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?

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.

“My Name is Absalom” Part Seven (and the End) by P.M. Gilmer

If you still haven’t read part six of this story, here is the link:

https://pmgilmer.com/2017/09/01/my-name-is-absalom-part-6-by-p-m-gilmer/

And now for the conclusion of “My Name is Absalom.”

 

I woke well before the sun on the morning of my planned dinner. I tried to eat some bread before I tended to my duties, but anticipation kept my stomach rolling. My plans were all falling into place though I did encounter one unforeseen problem: the early return of my mother. I had expected her to stay with her father for another month or so, but two days ago, I received word of her return. Fortunately, Tamar had stayed with our grandfather.

My mother heard (naturally) of the dinner I planned and of my invitation to my father (who had, predictably, declined). She knew me well enough to be suspicious of my show of generosity, but as I refused her commands to come visit her, she had no chance to question me. I’m not saying she would have disapproved of my plan, but she hated to be left out of anything, and I’m sure if I let her know what I was doing, she would demand a front row seat. Her drama I could live without. This was my revenge, and she would just have to hear of it second-hand.

I reminded my servants of their roles until satisfied each one was prepared to play their part. Under my directions, they had put up a tent the day before and were now bringing in a table, cushions, and whatever else should be necessary to make everything ready for this evening. All I needed to do now was continue to oversee the preparations and to wait. Waiting can be difficult, but when you know what you’ve been waiting for is truly about to happen, the waiting becomes a sort of deliciousness.

I tried to rest during the heat of the afternoon, but my excitement was too great for either my body or my mind to settle. I rechecked everything again–made sure my knives were sharpened to a keen edge, counted the skins of wine, and made sure (again) that my servants–Ramiah and Kedar–knew where each brother was to sit. Nothing would be left to chance.

Finally, the sun began to fall through the sky, leaving bright red and orange splashes in its wake. The first of my brothers arrived–Ithream and Adonijah, followed by Solomon and Shammua. I gave them all hearty greetings, making sure my servants seated them properly and served them some wine. In a matter of minutes, all my brothers and a few of our cousins had arrived with the exceptions of Amnon and Jonadab. Jonadab knew to wait until the others had time to arrive before he brought Amnon here. It would not do for them to be the first to arrive. No, let Amnon see his brothers already settled, so that he, too, could settle in and be comfortable.

I waited by the door, along with Kedar, trying to hide my increasing anxiety. What if Jonadab couldn’t convince Amnon to come? After all, Amnon knows me as well as anyone, and, truly, he would be a fool to trust me. I could only hope that imbecile, Jonadab, could convince him of my sincerity in wanting to heal the rift between us. The very thought made me gag. Jonadab would need to be pretty convincing in his deceit, but he was good at that.

Then–I saw them. Walking together, Jonadab seemed to be his usual animated self while Amnon walked silently beside him. My brothers behind me were in a boisterous mood, but I hardly heard them as I kept my eyes on my prize. Then I looked over at Kedar who was also watching the two coming towards us.

“Is it him?” he asked quietly.

“Yes,” I murmured. “You already know the loud-mouth next to him, but the other is Amnon.”

When they were close enough to make out their faces, Kedar raised an eyebrow and looked at me. “He is much like you–your brother.”

My face tightened, and I nodded. Yes, people often commented on that. Though we had different mothers, our eyes and facial features were quite similar, and many people could only tell us apart by our hair. My hair was often compared to a lion’s mane because of its thickness and rapid growth while Amnon kept his lighter colored hair cut short, almost shaven. Though I could see it was now much longer than usual, it still was nothing compared to mine.

I plastered a huge smile on my face as Jonadab and Amnon approached us. Amnon seemed to shrink back at the sight of me, but Jonadab kept a firm grip on his elbow and kept him moving forward.

“Brother!” I called out, then pulled Amnon to me in a tight hug. “It has been too long!”

“Amnon has missed being with his brothers, Absalom,” Jonadab said in a loud voice. “We are both grateful for this invitation.”

“Well, come on in. Ramiah will show you to your seats.” I turned to motion to Ramiah, but he was already at Amnon’s side, leading him and Jonadab to their seats.

I watched them–Jonadab strutting past my brothers and Amnon slinking behind him. My brothers had become quiet–only nodding to Jonadab who called out loud greetings–then looking gravely at Amnon who said nothing.

Once they were seated, one of my brothers called out for more wine and another asked, “When is the food going to be ready, Brother? We are starving here!”

As the laughter rang out, I ordered the servants to pour more wine (they had instructions not to water the wine unless asked) and assured my brothers the food would be ready soon. “Patience, my brothers. Good food must be cooked to perfection.” Before they could make more demands, I left the tent–ostensibly to check on the food, but actually to make sure Kedar and Ramiah were ready. They were, and it was finally time to put my plan into play.

From the back of the tent, I gave a nod to Jonadab, and he casually rose from his seat and left the tent just as two of my servants began bringing in baskets of bread and platters of roasted vegetables.

“Come on, Brother!” bellowed one of my brothers. “Where’s the meat?”

With the wine flowing freely, my brothers were getting louder–laughing and teasing one another. Since I wanted them drunk, this brought me some satisfaction (though I knew a fine line existed before they became belligerent and more demanding) until I noticed two exceptions: my two younger brothers, Solomon and Shammua. Both were quiet and seemed not to be drinking as much as the others. I frowned, wondering what could be wrong with that sanctimonious Solomon. I should go over to them and encourage them to drink more, but that would probably only arouse suspicions and, besides, it was far too late for that. Time for execution.

My servants were ready to bring in the roasted lamb, so I nodded for them to come on. My eyes met those of Kedar, and he nodded his readiness. The servants brought in the lamb and my brothers cheered, though one said something about ‘where was something for the others?’

As soon as my brothers began diving into the lamb, Kedar and Ramiah came in behind Amnon. They each grabbed him by an arm and pulled him up, then Kedar drove his knife into my oldest brother’s chest. Amnon looked up at me, and I smiled, watching the shock, then the light fade from his eyes. So great was my pleasure, I was barely aware of my other brothers as–in a flurry–they all jumped up as if the tent was on fire, almost trampling each other as they raced out of the tent.

Once they were gone, my servants and I began to act quickly. We made sure the oil lamps were all put out, then began gathering up the cushions, cups, etc.

“We should be away, my lord,” Kedar said to me, cleaning off his knife.

I nodded, looking around the tent with both pride and contentment. Jonadab would soon be telling my father how I had killed all his sons, and it wouldn’t be long before the great king sent men here. I would be going to my grandfather’s, along with Kedar and Ramiah. I had other servants assigned to take care of the food and take down the tent. Two others would attend to my brother’s body and wait for my father’s men to arrive.

“Very well,” I said. “Let us be off.” I took a last look at my brother’s face before my servants covered it. “Be at peace, Brother,” I said softly. “Your debt is now paid.”

Soli Deo gloria