The Shenandoah Road

In The Shenandoah Road: A Novel of the Great Awakening by Lynne Basham Tagawa, John Russell is a widower in need of a wife to mother his four-year-old daughter. Leaving his daughter in his sister’s care, John travels back to Boston, where his father lives, to do some trading and hopefully find a wife as well.

Abigail Williams is the daughter of a Boston merchant. Her father approaches her with a proposition. His bookkeeper’s son is looking for a woman to marry and accompany back to a settlement in Shenandoah. The two men are coming to dinner tonight. Would she think about the possibility?

The settlement in Shenandoah is smaller and much rougher than what Abigail is used to. But John Russell seems to be a kind man. She decides to marry him and go.

Abigail has dutifully kept the commandments all her life. But when John shares with her part of a sermon by George Whitfield, her heart is troubled. Is keeping the commandments not enough? How can she be sure she’s right with God?

As the Russells travel the long road back to the settlement by the Shenandoah River, they face dangers in roving buffalo, Indians, and a dangerous ruffian. Abigail wonders how she will adjust to life when she gets to John’s home. She feels her lack of knowledge about everyday housewifery. She wonders if John’s daughter will accept her. But most of all, she struggles to understand the words from Whitfield and the Bible that her husband shares with her.

I don’t know that I have ever read a novel from this time period, though I was familiar with Whitfield and Jonathan Edwards and such. It seems like every believer would have been thankful for the “Great Awakening.” But just like in our times, people had different opinions about the various proponents and points of doctrine. It was interesting to see some of that discussed.

I enjoyed the historical aspects of daily life, as well. Abigail loved botany, especially the medicine use of plants. It’s unfortunate that we’ve gotten away from such knowledge today.

I enjoyed getting to know John and Abigail as hey got to know and appreciate each other.

Still, I wasn’t swept into the story and characters as often happens with fiction. I can’t quite put my finger on why. But even though I wasn’t spellbound, the book is still a good one.

Advantages of the Kindle App

For readers, nothing sounds more cozy than curling up with a good book, a throw blanket, and a cup of coffee and a cookie or two within reach. Add in a warm fire, a rainy day, and just the right lamp, and we’re in reading heaven.

Or perhaps your ideal reading environment is on the beach under an umbrella, or on your back deck during a cool evening.

In any of those scenarios, we probably picture a physical book. In fact, friends have told me that they don’t like the idea of e-books because they like the feel of an actual ink-and-paper book in their hands.

I understand that. I can’t imagine reading Little Women, for instance, without my favorite old-fashioned illustrated version.

I first started using the Kindle app on my iPad mini for traveling purposes. Otherwise, I’d bring at least two, and possibly three, books with me anywhere I went. I also wanted to take advantage of the occasional Kindle sale or free book. But I never thought the Kindle app would become my main source of reading.

However, once I got used to the Kindle app and discovered many of its features, I grew to love it. When I talked with a paper-book-only friend about some of these Kindle features, she had been totally unaware of them. So I thought I’d share some of these features with you in case you had not heard of them, either. This is not a paid or affiliate post.

All of these features are on the Kindle app. I assume they are all on the Kindle device as well, but I don’t know.

By the way, I’m avoiding the term “real book.” Paper, digital and audio books are all real books.

The Kindle app:

Saves space. It’s nice to “pack” a whole library rather than trying to fit three books into my baggage when traveling. But even at home, I don’t have any space for more books. We have three full-size bookcases, one half-size, and at least three boxes of books in closets. I’ve culled books to give away several times, but my bookcases are still full. There’s no room in the house to add any more.

Adjustment of text size. The print in some books is tiny. I can set the text in the Kindle app to the size that’s best for me.

Easier to hold, especially while lying down. If you’ve ever read in bed, I’m sure you’ve experienced your book falling in your face or your hand cramping after a while.

Can be used on Apple devices as well as many Android. The iPad mini is the perfect size for me, but if you prefer reading on a regular iPad or other device, you can.

Built-in dictionary. If I come across an unfamiliar word while reading, I don’t usually take the time to stop and look it up. I get the gist of it from the context and keep going. But in the Kindle app, you can highlight the word, then a dictionary definition will pop up. I’ve gotten so used to that feature, I’ve wished it was available on everything I read online as well as in ink-and-paper books!

Translations.You can also highlight phrases in another language and get the translation instantly.

Highlighting. You can highlight passages in the book in five different colors. I usually just use the standard yellow for quotes I want to remember. But sometimes I’ve used blue for main points so I can see them at a glance.

Add notes. When you highlight a section, an icon will show up at the top that looks like a paper and pencil. You can tap that and add your own notes–like writing in the margin of a paper book.

Search function. When you tap on a page in the Kindle app, a magnifying glass icon appears at the top. You can search for a particular word or name or phase. Sometimes I forget who a particular character is, so this feature is like looking back several pages to refresh your memory. Or if I remember a snatch of a sentence but didn’t highlight it, I can look it up.

List of notes. That same list of icons that appears at the top of the page when you tap it also shows an icon that looks like page or notebook. Tap that, and you’ll see a list of all the quotes you’ve highlighted from the book as well as notes you’ve added. This is a great help to me when I just want to review the book for my own memory or when writing a review for the blog. I can tap on a highlighted quote, email it to myself, then copy and paste it into a blog post.

Kindle sales. I’ve mentioned before that I check Kindle sales from Inspired Reads and Gospel eBooks lists. Though these are Christian sites, I would not endorse everything they list. But I’ve gotten scores of books trough them. A $1.99 e-book is a great way to try an new author or stock up on books from a favorite author. Plus I get a weekly email from Iron Stream Media offering some of their books free or for 99 cents.

Advance readers or launch teams. Most authors use e-versions rather than an ink-and-paper book to send to readers who agree to review an upcoming book or serve on an author’s launch team. So having Kindle access affords you that opportunity.

Syncs to any device that supports a Kindle app. I mentioned that I usually read e-books on my iPad mini. But I have the Kindle app on my iPhone as well. So if I find myself with an unexpected wait time while I’m out, I can read a bit. It’s not as easy to read a book on a phone, but it can be done, and it’s a good way to pass the time waiting.

Whispersync. If you get the same book via Amazon for the Kindle and Audible for an audiobook, if they are set up to “Whispersync,” you can pick up with one from where you left off on the other. I don’t usually do this–I usually have one or the other. But occasionally, usually due to sales, I’ll have both. It’s nice to be able to go back and forth.

As with anything else, there are a few disadvantages to using the Kindle app. Here are a few:

  • It’s harder to share books. I believe Amazon lets you share Kindle books with another person for two weeks. But it’s easier to hand them a book for however long they need it. Of course, if your friend doesn’t live near you, sharing electronically is an advantage.
  • You can’t see what others are reading. I liked the idea that I was “advertising” a book by reading it in public. Or I’d see what someone else was reading and ask about it. You can’t really do that with an e-book without feeling intrusive.
  • Your device needs charging. But we’re so used to charging devices, that’s not much of a hardship. Unless the power is out.
  • You don’t really own Kindle books. This is the biggest disadvantage to me. If an author or publisher decides to take their books down, and they are not downloaded on your device, they’ll just disappear from your library. Thankfully, that doesn’t happen often.
  • You can’t give or sell your read e-books like you can ink-and-paper books.
  • If you’re trying to reduce screen time due to eye strain or other reasons, you might prefer a physical book.

By and large, I’ve found the advantages to using the Kindle app outweigh the advantages.

Do you use the Kindle or Kindle app? What do you like or dislike about it?

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

Miss Buncle Married

In D. E. Stevenson’s novel, Miss Buncle’s Book (linked to my review), Barbara Buncle is a quiet single lady in 1930s England who needs to make some money. So she writes a book about what she knows–her neighbors. She changes their names and some of their activities. Her book becomes a best-seller. But some of her neighbors recognize themselves and their town. And some of them are determined to find out who is behind the pseudonym “John Smith.”

At the end of that book (spoiler alert), Miss Buncle marries her publisher, Arthur Abbott. They move to Hampstead Heath, away from the heat caused by Barbara’s book.

Miss Buncle Married opens with the newlywed couple enjoying married life, but not the city. They’re expected to be out almost every night, playing bridge with friends and attending events. They long for a quieter home life. So Barbara starts looking at houses in the country.

Barbara finds the house of her dreams in Wandlebury. Arthur isn’t sure about the fixer-upper. But Barbara has everything redone nicely, and they love their new home.

It’s not long before they meet their new neighbors. The pastor’s wife who loves to gossip, thinking it gives her and “in” with her neighbors, when really they hold her at arm’s length because they don’t want to become her subjects. A large, temperamental artist, his languid wife, and their three children, two of whom have claimed Barbara’s back yard as their playground. Mrs. Chevis-Cobb, the society matron who changes her will when her relatives displease her. Jerry, a young woman who supports herself by caring for horses.

Arthur’s nephew, Sam, comes to visit the Abbotts regularly and begins to mature nicely.

Of course, the reader wonders, “Will Barbara write another book? And will it get her into as much trouble as last time?” I’ll leave that for you to discover.

Barbara is presented in both books as somewhat naive and innocent, yet with amazing insight in some ways. She doesn’t mean to meddle, but her attempts to help people present some quite funny episodes in the book.

Some of my favorite quotes from the book:

He . . . looked at his wife, and, as he looked at her, he smiled because she was nice to look at, and because he loved her, and because she amused and interested him enormously. They had been married for nine months now, and sometimes he thought he knew her through and through, and sometimes he thought he didn’t know the first thing about her—theirs was a most satisfactory marriage.

Jerry found Barbara very soothing and comforting during this difficult time. It was not necessary to confide in Barbara to gain her sympathy—you just talked to Barbara about odds and ends of things, and you came away feeling a different creature.

“It’s turned out all right after all,” she said contentedly. “Things usually do, somehow. You worry and fuss and try to make things go the way you think they should, and then you find that the other way was best. I’m going to try not to worry about things anymore.”

As with the first book, this is a secular work, and thus I wouldn’t agree with everything here, like many classics. It’s a clean story, but there are some oddities, especially with the strange family next door.

But all in all, this was a sweet, funny story. I listened to the audiobook superbly read by Patricia Gallimore. The picture above is from the audiobook cover as well, which I like much better than the book cover.

If You Like to Read Books . . .

How to support writers and keep good books coming.

. . . you’d like authors to be able to keep writing books, right?

You may not be aware of some ways publishing has changed over the last few years. These changes put different pressures and requirements on new and published authors. I’ll discuss some of those changes as I go.

But here are ways you can help authors keep books coming:

Buy their books. Sometimes I hear people say they never buy books. Some can’t; that’s understandable. I’ll get to some other ways we can help that don’t cost money.

But frugality doesn’t mean never paying full price for a quality item. “The laborer is worthy of his hire,” Jesus said (Luke 10:7). Writers work for months, sometimes years, to produce a book. According to this article, an author might get only $1.50 from a $20 book. Few authors can live off their book sales.

But buying a book isn’t just an investment for the author. If you were going to a concert, a professional ball game, or even a movie, you’d pay a high price for just 2-3 hours of entertainment. The price of a book can give you 10+ hours of entertainment.

For many of us, though, our book appetite is bigger than our wallet.

If you can’t pay full price, books are frequently on sale. I often get Kindle books for less than $2. Inspired Reads lists half a dozen or so and Gospel eBooks lists several, but you need discernment with these two: I wouldn’t recommend everything they list. Tim Challies lists a Kindle sales most days, usually Christian nonfiction and classics.

If you pre-order books, you often get a lower price. frequently has “two books for one credit” and other audiobooks sales. Then there are library sales, thrift store sales, garage sales. Even though the author does not get much money from these purchases, they still help his sale numbers (which publishers look at when considering whether to publish his future books).

I have not tried these, but I’ve heard recommendations for Chirp (audiobooks), BookBub, and CelebrateLit.

Ask for books for gifts. I usually let my family know of a few books I’d like for birthday and Christmas ideas.

Write a review. Amazon reviews carry great weight with publishers, plus they are helpful to other buyers considering the book. The reviews don’t have to all be 5-stars to help. In fact, it looks a little suspicious if all the reviews are 5-star. Reviews don’t have to be long and shouldn’t “spoil” the plot.

One of the ways publishing has changed over recent years is that authors have to do as much as 80% of their own marketing, even if they’re traditionally published. With the closure of so many brick-and-mortar bookstores, publishers don’t have the opportunity to advertise there via posters, end-caps displays, author events, etc. They have always depended on word of mouth, but much more so now.

Besides Amazon, reviews on Goodreads or one’s blog help get the word out as well.

Mention a book on Instagram with the hash tag #bookstagram. You can add additional hashtags like #amreading, #historicalfiction or whatever the genre is, and the author’s name (#roseannamwhite, for example). You can add a picture of the book cover, a picture of you holding the book, a picture of the book cover on your Kindle app, etc.

Get the book for free. Even though an author doesn’t get the revenue from free books, if you review them, they get the word of mouth publicity. Some authors and publishers will give free copies of their book in exchange for an honest review. NetGalley offers digital Advanced Reader Copies of books to reviewers. Revell is a Christian book publisher with a program to offer free books for review. includes some titles for free for its members.

Check books out of the library. Libraries don’t keep books that don’t get checked out. So keeping an author’s book active helps, and reviewing helps even more. Plus libraries are likely to buy more books by authors whose books are frequently checked out.

Request a book be added to the library. Most libraries have ways to do this online.

Suggest your favorite book or author for a book club suggestion.

Follow your favorite author. Publishers and agents want writers to have a “platform” before they risk putting time and money into them. Many a debut author has been turned down, sadly, because of a low platform. I’ve read that the primary following publishers look at is a writer’s email list numbers. That’s why you so see many authors asking you to subscribe to their newsletter. I have to confess I don’t subscribe to many myself just because I don’t have time to read them all and I don’t want lots of extraneous email. Plus I disagree with the thought that an author’s biggest fans and promoters are going to come from their email lists. But that’s how the system stands today. So if you really want to support a particular writer, following them primarily through an email list, but also on Facebook, Twitter, and/or Instagram will help their platform numbers. As a bonus, most writers will offer freebies via extra chapters or resources to email subscribers.

Be on an author’s launch team. The first few days after a book comes out are critical to the book’s success in the eyes of publishers. Authors will ask for volunteers for launch teams to help when the book comes out. Being on a launch team usually involves receiving an advanced copy of the book, reading it before publication, and having a review ready for Amazon within the first day or two after the book is released. Some authors will also ask for posts on Facebook about the book. Some will offer material for blog posts, like interview questions and answers.

You may not be able to do all of these, but helping an author in any of these ways will be much appreciated and will help keep good books coming.

Which of these most resonates with you? Do you have any other ideas for ways to support authors and help promote good books?

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

Miss Buncle’s Book

D. E. Stevenson was a Scottish writer who lived from 1892-1973. Her books were best-sellers in their time and continue to be read widely today.

In Miss Buncle’s Book, Barbara Buncle is a single lady in her thirties. Due to a dwindling income, she decides to write a book to try to earn some extra money. She doesn’t have any imagination, she insists, so she writes what she knows–her neighbors in the town of Silverstream. She changes their names and has them interact in different ways. She sends the manuscript in under the pseudonym John Smith.

The publisher loves her novel, though he can’t quite decide whether it’s written satirically or straightforwardly. Either way, he feels the book will do well.

And he’s right: the book becomes a bestseller.

The only problem is, most of the inhabitants of Silverstream recognize themselves in the fictional town of Copperfield. Some think the book is great fun. Others are offended at the way they are portrayed or at their secrets coming out. Everyone agrees that “John Smith” must live among them—how else would he know them so well? So the hunt is on.

Meanwhile, the book has an effect on its readers. Some recognize their flaws and change. Colonel Weatherhead enjoys the novel but doesn’t see the parallels with his neighbors. He particularly enjoys the colonel in the book who dramatically proposes to his neighbor in the garden. But after finishing the book, Colonel Weatherhead finds himself restless. He’s never been discontent with his life before. But now he seems lonely. And somehow he never noticed before that his neighbor is both nice and attractive. Maybe he should call on her. . . Thus life for some begins to imitate art.

Barbara herself gets lost in her thoughts sometimes as to whether she’s in Silverstream or Copperfield. Her counterpart in the book, Elisabeth Wade, is much more confident. So Barbara begins to act as Elisabeth Wade.

But the discontented readers are worked up to a fever pitch in their search for John Smith and their desire to make him pay for what he has written about them.

Overall this was a fun book with a very satisfactory ending.

Having read much about writing and publishing the last few years, some of the comments on those subjects had me smiling.

Barbara’s publisher: “What fools the public were! They were exactly like sheep…thought Mr. Abbott sleepily…following each other’s lead, neglecting one book and buying another just because other people were buying it, although, for the life of you, you couldn’t see what the one lacked and the other possessed.”

Miss Buncle did impress him because she wasn’t trying to.

Mr. Abbott could have cheated Miss Buncle quite easily if he had wanted to. Fortunately for her, he didn’t want to. It was not his way. You make friends with the goose and treat it decently, and it continues to lay golden eggs.

Miss Buncle after signing her contract: “I’m an author. How very odd.”

Miss Buncle on receiving her first print copy of her book: “She had spent the whole morning reading her book, and marveling at the astounding fact that she had written every word of it, and here it was, actually in print.

“And why to me?” inquired Mr. Abbott with much interest. “I mean why did you send the book to me? Perhaps you had heard from somebody that our firm—­”

“Oh, no,” she exclaimed. “I knew nothing at all about publishers. You were the first on the list—­alphabetically—­that was all.” Mr. Abbott was somewhat taken aback—­on such trifles hang the fates of bestsellers!

Dorcas [the maid] was beginning to get used to living in the house with an author. It was not comfortable, she found, and it was distinctly trying to the temper.

­Authors! said Dorcas to herself with scornful emphasis—­Authors indeed!—­Well, I’ll never read a book again but what I’ll think of the people as has had to put up with the author, I know that.—­Preparing meals, and beating the gong, and going back ’alf an hour later to find nobody’s ever been near them, and the mutton fat frozen solid in the dish, and the soup stone cold—­and them ringing bells at all hours for coffee, “and make it strong Dorcas—­make it strong!” and them writing half the night, and lying in bed half the day with people toiling up to their bedrooms with trays.—­Authors—­poof! said Dorcas to herself.

“Dorcas, I could never give up writing now,” she said, incredulously (nor could she, the vice had got her firmly in its grip, as well ask a morphinomaniac to give up drugs). “You don’t know how exciting it is, Dorcas. It just sweeps you along and you’ve no idea of the time—­”

I listened to the audiobook wonderfully read by Patricia Gallimore. She portrayed all the characters so well, from the sly Mrs. Greensleeves to the morose Mr. Bulmer and the haughty Mrs. Featherstone Hogg and so many more.

This is not a Christian book, so of course I wouldn’t agree with everything the characters do.

This book is the first of three about Miss Buncle. I’m pretty sure I’ll read the next one some time in the future.

All That It Takes

All That It Takes is a sequel to All That Really Matters by Nicole Deese. Val Locklier had been Molly McKenzie’s virtual assistant in the first book. As Molly’s business expanded, she invited Val to move from Alaska to Spokane for a full-time job.

Moving was a big leap for Val. Not only was she extremely cautious by nature, but she had her ten-year-old son, Tucker, to think about. Leaving the support system of her parents was hard. But she felt it was time to spread her wings.

Molly settled Val in the upstairs apartment her brother rents out. He’s out of the country and left Molly in charge. He usually rents to single guys, but Molly doesn’t think he’ll mind renting to Val. They had met a few months before.

As Val settles in, an opportunity for an elite film mentorship unexpectedly opens up. Val wants to expand in that area, but all her insecurities arise to talk her out of taking a chance.

Molly’s brother, Miles, is unhappily on his way home from Mexico. He is the outreach pastor, but the new senior pastor has cut down on outreach and travel–while setting up things like a gourmet coffee bar. Miles grew up with Pastor Curtis, but never felt Curtis adequately filled his pastor-father’s shoes. People seemed so much more earnest in Mexico, focused on the right things. Disillusioned, he thinks maybe he’ll resign his position and seek an opportunity there. He calls his missionary father to keep an eye out for a position.

When Miles arrives home, he finds two surprises. Val and Tucker now live above him. And Pastor Curtis reassigned Miles to the family resource center, a side ministry that is on its last legs.

Miles feels like he is set up to fail, just marking time until Pastor Curtis closes this ministry as well. But he begins to clean things up, gets to know the one or two people still on staff, and learns about what the facility does. Val agrees to take pictures and help him spiff up the web site, but is unexpectedly pulled into the needs of a young woman who visits the center.

As Val and Miles become more attracted, Val is not sure whether her reservations are her old insecurities or a warning sign not to get involved. “Pastor Miles McKenzie was an adventurer by nature, a traveler of exotic places and an extroverted humanitarian who never seemed to sit still for longer than a minute. And while he’d been nothing but kind to Tucker and me during our brief encounters at the fundraising event we attended last fall and again during Molly and Silas’s wedding this March, I was certain that other than his sister, the two of us had little in common” (p. 12). Val is a single mom certainly not looking for adventure.

As Miles seeks his own will for his future, he finds that God might be leading a different way, and he just might have been wrong about a couple of things.

Some of the quotes that stood out to me:

Give me an essay to write anytime. Or a ten-page paper, for that matter, on any number of subjects that I could research and put into my own words. But don’t ask me to think on the spot. Don’t ask me to provide meaningful answers that determine my future without adequate time to prepare (p. 67, Kindle version).

Every story is original not because of the plot . . . but because each storyteller behind the pen or camera or canvas has an original perspective (p. 107).

You might not be able to make sense of God’s plan or timing, but I can promise you that He isn’t confused (p. 126).

In the midst of trials, it’s tempting to confuse release with relief. But make no mistake, they are not interchangeable. One is long-lasting, the other fleeting (p. 126).

Sometimes all that it takes is one person being willing to step out in love for the betterment of another to change the trajectory of an entire life (p. 270).

I’d much rather my life be defined by a thousand little moments of faithfulness than by one big moment of fame (p. 389).

When I started this book, at first I missed the “sparkle” of Molly’s personality from the previous book. She’s in this story, but as a side character. Val and Miles are quieter people. But as I got to know them, I really enjoyed their story.

The Extraordinary Deaths of Mrs. Kip

In The Extraordinary Deaths of Mrs. Kip by Sara Brunsvold, Aidyn Kelley has been a cub reporter for the Kansas City Star for a year. But she feels more than ready for a real assignment, not the research she’s done for other reporters and the few light pieces she’s written. She was an award-winning student journalist at the University of Missouri, after all. So she sends a note to the managing editor, bypassing her supervising editor, laying out the reasons she is qualified and eager for meatier assignments.

Aidyn learns there is a reason not to bypass one’s supervisor. The managing editor wants to fire Aidyn, but her supervisor, Woods, advocates giving her a stern-talking to and low-level assignments until she learns humility and respect for the rules.

The first assignment is to interview and write an obituary for a dying septuagenarian, Mrs. Clara Kip. Aidyn dreads visiting the hospice center and talking to a dying woman. But if she wants to keep her job, she has no choice.

Aidyn finds more than she bargained for in Mrs. Kip. But Mrs. Kip isn’t going to unfold her story all at once. She wants Aidyn to make up some extraordinary deaths for her, and for every one, she’ll be allowed to ask Mrs. Kip three questions.

I don’t want to say too much more about the plot, because discovering Mrs. Kip’s personality and background along with Aidyn is half the pleasure of reading this book. I had thought, at first glance, that the story line would be pretty predictable. But the author throws in lots of surprises.

Alongside Aidyn’s journey, Mrs. Kip is dealing with the fact that she is dying, having to accept the weakening of her body and her confinement to the hospice center. Even so, she feels God has a couple more things He wants her to do before she runs out of steam.

Some of the quotes that stood out to me:

She could only trust that the Lord was up to something. Because he usually was (p. 2).

Clara gazed at the sliding glass doors of Sacred Promise. Such an odd feeling to know that once she walked in, she would not walk out. She clung to the belief the Lord had something for her here, so she shuffled forward. (p. 12.).

“I did nothing amazing, Miss Kelley,” she insisted. “Despite what you’ve been told. I simply tried to love people as best I could for as long as I was privileged to be with them. We don’t stay long in each other’s lives—that’s the crux of our humanness. You have to be the friend people need while they are there with you, because it’s the only chance you’ll get.” (p. 198).

The Lord will give you all the words you need. It’s not about whether they sound pretty. It’s about what he will do with them (p. 200).

This was a touching and encouraging story in many ways.I enjoyed both Aidyn’s and Mrs. Kip’s journeys.

Circle of Spies

Circle of Spies is the third of Roseanna M. White’s Culper Spy Ring, a real life spy ring active during the Revolutionary War (Ring of Secrets was the first and Whispers from the Shadows was second). Although we don’t know that the ring continued, Roseanna said in the last book that someone in the CIA said it was possible. So Roseanna imagined how the spy ring could have worked during the War of 1812 in the second book, and now in the Civil War.

Marietta Hughes is an unlikely heroine at first. She has lived mostly for her own will and pleasure, not walking with the God of her parents. She married Lucien Hughes, wealthy president of a railroad company. But Lucien had been killed. Marietta had an understanding with his brother, Devereaux, that they would marry as soon as was proper after her period of mourning.

But then Marietta’s grandfather, Thaddeus Lane, informs her that the Hughes family is not staunchly Unionist, as they proclaim. Not only are they Confederate, but Devereaux is the head of a secret fifth column bent on killing Lincoln and seizing power.

As if that wasn’t enough to turn Marietta’s world upside down, Lane tells her that their family has been involved as a ring of spies since the Revolutionary War. Then he tells her that a Pinkerton man, Slade Osborne, is on his way to infiltrate the secret society to try to find proof that will lead to their arrests. Marietta’s job is to distract Devereaux as much as possible to facilitate Osborne’s investigation.

Thus begins a game of cat-and-mouse. Osborne is not altogether certain he can trust Marietta at first. Marietta is revolted at what she has learned about the Hughes family, but must keep pretending she is in love with Devereaux.

I ached with Marietta as she came to face what she had become and wondered if God could forgive her. Sometimes the realization of the magnitude of one’s sin breaks open to them more fully after they believe. Osborne, too, has a broken background, as well as complications from a twin brother whose values were the opposite of his.

By the end of this book, I wanted to put everything else aside to keep reading what happened. There were some quite exciting twists and turns!

I did disagree with one point, though, when a character says that God doesn’t speak for or against slavery. He does: I wrote once about the Bible and Slavery. But I did like what the character had to say about trying to reconcile the views of different Christians on the issue: “At last we realized we didn’t have to, because God so very rarely tells us what society should do—rather, He tells us how we, as believers, should behave in whatever society to which we belong” (p. 226).

In-between this book and the previous one was a little novella titled A Hero’s Promise. Julienne Lane has been helping a friend, Freeda, hide runaway slaves and get them to safety. Julienne is unsure whether to let her fiance, Jack Arnaud, in on the situation.

Meanwhile, Jack has postponed their wedding twice already but might have to do so again. A mentally unbalanced man is being set up by enemies to assassinate President Jackson, and the Culpers must intervene.

The assassination attempt was based on a true event.

I enjoyed these forays in early American history and spycraft. But even more, I enjoyed the journeys of faith Roseanna takes her characters through.

Murder Your Darlings

Murder Your Darlings is not a detective mystery or true crime drama.

Murder Your Darlings is writing advice. You see it a lot in writing circles these days, but it originally came from Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, a British author and professor (known as Q, not to be confused with the WWII spy-gadget-maker). This phrase was first delivered in a lecture to his students in 1914 which was later published. In context, he said, “Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it—whole-heartedly—and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings” (p. 17).

Roy Peter Clark interprets Q’s advice thus: “Ask yourself, ‘Am I including this because it provides the reader with a memorable and delightful piece of evidence to prove the point of my text? Or is it beside the point even though it reveals what a good wordsmith I am?'” (p. 21).

In other words, the phrase, sentence, or paragraph that’s the most precious to you, but doesn’t really add anything to your thesis, must go. Clark opines that you don’t have to “commit verbicide on the words you love the most” (p. 17). You can save them in a file for another day.

Clark, known as “America’s writing coach,” shares advice from over 50 other writing sources in Murder Your Darlings: And Other Gentle Writing Advice from Aristotle to Zinsser. Clarks says, “I am not trying to steal their thunder. I am trying, instead, to amplify it, to pay back my debt to the authors who shaped my craft” (p. 8).

Some of these books are filled with writing advice, and Clark pulls out a lesson or two to discuss. “Most of what you will read here is why I appreciate them, what I or others have learned from them, and what I think you, the reader, can take away and apply to your own work” (p. 23).

Clark begins each chapter with a “toolbox,” a brief summary of the particular principle or writing instruction he’s going to discuss. Then he’ll give a little background about the work he is drawing from, the author, illustrations of the writing advice under consideration, whether he agrees or disagrees and to what extent. He ends each chapter with a short list of “Lessons” summarizing the main points of the chapter.

Clark’s book is quite readable. The Lessons at the end are particularly helpful to remind oneself of the salient tips from a chapter. Some of the writers he quotes from are well-known, others are not.

As you can imagine, I have multitudes of passages highlighted from the book. Here are a few:

It turns out that the internet is not an information superhighway. It is, instead, a polluted ocean with buried treasure sitting here and there on the bottom. Neutralize the poison of the propagandists, hackers, conspiracy theorists, trolls, and bullies by devoting your online efforts to the public good (p. 83).

Early writing is not sculpture, but clay, the stuff in which you will find the better work (p. 105).

An implied social contract exists between the reader and an author of nonfiction and that the contract reads, “Please believe me, my memory of events may be flawed, but none of this was intentionally made up.” If the author decides to veer from this standard, say, by using composite characters, the author must be transparent, revealing the strategies before the story begins, not in a footnote at the end (p. 222).

Donald Murray . . . advised writers to use “Shorter words, shorter sentences, shorter paragraphs at the points of greatest complexity” (p. 231).

Another Roman author, Horace, steps into the light with a sense of mission that is both public and aesthetic, arguing that the purpose of great literature is to delight and instruct or, on the good days, to do both! (p. 237).

This is a secular book, and there are words I wouldn’t use and situations and philosophies I wouldn’t agree with. But I found it fairly easy to sidestep those things just to glean the writing advice.

Clark’s book will help you hone your craft by sharing wisdom with you from sources that you might not have found yet. And the sources he quotes might inspire you to look up the authors’ original works.

Whispers from the Shadows

Whispers from the Shadows is the second novel in Roseanna M. White’s Culper Spy Ring series.

The story opens some 35 years after the Revolutionary War. England and the United States are once again battling each other, this time in the War of 1812.

So Gwyneth Fairchild can’t understand why her father is sending her away from England to America, to his old friends, the Lanes. How can crossing a sea filled with pirates and combatants be safer than England?

But her father is insistent. As they’ve said their good-byes, Gwyneth turns to the carriage and her guardians. But she runs back to ask her father one last thing—only to witness his murder. His last whisper as he sees her is, “Run.”

So Gwyneth runs. On the two-month long voyage, she can’t sleep more than two hours at a time. Seasickness, insomnia, and sorrow reduce her health and well-being to frightening levels. For some reason, she does not tell her guardians what happened.

When their vessel is overtaken by American privateers, they are delivered to Thaddeus Lane in Baltimore, the son of Winter and Bennet. Thankfully Thad’s parents are there when Gwyneth arrives.

Gwyneth slowly recovers from her ordeal, but still tells no one what happened to her father. Everyone suspects that her state is due to more than severe seasickness. Gwyneth takes refuge in drawing, and somehow Thad discerns that she has faced some kind of severe trauma.

On the surface, Thad is a merchant who knows almost everyone in Baltimore. Secretly, he’s a key member of the revived Culper Ring.

As Gwyneth and Thad discover each other’s secrets, the British invasion increases. In the midst of it all, Gwyneth can’t help but wonder if her father’s murderer will come after her, too.

I loved this book on so many levels. It was fun that Winter and Bennet from the first book were such a big part of this one as well. I enjoyed Gwyneth and Thad, their personalities and journey and especially Gwyneth’s growth. I loved Thad’s kind but non-nonsense cook, Rosie, who was a niece of Freeman from the first book.

There was also so much edge-of-your-seat intrigue.

I don’t know if I have ever read another book set during the War of 1812. So many write WWII novels, which is fine—I loved Roseanna’s books set then. But it’s nice to learn about other eras as well.

Wikipedia only details the Culper Ring activity through the Revolutionary War. Roseanna shared in her afterword of the first book that a CIA member said in an interview that “The Culper Ring may or may not still exist.” It’s fun it imagine that they continued on behind the scenes for so many years.

The next novel is set during the Civil War, and one more novella comes before. I am looking forward to them.