Her Royal Spyness by Rhys Bowen

I really enjoyed certain aspects of this murder mystery set in 1932 among the rich, royal, famous, and impecunious of England. It had the flavor of I Capture the Castle mixed with Downton Abbey mixed with a little P.G. Wodehouse. Lady Victoria Georgiana Charlotte Eugenie, daughter of the Duke of Glen Garry and Ranoch, aka Georgie, finds herself unmarried, without funds, and without a real goal in life. She decides to leave the drafty castle in Scotland that belongs to her older brother the duke, aka Binky, and try her luck in London, unchaperoned and completely unsure about her future plans.

“I reminded myself that it is the 1930’s. Young ladies were allowed to do more than embroider, play piano, and paint watercolors. And London was a big city, teeming with opportunities for a bright young person like myself.”

Georgie, in addition to being of the aristocracy, is also a (very)minor royal, thirty-fourth in line to the throne. The title and the relations don’t get her much in the way of money, but she does get a summons from the queen (Queen Mary, wife of George V) and a commission to do a little bit of harmless spying on Prince Edward and the American woman he seems to have become involved with. However, Georgie finds that surviving on one’s own is more difficult than she had imagined, and spying on a prince comes with its own hazards.

Georgie is a wonderful character, intelligent but innocent. I liked her, and I liked seeing her navigate her way through the perils and amusements of a certain segment of London society. However, the minor characters are not so delightful. Georgie takes up with an old school friend whose constant advice is that Georgie must lose the dreadful “burden” of her virginity as soon as possible. Georgie doesn’t take her friend’s advice, but she is sorely tempted. And she never really mounts any kind of a moral or philosophical defense against this promiscuous and shallow idea of what life is all about.

So, I liked the setting, the plot was OK, and the main character is fun to watch, even if she is a little too easily influenced by foolish and unsavory characters. But the constant drumbeat of propaganda in favor of promiscuous, unattached sexual encounters spoiled the rest of the story for me, even though the actual sexual escapades in the book are limited in number and off-stage. I probably won’t read the rest of the series.

A Month of Sundays by Ruth White

“Is it true what Aunt June says, that everything happens for a reason?”

It’s a key question, and A Month of Sundays, true to the times in which we live, does not presume to give an answer to the question. However the book does presume to raise the right question(s), and for that reason alone, Ms. White deserves kudos.

April Garnet Rose and her mother were deserted by Garnet’s dad before she was born, and now when she finds out that her mother is planning to move to Florida to look for work and a place to live, leaving her behind until things get settled, Garnet feels hurt, abandoned, and furious. Garnet doesn’t even know Aunt June, her father’s sister, who has agreed to take care of her in Virginia while her mother is looking for a job. Then, Garnet finds out that Aunt June believes everything happens for a reason and that April Garnet has come to help her in her search for God.

A Month of Sundays is a short book, 168 pages, and it takes place over a short period of time, a little over a month, but a lot happens in that time. Garnet and Aunt June visit a few different churches and a revival service, searching for God.

Aunt June: “You came here to help me find God. I’ve been searching for him for months now. . . I try a different church every week. Yesterday I was at Big Branch, and last week I went to Little Prater. Now I’ll have you to go with me and help.”

They see people speaking in tongues and handling snakes and preaching and singing. Garnet falls for a preacher boy. But Garnet and her aunt stay on the periphery of the church, observers rather than participants, until Aunt June gets a miracle. Then, Garnet experiences her own miracle—and a tragedy.

I thought it was a good little story, presented in a way that respected the beliefs of various sects without endorsing them. Young readers will be left to make up their own minds about snake-handling and speaking in tongues and faith healing and God. It was a little odd that no one really thought they had “found God” by the end of the book, at least not the Christian God of the Bible. But maybe that’s not who they were looking for in the first place.


Repetitive. Hard. Weird. Seriously depressing. Ultimately hopeful?

The things I’m marking in the book of Ezekiel as I try to read and make sense of it are the phrases and ideas that Ezekiel repeats over and over:

Son of man: God’s nickname for Ezekiel. Almost every time God speaks to Ezekiel, the Lord calls his priest/messenger boy, “Son of man” or “Son of Adam.” Ezekiel’s actual name is only mentioned twice in the book of Ezekiel, in Ezekiel 1:3 and 24:24. The Hebrew expression “son of man” (בן–אדם, ben-‘adam) appears 107 times in the Hebrew Bible. The phrase is used mostly in Ezekiel (93 times). (Wikipedia)

I remember that Jesus called himself the “Son of man.” What does that mean? It means that Ezekiel and Jesus were both human, both sons of Adam. We forget the humanity of Christ sometimes, that God took on human flesh, that he humbled himself, that he was a “son of Adam” as well as son of God. This dual nature as the theologians call it is, of course, a mystery. But it is also an encouragement. God spoke to a son of man (Ezekiel), and God became the Son of Man (Jesus).

The glory of the Lord: My pastor preached about this phrase this morning. In Ezekiel chapter 11 the glory of the Lord departs from His temple and the glory doesn’t return until chapter 43. What is this glory?

John MacArthur, Grace to You: “The glory of the Lord is the expression of God’s person. It is any manifestation of God’s character, any manifestation of His attributes in the world, in the universe is His glory. In other words, the glory is to God what the brightness is to the sun. The glory is to God what wet is to water. The glory is what heat is to fire. In other words, it is the emanation, it is the effulgence, it is the brightness, it is the product of His presence, it is the revelation of Himself. Anytime God discloses Himself, it is the manifestation of His glory.”

And the Apostle John wrote, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
“The everlasting Logos, the Word of God, who was with God and who is God, has now inhabited the creation that He made.”

Thus saith the Lord, or the word of the Lord came to me or declares the Lord: Ezekiel indicates over and over again that God actually spoke to him, audibly and in visions. Again, the word came to Ezekiel, but that’s only a hint of the final Word that was and is to come, the Word become flesh and dwelling among us.

Then you will know (or they will know) that I am the Lord This phrase appears more than sixty times in the book of Ezekiel. God tells the people through Ezekiel that He is planning to bring great calamity and judgment upon them and that then they will know that I AM THAT I AM. Sin separates us from the life and the glory of God, but we will no longer ignore His word or His glory when He brings both judgment and mercy to bear upon our sin.

Then they will know that I AM THAT I AM.

He is there, and He is not silent. ~Francis Schaeffer

And the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring the Israelites out of it. Exodus 7:5

The LORD is known by his acts of justice. Psalm 9:16

The true state, both of nations and of individuals, may be correctly estimated by this one rule, whether in their doings they remember or forget God. ~Matthew Henry

For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 4:9-11

Saturday Review of Books: September 13, 2014

“I divide all readers into two classes: Those who read to remember and those who read to forget.” ~William Phelps

SatReviewbuttonWelcome to the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon. Here’s how it usually works. Find a book review on your blog posted sometime during the previous week. The review doesn’t have to be a formal sort of thing. You can link to your thoughts on a particular book, a few ideas inspired by reading the book, your evaluation, quotations, whatever.

Then on Friday night/Saturday, you post a link here at Semicolon in Mr. Linky to the specific post where you’ve written your book review. Don’t link to your main blog page because this kind of link makes it hard to find the book review, especially when people drop in later after you’ve added new content to your blog. In parentheses after your name, add the title of the book you’re reviewing. This addition will help people to find the reviews they’re most interested in reading.

After linking to your own reviews, you can spend as long as you want reading the reviews of other bloggers for the week and adding to your wishlist of books to read. That’s how my own TBR list has become completely unmanageable and the reason I can’t join any reading challenges. I have my own personal challenge that never ends.

The Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klages

I didn’t know until the very end of this book what the title “the green glass sea” meant, but it turned out to be an appropriate name for a particularly enjoyable book. The Green Glass Sea was the winner of the 2007 Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction, an award presented to a children’s or young adult book published in English by a U.S. publisher and set in the Americas. I certainly concur with the award committee and with several reviewers who liked the book a lot, including Kelly at Big A Little a, Bookshelves of Doom, and Betsy Bird at Fuse #8 (that last review is where I think I heard about this book and put it on my TBR list several years ago.)

Published in 2006, the book’s setting is World War II, 1943-1945, in Los Alamos, NM. I learned a lot, painlessly, about the Manhattan Project and the background to the development of the atomic bomb just from reading this book. I didn’t know that Los Alamos didn’t even appear on the map during the mid-1940’s, and that the project was such a secret that the scientists who were working on it had to live in a place called the Hill (Los Alamos). In the book kids and adults were told, “Off the Hill, you can’t tell anyone where you live, or who you live with, or what you see or hear.”

The setting and the characters drive the plot in this rather quiet story about an eleven year old girl, Dewe Kerrigan, who comes to I’ve with her scientist father on the Hill. Dewey is delighted to live in this math and science town as she gets to question famous scientists such as Enrico Fermi and Dick Feynman and scour the town dump for cast-offs for her mechanical projects built out of spare parts and ingenuity. However, Dewey’s scientific and mechanical interests make her something of a misfit with the other children in Los Alamos who call her “Screwy Dewy,” and when tragedy strikes, Dewey is not sure where she can turn for help.

The author makes some odd choices about verb tenses. The book starts out in third person, but told from Dewey’s point of view, in present tense, and continues that way for the first 37 pages. Then, it switches to third person, another girl named Suze’s point of view, past tense. The story alternates between Suze’s thoughts and feelings and Dewey’s, staying in past tense. Then later in the book, the author throws in a couple of pages here and there where we’re watching Dewey again, and her story is told in present tense again. I’m not sure what the point was. Maybe someone else can explain?

Such a great story, though. Dewey, and later the other main character, Suze, are very real characters with quirks and changes in attitude and demeanor throughout the book. There is some cursing in the dialogue in the book, which may bother some young readers, but it wasn’t overdone, just enough to be true to the times and the atmosphere. Suze’s mother smokes like a fiend, and the adults all indulge in the occasional beer or other alcoholic beverage of choice, again very true to life. I enjoyed getting to know all of the characters in this book, and I didn’t want it to end. So I’m glad to find out that there’s a sequel called White Sands, Red Menace. Dewey is a young lady I really want to know more.

Oh, and by the way, I loved the ending—very realistic in the characters’ obliviousness to the import of the news they hear on the radio about some place in Japan called Hiroshima.

Always Emily by Michaela MacColl

Last year I read Michaela MacColl’s Nobody’s Secret, a mystery story for young adults set in Amherst, Massachusetts, 1846, and featuring a young Emily Dickinson as the protagonist and sleuth. MacColl’s latest novel, Always Emily, features a different literary Emily, Emily Bronte and her sister Charlotte as a mismatched but effective detective duo.

Emily and Charlotte are as different in character, personality, and appearance as it is possible for two sisters to be. On the first page of the novel the family is at a funeral. Charlotte sat “stiffly, her back perfectly straight.” Emily “fidgeted unconscionably.” Charlotte is later portrayed as bossy, prim, near-sighted and anxious. Emily, on the other hand, is wild, independent, outspoken, and undisciplined. The two sisters share only three things: a passionate nature, inquisitive intelligence, and a love for writing.

The two young women, ages 17 and 19 in the book, squabble and argue incessantly. And yet they manage to work together to solve a mystery and bring a miscreant to justice. I was impressed with the author’s ability to bring these two famous writers to life, along with their sometimes chaotic home life. The youngest Bronte sister, Anne, doesn’t play a part in Always Emily; she’s away on a visit. But their father the Reverend Bronte is very much present, as an indulgent father and a socially concerned pastor and counselor. The Bronte brother, Branwell, is already headed toward a weak and dissolute life in this story. And Tabitha, the young ladies’ Yorkshire cook, servant, and substitute mother-figure, rounds out the cast of characters who live in the Bronte household.

The mystery itself was somewhat slight, but it served as a vehicle for the characters to shine. Fans of the Brontes will enjoy the book, and some readers might become fans after reading about the two fiery and independent Bronte sisters. For a biography of the Brontes, try The Bronte Sisters: The Brief Lives of Charlotte, Emily and Anne by Catherine Reef, a Cybils finalist from last year. For more Bronte-related fiction, I recommend The Return of the Twelves by Pauline Clarke. Ms. Clarke’s fantasy about the Brontes’ toy soldiers who come to life and try to return to the Bronte home in Yorkshire won the Carnegie Medal in 1962 (British title: The Twelve and the Genii). Of course, if you’re interested in direct exposure to the Bronte sisters, Emily and Charlotte, I also recommend either Wuthering Heights or Jane Eyre, if you haven’t already read both. Like the sisters themselves, the two books are quite different, but each one is insightful and appealing in its own way.

On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness by Andrew Peterson

I had a bout of insomnia while reading this first book in the Windfeather Saga, and while I lay in bed in the dark, trying to chase sleep, I began fixating on anagrams. Specifically, I began thinking about the name of one of the characters in the book, Oskar N. Reteep, a bookseller and quoter of rather obvious aphorisms. Mr. Reteep is a preserver of lost cultural artifacts, a monkish character in the tradition of those who preserved the Scriptures and other remnants of cultural significance during the Dark Ages. Anyway, he had a strange name, and I kept thinking it ought to be some sort of anagram, taken from something else.

I rearranged the letters in my head and teased “Peterson” out of it. I’m not really good at anagrams, especially not in my brain in the dark where I can’t really see the letters on paper. So, I convinced myself somehow that “Oskar N. Reteep” was an anagram for Andy Peterson, which seemed significant. However, that wasn’t right, as any waking mind can see. Actually, “Oskar N. Reteep” transforms into “Rake Peterson” or “Aker Peterson” or something similar.

OK, that makes no sense, so I returned to my book and read about a new character, well, a sort of a ghost character, Brimney Stupe. This name contains the letters of the name “Peterson” too. But the leftover letters are “bimyu”. It can’t be coincidence, can it, that both names have “Peterson” in them?

So I’ve gotten carried away with the anagrams. My excuse is . . . insomnia. Not being able to sleep can do strange things to a person. Mr. Peterson, on the other hand, got carried away with the made-up words and footnoted creatures. Between thwaps and cave blats and toothy cows and hogpigs and bumpy digtoads and rat badgers and flabbits and . . . well, you get the picture. Maybe Andrew Peterson can plead insomnia, during which he made up outlandish creatures to stick in his books.

I’m about two-thirds of the way through On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, and I must say that although it’s good, it’s not as good as The Warden and the Wolf King, the last book in the four volume series (which I read first, about a month ago). Yeah, I read the books in the wrong order. If I sound a bit screwy, bear with me. I do have something to say here: Andrew Peterson grew as a writer over the course of writing this series. That’s my theory. In this first book Peterson is a little punch-drunk on making up words and place names and footnoting all of them madly. The fourth book takes a more serious turn while retaining the charm and freshness of the first, in love with words and imagination, vision.

And along with the half-formed insomniac theory about name anagrams, I’m sticking with it. The series, that is. I recommend The Wingfeather Saga, preferably read in the correct order and with no attention to anagrams.

Sunday Salon: Welcoming September

It’s the beginning of the –brrr months, as my husband calls them, our favorite season of the year. We’ve started school, had our disasters and reluctant bouts with self-discipline, and now it’s time to settle in, learn, and enjoy the autumn. Autumn is a lovely word, by the way, “from Old French, autumpne, or directly from the Latin, autumnus.”

I’ve done several autumnal series of posts about food over the years of this blog:

Apples: Fact, Fiction, Poetry and Recipe.

Pecans, the Nut of the Gods.

Autumn and Pumpkins

Potatoes: a Positively Ponderous Post.

You might enjoy reading about these autumn-ish foods as we head into September.

September Events and Books:
September, 1914. During World War I, after the Battle of the Marne, both sides reach a stalemate in northern France, and the armies face each other from trenches along a front that eventually stretches from the North Sea to the Swiss border with France. Reading about World War I.
In September 2009, Abby Johnson was called into an exam room at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Bryan, Texas to help with an ultrasound-guided abortion. What she saw in the ultrasound picture changed her mind about abortion, about the pro-life movement, and ultimately about her own relationship with a loving God. Read more in Abby’s book, Unplanned.
September 1, 1939. Germany invades Poland. Norway, Finland, Sweden, Spain and Ireland declare their neutrality. Later in September U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt announces that the U.S. will also remain neutral in the war. Mila 18 by Leon Uris tells the story of the Jewish people of Warsaw, Poland as they fought and hid from the Nazis who were determined to exterminate them.
Sept 1, 1983 – Russians shoot down an American commercial airliner and kill 269 innocent people. See this post at Hidden Art.
September 7, 1977. The U.S. signs a treaty with Panama agreeing to transfer control of the Panama Canal to Panama at the end of the 20th century.
September 8, 1492. The Voyages of Christopher Columbus on the Santa Maria, Nina and Pinta begin. Pastwatch by Orson Scott Card includes both history (Christopher Columbus, native Central American cultures, and slavery) and futuristic/dystopian/utopian elements.
September 8, 1900: A deadly hurricane destroys much of the property on Galveston Island, Texas and kills between 6000 and 12000 people. The Galveston hurricane of 1900 is the deadliest natural disaster ever to strike the United States. Reading through a hurricane at Semicolon.
September 16, 1975. Papua New Guinea gains its independence from Australia. Peace Child by Don Richardson is a wonderful missionary story set in Papua New Guinea.
September 17. Constitution Day.
A Reading List for September 24, National Punctuation Day.
September 28, 1961. A military coup in Damascus, Syria effectively ends the United Arab Republic, the union between Egypt and Syria. Mitali Perkins recommends a couple of books set in Syria, and asks for more suggestions, in light of the present crisis in that war-torn country.

Birthdays and Books:
Jim Arnosky, writer of nature and art books for children, was born September 1, 1946.
Elizabeth Borton de Trevino, whose historical fiction book I, Juan de Pareja, won the Newbery Medal in 1966, was born September 2, 1904 in Bakersfield, California. Also born on September 2nd: Poet Eugene Field and children’s humorist Lucretia Hale.
Aliki Liacouras Brandenberg was born September 3, 1929.
Children’s author Joan Aiken was born on September 4, 1924 in Sussex, England.
Lost Horizon author James Hilton was born on September 9, 1900.
Short story master O’Henry was born September 11, 1862.
On September 13th, Carol Kendall (1937), children’s fantasy writer, Else Holmelund Minarik (1920), author of the Little Bear easy readers, Roald Dahl (1916), humorist, and Mildred Taylor (1943), historical fiction writer and Newbery medalist, were all born, greatly adding to the breadth and joy of children’s literature.
September 15, 1890 was the birthdate of Dame Agatha Christie, still the Queen of Mystery Writers. Also born on 9/15 were James Fenimore Cooper, novelist, b.1789, Robert Benchley, humorist, b.1889, Tomie de Paola, children’s author, and Robert McCloskey, children’s author.
Essayist and lexicographer Samuel Johnson was born September 18, 1709.
September 19th is the birthday of Arthur Rackham, illustrator, b.1867, William Golding, novelist, b.1911, Rachel Field, children’s author.
Poet T.S. Eliot was born on September 26, 1888.
September 29th is the birthday of Elizabeth Gaskell, novelist, b.1810.

Autumn is my favorite season.

Saturday Review of Books: September 6, 2014

“[N]ovels are not little theatres where the reader sits aloft and watches, sighs, commiserates, condones and smiles. That’s what you want a book to be: because it leaves you so safe and superior, with your two-dollar ticket to the show. And that’s what my books are not and never will be. Whoever reads me will be in the thick of the scrimmage, and if he doesn’t like it — if he wants a safe seat in the audience–let him read someone else.” ~DH Lawrence

SatReviewbuttonWelcome to the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon. Here’s how it usually works. Find a book review on your blog posted sometime during the previous week. The review doesn’t have to be a formal sort of thing. You can link to your thoughts on a particular book, a few ideas inspired by reading the book, your evaluation, quotations, whatever.

Then on Friday night/Saturday, you post a link here at Semicolon in Mr. Linky to the specific post where you’ve written your book review. Don’t link to your main blog page because this kind of link makes it hard to find the book review, especially when people drop in later after you’ve added new content to your blog. In parentheses after your name, add the title of the book you’re reviewing. This addition will help people to find the reviews they’re most interested in reading.

After linking to your own reviews, you can spend as long as you want reading the reviews of other bloggers for the week and adding to your wishlist of books to read. That’s how my own TBR list has become completely unmanageable and the reason I can’t join any reading challenges. I have my own personal challenge that never ends.

Poetry Friday: Hymn by Joseph Addison

The spacious firmament on high,
With all the blue ethereal sky,
And spangled heavens, a shining frame
Their great Original proclaim.
Th’unwearied sun, from day to day,
Does his creator’s powers display,
And publishes to every land
The work of an almighty hand.

Soon as the evening shades prevail
The moon takes up the wondrous tale,
And nightly to the listening earth
Repeats the story of her birth;
While all the stars that round her burn
And all the planets in their turn,
Confirm the tidings as they roll,
And spread the truth from pole to pole.

What though in solemn silence all
Move round the dark terrestrial ball?
What though no real voice nor sound
Amid the radiant orbs be found?
In reason’s ear they all rejoice,
And utter forth a glorious voice,
Forever singing as they shine,
The hand that made us is divine.

The tune that is traditionally used for this hymn poem by the 17th century essayist is adapted from Haydn’s Creation, The Heavens Are Telling, another poem set to music that extolls the beauty of God’s creation in the heavens.

Mr. Addison (b.May 1, 1672, d.June 17,1719), in addition to writing poetry, was well-known as an essayist. Here are some selected quotes from his writings:

“Books are the legacies that a great genius leaves to mankind, which are delivered down from generation to generation as presents to the posterity of those who are yet unborn.” Isn’t it nice to think that Charles Dickens and Jane Austen and Mark Twain were all writing to leave a legacy to me and my children?

“A true critic ought to dwell upon excellencies rather than imperfections, to discover the concealed beauties of a writer, and communicate to the world such things as are worth their observation.” A good motto for book bloggers, at least when possible, when the “excellencies” outweigh the “imperfections”?

“There is no defense against criticism except obscurity.” On the other hand, the author would do well to remember this particular aphorism. Critics will criticize.

At any rate, I enjoyed Mr. Addison’s hymn, and I hope it encourages you and stirs you to worship the Creator as you live your Friday.