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.

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 2 by P.M. Gilmer

If you missed part 1, here’s the link: https://pmgilmer.com/2017/11/09/my-name-is-hadesh-part-1-by-p-m-gilmer/

From Part 1: At almost fourteen, I found myself pregnant and soon Jemimah was as well. It may sound foolish, but it excited us both to think of having our own child. I promised myself, and the LORD God, that I would take care of this baby, and he would always know his mother’s love. No matter what.

The months went by both quickly and achingly slow. I couldn’t wait to see my baby’s face, to touch him, to hold him. But, there is much to prepare when bringing a baby into the world, especially with no real family to help, so the days flew by with always more to do.

Finally, the day came when my pains began, and I knew my baby was preparing to enter this world. Zebidah ran to get the midwife, and Hoglah helped me to walk around until time to sit on the birthing stool. Jemimah hoovered in the background, her babe almost ready to burst forth as well. As she was as inexperienced as I (and twice as scared), she gladly stood back and let the others tell me what to do.

Well, if you’re a woman, you know what follows, and if you’re a man, you know enough to know you don’t want to hear any more details. My baby entered the world with no complications, his voice as loud and demanding as any man’s. Yes, he was a fine boy, and I loved him at first sight.

Everyone cooed over him–except Jemima. She looked rather ill at all the mess this young one had made. I’m sure she was thinking of her own trial to come, so I tried to smile reassuringly at her, but she looked away, then left our house altogether. To get some air, she said.

“Don’t go too far!” the midwife called after her. “You look to be ready to have your own at any minute.”

This only served to increase her look of distress as she scurried away. The other women laughed knowingly. I paid them no attention, having eyes only for my newborn son who slept exhausted at my breast.

Sure enough, three days later, Jemima cried out in pain and dropped the laundry she had been carrying in. “It’s time! Oh, LORD God of the heavens, help me!”

I had been dozing with my little one who had just finished nursing, but I quickly settled him in his small basket and went to try to comfort and encourage Jemima. She wanted nothing but sympathy, however, and that not from me. Since I could well understand how she felt, I left her alone and went back to my baby who was fussing a bit at all the noise.

Jemima raised such a clamor as the other women tried to get her settled that the midwife soon appeared without anyone going to fetch her. News travels fast in our little neighborhood, and Jemima had been complaining for days, so I’m sure the midwife had been anticipating our call. Though she snubbed us in the streets, we paid her well enough, so she had no problem helping us when we might need her. Truthfully though, we hardly needed her at all.

Jemima’s labor was no easier or worse than normal–though that’s not the story she tells. They say you forget all about the pain once you see your little one’s face, but Jemima swore she would never forget one moment of the pain her little boy put her through. Still, she was just as enamored with her new son as I was with mine. It was just her way to complain and let her voice be heard.

“Another boy,” commented the midwife as she cleaned herself and made ready to leave. “You know, I’m sure I could find a home for either or both of these two lads if you decide they’re too much for you.”

Jemima and I both stared in horror at the old woman, clutching our babes to our chests. Though I wanted to screech at the nosy biddy, I said, (as politely as I could), “Though we appreciate your help with our births, you can go now.”

Jemima felt no reason to be polite. “Just get on out of here with your idea of help! You think just because we’re not rich or respectable women that we can’t raise our sons to be fine men.”

The midwife shrugged, unperturbed by our reactions. “Raising children is not cheap or easy. And there’s plenty who would be eager to raise a healthy son. If you change your minds, you know where to find me.”

I continued to hug my Seled so close that he began to squirm. I made myself relax my grip before he began crying. I shouldn’t have been surprised at the midwife’s offer, but it scared me somehow. I knew people would think we had no business raising children, but this was my baby, and no one could take him from me.

Part 3 coming on Tuesday.

“My Name is Hadesh” part 1 by P.M. Gilmer

This is the story of Hadesh, to be told in eight parts. 

I grew up in the city of Jerusalem during the days of King Solomon. I know some people only think of King Solomon as the man who built the temple and had so many wives, but I will always remember him for the wisdom and kindness he showed to me when others would have thrown me out or ignored me or even laughed at me.

I hope you won’t stop reading when I tell you what I did for a living or think any less of King Solomon for helping me. It might help if I tell you a bit of my own story first.

My father threw me out of our home when I was only six. My mother had just given birth to another daughter, and when my father learned he now had eight daughters, he picked me up and told me it was time I learned to care for myself. He was a very superstitious man, my father, and thought if having daughters could be lucky at all, he could have no more than seven. Why he didn’t just kill my baby sister, I don’t know, except he never seemed to like me. I felt I reminded him of something bad, but I never knew what. Two of my older sisters brought me food for a few days, but soon enough, they got caught, and then I was truly on my own.

I won’t go into the days and years I spent just trying to survive as that is not the point of my story. Suffice it to say, I survived the best way I could, and it wasn’t long before I was selling my body for something to eat. I made friends on the street, and by the time I was twelve, I was living in a house with three other women: Zebidah, Hoglah, and Jemimah. Jemimah and I were of a similar age, but Zebidah and Hoglah were several years older. They mothered us a bit (bossed us more like), but it felt good to have others in my life. Our life was hard, but we worked together, and usually, we could count on each other. But not always.

At almost fourteen, I found myself pregnant. Jemimah, too, discovered she was with child. It may sound foolish, but it excited us both to think of having our own baby. I promised myself, and the LORD God, that I would take care of this little one, and he would always know his mother’s love. No matter what.

_________

Part Two coming Saturday.