The Confessions of X–Book Review

Winner of Christianity Today’s fiction award in 2017, The Confessions of X by Suzanne M. Wolfe is historical fiction based on the life of an unknown woman loved by Augustine of Hippo, an early church father. Wolfe first heard of this woman when she was only twelve, and when she asked for the woman’s name was told, “No one knows. She is lost to history.” This stayed with Wolfe through the years and with research and beautiful writing, she has brought the unnamed woman to life along with Augustine and their son.

Being of a lower social status than Augustine, he took “X” as his concubine but could not marry her. Lest you think that made her lesser in his eyes, Augustine wrote of her in Confessions: “the woman with whom I had been living was torn from my side as an obstacle to my marriage and this blow crushed my heart to bleeding because I loved her dearly.” As Wolfe explains in her author’s note, “To be labeled a concubine was not a derogatory term in the ancient world and was often inscribed on tombstones as a title to denote the status of the deceased.”

Highly recommended for anyone who enjoys historical fiction with a touch of romance.

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Favorite Reads of ’18

One of my first reads of 2018, The Snow Child is a lovely retelling of a Russian fairy tale taking place in Alaska.

The Beautiful Mystery is Louise Penny’s eighth Inspector Gamache mystery. The whole book takes place at a secluded monastery in the wilderness of Quebec.

 

 

Rabbit Cake has a ten-year old protagonist whose mother drowned while sleepwalking. Sounds depressing, I know, but this is a delightful book. Favorite quote:

“That was what her rabbit cakes were about, celebrating every small good thing in your life. I know most families don’t celebrate every new moon or every solstice and equinox, but maybe they should. You never know when someone you love will shoot themselves in the middle of their own birthday party, or be found dead in another state, caught in a river dam, so everyone might as well have their cake right now.”

Beartown: About hockey, love, hope, tragedy, friendship, and loyalty in a small town where everyone knows everybody and everyone is affected by another’s hurt. “Everyone has a thousand wishes before a tragedy, but just one afterward.

 

 

 

The Queen of Hearts: Two women who became best friends in medical school are now practicing medicine and raising their families in Charlotte, NC. A doctor from their past comes to Charlotte and secrets better left buried come to surface.

Magpie Murders: A mystery within a mystery by a writer who not only writes spy novels and mysteries but also television dramas such as “Foyle’s War” and “Midsomer Murders.”

Dissolution: First of the Matthew Shardlake historical mysteries. Henry VIII has ordered the dissolution of monasteries. Informers abound and a murder soon takes place. Well-written historical fiction as well as a mystery. Looking forward to continuing this series.

Assassin’s Quest: Third in what was originally called The Farseer Trilogy. Has since grown to several more books but start with the first: Assassin’s Apprentice. Nobody builds fantasy worlds and develops characters better than Hobb.

Sorcerer to the Crown: First in a new fantasy series. Takes place in Victorian England. Zacharias Wythe, a freed slave and the new Sorcerer Royal, must find out why England’s magic is drying up. Bonus: there’s a dragon. Second book coming out in March.

A good year for reading! Looking forward to many more in 2019. How about you? What were your favorites in ’18? Which books are you excited about in 2019?

Happy New Year!

 

Quick Book Review: Fools and Mortals by Bernard Cornwell

Time for a random book review! I’ve read several good books already in 2018, so I’ll start my reviews with the latest from Bernard Cornwell. Cornwell is well known for his Sharpe series as well as Uthred in the Saxon Stories. Though still historical fiction, Fools and Mortals is a bit of a departure from his normal writing. Here, Cornwell gives us a behind the scenes look at Shakespeare and his company as they attempt to make a living putting on plays during the time of Queen Elizabeth I. 

Richard Shakespeare is a struggling actor, overshadowed by his older brother William. Richard is approached about stealing a manuscript from his brother (original plays are quite valuable). Since William refuses to give Richard any manly parts in his plays (Richard is quite good at playing the parts of women), this is tempting for him on several levels.

Having just learned about the page 69 test (https://killzoneblog.com/2018/03/have-you-ever-tried-the-page-69-test.html), let me read to you from page 69 and you can decide if this book is for you.

“I thought he would say more, but he went back to his writing. A red kite sailed past the window and settled on the ridge of a nearby tiled roof. I watched the bird, but it did not move. My brother’s quill scratched. ‘What are you writing?’ I asked.

‘A letter.’

‘So the new play is finished?’ I asked.

‘You heard as much from Lord Hunsdon.’ Scratch scratch.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream?’

‘Your memory works. Good.’

‘In which I’ll play a man?’ I asked suspiciously.

His answer was to sigh again, then look through a heap of paper to find one sheet, which he wordlessly passed to me. Then he started writing again.”

Does this excerpt from page 69 intrigue you? Since this book started a little slow for me, maybe this would have been a better place to start–but, no, I believe the beginning was necessary.

You can listen (or read) an interview from Cornwell done by the Folger Shakespeare Library on the writing of this book.

https://www.folger.edu/shakespeare-unlimited/bernard-cornwell-fools-and-mortals

Cornwell does not seem to have any plans to turn this into a series, but I, for one, would be glad to read more of Richard Shakespeare if he should changest his mind.

 

Wiley Cash: The Last Ballad

Looking to read more from local (North Carolina or anywhere in southeast) writers, I picked up the latest from Wiley Cash a few weeks ago.

The Last Ballad tells the story of Ella May Wiggins, a woman who worked in the textile mills of North Carolina in the 1920’s. In 1929, she leaves Bessemer City to go to Gastonia to hear about the union and their plans to strike. Ella May works hard every night, having to leave her four children (the father of her children has abandoned them). Joining a union is dangerous and will probably lose her her job, but what choice does she have? Her children are hungry and she can’t afford to clothe them. Something has to change.

Wiley Cash is a writer that any writer would envy. He writes of hard times, desperate situations, evil and selfish people with poetry and grace. He takes a woman who lived in an impossible situation and shows her courage and determination. I highly recommend this book, and will be checking out the backlist for Wiley Cash.

For those of you who read ebooks, this book is available for $1.99 across the different vendors for a limited time.

How about you? Do you enjoy reading from your local authors? Who are your favorites?

Dorothy L. Sayers: Apologist and Mystery Writer

“I always have a quotation for everything; it saves original thinking.” Dorothy Sayers.

Dorothy Sayers (1893-1957) wore many hats, but it is the labeling her as “apologist and mystery writer” by one article which makes me smile, and I believe would amuse her as well.

Born at Oxford, the only child of the Rev. Henry Sayers, she won a scholarship to Somerville College (a college of Oxford, started specifically for women). She graduated in 1915 with first class honors in modern languages.

She wrote her first “Lord Peter Wimsey” mystery, Whose Body?, while working at a London advertising firm. She went on to write several novels and short stories featuring Lord Peter Wimsey. The books are still being published today and many of her readers are unaware of her many other accomplishments.

Sayers considered her best work her translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy. Sayers was 51 when she first read the Divine Comedy, and she became consumed with it. “I bolted my meals, neglected my sleep, work, and correspondence, drove my friends crazy . . .” Deciding to make a fresh translation of his work, she learned the Italian necessary, and the translation remains in print.

Of all her writings, it is concerning a particular play–The Man Born to be King–I want to write about today. She wrote her first play, The Zeal of Thy House, for the Canterbury Festival. She then wrote six more plays including The Man Born to be King. I read this play over ten years ago, and have decided to reread it this year as part of my “Christmas reading.”

This play was originally written for the BBC for broadcasting in the children’s hour. Sayers’ depiction of Christ has him speaking in modern English (since her audience would hardly know Greek) which caused a great outcry of protests. Didn’t she know Jesus (and all those around him) spoke in King James English? One newspaper editor put it this way: “In quoting the Bible we must take the Authorized Version, and not the interpretation of scholars, however wise.” Sayers response: “Of this singular piece of idolatry I will only say that it imposes difficulties upon the English playwright from which the Greek tragic poets are free.” She further explains that as the Incarnation really happened–meaning God became a man and lived among common, ordinary people–he, consequently, spoke a common, ordinary language.

This speaks to me as a writer as I have been wrestling with criticism concerning some of my dialogue. Some say my dialogue sounds too modern, and I wonder if they’re expecting King James English (the Authorized Version) as well? I understand the characters shouldn’t sound like 21st century Americans, but I do not know the Hebrew language and do not believe my characters spoke in any superior sort of way. The whole point of writing about Biblical characters is to remind us that they were real people and not merely “characters.” The sons of King David, though sons of a king, were also shepherds and warriors. Yes, David was a poet and a song writer, but does anyone really think he went around speaking poetically to his sons? Or that Solomon spoke in proverbs in his every day life?

When Sayers wrote her play, she wanted her audience to remember also that these characters did not know what they were doing. “We are so much accustomed to viewing the whole story from a post-Resurrection, . . .point of view, that we are apt, without realising it, to attribute to all the New Testament characters the same kind of detailed theological awareness which we have ourselves. We judge their behavior as though all of them–disciples, Pharisees, Romans, and men-in-the-street–had known with Whom they were dealing . . . But they did not know it.”

Sayers goes on to explain that when we show how real the people were who “made vulgar jokes about Him, called Him filthy names, taunted Him, . . .”, we are shocked, and we should be. However, when we pretty up the language and think of it all as in a culture and people far removed from us, we are not quite as shocked and do not see ourselves as those very people (as we should). “It is curious that people who are filled with horrified indignation whenever a cat kills a sparrow can hear that story of the killing of God told Sunday after Sunday and not experience any shock at all.”

In the same way, I wish for people who read my stories to see themselves in these Bible characters. To understand that we are just as sinful, just as fallen, and just as in need of a Savior. If a reader does not relate to the characters as people like themselves, they will only view the stories as just that–stories.

I’m looking forward to rereading these plays with a new eye than when I read them before. If you want to join along, please comment and let me know!

“The only Christian work is good work, well done.” Dorothy L. Sayers

 

My Name is Hadesh Part 8 (The End) by P.M. Gilmer

If you missed part 7, here is the link: https://pmgilmer.com/2017/11/25/my-name-is-hadesh-part-7-by-p-m-gilmer/

From part 7: I jumped up before he could change his mind or realize he had the wrong person. I started to follow him, then realized Jemima hadn’t moved.

“Come on,” I hissed.

I thought she would turn and run, but, fortunately, Huppim was behind her, and he happily began to escort her into the king’s throne room.

Many times through the years when I have been telling this story, someone wants to know what I thought of the throne room and King Solomon’s throne. I remind them my visit took place early in King Solomon’s reign before he built his new palace, so the palace we saw was that of King David. However, a palace is a palace to me. The throne room alone was far larger than any house or shop I had ever been in. I tried not to gawk at my surroundings, and I’m sure if I hadn’t been so upset, scared, and extremely nervous, I would have just stood there and stared at everything. Not just the walls or the throne, but the king himself. I know he’s just a man, but seated there on that throne, I felt as though I had entered into the presence of God. Not trying to be blasphemous, and I hope I’m not, but that’s just how I felt. My knees grew weak as I could only stare at the king for several moments. Fortunately, Muppim kept a steady hand on my arm and moved me forward.

I fell on my face before the king. Jemima, still holding my baby, (though Huppim offered to take him), fell awkwardly to her knees. I suppose neither of us gave a very graceful performance as I heard several snickers among the king’s attendants.

Knowing I’d better speak up before Jemima did, I lifted my head and said, “O King, live forever! Thank you for hearing us, my lord king. I know you’re a a busy man, but our case is too important to leave to your officials. Begging your pardon, my lords,” I added hastily, looking at the group of men standing around the king. I had no idea who any of them were or if they would ever be involved in judgments, but I could not afford to offend anyone. The men only looked back at me without speaking. They mostly looked bored, though one seemed amused by my apology. Looking at him again, I realized he must have been one of the king’s brothers for they looked much alike. Before I could gawk any longer, Muppim cleared his throat behind me.

“Oh, yes–anyway, King Solomon, we have heard of your great wisdom and,” I was about to attempt some flowery compliments about the king and his kindness, judgment, etc., but I could sense he was growing impatient. “And we have come to ask you to judge between us. I am Hadesh, and this,” I waved my hand towards Jemima, “is Jemima, my, um, friend. Well, not really a friend, we work together, we . . .” Seeing the king’s eyebrows go up, I decided not to further explain. I’m sure he had already figured out what we did. “Anyway, we live in the same house, and I had a baby boy a few weeks ago, and Jemima had one three days later. Well, last night we were the only ones at our house, and Jemima’s baby died. I believe she rolled over him–accidentally, of course, though we tried to tell her it wasn’t good for her to keep the babe in the bed with her, but she did it all the time.”

Jemima was bouncing my baby up and down, cooing baby talk to him, but she suddenly stopped and pushed me aside. “No, my lord king! That is not the way of it!”

King Solomon waved a hand at Jemima. “Let her finish. You will have your turn next.”

I know Jemima wanted to argue, but Huppim held tightly to her arm, and she wisely stepped back.

I tried not to look smug, but being humble is not one of my better traits. “As I was saying, my lord king, her baby died–it must have been around midnight as I remember putting my babe to sleep just before then–and she put her baby” (I placed my hand on the sling holding Jemima’s babe) “in my bed with me, then took my own son from the basket where he sleeps. When I woke this morning, I was surprised to find my baby with me as I always put him in his basket after I nurse him, but I thought I had just fallen asleep. So, I tried to nurse him, but . . .” A sob rose in my throat and though some may think I was acting for the king’s benefit, they would be quite wrong. As I remembered trying to nurse that poor dead babe, even now knowing he wasn’t mine, great grief rose up in me.

“She is crazy!” Jemima couldn’t stay silent any longer. “She knows this is my babe, but she has gone mad with grief over the loss of her own. I am sorry for her loss, but I will not give up my baby to her!”

I clenched my fists and only kept myself from attacking Jemima because of my baby she was holding, who now began to cry. As he cried, so did I. “Don’t you think I would know my baby’s cry? My baby’s face? As soon as the sun gave me light, I could see the babe I held was not mine. You are the one who is crazy–swapping babies like they are melons at the market. I am sorry you rolled your fat self on your baby and killed him, but I will not let you take mine from me!”

Jemima stepped back from me as Seled began to wail louder. “No!” she screeched over the howls of my son. “This baby is mine! Your baby died!”

By now, every person in King Solomon’s court stood watching us with rapt attention. A part of me realized this exhibition Jemima and I were putting on would probably not help my cause, but I could not seem to help myself. I would not leave here without the king’s judgment, and if he ruled in favor of Jemima, it mattered not to me if he had me taken away and thrown out of the city as a mad woman.

Breathing heavily, Jemima stared at me, then turned to the king. “Please, my lord king. You can see how this woman has lost her mind. Just let me leave now with my baby, and I promise I will trouble you no longer.” She tried to shush Seled who was surely hungry and scared. Huppim reached over to pat my baby, crooning softly to him.

I fell back to my knees. “Please, my lord king. You must believe me. I would not try to take a baby that was not mine, but I cannot live knowing he has been stolen from me.”

Before Jemima could further dispute my claim, the king stood up. I could hardly breathe, looking up at him and wondering what he would say. Without looking at either of us, he raised a hand and called to one of his guards standing by the door. “Japhlet! Bring me a sword!”

The guard came forward, holding a sword in his hand. I stood to my feet and glanced at Jemima who looked as bewildered and scared as I felt. Would he just kill us both for causing such a ruckus in his throne room?

The king did not take the sword, but looked around the room at all who waited to hear his judgment. No one made a sound and all eyes were on him.

“You have heard the testimonies of these two women and the spirit in which they were given. Both claim the living child is theirs and the dead child the other’s. Since they cannot come to an agreement on their own, but have brought this problem to the throne, I must step in and resolve it. Japhlet, take the living baby and cut him in half. Give each woman half of the baby.”

Japhlet moved to take the baby from Jemima, and I fell to my knees again, this time in horror.

“No, my lord!” I wailed, my terror rising now as Jemima handed over my baby with what seemed like glee. “Please! I beg you! Give her the living baby, but don’t kill him!”

Japhlet took my baby, cradling him against his chest. Jemima smirked at me. “Now, he shall be neither mine nor yours! Divide him then!”

Japhlet laid the baby at the king’s feet and raised his sword. Gasps echoed around the room, and I could no longer breathe. The king held up his arm.

“Stop!” He looked around at all of us. “You have seen the reactions of these two women. The first, Hadesh, cares and fears for the child while the other, Jemima, only cares to have a ruling in her favor. Do not hurt the child, but give her to Hadesh because she is obviously the true mother.”

I thought I would faint with relief as the crowd laughed and cheered. Japhlet picked my baby back up and brought him over to me. Still crying, but now with joy and relief, I took my baby and covered him with kisses. I looked back up at the king. “Thank you, my lord. Oh, thank you! Truly what is said is true–God has gifted you with great wisdom. May your reign be long and prosperous.”

Soli Deo Gloria

My Name is Hadesh Part 7 by P. M. Gilmer

If you missed Part 6, here is the link: https://pmgilmer.com/2017/11/21/my-name-is-hadesh-part-6-by-p-m-gilmer/

From Part 6I let him lead me away from Jemima, while Muppim kept watch over her and the baby. I took a deep breath, knowing it would not help my cause to be fighting like an alley cat when the king saw us. I would need to keep my emotions under control.

We waited for almost two hours. A man would open the doors every fifteen to twenty minutes and usher someone in to see the king. I was not sure how he decided who would go in. There seemed to be no clear system to his choosing, so I decided we needed to make ourselves heard and known the next time he came out. I waited a bit too late.

When next he came out, he said in a loud voice, “The king has other commitments he must attend to now. You may seek out another judge to hear your complaints if you do not want to wait for the next king’s day.”

The disappointed people turned and began to leave, but I was not ready to give up. I had too much to lose.

“Wait!” I cried out. “We have come a long way to see the king and have been waiting all morning with a baby. Can he not hear one more case?”

The official frowned, but before he could speak, Jemima walked over to me and swatted me on the arm. “Don’t be so disrespectful. I have tried to tell you the king wouldn’t have time for the likes of us, and now we have wasted a whole day waiting here. Adar here is getting tired and restless. Think of him if you can.”

I can tell you I do not like to be touched anyway, so when Jemima slapped my arm like that, I was more than ready for a fight. Of course, I had been ready for one for some hours and only my babe in her arms had kept me from it.

I grabbed at her hair and pulled her towards me. “I am thinking of nothing but him! My Seled–whom you have stolen from me! Do not think you are going to get away with this. Maybe the king won’t hear us, but I will make sure that all of Jerusalem does!”

She screeched and tried to claw at my eyes with her one free hand. Muppim quickly came between us, grabbing hold of Jemima while Huppim grabbed me from behind. The people who had started to leave, now stopped to watch. Several of them seemed to choose sides and began to cheer us on. The king’s official watched us all in alarm for a few moments, then went back inside to the king.

“Now, ladies,” said Muppim, “you know this isn’t going to solve anything. I’m sorry the king won’t see you. I thought he could help you, but now let’s just go before we cause any more trouble.”

“More trouble? What could be more trouble than losing my son?” I knew the king could easily have me put away somewhere–whatever he did with unruly citizens, but I was beyond caring. If I could not get my baby back, my life would not be worth living. And to watch that cow, Jemima, nursing him and raising him? I would throw myself into a well or . . . something. “I am not leaving until I see the king,” I said, and sat myself down on the floor, shocking everyone including myself.

Before anyone could argue with me, the official came back out with two guards. The guards began moving everyone out, but I stayed where I was, half expecting a sword to take my head off. But, to my surprise, the official came over to me and said quietly, “The king will see you now. If you will follow me.”

I jumped up before he could change his mind or realize he had the wrong person. I started to follow him, then realized Jemima hadn’t moved.

“Come on,” I hissed.

I thought she would turn and run, but, fortunately, Huppim was behind her, and he happily began to escort her into the king’s throne room.

The final installment, part 8, will be posted on Tuesday, 11/28/17.