Saturday, July 31, 2021

Saturday Good Reads - July 31, 2021

It was a Kodak moment: Kodak likes to feature great photography and photography books on its Instagram account. Recently, it featured the work of a photographer who had published a book; the photos were of the transformation of the Xinjiang region of China during the past five years. The photos were somber and stunning. And you can probably guess what happened next. The photos displeased a certain government; Kodak removed the photos and apologized. Bari Weiss ay Substack has republished the photos with an explanation of what happened: “Bearing Witness to China’s ‘Orwellian Dystopia.’  

Dan Sheehan at Literary Hub has assembled a list of noir writer Raymond Chandler’s most iconic lines. One not included is Chandler’s advice to writers: “When in doubt, have two guys come through the door with guns.”


The studies are rolling in. No surprise, but the pandemic lockdown of 2020-2021 caused extensive damage to education, and inner-city kids were particularly hard hit. David Crary at Urban Faith takes note of something else that happened: homeschooling surged.


More Good Reads




Even to Your Old Age: New Life for Christian Grandparents – William Farley at Desiring God.


Future scenarios emerge as the media debate the health of U.S. Mainline Protestantism – Richard Ostling at Get Religion.




Rondeau and Other Poems – Rita Moe at Society of Classical Poets.


Antipsalm – Novica Tadić at Kingdom Poets (D.S. Martin).


When Poetry Matters, and When It Doesn’t – Joseph Salemi at Society of Classical Poets.


Writing and Literature


A Historical Fiction Writer Considers the Enduring Appeal of the Roman Empire – Lindsey Davis at CrimeReads.


Did you know that they used to give out Olympic medals for literature? – Dan Sheehan at Literary Hub.


Silent All These Years: On Annie Dillard – Bryan VanDyke at The Millions.


How Much Did the History of American Chattel Slavery Shape William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!? – W. Ralph Eubanks at Literary Hub.


Life and Culture


Substack: Last, Best Hope for Free Speech – Kyle Smith at Planned Man.


Collectivism and Violence Are One – Corbin Barthold at Front Porch Republic.


California’s electric car revolution, designed to save the planet, also unleashes a toll on it – Evan Halper at Los Angeles Times.


The Nobel Lies of COVID-19 – Kerrington Powell & Vinay Prasad at Slate.


British Stuff


Ed Gray, Painter – The gentle author at Spitalfields Life.


American Stuff


The Economic Challenges of the Confederacy – Lloyd Klein at Emerging Civil War.


Love Theme from St. Elmo’s Fire – David Foster

Painting: Man Reading, oil on canvas by Adolphe Borie (1877-1934)

Friday, July 30, 2021

Instructions for the journey (2)

After Ephesians 5:1-21

Children learn by seeing

and doing themselves what

they see their parents do.

That includes the good,

the bad, the ugly,

the beautiful. That’s

how they’re made, that’s

how they learn, that’s

how they grow. Likewise,

because you, too, are

a beloved child, be

an imitator of the one

who created you, the one

who loved you, the one

who was given up to be

an offering,

a sacrifice,

for you. In others,

walk in love.


Photograph by Mantas Hesthaven via Unsplash. Used with permission

Thursday, July 29, 2021

"The Enemy Inside" by Scott Hunter

The Enemy Inside by British author Scott Hunter is like opening a Kachina doll. Just when you think it’s all figured out, the story changes on you. It’s difficult enough to pull off in a novel; this is a novella. 

The sixth story in Hunter’s Irish Detective series, it begins with a would-be jumper. A man looks as if he’s going to jump from the top-level of a six-story Oxford car park, just as DCI Brendan Moran of the Thames Valley Police is doing his weekly food shopping at Sainsbury’s. He talks with the man as two policemen come up behind him and keep him from jumping. The would-be jumper is taken into custody but released a few hours later. 


Scott Hunter

First Kachina doll is the almost-suicide. The second is that it wasn’t. The third is that Moran knows the man from years before, from his days as a policeman in Ireland. The fourth is that the man is after Moran – for revenge. And then the reader keeps opening Kachina doll after Kachina doll, as the story moves inevitably toward its tense, and even more unexpected, ending. 


The “Irish Detective” series includes Black DecemberCreatures of DustDeath Walks Behind YouA Crime for All SeasonsSilent as the DeadGone Too Soon, The Enemy Inside, When Stars Grow Dark, and The Cold Light of Death. 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.


The Enemy Inside makes you think about who your neighbors, colleagues, and friends really are. DCI Moran is going to experience more than one surprise, and all in the passing of a day.





My review of Black December by Scott Hunter.


My review of Creatures of Dust by Scott Hunter.


My review of Death Walks Behind You by Scott Hunter.


My review of Silent as the Dead by Scott Hunter.


My review of Gone Too Soon and A Crime for All Seasons by Scott Hunter.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

"Love on a Limb" by Laurie Lewis

Matt Grayken has wealthy parents and his own highly successful personal travel business. He’s a handsome man, respected by his employees, and loved by his parents. But Matt has a problem; he has leukemia. He had it as a young child and a recurrence some years before as a young adult. And now it’s back. 

What he doesn’t want is his health to be overseen by his parents. He loves them, but they managed his previous recurrence, and it nearly killed him. He needs someone to be in charge, and he develops a plan to marry for health reasons. And the woman he chooses in Mikaela Compton, a nurse specializing in oncology. They haven’t met, but he’s overheard her comforting other patients. And knowing little else about her, Matt has fallen in love with her.


He arranges a meeting and explains his plan. Almost like a business contract, the marriage would be geared to managing his health, because Matt doesn’t expect to survive this round of leukemia. Mikaela accepts his offer, not knowing he’s in love with her. Before too much time passes, Mikaela finds herself falling in love with Matt. But there are problems looking – his friends, his parents, and the overall hopelessness of his situation. Matt was adopted from Ireland, and no one’s been able to learn what family he might have come from to arrange a possible bone marrow transplant.


Laurie Lewis

Love on a Limb
 by Laurie Lewis is Matt and Mikaela’s story. The premise may strain credibility at first, but the story delivers. It’s a compelling tale with well-researched medical issues and two main characters who are drawn true-to-life. And, as might be expected from a story involving love and life-threatening illness, it’s a tear-jerker. 


Lewis writes historical fiction as L.C. Lewis, romance and women's fiction as Laurie Lewis, and general fiction as Laurie L.C. Lewis. She’s published some 12 novels. Love on a Limb is the first of the Great Expectations Love Stories: The Graykens series: the sequel is Love on the Line.




The Dragons of Alsace Farm by Laurie Lewis.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

"Live Not by Lies" by Rod Dreher

In February of 1974, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn published an open letter to the Russian people, one that has come to be known by its core message: “Live not by lies.” That same day, he was arrested; shortly thereafter, because of his international reputation, he was exiled from the Soviet Union, not to return until almost 20 years later with the fall of the communist government. 

Conservative writer and columnist Rod Dreher, in homage to Solzhenitsyn, has used the message for the title of his latest book, Live Not by Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents. The difference is that Dreher’s book is not aimed at the Soviet Union; instead, it is aimed at what he sees as a growing “soft totalitarianism” in the United States among the political, media, entertainment, academic, and corporate elites. His primary concern is Christians in the United States, the people who cannot accept the madness engulfing American elites but are largely unprepared for the consequences that will inevitably follow.


For guidance, he turns to the Christian community of Eastern Europe that survived communist rule and helped to bring it down, but which also paid an often terrible price for following their conscience and their faith. He asks if Western and particularly American Christians are prepared for that sacrifice. And he believes that much can be learned from the dissidents of Eastern Europe and Russia because what is happening in the United States mirrors the Bolshevik / Marxist takeover of Russia; it’s only happening here in slow motion and in a “softer” way. But the end result threatens to be the same – a society that brooks no dissent and one that will eradicate dissent wherever it might emerge. 


Rod Dreher

Live Not by Lies
 is divided into two parts. The first part concerns understanding what soft totalitarianism is all about: a developing totalitarian culture, how progressivism has taken on all the trappings of a religion, and how these ideas and trends have been facilitated by capitalism, and especially the largest corporations. The second part is the manual for Christians: how it is possible to live in truth, how to cultivate cultural memory, the importance of the family (the institution that has been under siege since at least the 1960s), how faith forms the basis for resistance, how Christians can support one another, and how to understand and accept the suffering that is to come.


The book is highly readable and accessible; Dreher has a compelling writing style that keeps the reader engaged. Unlike his previous book, The Benedict Option, this one has been largely ignored by all the major new and literary media other than those that are conservative. This, too, one might argue, is a form of soft totalitarianism – ignore what makes you uncomfortable and points out your less-than-democratic leanings. 


Dreher, who writes for American Conservative, is the author of Crunchy Cons (2006); The Little Way of Ruthie Leming (2013); How Dante Can Save Your Life (2015), and The Benedict Option (2017). He is a Greek Orthodox, and lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.


Some might say that Dreher can often be borderline hysterical, exaggerating or overstating his case. That might be, but recall Flannery O’Connor, who once explained her stories by saying you write large for the nearly blind and shout for the nearly deaf. The future may not unfold exactly as Dreher is predicting, but the evidence is all around us that it’s unfolding closely enough to what’s presented in Live Not by Lies.




My review of How Dante Can Save Your Life.


My review of The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher.


Monday, July 26, 2021

"The Weight of Memory" by Shawn Smucker

Paul Elias is a grandfather with custody of his granddaughter Pearl. Paul also has a problem: he’s dying from cancer, a tumor that’s growing on the side of his head. His doctor tells him he has anywhere from now to three months to live.  

Paul’s wife Mary died 40 years before. He hasn’t seen Pearl’s father, his son John, in four years; he doesn’t know if John’s even alive or has died somewhere from his drug addiction. He has to find someone who will care for Pearl, and time in increasingly short. He decides to return to his hometown of Nysa, a place he hasn’t seen since Mary died.


Pearl tells him of the white-haired lady who she’s talked with at school and other places as well. Pearl is a born storyteller and has a vivid imagination. But when Paul hears her talk about the white-haired lady, he recalls May talking about seeing a white-haired lady in the year leading up to her death. 


Stull, he feels almost compelled to return to Nysa, even if it’s impossible to forget the day he was holding baby John on the dock of their cabin on the lake, watching his best friends Tom and Shirly paddle home in their kayaks. The third kayak, Mary’s kayak, was not with them. She fell into the water and presumably drowned. But who was, and is, the white-haired lady?


Shawn Smucker

The Weight of Memory
 is author Shawn Smucker’s latest novel. It’s a surprisingly quiet story of how we can be haunted by the past, but also how the past can offer redemption. It’s a story of how friendship can take you places you never expected to go. It’s a story of how finding faith and redemption often means losing your life – the life you’ve known and always thought you understood. It’s a story about forgiveness. And it’s a love story, about the love lost by a young husband and the love of a grandfather. 


In addition to the novels These Nameless ThingsThe Day the Angels Fell and The Edge of Over There, Smucker has published four non-fiction works – Once We Were StrangersMy Amish RootsBuilding a Life Out of Words, and Refuse to Drown. He and his family live in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.


It’s not easy to pin Smucker’s novels, including this one, to a specific genre of fiction. They contain elements of fantasy, the speculative, and often a slight nod in the direction of the paranormal. And yet they are recognizably mainstream novels. It’s no easy task to pull off this kind of writing, and keep the reader fully engaged in what is a completely believable story. (If you’re familiar with The Little Princess by George Macdonald, The Weight of Memory will remind you of it and seems, in fact, to pay homage to it.)


It’s a beautiful story, one of the best I’ve read this year. 




My review of These Nameless Things by Shawn Smucker.


My review of Light from Distant Stars by Shawn Smucker.


My review of The Day the Angels Fell by Shawn Smucker.


My review of The Edge of Over There by Shawn Smucker.


My review of Once We Were Strangers by Shawn Smucker.


My review of My Amish Roots by Shawn Smucker.



Sunday, July 25, 2021

Instructions for the journey

After Ephesians 4:17-32

They’re straightforward,

these instructions for

the journey underway:


Speak truth to your neighbor,

because you then speak

truth to yourself.


Be angry but don’t sin;

don’t let the sun set

on your anger.


Don’t let the thief

keep stealing; let him work

so he can share.


Stifle those corrupt words;

instead, build up and

encourage (imparting grace).


Don’t grieve the Spirit,

who sealed you (yes, you)

for redemption.


Put away: bitterness,

wrath, anger, clamor,

slender, malice.


Instead: be kind,

of tender heart, and 

forgive as you were



Photograph by Joel Drzycimski via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Saturday Good Reads - July 24, 2021

The Golden Age of Mystery and Detective Fiction stretched from the 1920s to the 1940s. Think Agatha Christie, Margery Allingham, Dashiell Hammett, and Raymond Chandler. Or, at least that’s what students and scholars of the genre have always said. Not so fast, says Otto Penzler. Maybe it’s not that clear-cut. See his article at CrimeReads. 

According to scientific studies, which may or may not really be scientific, reading fiction can actually make you nicer. Or perhaps just a little nicer. Maybe. Walker Caplan at Literary Hub has a brief wrap-up. Follow the science!


It’s really no surprise, but the habit of reading the Bible, as in daily devotionals, have changed considerably over the course of the history of Christianity. For the first 1,500 years, most Christians couldn’t afford scrolls, manuscripts, and books. Gutenberg’s printing press changed that, but even then it took a couple of more centuries before books, and Bibles, were broadly accessible to most people (and don’t forget the history of literacy rates). Tim Challies has a thoughtful reflection on Bible-reading habits, and how it might change yet again. 


More Good Reads


American Stuff


Living In the Myth: A Review of Jason Stacy’s 'Spoon River America' – Benjamin Myers at Front Porch Republic.


You are a White Livered Soul – Chris Heisey at Emerging Civil War.


Life and Culture


The Language of Totalitarian Dehumanization – Clifton Ross at Quillette.




Christians, Beware the Blame Game – Carl Trueman at First Things Magazine.


Trusting God in the Midst of Tragedy – Jamie Strickland at The Gospel Coalition Canada.


Have You Tasted Heaven? – Tom Challies.


Unspoken: Remembering a grandfather – Kristin Couch at The Palest Ink.


British Stuff


The Story of 18th Century England’s Booming Graverobbing Industry, and the Man Who Inspired ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ – Sam Kean at CrimeReads.


Writing and Literature


Unhuman Communion: Tolkien on What Lies Near the Heart of Fairy Stories – K.J. Pugh at The Rabbit Room.


The Mournfulness of Cities – David Searcy at The Paris Review.




‘Kilkenny Castle’ and 'Presently' – Lucia Haase at Society of Classical Poets.


Something to Give – Seth Lewis.


Mary Magdalene: A Sonnet – Malcolm Guite.


Gumshoe – Matt Pitt at The High Window (H/T: Paul Brookes).


News Media


Obscured by bias and opinion: When the news no longer feels like the news – Ben Cobley at The Critic Magazine.


When Music Sounds – Daniel Elder

Painting: Woman Reading, oil on canvas (1910) by Edouard Vuillard (1868-1940).

Friday, July 23, 2021

What you've learned

After Ephesians 4:17-32

What you’ve learned,

assuming you’ve heard

anything at all,

assuming you were taught

anything at all,

is this:


Discard the old self,

owned by the past,

corrupted by desires,


embrace the new self,

with renewed minds,

accepting the image

in which you were made,

for which you were meant,

the life to which you

were called, a life

of righteousness, a life

of holiness.


Photograph by John Schnobrich via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Thursday, July 22, 2021

"The Man by the Sea" by Jack Benton

Slim Hardy is a private investigator. He operates in northern England, doing the kind of work private investigators usually do. Like what he’s doing at the moment – following a man whose wife suspects him of having an affair.  

But if it’s an affair, it’s one of the strangest Slim has ever seen. Every Friday afternoon, the man drives to a secluded bay – and speaks Latin poetry to the waves. And this goes on for weeks, until Chris manages to hide a transmitter nearby and tapes what the man is saying. A friend translates the words. The man is trying to exorcise a ghost.


This part of the bay has a reputation. A woman and a young girl both died here over the years, and the expressions on their faces suggested they had died of fright. Slim does his research, and discovers that a young woman, about to get married, was found dead in this very same stretch of rocky beach – some 30 years before. He digs deeper, to find what connections to living people there might be. As he steps into what looks like a horrific ghost story, he soon finds himself uncovering a long-buried tale of love and revenge.


Chris Ward, aka Jack Benton

The Man by the Sea
 by Jack Benton, a pseudonym for author Chris Ward, is Slim’s story. The first of six Slim Hardy mysteries, it keeps the reader guessing as to whether it’s a mystery, a ghost story, or some other kind of paranormal tale. (Slim doesn’t believe in ghosts, but he does begin to wonder.)


Chris Ward has published the Slim Hardy mysteries as Jack Benton, as well as numerous novels in the Tube Riders series, the Tales of Crow series, the Endinfinium series, the Fire Planets sage, the Tokyo Lost series, five Christmas novels, and two stand-alone novels. A native of Cornwall in the UK, he has lived and worked in Japan since 2003.


Things happen, and they happen fast, in The Man by the Sea. It has murders, attempted murders, car accidents, and arson. If you like a slightly off-beat mystery that will keep you reading, this is it.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

"The Great Gatsby" by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Sometimes, you’re remembered for your commercial failures rather than the books the critics celebrate.


In 1925, F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940) published The Great Gatsby. Following the commercial and critical successes of This Side of Paradise (1920) and The Beautiful and the Damned (1922), Gatsby received generally favorable reviews from the critics, but it flopped commercially. Nine years passed before he published his final novel, Tender is the Night(1934). An uncompleted novel, The Last Tycoon, was finished by a friend and published in 1941. 


Yet of all his novels (and a multitude of stories and articles written for magazines), it is The Great Gatsby that is the best remembered and the book that made his literary reputation. And more than one critic has named it in the running for “the great American novel.”


Gatsby is both a novel of its time and a novel that captured its time. Its heart is a love story, one between a young soldier from a poor farming family in Minnesota and a Louisville debutante. But the love story, mostly existing in the past, only gradually unfolds. 


Jay Gatsby is an extremely wealthy man living in an opulent mansion on Long Island. Next door, in a small, rented house sandwiched between estates, lives Nick Carraway, the narrator of the story, a 30-year-old trying to make his way as a salesman in the bond market. Just across the bay is the home of Tom and Daisy Buchanan. Tom has inherited his wealth from his Chicago family; Daisy is a former debutante from Louisville who was wooed and sought after by man young men.


F. Scott Fitzgerald about 1921

Tom, despite his wealth, is something of a brute. He has little polish and considerable vulgarity; he’s also having an affair with the wife of the owner of the local gas station. The polish and manners seem to belong to Jay Gatsby, who throws ongoing lavish parties that people seem to invite themselves to. Rumors abound about the source of Gatsby’s wealth, including ties he has to the gangster who supposedly fixed the 1919 World Series.


Carraway is a cousin of Daisy, and Gatsby invites him to a party. What Gatsby really wants is to meet Daisy privately, at Nick’s house. He and Daisy have a past. 


Fitzgerald gradually builds the tension of the story, using Carraway as both an agent of narrative development and the recorder of events. The reader senses that this will not end well; some kind of tragedy seems to be inevitably unfolding. The surprise is what and how it happens – and who ends up being the character the reader admires the most.


There are numerous editions of the book available. The one I read was recently published by T.S. Poetry Press. With an introduction by poet Tania Runyan, it includes the full text of the story, historical context, fashion notes, vintage illustrations, and a Gatsby poem and poetry prompt. 


The Great Gatsby is a novel of the Jazz Age, a story of rich people whose main occupation seems to be drinking and entertaining themselves. It’s also a story of old money and new money, the decay of values, and the superficiality of what passes as society and celebrity.