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12 2015 Books I’m Looking Forward to Reading

As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust: A Flavia de Luce Novel by Alan Bradley. Flavia just gets better and better. Publication date: January 6, 2015.

Own Your Life: Living with Deep Intention, Bold Faith, and Generous Love by Sally Clarkson. Publication date: January 8, 2015.

The War That Saved my Life by Kimberley Brubaker Bradley. Middle grade historical fiction about child evacuees from London during World War II by an author I’ve enjoyed in the past. Gotta try it out. Publication date: January 8, 2015.

The Allure of Gentleness: Defending the Faith in the Manner of Jesus by Dallas Willard. Publication date: February 10, 2015.

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro. The author’s first novel in nearly ten years, and I’m game to check it out. Publication date: March 3, 2015.

Completely Clementine by Sara Pennypacker. Publication date: Also March 3, 2015.

The Great Leader and the Fighter Pilot: The True Story of the Tyrant Who Created North Korea and the Young Lieutenant Who Stole His Way to Freedom by Blaine Harden. I’m particularly interested in North Korea ever since the Sony hack, actually even before that. I just read Escape from Camp 14 by this same author. Publication date: March 17, 2015.

The Penderwicks In Spring by Jeanne Birdsall. Oh, the Penderwicks, almost as good as the Marches or the Melendys! Publication date: March 24, 2015.

Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein. Ms. Wein wrote Code Name Verity and Rose. I’m looking forward to reading her next book, which involves women pilots and World War II—but it’s set in Ethiopia! How could it not be good? Publication date: March 31, 2015.

The Revelation of Louisa May by Michaela MacColl. I enjoyed Ms. MacColl’s other lady author mystery stories: Always Emily and Nobody’s Secret. I like Louisa May Alcott. So I would imagine this novel featuring Ms. Alcott as the protagonist will be a treat. Publication date: April 14, 2015.

The Worst Class Trip Ever by Dave Barry. It’s Dave Barry. If any adult humor writer could pull off the move to middle grade fiction, it’s Dave Barry, right? Publication date: May 5, 2015.

Lion Heart (Scarlet, Book Three) by AC Gaughen. Conclusion to these books about a lady thief named Scarlet who captures the heart of Robin Hood in medieval England. Publication date: May 19, 2015.

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12 Best Adult Fiction Books I Read in 2014

Lists. I started doing lists of twelve favorites in all sorts of categories several years ago to wrap up the year. Twelve seems like a nice, round number; ten’s not enough, and anything greater than twelve is excessive. So, here are my favorite adult fiction books read in 2014.

The Circle by Dave Eggers. Computer Guru Son thought this one was a little too preachy and pointed, but I liked it and thought about it often through the year, especially when I was “liking” something on social media sites.

<em>The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon (No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, #14) by Alexander McCall Smith. Mr. Smith almost never disappoints.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Americanah is a smart, penetrating, rather dramatic look at the immigrant experience and at the emigrant experience and at the experience of returning home. It made me feel uncomfortable.

The Time It Never Rained by Elmer Kelton. Highly recommended to those who have an interest in West Texas, classic western stories, or stories of ranch life and drought.

Pawn in Frankincense (The Lymond Chronicles, #4) by Dorothy Dunnett. The best of the series that I’ve read so far, but anyone who wants to read these should start from the beginning.

Pied Piper by Nevil Shute. I just finished this novel, written by the author of A Town Like Alice and On the Beach, last night, and I haven’t written a review yet. However, it had to go on this list since it’s already one of my favorite reads ever. A seventy year old Englishman flees France in the spring of 1940 during the German invasion with a string of children for whom he has become responsible.

The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie King. Sherlock Holmes gains a female sidekick. I thought this series went downhill after the first book, but I did enjoy the first book.

March by Geraldine Brooks. This Pulitzer prize winning novel featuring the fictional characters Marmee and her husband from Little Women does a good job of bringing out the impracticality and impracticability of March’s/Alcott’s beliefs and still making him admirable as a man who tried, at least in the fictional version of his story, to remain true to his principles.

The Prayers of Agnes Sparrow by Joyce Magnin. No longer able or willing to leave her home because of her obesity, Agnes commits herself to a life of prayer. When her miracle working abilities become a matter of town pride, Agnes is trapped in more ways than one.

The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer. Ms. Heyer’s regency novels, including this one, are not as subtle and deep as Jane Austen’s, but as far as straight light romance novels go Georgette’s Heyer’s books rise near to the top of the list.

Gentian Hill by Elizabeth Goudge. This novel set in England at the time of Napoleonic Wars is a lovely retelling of the legend of St. Michael’s Chapel at Torquay.

Bellwether by Connie Willis. One funny, sweet, and at the same time thoughtful, romantic comedy of a novel by one of my favorite contemporary authors.

Christmas in Port William, Kentucky, 1954

From Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry:

“The night of the Christmas dance was starless. A few snowflakes were floating down out of the dark sky into the aura of electric light in front of Riverwood. I was moved to see the snowflakes melting in Clydie’s hair as I helped her out of her coat. She was wearing a light green dress with a full skirt that set off her figure, and I reached around her waist and gave her a little hug.

We protested and paid and went past Mrs. Fitz’s table into the darker room. The band already was playing and couples were dancing. Mindful that we were older than most, we took a table a little off to itself and yet where we had a good view of the floor. For a while we just watched. The boys were wearing their good suits. The girls were in party dresses, all dolled up. It was a pretty thing to see them dancing. The room was lighted by rows of shaded electric candles along the walls, an imitation log fire in the fireplace, and (so far) by a few lamps overhead that cast a soft glow onto the dance floor. Everybody (including, of course, me) had brought a pint or a half-pint stuck away in his pocket or in his date’s purse.”

Something happens at the Christmas dance that changes Mr. Jayber Crow, Port William’s resident barber and inveterate bachelor. He sees something that changes the direction of his life–in an unusual way. He makes a vow, and he spends the remainder of the book living out the consequences of that vow.

“Maybe I had begun my journey drunk and ended it crazy. Probably I was not the one to say. But though I felt the whole world shaken underfoot, though I foresaw nothing and feared everything, I felt strangely steadied in my mind, strangely elated and quiet.
The sky had lightened a little by the time I reached the top of the Port William hill. It was Sunday morning again.”

Jayber Crow is one of the best books I’ve ever read by a very talented author.

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Christmas at Brede Abbey, Sussex, England, c. 1955

“On the night of Christmas Eve the abbey was so still it might have been thought to be empty, or the nuns asleep, but when the bell sounded at ten o’clock, from all corners, especially from the church, silent figures made their way to their station in the long cloister, and Abbess Catherine led them into choir for Christmas Matins. The first nocturne from the book of Isaiah was sung by the four chief chantresses: ‘Comfort, comfort my people says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned. A voice says ‘Cry!’ and I said ‘What shall I cry?’ All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flowers of the field. . . .’ Voice succeeded voice through two hours until the priests, vested in white and gold, with their servers, came in procession from the sacristy for the tenderness and triumph of the midnight Mass. Lauds of Christmas followed straight after, and at two o’clock the community went to the refectory for hot soup, always called ‘cock soup’ because it was the first taste of meat or chicken they had had since Advent began. The soup was served with rice–‘beautifully filling,’ said Hilary in content–and after it came two biscuits and four squares of chocolate. ‘Chocolate!’ ‘We need to keep our strength up,’ said Dame Ursula.

In the twenty-four hours of Christmas they would spend ten hours in choir, singing the Hours at their accustomed times, and the second ‘dawn’ or ‘aurora,’ Mass of the shepherds as well as the third Mass of Christmas, which came after terce. The wonder was that the nuns had time to eat their Christmas dinner, most of it contributed by friends.”

I picked up a beautiful paperback copy of In This House of Brede by Rumor Godden at Half-Price Books the other day. The blurb on the back calls the book “an extraordinarily sensitive and insightful portrait of religious life.” I have called it “an excellent story about the lives of women within a closed community of nuns. Not only does the reader get to satisfy his curiosity about how nuns live in a convent, but there’s also a a great plot related to contemporary issues such as abortion, the efficacy of prayer, and the morality of absolute obedience.”

I highly recommend it if you’re at all interested in the disciplines of the Christian life or the difficulties and possibilities inherent in attempting to live in Christian community.

Blog reviews for In This House of Brede:
Laura at Lines in Pleasant Places.
Heather at Lines from the Page.
Phyllis at Life on Windy Ridge.
Diane at A Circle of Quiet.
Julie at Happy Catholic.

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Space Case by Stuart Gibbs


A middle grade murder mystery set on the moon. What more need be said? You either think it’s a genius idea for a middle grade author to write a mystery novel for kids set in a moon colony, Moon Base Alpha, in the year 2041, or you’re not interested in astronauts and NASA and science fiction stuff. If you are a person who’s “thrilled by space travel”, as the author says he is, you would probably enjoy this book. It’s a classic murder mystery wrapped inside a bunch of details about life in space, space stations, and the possibilities of what might happen if and when humans begin to colonize the moon. It’s fun, well-researched, and well-plotted. I didn’t like the reveal of who the murderer was and why he “done it”, but that’s personal preference.

That said, I’m going to discuss a very minor aspect of Mr. Gibbs’ vision of the future: his depiction of race and race relations. In describing some nasty characters who are residents of Moon Base Alpha, the narrator goes off on a tangent about the state of racial categories in the future:

“You see, Patton and Lily are virtually the only pure white people my age I’ve ever met. Everyone else I know is a blend. Me and Violet, for example (black mom, white dad). Or the Brahmaputra-Marquez family (Indian mom, Latino dad). Or Kira (Asian mom, black dad). Or Riley Bock, back on earth (Korean-Italian mom, Irish-Sri Lankan-Peruvian-Choctaw dad). The Sjobergs, however, are pure northern European Caucasian stock, with blond hair and blue eyes and skin so pale it looks like the belly of a fish. Mom and Dad have some friends like that from their generation, and my grandparents say it was pretty common when they were young, and I’ve been told that back when my great-grandparents were kids, people of different races couldn’t even marry each other in America. I know that’s true, but it still seems impossible.
Every kid I’d ever known was some shade of brown.”

This scenario for the future is quite plausible, and I used to think that such a state of affairs, where every one was so “mixed race” that no one could tell who was what anyway would be the solution for all the divisions and prejudices that exist in our country. If what we call “race” becomes so intermingled and interbred that we can no longer tell black from brown from white because almost everyone is sort of brownish, which is by rights what should happen in a world where communication and transportation are so accessible, then racism as we know it would cease to exist, right?

Or maybe not. Now I’m not so sure. I’m a bit more pessimistic about the future of peace on earth (or the moon) among all mankind. We are by nature sinful people who are full of fear and hatred and pride and who are prone to violence. If we can’t divide people up by skin color, we’ll find something else. Look at the Tutsis and the Hutus of south central Africa:

“The antagonism between Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda and Burundi is not a tribal conflict. It is not, properly speaking, an ethnic conflict. By all the most common definitions, Hutus and Tutsis are the same people, which makes their violent history even more tragically incomprehensible to outsiders. . . . Despite the stereotypical variation in appearance – tall Tutsis, squat Hutus – anthropologists say they are ethnically indistinguishable. The oft- quoted difference in height is roughly the same as the difference between wealthy and poor Europeans in the last century (an average of 12cm).” The Independent, November 1996

Anyway, that’s not what the book Space Case is about. But it is one thing it made me think about. Read Space Case for fun and entertainment. Pray for Ferguson and for New York City and for all the places that are filled with division and hatred and all the people in the world who are experiencing fear and injustice and persecution and violence. Pray for peace on earth, goodwill to men, through the only Solution who has ever brought true healing to our broken planet.

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This book is also nominated for a Cybil Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.

The Land Uncharted by Keely Brooke Keith

Shangri-la. Brigadoon. The Village. The setting of a land unspoiled by modern technology or by modern barbarity is not a new device. However, in The Land Uncharted, debut author Keely Brooke Keith uses such a setting to anchor a mystery/romance story that transcends time and place.

Lydia Colburn is the only doctor for her village of Good Springs in The Land. She stays busy caring for pregnant women, delivering their babies, and treating accidental injuries. Sickness is rare in The Land. However, when Naval Aviator Connor Bradshaw parachutes onto the beach near Good Springs, injured and unconscious, it is Lydia who is called upon to treat his injuries.

Now The Land itself and its people are in danger, since in the year 2025 the outside world is in the throes of a world war and a shortage of fresh water. The Land has been uncharted and undisturbed for seven generations, since Lydia’s forbears first settled there in the mid-nineteenth century, but now with Connor’s arrival, their bucolic lives may be threatened.

The Land Uncharted is not only a debut novel for the author, a Nashville musician and mom, but it is also the first novel published by the small Christian publisher, Edenbrooke Press, which “exist[s] to publish books written from a Christian worldview.” The Christian worldview in The Land Uncharted is subsumed under a nineteenth century worldview, which assumes Christian values and beliefs rather than preaching or espousing them. Connor Bradshaw, a child of the twenty-first century and a man of war, seems to have very little trouble stepping into this retro-culture and clothing himself in its old-fashioned mores and thought patterns. I would have expected Connor to grapple a bit more with accepting the ideas and religious beliefs of The Land, but then again those ideas and beliefs are never really spelled out for him or for the reader, just assumed.

Nevertheless, The Land Uncharted is a promising start to a series that I will want to continue reading. The second book in the series, which will focus more on Lydia’s brother Levi, is set to be published in March of 2015. This first book would make a lovely Christmas gift for readers of Christian fiction or general romance readers who like a little futuristic speculative fiction in the mix.

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Children of the King by Sonya Hartnett

Sonya Hartnett’s Children of the King feeds into some of my fondest fascinations:

British history, especially kings and queens and all that jazz.

World War II stories about child evacuees.

Crumbling castles and the ghosts that inhabit them.

Old English houses full of old stuff.

Mysteries of history.

Homeschooling and storytelling.

Themes of courage and small victories and war and peace.

Cecily and Jeremy and their mother have come to the north of England to live with their Uncle Peregrine while London is under siege from Hitler’s bombers. Since Uncle Peregrine live in a big manor house, they decide that it would be only fair for them to take in an extra child evacuee from London. So May comes to live with them. But when Cecily and May find two mysterious boys hiding in the nearby ruins of Snow Castle, they beg Uncle Peregrine to tell them the history of the castle. And he does, even though “its story is as hard as winter” and “cruel” and “scary” and “long”. “Unfit for childish ears.”

Aye, there’s the rub. Although this novel had me enthralled as an adult with my particular fascinations and interests, and although I think it might very well have engaged my interest as a middle school or high school student, it may also very well be “unfit for childish ears.” The horror and unfairness and violence of war are a major topic for discussion, as it surely was in those times when war was so very near and terrible. The adults in the story are not perfect and neither are the children. All of them make annoying, and sometimes stupid or even dangerous, choices. And the history story part of the novel is meant as a mirror or an analogy for the events that are taking place in England in 1940 as war calls for sacrifices that are unfair and horrific and as even children are caught up in a quest for power and dominion that isn’t their fault or their responsibility.

I really loved this book, but you might want to take Charlotte’s review as well as my reservations under consideration before you read it or recommend it to your favorite young reader. I wish I could discuss the history mystery that forms a part of this book with you, but that would be a spoiler, sort of. Suffice it to say that particular slice of history is one of my fascinations, too.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.
This book is also nominated for a Cybil Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.

Oscar Wilde, b.October 16, 1854, d.November 30, 1900

Facts about Oscar Wilde that you may not have known:
Oscar’s father, Sir William Wilde, was an ear and eye doctor, and his mother, Lady Jane Francesca Agnes Elgee Wilde, was a writer, poet, and translator.

Oscar was profoundly affected by the death of his younger sister when she was ten years old, and for his lifetime he carried a lock of her hair sealed in a decorated envelope.

Wilde had two older half-sisters who died in an accident when their gowns caught fire after a ball.

In 1876 Oscar had a brief romantic affair with a girl named Florence Balcome, who later married Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula.

He and his wife Constance had two sons, Cyril and Vyvyan. (Really, Vyvyan?) Vyvyan later changed the spelling of his name to Vivian. (Who wouldn’t?) Except for the unfortunate name choice, Oscar was an attentive and loving father who spent lots of time with his sons.

When Wilde was arrested, convicted and sentenced to prison for “gross indecency”, Constance attempted to protect her sons from the scandal. She took the children to Switzerland and took the old family name of Holland for herself and the boys.

Oscar mostly spent the last three years of his life (after prison) wandering Europe, staying with friends and living in cheap hotels. Sad but true.

Oscar Wilde quotes:
“The public have an insatiable curiosity to know everything, except what is worth knowing.”

“The world is a stage, but the play is badly cast.”

“A thing is not necessarily true because a man dies for it.”

“A simile committing suicide is always a depressing spectacle.”

“An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all.”

“Everything popular is wrong.”

“There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written.”

“Children begin by loving their parents; as they grow older they judge them; sometimes they forgive them.”

“Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.”

What have you read of Oscar Wilde’s work? His plays are delightfully funny and witty, and The Picture of Dorian Gray is quite insightful in its own way, as long as one takes almost anything the characters say or do and turns it upside down to do or believe the opposite.

Greenglass House by Kate Milford

Setting: Wintertime, almost Christmas, in an old four-story smugglers’ inn at the top of Whilforber Hill near the village of Nagspeake. Each floor of the inn has a beautiful stained glass window, and the guest rooms also have greenglass windows and old-fashioned, but comfortable furniture. There’s an attic full of treasures and junk, and the inn has outbuildings and a garage to explore, too. Plenty of room for mystery, treasure-hunting, and clues.

Characters: Milo Pine, the innkeepers’ adopted son, Mr. and Mrs. Pine, Milo’s parents, and several mysterious, unexpected guests.

Plot: Milo and his friend Meddy attempt to solve the mystery of Greenglass House and its history by taking on roles as players in a role-playing game. Milo is a blackjack, and Meddy is his scholiast.

Almost every review I read of this little gem of a book compared it either to The Westing Game, Ellen Raskin’s Newbery winner and mystery classic, or to Agatha Christie. And without having read those reviews beforehand, I also thought of The Westing Game and of Christie’s The Mousetrap or other books where the cast is snowed in or otherwise isolated (And Then There Were None). Greenglass House is not your typical children’s mystery story. In fact, you can read about three unspoken rules that author Kate Milford breaks in her novel, to the betterment of the story IMHO, in Betsy Bird’s insightful review at A Fuse #8 Production

I noticed, and enjoyed, the loving and involved adoptive parents. Mr. and Mrs. Pine are very busy with their inn and their unexpected guests, but not too busy to check on Milo and to do things with him and for him to make his Christmas special. I also liked the fact the the story is set at Christmastime. And it feels like an old-fashioned Christmas with a Christmas tree, a Christmas Eve gift for Milo, father/son sledding, hot chocolate by the fire, and story-telling. The setting is indeterminate, sort of Victorian with no cell phones or computers in evidence, but also modern with an electric generator for back-up electricity and up-to-date speech patterns and behavior. So that gives Christmas at Greenglass House a timeless feel.

Milo is a great protagonist, too. He’s very conscientious; he does all of his homework on the first day of vacation so that he can have the rest of the holidays to play. He’s resistant to change, but also intelligent and adventurous. He and Meddy make a good team since she inspires and encourages him to step out and use his imagination to solve the mysteries that the two of them encounter.

Greenglass House would be a lovely Christmas read-aloud book for a class or a family in the holiday mystery mood. I recommend it.

Nagspeake Online: The Nagspeake Board of Tourism and Culture.

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This book is also nominated for a Cybil Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.

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.