the founding of the new republic, and the history of the country since that founding as a federal republic in 1787.


McClay doesn’t gloss over the “difficult subjects.” He’s telling a story, perhaps the story, of the United States, and that story includes barbaric treatment of native Americans, the enslavement of millions of Africans, and an often-rapacious capitalist economy whose excesses had (and have) to reined in. His point is that, with all of its failures and shortcomings, the United States has remained a “land of hope” for the world at large. He doesn’t paint a rose-colored view; instead, he tells a story that is both familiar and scrupulously fair. 


As he says in the boo’s epilogue, McClay sees this history as “a contribution to the making of American citizens. As such, it is a patriotic endeavor as well as a scholarly one.” There is much to cherish and celebrate in American history, he says, but that doesn’t mean it’s an uncritical celebration of the good and the best and the ignoring of the bad and the worst. Both conditions exist in U.S. history and America today; to ignore either is to fall prey to a false, shallow patriotism or a destructive (and unfounded) Jacobin sentiment to “tear it all down.” 


Land of Hope is a much-needed book at a time when reasoned thought and understanding have been reduced to caricatures at the extremes. My high school American history teacher would have liked it.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

On the shore

After John 21:1-19

They’re back where they started,
back to what they know, the familiar,
the routine of fishermen, 
back to where the light began,
back before the light began,
doing what they know to do:

And on the shore, a man asks
if they have fish, if they have a catch.
When they say no, he gives them
a strange command, to cast on the right,
as if some landlubber knows how to fish,

They cast the net, to prove him wrong.
They cast the net and pull,
but strain to haul the laden net,
filled with its multitudes of fish. And
they look at the man on the shore.
What they could not do on their own,
they did after he spoke, after
they listened.

Photograph by Tim Motivv via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Saturday Good Reads

For the first time since March, I’m preparing to go to church. Physically go, I mean. We’ve been watching the worship service via the online broadcast each week; our age and underlying health put us both in the high-risk category for the virus. But tomorrow, I will go. And the reason is what Noah Van Niel at Plough talks about: The church is other people.  

Speaking of pandemics, cholera was a scourge in the 19th century in many cities, including St. Louis and London. No one knew the cause, that is, until Dr. John Snow figured it out in London in 1854. I had seen the fictionalized account in one of the episodes of Victoria on television, but A London Inheritance has the non-fictionalized account


In 1994, the last book by Christopher Lasch was published posthumously. It was entitled The Revolt of the Elites, and it eerily predicted one aspect of our current cultural moment – when our corporate, media, academic, foundation, and entertainment elites are moving in lockstep in one direction, while many in the public at large are scratching their heads and saying “What?” Antonio Garcia-Martinez at The Pull Request talked with Martin Gurri, a former member of the CIA’s global media analysis team, about his book The Revolt of the Public. And then he followed it up with his own essay about the twilight of the media elites


More Good Reads




An Interview with Amit Majmudar – Ally Pate at Tributaries. 


The Green Man in Autumn – David Russell Mosely at The Imaginative Conservative.


Why We Need Poetry – Nikki Giovanni at Literary Hub.


Life and Culture


Government Of, By, and For the Elite – J.D. Vance and Chris Arnade at American Compass.


“Why We Need a Better Definition of “Conspiracy Theory” – Tim Challies.


Honor Thy Boomer – Rebekah Curtis at Mere Orthodoxy.


Secrets That Hold Us – Donna Hemans at The Millions.


Why White Fragility Fails – Denny Burk. 




Were the Christian Abolitionists Wrong? – Samuel Sey at Slow to Write.


A Different Summer – Andrea Sanborn at A View of the Lake.


British Stuff


Cecily Brown: ‘I’m trying to understand what England means to me’ – Louisa Buck at The Art Newspaper.


The Royal Navy in the front line against slavery – Jeremy Black at The Critic Magazine.


Writing and Literature


Where to Find Narnia in the Real World – Chris Leadbeater at The Telegraph.


Edgar Allen Poe and the Rise of the Modern City – Scott Peeples at CrimeReads.


The Saddest Words: William Faulkner’s Civil War – Carl Rollyson at Simply Charly.


American Stuff


John Rankin, Bravery, and Gettysburg – Jon Tracey at Emerging Civil War.


A Fateful Experiment at Jamestown – James Horn at American Heritage.


The founders’ priceless legacy – Myron Magnet at New Criterion.


Into the West – Peter Hollens (from Lord of the Rings)

Painting: Man Reading the Studio (Self-portrait), oil on canvas (1930-1939) by Kmetty Janos (1889-1975).

Friday, October 23, 2020

The stone rolled back

After Mark 16:1-8

The stone was rolled
in place, blocking
the small cave serving
as the tomb, blocking
entrance to the body,
shrouded. And guards
stationed in front,
to protect, what, 
the powers that were
from confronting
their sin.

Two women come, intent
on anointing the body within,
shrouded, but knowing
the stone is blocking and
the soldiers guarding. But
they see the stone
is already rolled back,
the soldiers have fled.
The open tomb beckons.

Inside, the body, shrouded,
is gone, its absence shouting.
A young man sits, and
tells them he is gone.
The place where he was
is empty. He is gone.
He is not here.
Find him in Galilee;
the end is the beginning.

Photograph by Bruno van der Kraan via Unsplash.  Used with permission.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

"The Body in the Transept" by Jeanne Dams

Dorothy Martin is a 50-something American widow living in the English town of Sherebury. Her husband died barely a year ago, and she continues to try to do what they had planned. But she’s lonely, somewhat miserable, and is still trying to figure out her life. She has a few English friends, and her next-door neighbor Jane Langland is a very good friend, but she’s at sixes and sevens. 

It’s Christmas Eve, and Dorothy fights a bitter wind to attend services at Sherebury Cathedral. The church is crowded, but she finally finds a seat near Alan Nesbitt, who is chief constable for the county. He admires her hat (Dorothy has a penchant for unusual hats), and then the service begins. Afterward, as they’re leaving, Dorothy stumbles (literally) over what looks like a pile of old clothes in the darkened transept. 


The clothes turn out to be the church canon, and he is very much dead. It looks like an accident, but the investigation will show that he’s actually been murdered elsewhere, and his body brought to the church. And just in time for the Christmas Eve service!


Jeanne Dams

The canon was a gifted scholar; he also taught at Sherebury University. To everyone who knew him, he was obnoxious, sometimes rude, and, to a few, very threatening. Some church workers feared for their jobs. So did some university people. Everyone the man knew had a potential motive.


The chief constable, who’s more interested in Dorothy than she initially realizes, keeps her vaguely aware of developments. And then she decides to follow her friend Jane’s advice and get involved in something. What Dorothy chooses is to “help” investigate the murder.


The Body is the Transept by Jeanne Dams, first published in 1995, is the first of 21 mysteries in the Dorothy Martin series. Dams also has published seven novels in the Hilda Johansson mystery series. The author lives in Indiana, and, based on photographs, also favors the wearing of hats, much like her mystery heroine.


The story is well-written, with just enough clues to help the reader see who the likely murderer is. And The Body in the Transept has a rather thrilling climax that takes place in the upper reaches of the cathedral. With just enough of a hint of romance, it’s a well-done introduction to the rest of the series.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

"Coming Home to You" by Barbara Rohr

Kate Kennedy has left Boston and come home to Gull Harbor, Michigan. Her mother has suffered a stroke and is recovering in a care facility, and Kate’s older sister is too busy with her business in New York City. Kate has not only left Boston behind; she’s also left her former husband, and their final divorce decree is imminent. 

Cole Campbell is a developer in Gull Harbor, determined to make sure that the town doesn’t go the way of so many other towns and die. Not everyone in town is thrilled with the changes he’s bringing. Cole is divorced from the girl he dated in high school and then married; no one knows the whole story, but she’s off in California and he has full custody of their young daughter. 


In high school, Cole and Kate were on the debate team together. He’s two years older, and Kate always had a crush on him, and perhaps more than a crush. But he broke her heart by taking the girl he eventually married to the senior prom. Kate finds herself just as attracted to him more than 10 years later, but she doesn’t like how he’s changing the town. And she joins the opposition, including secretly printing and distributing leaflets opposing Cole’s plans.


Barbara Lohr

Coming Home to You
 by Barbara Lohr is the story of Kate and Cole, and it turns on several narrative themes – the romance between Kate and Cole, Kate’s decision on whether or not to return to Boston, Kate’s relationship with her mother and older sister, and Cole’s plans to revitalize and save Gull Harbor.


Lohr is the author of numerous romance novels, developed under three series. The Windy City series is comprised of seven novels, as is the Man from Yesterday series (Coming Home to You is the first in this series). She’s also published two novels in the Friends to Lovers series, as well as three novellas and several short stories. She lives in the South. 


Will Kate’s anti-development activity become public? Will she resolve longstanding issues with her mother and sister? And will Kate and Cole work through their individual pasts to find each other? Coming Home to You is a fast-reading, entertaining story – and smoothly sets the stage for the novels-to-come in the series.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Giving a Minor Character a Bigger Role

The character of David Hughes, twin brother of Sarah Hughes, has been a part of the Dancing Priest series from the beginning. In Dancing Priest, the first novel, it was David who had decided to do a study year abroad in Scotland, dragging his sister along with him. David was the scholar in the family, and at the University of Edinburgh he was studying Scottish history. Because of a fire at his dormitory, David ends up rooming with Michael Kent and Tommy McFarland, even though they’re two years older. And it’s Tommy’s girlfriend Ellen who fixes David up on a blind date with Betsy, whom he’d eventually marry. 

The character of David Hughes served as something of a counterpoint to Michael and Tommy. They’ve been friends since they were six years old and have roomed together at St. Andrews during their entire time at university. David is the quiet American, the scholarly outsider, contrasting with the outgoing McFarland and the self-confident and often-quite-candid Michael. McFarland is an outspoken champion of Scotland and Scottish independence; David is the young man who’s been in love with Scotland from afar and is now living exactly where he wants to be.


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


Top photograph by Shipman Northcutt via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Poets and Poems: Susan Richardson and “Things My Mother Left Behind”

In 2002, poet Susan Richardson was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic disorder of the eye that eventually leads to blindness. It’s a disease inherited from parents; there is no cure. What she faced was a slow walk to darkness. A diagnosis like that can be devastating to a writer. Richardson’s response was to continue to write. 

Her writing is focused in three areas: poetry, short fiction, and her blog, Stories from the Edge of Blindness. Her work has been published in numerous literary journals, both print and online, around the world. She’s received several awards and recognitions, and she’s built a social media presence on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.


And now she’s published a collection of 65 poems, Things My Mother Left Behind.


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