A new Mary Stewart?


Reading Clipart Image: Girl or Young Woman Reading a Book While Laying on the Floor

Girl Reading

When I was a girl, I loved reading gothic-type romances by authors such as Victoria Holt, Phyllis Whitney, and Madeleine Brent.  Historical novels were also favorites so when I first read a book by Mary Stewart, I was overjoyed that there was history as well as romance and suspense.  I read all of her books, which our small town library contained, and then reluctantly moved on to other authors.

Last year I happened upon a wonderful website:  https://openlibrary.org/ On that site are digital copies of many older books that were published too recently to be in the public domain but are old enough that they aren’t in the library anymore.  Much to my delight, they had most of Mary Stewart’s books.  Over the next several weeks I was able to borrow and reread my old favorites:  Nine Coaches Waiting, My Brother Michael, This Rough Magic, and others.

As I read, I kept thinking of how much fun the suspense and romance are and how many historical facts, geographical descriptions, and literary allusions there are in her books.  I don’t often come across an author who not only writes well but also includes all of these details which give the novel depth as well as educates the reader in history and geography.  Plus, they are just plain fun to read.

One such writer today is Susanna Kearsley.  I read a couple of her books last year and enjoyed them, but when I picked up The Splendour Falls last fall and started reading, I realized almost immediately that here was a writer who could just about fill Mary Stewart’s writing shoes.  History, romance, adventure, suspense–it had it all.  I could hardly put it down and, for the first time in years, read past midnight to find out what would happen next.  I went on to read Season of Storms and was reminded of the gothic thrillers I enjoyed so much.  Her book, The Winter Sea, took me back to Scotland in the 1700’s during the Jacobite uprisings while Every Secret Thing was a thriller set in modern day Canada as well as Lisbon, Portugal in the 1940’s.

In each of her books there are elements of suspense and romance, but the amount of historical research that has obviously been done gives her books a depth which is often lacking in other romantic thrillers.  Like Mary Stewart, she includes a plucky heroine, an exotic locale, and a mystery to be solved.  There are usually charming and/or quirky secondary characters and a man with whom the heroine will develop a friendship, even if he doesn’t seem her type at first glance.  While Ms. Stewart sometimes included a smattering of history and atmosphere in her novels, Ms. Kearsley takes it further and often gives a more in depth historical background to either her place and/or her heroine’s story.

I am so glad to have discovered Suzanna Kearsley’s books and I look forward to many more happy years of reading to come.

The summer has flown


I had good intentions about doing lots of writing on the blog this summer, but, alas, the summer flew away without me realizing it had gone.  Sigh….

It started with several days away with my husband, just the two of us, with time for reading, thinking, walking in the woods, and general relaxation.  However, as soon as I returned, I immediately needed to read for school, read for work, and help my son with his summer school work so that was about my only down time this summer.

I am aware of my need for more disciplined writing time and that is on my agenda for this coming school year (creating and sticking to a schedule of reading/thinking/writing time).  So hopefully I will be more present this Fall.

How do you carve out that kind of time?

Palm Sunday

When I was a child, one of my favorite parts of Palm Sunday at church was receiving a real palm leaf when I entered the sanctuary for worship and waving it as we sang this hymn:

All glory, laud and honor

All glory, laud, and honor
to thee, Redeemer, King!
to whom the lips of children
made sweet hosannas ring.

Thou art the King of Israel,
thou David’s royal Son,
who in the Lord’s Name comest,
the King and Blessed One. Refrain

The company of angels 
are praising thee on high;
and mortal men and all things
created make reply. Refrain

The people of the Hebrews
with palms before thee went;
our praise and prayer and anthems
before thee we present. Refrain

To thee before thy passion
they sang their hymns of praise;
to thee, now high exalted
our melody we raise. Refrain

Thou didst accept their praises;
accept the prayers we bring,
who in all good delightest,
thou good and gracious King. Refrain

Words: Theodulph of Orleans (ca. 750-821), ca. 820
Trans. John Mason Neale (1818-1866), 1854,
as altered in Hymns Ancient and Modern

As we enter Holy Week,  let us be like those little children and glorify Jesus for all that He has done for us.  It is so easy to be too busy to think about the significance of this week, but let us be like the angels and the little children and sing to our Savior, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”

New goals for the New Year


One of the things I most love about New Year’s Day is the fact that it is the start of a brand new year.  2015 has not yet been lived and it is inviting me to dream about what my life can be rather than regret what I’ve not accomplished this past year.   Part of the New Year’s holiday for me, like so many others around the world, is to think about goals I would like to accomplish this coming year.  Here are just a few that are I most want to accomplish in the upcoming months:

1. Have a life that truly reflects faith and trust in the Lord.  I have noticed a lack in my closeness with God and my ability to follow after Him with all of my heart, soul, mind, and strength this past year. I’m sure it is tied to my neglect of the disciplines of daily Scripture reading and prayer.  This year I want to re-establish those disciplines as I know that a rich spiritual inner life leads to the same richness in my thoughts, feelings, and deeds.

2. Work on my fitness routine.  A few years ago, I had a great routine going but when a bunch of new (and good) changes occurred, my routine fell apart.  A friend has started walking with me two to three days a week and we plan to continue walking this year.  We try to go 2.5 miles every time we walk.  I plan to add in some pilates, too.  My goal is to be a few pounds lighter and in much better shape by the end of the year.

3. Build writing time into my daily routine.  Ever since I read this article on writing for 20 minutes a day a few weeks ago, I realized that if I spend just a few minutes every day, I will get in the habit of writing daily.  I am reading Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott in which she says to sit down every day and you will eventually develop a habit of writing.

4. Reading goals for 2015.

I have a few smaller goals as well but these are my main goals.  Do you have any goals for this year?

The First Sunday of Advent – Hope

The season of Advent started today.  What a meaningful experience Christmas becomes as we ponder the birth of Christ throughout this next month.

The first Sunday of Advent focuses on Hope and the prophecies that predict the birth of Jesus.   The prophet Isaiah wrote of the birth of a Savior, a Messiah, hundreds of years before the birth of Christ:

The people who walked in darkness
Have seen a great light;
Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death,
Upon them a light has shined.

You have multiplied the nation
And increased its joy;[a]
They rejoice before You
According to the joy of harvest,
As men rejoice when they divide the spoil.
For You have broken the yoke of his burden
And the staff of his shoulder,
The rod of his oppressor,
As in the day of Midian.
For every warrior’s sandal from the noisy battle,
And garments rolled in blood,
Will be used for burning and fuel of fire.

For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of His government and peace
There will be no end,
Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom,
To order it and establish it with judgment and justice
From that time forward, even forever.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.

Handel used these verses in his famous oratorio, The Messiah:

A hymn that is often sung on this first Sunday of Advent is Come Thou Long Expected Jesus by Charles Wesley:

Come, thou long expected Jesus,

born to set thy people free;

from our fears and sins release us,

let us find our rest in thee.

Israel’s strength and consolation,

hope of all the earth thou art;

dear desire of every nation,

joy of every longing heart.

Born thy people to deliver,

born a child and yet a King,

born to reign in us forever,

now thy gracious kingdom bring.

By thine own eternal spirit

rule in all our hearts alone;

by thine all sufficient merit,

raise us to thy glorious throne.

Instead of rushing around for the next four weeks, cooking, partying, shopping, and decorating, let’s take time each day to think about what Christmas means, why Jesus was born, and why we needed Him to come.  As we stop and ponder, as we think about our God who humbled Himself, took on flesh, and became one of us so that we might know Him, may we each slow down and understand who this Jesus is and the true beauty of this Christmas season.

To Autumn


John Keats (1795-1821)


    SEASON of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.


    Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.


    Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

Wednesdays with Words – March 19, 2014

I’m continuing on with Lewis’s An Experiment in Criticism this week.  I’ve been reading about Realism.  Lewis says that there are two types of realism in books: realism in presentation and realism in content.

This is what I call Realism of Presentation—the art of bringing something close to us, making it palpable and vivid, by sharply observed or sharply imagined detail.

A fiction is realistic in content when it is probable or ‘true to life’.

The two realisms are quite independent. You can get that of presentation without that of content, as in medieval romance: or that of content without that of presentation, as in French (and some Greek) tragedy; or both together, as in War and Peace; or neither, as in the Furioso or Rasselas or Candide.

Lewis gave several examples of each kind, including a lovely word picture by Wordsworth (Presentation):

“…The whispering air

Sends inspiration from the shadowing heights,

And blind recesses of the caverned rocks;

The little rills, and waters numberless,

Inaudible by daylight, blend their notes

With the loud streams:…” – The Sea Shell

Lewis goes on:

The Middle Ages favoured a brilliant and exuberant development of presentational realism, because men were at that time inhibited neither by a sense of period—they dressed every story in the manners of their own day—nor by a sense of decorum.

It will be noticed that most of my examples of presentational realism, though I did not select them for that purpose, occur in the telling of stories which are not themselves at all ‘realistic’ in the sense of being probable or even possible. This should clear up once and for all a very elementary confusion which I have sometimes detected between realism of presentation and what I call realism of content.

Lewis comments that moderns prefer realism by content overall.  He says that there seems to be a bias (at least in his day although I think the pendulum may be swinging back in the direction of at least accepting realism by presentation as well these days) against fantastical stories.

But when we say ‘The sort of thing that happens’, do we mean the sort of thing that usually or often happens, the sort of thing that is typical of the human lot? Or do we mean ‘The sort of thing that might conceivably happen or that, by a thousandth chance, may have happened once’?
We can learn the world-wide and immemorial attitude of man to stories from noticing how stories are introduced in conversation. Men begin ‘The strangest sight I ever saw was—’, or ‘I’ll tell you something queerer even than that’, or ‘Here’s something you’ll hardly believe’. Such was the spirit of nearly all stories before the nineteenth century.
Surely the author is not saying ‘This is the sort of thing that happens’? Or surely, if he is, he lies? But he is not. He is saying, ‘Suppose this happened, how interesting, how moving, the consequences would be! Listen. It would be like this.’
The raison d’être of the story is that we shall weep, or shudder, or wonder, or laugh as we follow it. The effort to force such stories into a radically realistic theory of literature seems to me perverse. They are not, in any sense that matters, representations of life as we know it, and were never valued for being so. The strange events are not clothed with hypothetical probability in order to increase our knowledge of real life by showing how it would react to this improbable test. It is the other way round. The hypothetical probability is brought in to make the strange events more fully imaginable.
The demand that all literature should have realism of content cannot be maintained. Most of the great literature so far produced in the world has not. But there is a quite different demand which we can properly make; not that all books should be realistic in content, but that every book should have as much of this realism as it pretends to have.
Later in the chapter, Lewis deals with the idea of reading for escapism and whether or not fantasy is deceptive:
No one that I know of has indeed laid down in so many words that a fiction cannot be fit for adult and civilised reading unless it represents life as we have all found it to be, or probably shall find it to be, in experience. But some such assumption seems to lurk tacitly in the background of much criticism and literary discussion. We feel it in the widespread neglect or disparagement of the romantic, the idyllic, and the fantastic, and the readiness to stigmatise instances of these as ‘escapism’. We feel it when books are praised for being ‘comments on’, or ‘reflections’ (or more deplorably ‘slices’) of Life.
The unblushingly romantic has far less power to deceive than the apparently realistic. Admitted fantasy is precisely the kind of literature which never deceives at all. Children are not deceived by fairy-tales; they are often and gravely deceived by school-stories. Adults are not deceived by science-fiction; they can be deceived by the stories in the women’s magazines. None of us are deceived by the Odyssey, the Kalevala, Beowulf, or Malory. The real danger lurks in sober-faced novels where all appears to be very probable but all is in fact contrived to put across some social or ethical or religious or anti-religious ‘comment on life’.
Escape, then, is common to many good and bad kinds of reading. By adding -ism to it, we suggest, I suppose, a confirmed habit of escaping too often, or for too long, or into the wrong things, or using escape as a substitute for action where action is appropriate, and thus neglecting real opportunities and evading real obligations. If so, we must judge each case on its merits. Escape is not necessarily joined to escapism.
There was one place where Lewis quoted someone else:  “a grim and distressful tale may offer a complete escape from the reader’s actual distresses.” How many times I have read stories in which horrid things happened while I myself was going through a difficult time.  Somehow, in some way, reading about terrible things outside of my life helped me to deal with the terrible things inside of my life.  Do you find stories and poems and hymns and songs to be helpful when you are traversing a valley of fear or sickness or pain or grief?

Book Review – The Magic Apple Tree by Susan Hill

While my previous book, A Star for Mrs. Blake, left me unsatisfied, my reading experience with The Magic Apple Tree by Susan Hill was the complete opposite.  I enjoyed every bit of it, savored each page, read and re-read passages that were especially beautiful, and came away full of lovely word pictures and having experienced a pleasurable year in the English countryside along with the author.

The Magic Apple Tree is Susan Hill’s memoir of her life in the Fen country of England where she and her husband bought a cottage in the village of Barley.  She tells of their life in an old cottage, of finding logs for the fire, fighting the clay soil and insects and weather in the garden, raising chickens, watching the birds and local wildlife, participating in the community life in the village, cooking in each season, going for walks with her dog through the local countryside, and of the magic apple tree, a tree growing in their back garden which gives them new views and comforts throughout each season.

Here are just a few of the word pictures in this lovely book:

“one of the richest pleasures of domestic life is, and has always been, filling the house with the smells of food, of baking bread and cakes, bubbling casseroles and simmering soups, of vegetables fresh from the garden and quickly steamed, of the roasting of meat, of new-ground coffee and pounded spices and chopped herbs, of hot marmalade and jam and jelly.”
“In the field that abuts on the orchard garden, at the top end, nearest the hedge, there are thistles and, in early August, they seed themselves and are covered in their ghostly puff-balls, that fly about in the air and cling to hair and clothing, and on these seed-heads feed goldfinches, masses of them together. When I go through the gap into the garden they rise up like insects and fly in panic to the far side of the field where there are more thistles, flashing gold and scarlet and white.”
“These are the sights and sounds and smells of every English village with a cricket team in summer, they are unchanged since my childhood, when I went, Sunday after Sunday, with my grandfather, to watch matches in half the villages of Yorkshire, if I close my eyes I believe I am still there, hearing the crack of the bat and the spattering applause, and the sudden cry of appeal like a harsh bird call.”
“But day by day there are slight changes, subtle alterations in shape, in the mood of the season, it is as though everything is slipping and sliding very gradually downhill, like some great high hayrick sinking softly into itself as it dries.  The year has turned and it is autumn, though we do not fully acknowledge it.”
“Spring so often promises what in the end it never pays, spring can cheat and lie and disappoint.  You can sit at the window and wait for spring for many a weary day.  But I have never been let down by autumn, to me it is always beautiful, always rich, it always gives in heaping measure, and sometimes it can stretch on into November, fading, but so gently, so slowly, like a very old person whose dying is protracted but peacefully, in calmness.”
Those are just a handful of the passages I highlighted and in which I delighted.  If you love England and the countryside and homey things and beautiful prose, read this book.  You won’t be sorry.