Joy: A Godly Woman’s Adornment

Once when a friend and I were heading toward the same door at church, she called our in her usual cheery voice, “Good morning, Barbara! How are you?”

I replied, “Doing okay. How about you?”

Just okay?” She sounded really dismayed that I wasn’t more than okay.

Well—to my thinking, okay was pretty good. Nothing hurt, nothing was wrong. I’m not an effusive person, so I wouldn’t generally respond in a really excited way unless something spectacular was happening.

For a while, I wondered if there was something wrong with me that I wasn’t more like my friend. In fact, the thought of always being so enthusiastic sounded exhausting to me. I finally attributed our responses to our very different personalities.

Still, I sometimes wondered if joy was always a bubbling brook, or if it was sometimes a steady undercurrent.

Those thoughts, and the fact that I had read and enjoyed some of Lydia Brownback’s other writings, encouraged me to get her book Joy: A Godly Woman’s Adornment.

This book is one in a series of “On the Go Devotionals.” Each entry is short, two to three pages in my Kindle app. There are forty-two devotions which concentrate on a different Bible verse about joy.

While we might go through times of sorrow and trial, gloominess and moodiness usually come from “looking at what we lack rather than all we have” (p. 9).

Even those of us going through a season of darkness can pursue joy, trusting that God designed us for it. Sooner or later, in Christ, we will find it. The trick for some of us is to change our self-oriented, worldly focus to Christ, and for others it is to take fresh hold of God’s promises that no matter how dark life seems, he is going to push you out into the light. . .

Our moodiness dishonors God and robs us of the happiness that lies right at our fingertips. If we want to change—to live with perpetual joy—we must pursue it, and in Christ we are guaranteed to find it. (p. 10).

In the very first entry, Lydia declares, “Self-surrender leads to joy” (p. 15). That doesn’t sound very joyful, does it? We think we’d be pretty happy if everything went our way.

We cannot imagine how we will survive without that certain relationship or plan. It feels like death. That’s because it is death. It’s the losing of our lives that Jesus was talking about [in Matthew 10:39: “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it”].

When we are facing the death of self, the costliness of discipleship, we are likely to pull back unless we remember the promise we have been given about how it will all turn out. The man in Jesus’ parable wound up owning the field. And Jesus said that those who lose their lives—all the earthly things they lean on for happiness and security—will find what they have been looking for all along. God will see to that (pp. 15-16).

I have many more quotes marked than I can share, but here are some that especially stood out to me:

Each trial is a gift. It’s a chance to know God’s strength and supernatural joy and to show that following him is worth everything (p. 24).

It is impossible to keep an eye out for God’s blessings while harboring a complaining spirit (p. 28).

We will never know lasting joy in the Lord if we seek to understand him by what goes on in the world or by our circumstances. The only way to joy is to interpret our circumstances by God’s Word rather than to judge God by our circumstances (p. 40).

Joy is the outworking of worship (p. 43).

We don’t need ten tips to a better spiritual life. What we need is to put God out front in our thoughts, priorities, time, and activities. If we allow his Word to govern us, we will see that he delights to show us “the path of life” and the path for our life (p. 45).

The joy promised in Scripture is different from the joy of personal expectation, our hope of some good thing we want God to do in our lives. While it is natural to hope for a good outcome in our difficulties and to trust God for it, we set ourselves up for a spiritual crisis if we expect that things will work out as we think they should (p. 60).

Joyful feelings are also not a yardstick to be used to determine how well we are doing spiritually. Feelings of closeness to the Lord are a wonderful blessing, but they are not an indicator of God’s acceptance of us. Christ is the only indicator. If we blur the distinction, we are going to worry about our spiritual standing whenever the good feelings aren’t present (p. 60).

God wills that we live in constant expectation of his appearing. We are to look for him in his Word, in his providences in our daily lives, in our sorrows, in our needs, and in our failures. He comes to us in Christ in all these things, but we miss him because we aren’t looking for him (p. 71).

The Holy Spirit doesn’t give us more love or more faithfulness or more joy. He gives us Christ, and as he does, joy and all the rest are produced within us as the fruit of that union (p. 73).

The joy of trials is rarely found in the circumstances of our difficulties. Rather, it is found when we stop fighting against what God is doing and seek his purposes and priorities, which always without exception are designed for our welfare. Whatever the difficulty—even one brought about by our sin—we can leave the outcome in God’s hands (p. 76).

How can we help what we feel? We just can’t muster up joyful feelings; that’s true. But we can rejoice, which sooner or later leads to joyful feelings. Rejoicing is not a feeling. It is joy in action. It is the humble willingness to offer God praise and thanks in all things, regardless of how we feel at the moment (p. 98).

We can experience joy in the Lord despite our circumstances. After reading this book, my thoughts ran to Psalm 43:3-5, a passage Lydia didn’t use:

Send out your light and your truth;
    let them lead me;
let them bring me to your holy hill
    and to your dwelling!
T
hen I will go to the altar of God,

    to God my exceeding joy,
and I will praise you with the lyre,
    O God, my God.

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
    and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
    my salvation and my God.

That passage in turn reminded me of this song, based on this passage. The words and story behind the song are here.

Mixed Emotions About a Book

I’ve been conflicted about whether I should even mention a book I recently listened to. But I finally decided that others might appreciate being forewarned, as I wish I had been.

I have not watched the Call the Midwife series on PBS. I like period pieces, but I had the impression this would be something like a “birth story of the week.” Each birth is its own miracle—or tragedy if things go wrong. But I didn’t necessarily want to watch a show about births in the 1950s.

But when I saw the audiobook by the same name was in a “two books for one credit” sale for Audible, I decided to check it out.

As it turns out, the book is a memoir about the life of a midwife in the 1950s in London’s East End, based on Jennifer Worth’s experiences.

Jenny Lee, as she is known in the book, became a nurse and then a midwife in the 1950s. She worked with other midwives out of a convent though they were not Catholic. The East End of London was a poor area, with most of the men working at the docks. Though crime was common, the midwives were respected and untouched though they rode their bikes alone day and night.

In past millennia, women were helped in giving birth by neighbors or a woman who was a midwife by means of experience gained in helping with deliveries and not through formal training. Normally, such help was fine, unless there was a problem.

Infant and mothers’ deaths finally led to midwifery becoming more of a science. Births still took place at home most of the time. But midwives in the 1950s had more training and tools to handle problem situations.

Though all of Jenny’s clients were poor, they varied greatly. Some homes were cheerful and neat though bare; others were in terrible condition.

As you might expect with a book like this, a number of birth stories are shared, both the happy and the tragic ones. Jenny shares what happened in graphic clinical detail, so if such things make you squeamish, you might not enjoy this book. Or you might skip through portions.

But the book is not all birth stories. Jenny tells about the different nuns at the convent, one of whom was brilliant but whose mind was failing. She tells about some of her coworkers and friends.

In one lengthy section, Jenny tells of a teenager named Mary who ran away from an abusive stepfather in Ireland and ended up roaming the streets of London. Mary was fourteen and evidently either didn’t know about places like the YWCA, where she could find temporary shelter, or didn’t know how to find them.

One day while Mary was looking longingly in a bakery window, a handsome young man saw her and offered to buy her breakfast. He was very kind, and soon Mary’s story came out. The man told Mary his uncle owned a cafe where they had “the best entertainment in London.” Perhaps his uncle would give her a job running the coffee machine.

In her naivete, Mary thought this man was romantically interested in her. She went with him to his uncle’s cafe—which turned out to be a brothel.

I don’t have a problem with this story being part of the book, because these kinds of things happened—and still do today. Young people, particularly runaways or orphans who have no one to call for help, are either lured with promise of food and shelter or outright kidnapped. Then they are trapped in a system they can’t get out of.

What I did object to, however, was a graphic description of the “show” one of the dancers put on at the brothel. I was navigating across busy lanes of traffic when this part of the story came on the audiobook, so I couldn’t stop and fast forward. I didn’t have the presence of mind while watching several directions for oncoming cars to just turn the sound off.

The dancer’s act wasn’t told in an approving or tantalizing manner. It was meant to be shocking and disgusting (and it was). But it wasn’t needed. We already had a good idea what kind of place Mary was being taken to. Even if Worth felt the need to share what went on, she didn’t have to tell as much as she did as graphically as she did. I regret having those images planted in my mind.

I almost laid the book aside at that point. But then I figured that scene was probably the worst, and the rest would be better. And that turned out to be the case.

There were a few other smaller problems–a few bad words, a couple of bawdy crude references, mention of a mixed group swimming nude.

Jennifer wrote the book some fifty years after her experiences when she read an article by Terri Coates wishing that some midwife would “do for midwifery what James Herriot did for vets.” I think Jennifer could have achieved what Herriot did, but I think she missed the mark by including scenes like the one I mentioned. What was otherwise a great book was marred by these negatives.

But Jennifer’s book became a bestseller when it was reissued in 2007 after having been originally published in 2002. She wrote three more, and the Call the Midwife series began in 2012.

I listened to the audiobook narrated by Nicola Barber. The narrator did a great job with the dialects. But she spoke almost in a whisper much of the time, making it hard to hear.

Worthy of Legend

Worthy of Legend is the third installment in Roseanna M. White’s Secrets of the Isles trilogy. The first was The Nature of a Lady; the second was To Treasure an Heiress.

The Secrets of the Isles involves two different groups in search of legendary pirate treasure. One loves “the hunt” and the thrill of archeological finds. The other wants the fame and fortune of such discoveries and employs underhanded means in the race to discover treasure.

Lady Emily Scofield is good friends with the people in the first group. But her father and brother are the primary instigators in the bad group.

Emily has lived her entire life in the background of her brother, Nigel. Nigel was her father’s favorite, and his misdeeds were excused away. Emily is expected to desert her friends and show loyalty to her family. But she can’t.

Instead of writing off her family completely, though, she tries to show love to them. Her friends fear she’ll be taken advantage of again.

Bram Sinclair, Earl of Telford, is the brother of the heroine in the first book. He has had an interest in the King Arthur legends since childhood. As he and his friends piece together clues to the artifact that both groups are pursuing, he realizes what they are looking for might be related to King Arthur. They try to keep this information secret from the other group.

As Bram and Emily’s group works together, Bram is concerned for Emily. He recognizes her conflict with her family and her lack of confidence and self-esteem from having been dismissed and overlooked for so many years. As he tries to encourage her, he discovers a true treasure in her character and heart.

A secondary plot line involves Emily’s maid, Thomasina, who has, unknown to Emily, been violated by Nigel. When a young man from the islands becomes interested in Tommie, she feels he would not be if he knew what had happened to her.

A couple of my favorite quotes from the book:

And if she lost everything all over again . . . well then, she’d just have to trust that the Lord could do more with her shattered than He could with her as she was now, barely holding together. That He meant her to be a mosaic instead of a whole.

Your worth, Thomasina, rests on no one else’s opinion of you. It doesn’t rest even on you. It rests in the Lord. He sees your heart, your soul. And that is all the approval any of us needs.

Bram and Emily were background characters in the previous books, and I enjoyed getting to know them better. I also loved the humorous bantering between Bram and his friend, Sheridan.

I especially liked the fact that these books were in a place I had never heard of, the Isles of Scilly. Now I feel I know the isles and the people on them. And the time frame of the early 1900s isn’t one we see often in historical fiction.

I enjoyed these stories very much and am going to miss these characters.

Dracula

I’ve never been much into horror or “monster” stories, except for an afternoon TV program that was popular when I was a teenager (what is it with teens and vampires?)

But last spring, my oldest son told me about Dracula Daily. Dracula by Bram Stoker is epistolary novel, made up of dated notes, letters, telegrams, and journal entries. Dracula Daily sent out excerpts from the book on the dates of the letters, etc., so the reader got them in “real time.” There would be weeks with nothing, but then there would be several journal entries on one day when something major was happening.

I decided it might be fun to experience the novel that way, so I signed up. I didn’t think to mention it in my end-of-month posts where I listed my current reading, I guess because it wasn’t in my usual reading format.

The story begins with Jonathan Harker, a new solicitor, traveling from England to Transylvania with some paperwork for a Count Dracula, who has just bought property in England. After some weird and frightening occurrences, Jonathan finally makes it to Dracula’s castle. The Count seems nice enough, but the remoteness of the castle, the wildness of the land, the howling of wolves nearby, all seem spooky.

Over several days Jonathan notices weird things about the Count himself. He never eats. He sleeps during the day and is awake at night. He has very sharp, canine-like teeth.

Things just keep getting weirder and more horrible. And then Jonathan discovers he is imprisoned. When he finally escapes, he lands in a mental asylum for a time.

Meanwhile, back in England, Jonathan’s fiance, Mina, wonders why she has not heard from him. Mina travels to be with her lifelong friend, Lucy Westerna, whose mother is seriously ill. Lucy receives three proposals of marriage in one day, but she loves one man: Arthur Godalming.

But after a while, Lucy begins sleepwalking, and then exhibiting strange symptoms, and then becomes anemic.

Jonathan makes it home, and he and Mina get married. He doesn’t tell her all that has happened to him, but he writes it down. He tells Mina where it is and invites her to read if it she wants, but she decides not to—yet. And then one day while Jonathan and Mina are in town, Jonathan sees Dracula.

Meanwhile, Dr. John Seward, one of Lucy’s rejected suitors, is called to check on her. He calls in his friend, Van Helsing, who suspects he knows what Lucy’s problem is. He orders a blood transfusion and other measures, but doesn’t say why or what he’s thinking. Things might have gone better if he had, because people who didn’t understand accidentally sabotaged his efforts. But then, he probably would not have been believed.

Finally Van Helsing does tell the others about the Count, and they all team up together to find and destroy him.

As it happens, the Literary Life Podcast started doing a series on Dracula on Oct. 31 (appropriately). I’ve only listened to the introductory episode so far, but it was pretty fascinating and enlightening. According to those doing this podcast, in Victorian times (when Stoker wrote Dracula), monsters in stories represented the devil. (Dracula, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and The Picture of Dorian Gray were all written within ten years of each other). Stoker even chose the name Dracula because he thought it meant devil. These were classic good vs. evil stories in which evil must be defeated.

The podcasters say it wasn’t until after Freud that people began to sympathize with the monster, wondering what in his background made him like he was, seeing him as the victim instead of the victimizer. And in our day, people try to infuse modern sensibilities into old stories. But I agree with the podcasters that to truly understand what writer meant, we have to understand the context and times in which he or she wrote.

They also share some interesting tidbits that I would never have picked up on my own. For instance, Jonathan is traveling into Transylvania on the eve of St. George Day. That evening was something like our Halloween, and in those times, superstitious folks thought evil creatures were free to roam the earth that one night.

Then the meticulous record keeping later on is supposedly a nod to the Enlightenment–that even though this is a fantastic tale, they’re going to handle it in a very scientific manner. Yet there’s also a nod to Shakespeare’s quote in Hamlet: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy”–there are things that enlightened science and technology can’t explain or handle.

The podcasters (one of whom is a literature teacher) also said that Stoker was not the first to write a vampire story, but he established some of the tropes of vampire lore that still hold today. Yet the modern vampire story is very different from his. They said the idea of the mysterious sensual stranger vampire came from a story written by Lord Byron, which he wrote when he hosted a party in which the participants were challenged to write a scary story. Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein then. Byron left his story unfinished, but his friend and doctor, John Polidori, wrote a similar one based on Byron. Byron was angry with him and terminated him, and then Polidori published his novel in revenge (You can read more about that here).

I thought Dracula was very well-written. It was both suspenseful and scary, yet with a thread of hope throughout.

Some of my favorite quotes from the book:

We learn from failure, not from success!

How good and thoughtful he is; the world seems full of good men—even if there are monsters in it.

Loneliness will sit over our roofs with brooding wings.

Though sympathy alone can’t alter facts, it can help to make them more bearable.

She is one of God’s women, fashioned by His own hand to show us men and other women that there is a heaven where we can enter, and that its light can be here on earth. So true, so sweet, so noble, so little an egoist—and that, let me tell you, is much in this age, so sceptical and selfish.

It is in trouble and trial that our faith is tested—that we must keep on trusting; and that God will aid us up to the end.

We believe that God is with us through all this blackness, and these many dark hours. We shall follow him; and we shall not flinch.

I’m looking forward to learning more from the Literary Life Podcast.

The text of Dracula is available at Project Gutenberg. Dracula Daily also has their missives in the archives.

I’m counting this book for the Mystery/Crime/Detective category of the Back to the Classics Challenge. Even though it’s both a horror and a Gothic novel, I think it fits as a mystery because who the Count is and what’s going on with him and then with Lucy, are all mysteries to the other characters. The Count does commit crimes. And then the measures to find him all fit with a detective story.

Bringing Maggie Home

In Bringing Maggie Home by Kim Vogel Sawyer, Hazel DeFord was ten years old when her mother asked her to take her three-year-old sister, Maggie, to the blackberry thicket to pick berries for a cobbler. Hazel set Maggie down for just a moment while she chased a snake away from a baby bunnies’ nest. When Hazel came back, Maggie was gone. None of the volunteers could find a trace of Maggie besides her hair ribbon, shoe, and favorite doll.

Hazel felt incredibly guilty for leaving Maggie unguarded, especially while witnessing the downward spiral Maggie’s disappearance caused in her family. She resolved to be as good as possible so as not to cause them any more trouble.

When Hazel grew up and had her own family, she never told her daughter, Diane, about Maggie. She felt Diane would never be secure with her if she felt she couldn’t trust Hazel to take care of her.

But Diane resented and rebelled against Hazel’s perfectionism and over-protectiveness. Hazel’s concerns came across as controlling to Diane.

But Diane’s daughter, Meghan, loves her grandmother and spends several weeks with her every summer. Now grown and a cold-case detective, Meghan has survived a car crash with a severely broken ankle. She decides to go to her grandmother’s to recuperate and work on some photo albums for Hazel’s upcoming 80th birthday.

Jealous, Diane, decides to come, too, without being invited or letting anyone know. Meghan is wearied playing peacemaker between the two women.

Then an accidental discovery of a shoe box of old photos leads Hazel to tell her daughter and granddaughter the truth.

Meghan and her partner at work, Sean, decide to see if they can uncover any information about Maggie’s disappearance. With the case being 70 years older, older than any case cracked by their agency, solving it is a long shot. But they resolve to try.

I loved this book. I wasn’t sure I would at first, because Hazel’s and Diane’s bickering made me tense. Then I realized the problem was mainly Diane. Hazel’s issues were easier to understand and sympathize with. And Diane’s responses were understandable to an extent. But her bitterness and selfishness got to be a bit much. Still, I felt things would turn a corner at some point, so I persevered. I’m glad I did.

The point of view shifts from each of the women at different times in their lives, and occasionally to Sean’s viewpoint as well. I didn’t feel that the changing viewpoints, timelines, or locations were hard to keep up with at all.

I’ve often said that I appreciate Christian fiction that is unapologetically Christian. I know sometimes the message needs to be subtle, but sometimes subtlety turns into vagueness. It’s good to see an author getting down to the spiritual needs in a story without becoming preachy or beating people over the head with truth. I thought Kim did a great job both with the story and the spiritual issues underneath them.

I didn’t know, when I started this book, that it had a sequel: Unveiling the Past. I will probably be reading or listening to that some time soon.

I listened to the audiobook, nicely read by Barbara McCulloh. Unfortunately, the audiobook didn’t contain any back matter, so I am not sure whether any of the story was based on anything in real life.

Christmas Reading Challenges

I always enjoy reading books about or set during Christmas in December. There are a couple of reading challenges where we can share about the Christmas books we’ve read.

I’ve participated in the Literary Christmas Challenge hosted by Tarissa at In the Bookcase for a number of years. Details about this year’s challenge, which runs from now til Dec. 31, are here.

A new challenge to me is the Ho-Ho-Ho Readathon hosted by Caffeinated Reviewer. The challenge details are here. There will be prizes! 🙂 This one runs just from November 18-30—maybe to get us in the right spirit for Christmas?

I usually try to wait til Thanksgiving to read Christmas books, but I may start earlier this year.

I like to read some kind of Christmas or Advent devotional book in December, and Tim Challies shared a good list of some I don’t have. But I decided to try Hannah Anderson’s Heaven and Nature Sings: 25 Advent Reflections to Bring Joy to the World.

I’ve collected most of these on Kindle sales over the last few years. I don’t know how many I’ll get to, but some are novellas or novella collections.

Hope for Christmas: A Small Town Christmas Romance Novella by Malissa Chapin

It’s a Wonderful Christmas: Classics Reimagined by Julie Cantrell, Lynne Gentry, Allison Pittman, Kelli Stuart, Janyre Tromp

Midnight, Christmas Eve by Andy Clapp

Christmas in Mistletoe Square
by Cara Putman, Teresa Tysinger, Pepper Basham, Janine Rosche

Magnolia Mistletoe: An Edisto Christmas Novella by Lindsey P. Brackett

A Goose Creek Christmas by Virginia Smith

The 20th Christmas by Andrea Rodgers

A Christmas Snow by Jim Stovall

A Christmas Bride by Melanie Dobson

This one is a free audiobook for Audible subscribers. I’ve not heard of the author, but the reviewers say it’s sweet and clean.

Snowed In for Christmas by Cami Checketts

I might also listen again to The Christmas Hirelings by Mary Elizabeth Braddon. I really enjoyed this audiobook a few years ago, plus I like Victorian-ish stories at Christmas, too.

I have a couple of Christmas story collections in print books: The Best of Christmas in My Heart by Joe Wheeler and Stories to Read at Christmas by Elsie Singmaster. I might try to read one or both of those.

Three Fifty-Seven

I had never heard of Hank Stewart or Kendra Norman-Bellamy, but their book, Three Fifty-Seven: Timing Is Everything was free for Audible subscribers.I really liked the premise, so I decided to give it a try.

Ms. Essie is an elderly lady who lives alone. Her husband died very young, but she never wanted to remarry. The family for whom she acted as caregiver in their last days left her their home and enough income to be comfortable.

As Ms. Essie sits on her porch and knits, she can’t help but be aware of some of her neighbors’ problems. The single mother yells a lot, and her teenage son shows disrespect and stays out past curfew. A regular jogger from down the street seems to be running from something rather than just running for her health. Angel, her best friend’s granddaughter, is married and expecting her first child. All is well with Angel and her husband until an accident seems to have harmed the baby.

Ms. Essie decides to be as helpful and available as possible. When her neighbors are outside, she invites them in for lemonade and peach cobbler. She offers a listening ear, prayer, and a bit of advice. As their problems intensify, so do her prayers.

As the subtitle indicates, time is a factor in the book. Each chapter starts with the time of day.

We all need a Ms. Essie in our lives. Though I didn’t like the ending, I loved the story and the truth that God can work through us if we’re available to Him.

My only minor complaint about Essie is that the authors may have made her a little too special in the sense of knowing just what to say or how to get people to share their troubles. One character says Essie “had a direct line to heaven, and God told her things He told no one else.” I wish that had been dialed back a bit and she were more ordinary–that would be more encouragement to those who don’t reach out because they don’t know what to do or say.

Unfortunately, for me a major flaw was bedroom scenes or descriptions that went too far. I don’t want or need to know the details. For that reason, I probably wouldn’t look into a book by these authors again. And that’s really a shame, because otherwise this was a great book.

A Daily Rate

The second free Grace Livingston Hill audiobook I mentioned yesterday was titled A Daily Rate.

Celia Murray lives in a Philadelphia boarding house. She and the other residents put up with awful food and shabby surroundings. She’s concerned about one of the younger men who is hanging out with the wrong crowd in the evenings. A couple of the young women seem giggly and frivolous and into nothing more than dating and novels. Celia wishes she could fix up the place and make it more home-like. Perhaps then some of the others would stay in for more wholesome activities.

Celia would also love to bring her Aunt Hannah to live with her. Aunt Hannah had raised Celia when her parents died. Then Hannah had taken in some other nieces ad nephews as well, but they didn’t seem to appreciate her efforts as much. Due to reduced circumstances, Hannah now lives with another niece who treats her as an unpaid servant and baby-sitter.

When Celia comes into an unexpected small inheritance at the same time her landlady has to take a leave due to medical problems, Celia is able to make both dreams come true. She brings Aunt Hannah to help her “mission of making one bright little clean home spot for a few people who had hitherto been in discomfort.” They start small with a few touches here and there, but the biggest change is in providing nourishing food in a clean and attractive setting.

Though Celia has good intentions, she comes across as somewhat judgmental. Plus she is impatient. When her efforts appear to fail, she wants to give up. But Hannah gently helps her gain the right perspective.

One level of the plot has to do with the transformation of the home and boarders, but another level focuses on Celia’s maturing.

A Daily Rate was one of Hill’s earliest novels, written in 1900. The Search, mentioned yesterday, was written 19 years later. Like any author, Hill’s growth as a writer can be seen in her later book. But this one was good as well. It was fun in both books to hear the slang of the day and to get picture of life in that era.

I especially appreciated the emphasis in A Daily Rate on how homemaking can be a ministry to a home’s inhabitants. Even though that’s my chosen profession, I can still get caught up in all the “stuff” that has to be done and have not the best attitude about it. It helps to be reminded that the “stuff” of housekeeping isn’t an end in itself.

The Kindle version of this book is available for 99 cents at the time of this writing.

The Search by Grace Livingston Hill

Somehow I never read Grace Livingston Hill, even though her books were very popular with young women when I was in my teens and twenties. I thought of them as clean, sweet romance novels. Though most fiction will include romance, no matter the genre, I prefer novels with more to them.

But recently I finished my audiobook and wouldn’t receive a new credit for my next book til the end of the month. I scrolled through Audible’s selections that are included free with membership. I found a couple of Hill’s books there, so decided to give them a try.

The first was titled The Search. Ruth Macdonald is a society girl whose life consists of parties and outings with friends. When WWI starts, Ruth helps in ways that ladies of her class did: making bandages, knitting socks and sweaters for soldiers. etc. Some of her male friends became officers. But the magnitude and meaning of the war didn’t really sink in until she accidentally came upon a group of people seeing draftees off. There Ruth saw an old classmate, John Cameron, who was not of her “set,” but who had done her a kindness when they were children. Ruth is struck by his tender good-bye to his weeping mother and his brave, resolute face. Their eyes met for a brief moment.

Ruth decides to write to John as a friend to tell him she still remembered what he did for her so long ago and to express her appreciation for his part as a soldier. She writes that she hadn’t really thought of the sacrifice young men were making until she saw him.

John is touched by Ruth’s letter, and they begin corresponding regularly. When John gets leave to come home, he asks to visit Ruth.

But then he learns that an old enemy plans to marry Ruth. Could Ruth really love someone like that?

Then this old enemy becomes an officer in John’s company and makes his life miserable.

As John knows he must be prepared for death when his company leaves for France, he tries to search for God. His home minister is not much help. But someone he meets on base gives him a New Testament, and various contacts along the way shed light. But somehow he still doesn’t comprehend.

He tells Ruth about his search, and she realizes that, even though she has been in church all her life and been a “good” girl, she doesn’t really know God either. She embarks on a search of her own.

Hill’s style and tone seemed very similar to Louisa May Alcott and D. E. Stevenson, though Hill is more overtly Christian. Hill’s lifetime was between the other two ladies, overlapping them each by a few decades.

I enjoyed the story quite a lot and wished I had read them in my younger years.

A Kindle version of the book is currently available for 99 cents.

The Italian Ballerina

The Italian Ballerina by Kristy Cambron is one of those books that makes you want to put everything aside and just read.

Delaney Coleman has just returned home to help her parents after the death of her grandfather. She learns that they’ve received notices from a family in Italy saying they have a claim to something of her grandfather’s. Delaney’s mom has ignored the messages, but Delaney looks into the claim.

She speaks to Matteo, who says that Delaney’s grandfather owned a small ivory suitcase printed with cherries on the outside. He claims that the suitcase belongs to his grandmother, and she’d like to have it back. His family offers to fly Delaney and the suitcase to Rome.

Intrigued and confused, and as a writer “between pens,” as she puts it, Delaney decides to accept the offer. In Rome, Delaney meets Calla, Matteo’s grandmother. Calla can’t speak English, but she gazes at Delaney and says, “Salvatore.” Delaney and Matteo work together to learn the connection between their grandparents.

Scenes switch back to Delaney’s grandfather’s time before and during WWII. Court Coleman had gotten himself into trouble and pushed away Penelope, the girl he loved. Roped into helping Penn’s father at their orchard in order to pay off his debts, Court begins to settle down and wonder if he might have a chance with Penn again. But then America enters WWII, and Court is sent to Italy as a medic.

One day as his unit is on a reconnaissance mission, Court and his commanding officer, AJ, are stranded while a Nazi troupe is rounding up Jews. They are horrified to watch the Nazis shoot a couple in cold blood and leave their daughter in the streets. Against orders, Court rescues the girl and is injured in the process.

He wakes up in an Italian hospital. He finds that he is in a quarantine ward, where a mysterious, deadly illness called Syndrome K is running rampant.

Except—Syndrome K is a made-up illness, created to keep the Nazis away from the ward while the doctors and Catholic priests who own the hospital hide and send out Jews.

A British ballerina named Julia and her partner are stranded at the hospital as well while he heals from a gunshot wound in his leg. She helps Court and A. J. and the little girl with them, as well as the doctors in the ward.

Unfortunately, the audiobook I listened to did not include the author’s information about what parts of the story were true, and our library system didn’t have a copy.. But the part about Syndrome K was real, as detailed here.

There are many strands nicely woven together in this novel, many developing relationships, and the unfolding mystery of the connection between Matteo’s and Delaney’s grandparents. The Amazon description says, “Based on true accounts of the invented Syndrome K sickness, The Italian Ballerina journeys from the Allied storming of the beaches at Salerno to the London ballet stage and the war-torn streets of World War II Rome, exploring the sometimes heart-wrenching choices we must make to find faith and forgiveness, and how saving a single life can impact countless others.”

I’ve gotten used to time-slip novels that go back and forth between history and present day. Kristy has written a few with three timelines. The only problem was that the scenes flashing back to Court’s earlier life weren’t in chronological order. The first scenes were in Italy during WWII–then there’s a scene at Penn’s family’s orchard before the war. The same thing happens with Julia’s timeline. The format made it a little confusing and jarring, although it only took a sentence or two to get reoriented. I had to train myself to listen for the date and location listed at the beginning of each chapter, which is a little harder to do with an audiobook.

But other than that, I loved everything about this book. I wanted to race to see what happened, yet didn’t want it to end.

I listened to the audiobook, wonderfully read by Barrie Kreinik.