My Year in Books: 2014

31 December 2014

“Without the high and noble the simple and vulgar is utterly mean; and without the simple and ordinary the noble and heroic is meaningless.”
j.r.r. tolkien

Coming into 2014 twelve too-short months ago, I had the sensation of girding myself for battle. In some ways, that sentiment did not prove false as the year progressed. Our family faced numerous financial setbacks. The present state of our nation grew bleaker. My sister and I traveled alone for the first time and came face to face with the grittiness of sin at one o' clock in the morning. In Flannery's words, though, “I can, with one eye squinted, take it all as a blessing.” It seems too trivial to capture the Lord's mercies in mere faltering words, but I must, for they have been great. In the space of a year, we have not lacked for food, shelter, or company. We've made the simplest, silliest, and most wonderful memories that I will take with me as mementos when I move away. I've trundled through the end of my junior year, begun my senior year, and come to grips with the reality of living several hundred miles from the people I love best next year. Relationships have been shaken, reformed, and built together once more. The thrum of it all comes back to this: great is His faithfulness.

I couldn't manage to effectively sum up an entire year in one post: for that purpose, there are blog archives (sparse though they may be). Still, I wanted to make an acknowledgment of this year's passing with a bit of reminiscence, and that seemed as good a reason as any for some list-making. (Bring on the bullet points!) 

top five domestic posts

These were the posts that received the most interaction on Literary Lane this year. Thank you for taking the time to share your hearts and participate in discussions: you make my life richer.

On Christian Sincerity. Is it a denial of Christ to avoid that cliche conversion scene?
March Chatterbox: You Were the One Next to Me. "We're held to the only standard the world can see. It doesn't mean there isn't more."
Sweeter Than Wine. When writing romance, can you achieve authenticity without compromising your conscience?
You Were Meant to Be Right Here All Along. The world is bent on discovering itself: I want to know my Lord.
September Chatterbox: Willa-My-WillaShe was the beam of light that slanted across his life, but she brought shadows with her.

top five international posts

These were the words that shook me, challenged me, and pushed me ever further up and further in. "As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend."

Troubling Stories by Anna Graham.
How to Balance Your Literary Diet by Suzannah Rowntree.
Success With a Third-Grade Diploma by Rachel Heffington.

read in 2014
* indicates a favorite

Of books, there were plenty. The titles I read this year are listed en masse below. 2014 was a rewarding year for the bookcase, and I savored the variety of literature that I was able to sample. In American literature I discovered new favorites such as My Antonia and Our Town. The second half of the list grows decidedly British: blame it on the happy overlapping of my assigned and personal reading lists. English literature is truly a wonderful thing.

my antonia* - willa cather
till we have faces* - c.s. lewis
the great gatsby - f. scott fitzgerald
fly away home - rachel heffington
anon, sir, anon - rachel heffington
the sound and the fury - william faulkner
of mice and men - john steinbeck
the eagle of the ninth- rosemary sutcliff
the letterbook of eliza lucas pinckney
the glass menagerie - tennessee williams
death of a salesman - arthur miller
our town* - thornton wilder
farenheit 451 - ray bradbury
shadow hand - anne elisabeth stengl
starflower*- anne elisabeth stengl
the faith - charles w. colson
kingdoms in conflict* - charles w. colson
the fault in our stars - john green
a prayer journal* - flannery o'connor
the lamb of God - nancy guthrie
david copperfield- charles dickens
hamlet* - william shakespeare
emma*- jane austen
jane eyre*- charlotte bronte
a christian manifesto - francis a. schaeffer
plenilune* - jennifer freitag

My top three favorites from 2014 — one would be too cruel — in no particular order are David Copperfield, Plenilune, and Jane Eyre. (I may or may not rank books based on how much they tangle with my emotions.) Assigned reading quickly dominated pleasure reading, as is its wont, so it was rewarding to check off some Dickens, Sutcliff, Lewis, and two more Tales of Goldstone Wood in addition to the bleaker Fitzgerald and Steinbeck. In the nonfiction category, I discovered Charles Colson, particularly his Kingdoms in Conflict, which has inspired me to pick up more of his books in 2015. (If you have the chance to read his personal testimony, do so: it's riveting.) The Sound and the Fury and Beowulf, though short in length, were probably the most daunting of this year's haul. (Beowulf was ultimately more enjoyable — the kennings!). I finally finished Emma after years of dabbling in the first few chapters, which was fun, if not terribly surprising; perhaps next year I'll take on Mansfield Park or Persuasion

to read in 2015
[among others]

the fellowship of the ring - j.r.r. tolkien
winter's tale - mark helprin
anna karenina - leo tolstoy (do I dare?)
the complete stories - flannery o'connor
the space trilogy - c.s. lewis
the importance of being earnest - oscar wilde (not to be read with muffins unless desirous of buttered cuffs)
several lord peter wimsey mysteries - dorothy sayers
mansfield park - jane austen
orthodoxy, the ballad of the white horse, and the man who was thursday - g.k. chesterton

what did you read in 2014?

Plenilune: An Elemental Landscape of Justice and Mercy

29 December 2014

click to purchase the book on amazon!
Though Flannery O'Connor and Jennifer Freitag are polar opposites when it comes to writing style and subject matter, I'd like to begin with the former's words from her collection of essays on the art of writing, Mystery and Manners. "Art," O'Connor says, "never responds to the wish to make it democratic; it is not for everybody; it is only for those who are willing to undergo the effort needed to understand it." She might as well have been speaking of Plenilune. I'm going to say this up front: this is not a story for everyone. At its heart, Plenilune is a fiery tangle of history and fantasy, an epic that only supports its own weight because it balances on the traditional framework of the great masters that have come before it. Not everyone is apt to find its bold, tongue-in-cheek, fire-and-spice nature to his liking.

Those who do, however, are in for an adventure.

The fate of Plenilune hangs on the election of the Overlord, for which Rupert de la Mare and his brother are the only contenders, but when Rupert's unwilling bride-to-be uncovers his plot to murder his brother, the conflict explodes into civil war.

To assure the minds of the lord-electors of Plenilune that he has some capacity for humanity, Rupert de la Mare has been asked to woo and win a lady before he can become the Overlord, and he will do it—even if he has to kidnap her.

En route to Naples to catch a suitor, Margaret Coventry was not expecting a suitor to catch her.

We meet Margaret Coventry, Englishwoman to the core, on the train station platform, and like her, we're prepared for a trip. What we get, however, is a journey that nearly rivals Frodo Baggins' for length, peril, and awe. Plenilune reaches out and plucks you from your comfortable chair into a world of high beauty and splendor, where men walk as gods and wield their magic at will. It's a story to heighten the senses through its lavish setting and plot filled with light and thunder. It may delight you, it may shock you, it may even frighten you, but one thing's for certain: you'll be invested.

"Why did all the silences of this place sound like the silence before a scream? Why did the stillness of this house feel like the stillness before a storm?"

When you first open Plenilune, the description envelops you with its energy. Freitag suffuses her image-driven prose with a singularly arresting beauty. It's thick. It's warm. It's alive. The reader learns to see common things in brighter shades; in some respects, this novel opens the eyes with its rich narrative. Does it have a tendency to grow so ornate as to distract from the forward progression of the plot? In places, yes. It would be dishonest to say there were not instances where certain details could have been slimmed down in the narrative. The overall tone, however, never wanes in its appeal. Not for nothing has Freitag been called a penslayer.

"How peacefully I am killed by you, she told the landscape. How quietly you break me into pieces."

You will love these characters. Firm and wild, fierce and gentle, they are so large that they squeeze the breath from one's chest. Freitag draws each detail of their natures with striking precision, and from Orzelon-gang to Dondonné and back again, each is threaded so deeply into his world that they are practically one and the same. You will be swiftly acquainted with the great kindness of Skander Rime, the rough warmth of Lord Gro FitzDraco, the tragedy of Kinloss, the grace of Romage, the mystery of the White Ones, and the wit and brilliance of the fox himself. Together they and the other lords are the blooming flower of Plenilune, and standing at their blood-red heart is Margaret, the English rose who slowly learns to take on the crown and scepter of a strange world she has come to call her own.

"With their thin skins, quick to take offence and to defend their bantam plumage, these were men who lived among danger and swords and blood and put a great price on honour. They had not turned their world into a nursery. They loved their world fiercely and their world loved them still more fiercely back."

The true joy of Plenilune does not come in analyzing its various literary merits, however. I finished the novel Saturday evening, and I am still not fully rid of its lingering effects. I've re-read certain scenes multiple times; for that matter, I've re-read certain lines until they are stamped on my mind. ("Nay, sirrah," she spoke low, huskily. "Do not look to us for mercy. Our hearts are iron-clad.") I never want to forget the sensation of boldness and bravery and beauty that's been washing over me in waves since I first opened Plenilune many months ago. That is its strongest merit. Plenilune unlocks something in the soul and sends it soaring. You will touch the thrumming beat of a grace almost too overwhelming for comprehension, and you will step away changed.

In truth, there is really no shorter way in which to sum up the burning, elemental landscape of justice and mercy that is Plenilune than to fall back on O'Connor's wisdom once more and tell you to go read it for yourself. 

After all, couldn't your new year use a little fire and spice?

Purchase Plenilune on Amazon
Add Plenilune and see what reviewers are saying on Goodreads
Read more about Jennifer Freitag at The Penslayer


24 December 2014

Do you feel the ache?

It comes when I stand quietly in the pew, surrounded by upturned faces, my eyes catching on the flickering candles. It comes with the old, old words of the old, old songs that I've sung since I was young and will continue to sing until I have no voice left.

No more let sins and sorrows grow
Nor thorns infest the ground
He comes to make
His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found
Far as the curse is found
Far as, far as the curse is found

But until that day, the curse is still here. I see it in everything; even when the world is lit up like a glimmering Christmas tree, the ugliness shows. Perhaps it shines in starker contrast. Beneath the sparkle and cheer, there's a faint flickering doubt: so what? My heart aches for the Beyond even as I wrap and fold the paper and struggle to get the bow just right. Things. Things. They're all just things. When will the material fade in light of the Immaterial?

So I fall on my knees in frustration, done with a shiny exterior that never satisfies. Done with the hurry and bustle and stress that seems headed in a bleak direction. There are times when I weary of the chance and honor and high surprise that normally delights. I long to lay my head on the home-shore and feel the pulse of a familiar land.

I think we feel the wildness of the world a little moreso at Christmastime than any other season of the year. Surely the shopping and festivity has a part in that, but I'm speaking of a longing for which there are few words. There's a certain magic in the air that we don't usually sense. Beautifully alien, deliciously homesick. Sehnsucht. It sends a craving rushing through me for a place I've never known, and all the sugar, sounds, and sights can't fill that gap.

In this season of watching and waiting, He welcomes us to Him for the home we so desire.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men."

'Tis the season for singing through our thirst and making bright our wanderings, because we know they will soon meet their end.

the house of christmas
g. k. chesterton

There fared a mother driven forth
Out of an inn to roam;
In the place where she was homeless
All men are at home.
The crazy stable close at hand,
With shaking timber and shifting sand,
Grew a stronger thing to abide and stand
Than the square stones of Rome.

For men are homesick in their homes,
And strangers under the sun,
And they lay their heads in a foreign land
Whenever the day is done.
Here we have battle and blazing eyes,
And chance and honor and high surprise,
But our homes are under miraculous skies
Where the yule tale was begun.

A Child in a foul stable,
Where the beasts feed and foam,
Only where He was homeless
Are you and I at home;
We have hands that fashion and heads that know,
But our hearts we lost — how long ago!
In a place no chart nor ship can show
Under the sky's dome.

This world is wild as an old wives' tale,
And strange the plain things are,
The earth is enough and the air is enough
For our wonder and our war;
But our rest is as far as the fire-drake swings
And our peace is put in impossible things
Where clashed and thundered unthinkable wings
Round an incredible star.

To an open house in the evening
Home shall men come,
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.

o come, o come.

Release Date Reveal: Pendragon's Heir by Suzannah Rowntree

20 December 2014

pendragon's heir
a new epic fantasy by suzannah rowntree

Blanche Pendragon enjoys her undemanding life as the ward of an eccentric nobleman in 1900 England. It's been years since she even wondered what happened to her long lost parents, but then a gift on the night of her eighteenth birthday reveals a heritage more dangerous and awe-inspiring than she ever dreamed of--or wanted. Soon Blanche is flung into a world of wayfaring immortals, daring knights, and deadly combats, with a murderous witch-queen on her trail and the future of a kingdom at stake. As the legendary King Arthur Pendragon and his warriors face enemies without and treachery within, Blanche discovers a secret that could destroy the whole realm of Logres. Even if the kingdom could be saved, is she the one to do it? Or is someone else the Pendragon's Heir?

coming your way on march 26, 2015!

In the meantime, add the book on Goodreads to stay posted and catch advanced reviews. And don't forget to spread the word!

all about the author

When Suzannah Rowntree isn’t travelling the world to help out friends in need, she lives in a big house in rural Australia with her awesome parents and siblings, trying to beat her previous number-of-books-read-in-a-year record. She blogs the results at and is the author of two non-fiction books, The Epic of Reformation: A Guide to the Faerie Queene and War Games: Classic Fiction for the Christian Life. Pendragon’s Heir, her debut novel, springs from her lifelong love of medieval literature.

Don't You Want to Thank Someone For This?

27 November 2014

Now I can see the world is charged
It's glimmering with promises
Written in a script of stars
Dripping from prophets' lips

But still, my thirst is never slaked
I am hounded by a restlessness 
Eaten by this endless ache
But still I will give thanks for this

'Cause I can see it in the seas of wheat
I can feel it when the horses run
It's howling in the snowy peaks
It's blazing in the midnight sun

Just behind a veil of wind
A million angels waiting in the wings
A swirling storm of cherubim
Making ready for the Reckoning

And when the world is new again
And the children of the King
Are ancient in their youth again
Maybe it's a better thing
A better thing

To be more than merely innocent
But to be broken then redeemed by love
Maybe this old world is bent
But it's waking up
And I'm waking up

'Cause I can hear the voice of one
He's crying in the wilderness
"Make ready for the Kingdom Come"
Don't you want to thank someone for this?

["don't you want to thank someone" // andrew peterson]

happiest of thanksgivings to you.

Guest Post: The Library of Borrowed Wit

10 November 2014

Nearly everyone around these parts is familiar with the name of Rachel Heffington. She reads, she writes, she blogs, she bakes, she nannies — she's a veritable Mary Poppins and the reigning queen of impromptu wit: in short, she's a darling. Just this past week Rachel released her debut mystery, Anon, Sir, Anon ("remember, remember the Fifth of November!"). I received an advance copy earlier this autumn, and I was able to savor this delightfully chilling book as the temperatures dropped and the leaves turned gold. Some books beg to be read at a certain time of year; this one is no exception. With its foggy Northamptonshire setting, Anon, Sir, Anon would make the perfect fireside mystery for a November evening. Grab yourself a copy and tuck in for an engrossing tale.

Continuing with her celebratory tour de force, I'm featuring the author this morning on a subject near and dear to the heart of Anon, Sir, Anon's Orville Farnham himself: the quotable nature of William Shakespeare and the Bard's own involvement within this new title. Without further ado, I'll give her the floor.

the library of borrowed wit: shakespeare's influence in anon, sir, anon
by rachel heffington

I remember my first encounter with Shakespeare: I was all of twelve or thirteen and had gone to Regent University to attend a production of Hamlet. I left feeling hopelessly confused as to why Rosencrantz was eating a lollipop and wearing modern clothes...hadn’t Shakespeare written his plays far before Tootsie Pops came into existence? Not to mention the fact that the dialog went (at best) just over my head. Because of this odd experience and the general idea that someone named Macbeth had a ghost and someone else was accustomed to saying, “et tu, Brute?”, for some years I avoided Shakespeare with a creeping feeling that he was either too lofty or too dry for my experience and tastes. What I neglected to take into account, however, was that Shakespeare wrote plays...and plays are meant to be observed.

One fateful night, I watched Kenneth Branagh’s production of Much Ado About Nothing and was carried away on the glorious wings of one who has known what it is to thrill over a passage of Shakespeare. That night, I dreamed in Elizabethan English and was able to slay the most awe-inspiring men with my wit. From then on, it was a natural progression to others of his comedies and then into the slightly heavier works, like Henry IV and Henry V. I have read a few, watched more, and fallen in love with Tom Hiddleston, Kenneth Branagh, and Emma Thompson as they play timeless characters created by Shakespeare. Finally, I could understand why William Shakespeare had become a name synonymous with genius.

It can be hard to remember exact progressions in inspiration just as it is hard to tell the exact stages in which an October dusk turns from blue to daffodil to silver to azure to velvet. Shakespeare lent his brilliance to my library of borrowed wit, I continued to write my stories, and then came The Bartlett Book.

For those of you unfamiliar with Bartlett Books they are, essentially, very heavy volumes of quotations from various authors. Mine was a gift from my soon-to-be sister-in-law and is from the 1930’s. It happened to have a thick section of the more obscure Shakespearean quotes and as I flipped through the quotations one afternoon, a certain line grabbed my notice:

Death’s a great disguiser.”

How could it not suggest murder? Yet, what sort of detective would have a Shakespeare quote near-to-hand with a body lying at his feet? A Shakespearean actor, perhaps? And thus the eccentric Orville Farnham was born: a man more in love with The Bard’s work than, perhaps, Kenneth Branagh himself. I am a firm believer in the idea that eccentricities are only eccentric if they are repeated. Thus, Shakepeare and Farnham needed to become cemented as one. For this purpose, I invented The Game. If you will permit me, I will share a short scene to explain the rules:

Farnham spread his hand to indicate the chair at the head of the table. “Won’t you, Breen? Allen was about to bring in the pudding.”
The doctor bowed to Genevieve and smiled, but Genevieve saw the quizzing, questing look he shot at Farnham.
“‘I have been in such a pickle since I saw you last,’” Farnham said, not bothering to answer the unspoken question. It appeared to Genevieve that her uncle stared rather hard at his friend as if encouraging him to find some extra meaning in the words.
“Oh Lud.” Dr. Breen pushed his chair away from the table and crossed his legs, resting rough boots on the white tablecloth. He stretched his arms behind his head and grinned in an amiable fashion. “I know this one. I know I know this one.”
Rather than being puzzled or vexed with this new table ornament, Farnham pushed his chair back and did likewise. “You ought to know it. We’ve practiced enough,” he grumbled, settling into the new position. His feet now blocked his face from his niece’s view, but she could see Dr. Breen.
Breen worked his face into one big wrinkle. “Something about...oh, Lud.”
“How--” Genevieve began, intending to ask a question.
Dr. Breen unfolded his arms and beamed at her. “Of course! ‘Why, how now, Stephano!’”
Farnham applauded. “The Tempest. It’s really quite simple, Breen. I give you all the Watsonizing parts, you know. The useless questions asked for decorum’s sake. You shouldn’t have trouble remembering stupid questions.”
“So generous. Unflinchingly generous.”
Anon, Sir, Anon [chapter 3]

Featured as a game in Anon, Sir, Anon, Shakespeare’s work became ingrained in mine, and no one will be able to recall the character of Mr. Orville Farnham without remembering one of the greatest authors of old whose work deserves presentation to a new era of readers.

I hope readers of my mystery will be inspired to take up one of The Bard’s plays and give it another try. And to those of you who find Shakespeare to your liking? Priceless phrases like, “Let’s whip th’offending Adam out of him,” will slide into your vocabulary and give your conversation a delightful, unconventional color. Believe me, it’s fabulous.

. . .

all about anon, sir, anon

The 12:55 out of Darlington brought more than Orville Farnham's niece; murder was passenger. In coming to Whistlecreig, Genevieve Langley expected to find an ailing uncle in need of gentle care. In reality, her charge is a cantankerous Shakespearean actor with a penchant for fencing and an affinity for placing impossible bets. When a body shows up in a field near Whistlecreig Manor and Vivi is the only one to recognize the victim, she is unceremoniously baptized into the art of crime-solving: a field in which first impressions are seldom lasting and personal interest knocks at the front door. Set against the russet backdrop of a Northamptonshire fog, Anon, Sir, Anon cuts a cozy path to a chilling crime.

Available for purchase on Amazon // Read my review and others on Goodreads

all about rachel heffington

Rachel Heffington is a Christian, a novelist, and a people-lover. Outside of the realm of words, Rachel enjoys the Arts, traveling, mucking about in the kitchen, listening for accents, and making people laugh. She dwells in rural Virginia with her boisterous family and her black cat, Cricket.

Earth's Crammed With Heaven: The Ántonia Principle

03 November 2014

But she still had that something which fires the imagination, could still stop one's breath for a moment by a look or gesture that somehow revealed the meaning in common things. She had only to stand in the orchard, to put her hand on a little crab tree and look up at the apples, to make you feel the goodness of planting and tending and harvesting at last. All the strong things of her heart came out in her body, that had been so tireless in serving generous emotions. It was no wonder that her sons stood tall and straight. She was a rich mine of life, like the founders of early races.”
my ántonia / / willa cather

I don't make a point of hiding my affection for Willa Cather's richly descriptive memoir, My Ántonia. It's been almost a year now since I first read it, and although its length wanes next to Dickens' (whose does not, for that matter?), I've drawn some of my favorite quotes and passages from its brief pages. I lost myself wholeheartedly in that story last winter, blissfully ignoring the fact that it was a piece of required reading for my English course. I don't think I've enjoyed an assigned novel so well since Pride and Prejudice made a cameo on my World Literature syllabus two years ago. 

In January I emphasized the beauty of Cather's description, and while I could wax on for hours in the same direction, it is Ántonia herself who deserves a moment of recognition. I am continually drawn to the passage quoted above near the book's end. That something in her capable of "[firing] the imagination" breathes fruitful life and glowing vivacity into Ántonia to such an extent that it transcends her age and physical decline. At this point in the memoir, deep-set wrinkles have replaced her once-ruddy complexion; her hair has grown thin and lank; the health of her frame has turned sallow with age; but none of it matters. According to Jim, she "[can] still stop one's breath for a moment by a look or gesture that somehow [reveals] the meaning in common things."

I realized soon enough why I kept returning to this section. Something in my heart cried out, That's what I want.

I wanted to be like Ántonia.

For that matter, who doesn't wish to imitate this lively girl, lovely woman, and now wise mother? Jim Burden devotes his entire memoir to her record. Cather paints her name on every page. Even the untamed prairie emulates her unquenched spirit. Ántonia wends her way through the book.

What strikes me about this woman, however, contrasts dramatically with the very thing that repulses me in Jim. While Jim spends the entirety of the book in her shadow, playing the role of her adoring worshiper, longing for their easy childhood days before the threshold to adulthood brought new troubles, Ántonia faces each fresh dawn with remarkable strength and courage. She plows and plants in the fields to save her family from starvation, ignoring Jim's requests to play in the tall prairie grass. She works in town as a hired girl and earns respect from her employers through her diligence and loyalty. And then in the high summer days of her girlhood, she finds time to dance each night away at the pavilion. Her name becomes synonymous with joviality, good health, strength, and fruitfulness: the very essence of life.

But if I were to be honest with myself, I'd admit that I am much more like Jim Burden, who paints pictures of Egypt and artfully leaves out what it lacks, refusing to face either the day at hand or the days to come in light of rosy-hued yore. My journal — stories new and old — ancient blog posts: all of them can attest to this. (Take your pick; I have witnesses enough.) And perhaps that's another layer of My Ántonia that appeals to me. Jim's heavily nostalgic tone wraps a veil of reminscence around the book. "Whatever we had missed," he concludes at the story's end, "we possessed together the precious, the incommunicable past." For him, that is enough. His Ántonia is still the sun of his world, and he will spin out the rest of his days in her sphere.

God, in His infinite wisdom, does not call us to a romantic worship of the past anymore that he calls us to blindly accept the future. This hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks during our senior girl Bible study several weeks ago. Studying the Book of Ruth — a legacy as rooted in seasons of planting, tending, and harvesting as Ántonia — lent me a new appreciation for the present. As a narrative, it seems almost too simple in its brevity; as a record of God's intervention, it's positively magnificent. The words I want to focus on, however, are of Boaz's overseer.

and she said, "I pray you, let me glean and gather after the reapers among the sheaves": so she came, and hath continued even from the morning until now, that she tarried a little in the house.
ruth 2:7

God — through Boaz — approaches Ruth while she is laboring steadily. This is the sort of living that is focused on the Lord's daily mercies. Ruth could have clung to Naomi, her one familiar tie in Bethlehem; she could have pined endlessly for Moab and her lost husband; she could have done anything other than the Lord's will. She didn't know the entirety of His plan, nor where it would leave her. She didn't even know Boaz. But she had the willingless to take the next step, though the way loomed dark as dusk before her, and she made a menial task like gleaning so faithful and beautiful that even the overseer bothered to take note of her.

And then the Lord intervenes on her behalf, and she stops in her work and throws herself before Boaz, humbled at His great mercy through this man. She depended on His Providence, and He provided for her.

Ántonia left Bohemia and learned to embrace life on the Nebraskan prairie. Ruth abandoned Moab and submitted herself under the God of Abraham in following Naomi to Bethlehem. And the anthem that rings through my ears as I sit on that couch with some of my closest friends and let the Word of God wash over me is this:

the Lord comes with grace and favor when we are diligent in the tasks He's given us.

I so often forget that life is more like a string of rumpled hills than a staggered array of highlands and valleys. I try to fool myself that excellence, dedication, and a willing spirit are not just as important (and sometimes all the more so) when writing a paper, expressing a thought, or cleaning a bathtub as when speaking before a crowd. Is it true, O Christ in Heaven, that we are weighed in the balance of the everyday? Do not we live out our faith on the same soil where You've planted our dusty feet? Therein lies the beauty of Ántonia's spirit and the awful grace of Ruth's bent figure: with only enough light to see a step or two before them, they have caught a glimpse of Heaven oozing through the plowed cracks of Earth.

Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries,
And daub their natural faces unaware
More and more from the first similitude.
[elizabeth barrett browning]

Cover Reveal: Plenilune by Jennifer Freitag

06 October 2014

She did not know what the fires said—their language was suddenly starkly different from her own—but she knew it was awful and real and Plenilune.
Yes, it was Plenilune.
plenilune by jennifer freitag

jennifer freitag
coming autumn 2014!

The fate of Plenilune hangs on the election of the Overlord, for which Rupert de la Mare and his brother are the only contenders, but when Rupert’s unwilling bride-to-be uncovers his plot to murder his brother, the conflict explodes into civil war. 

To assure the minds of the lord-electors of Plenilune that he has some capacity for humanity, Rupert de la Mare has been asked to woo and win a lady before he can become the Overlord, and he will do it—even if he has to kidnap her.

En route to Naples to catch a suitor, Margaret Coventry was not expecting a suitor to catch her.

Find Plenilune: Goodreads (add Plenilune to your to-read shelf and catch a glimpse of what advance reviewers are saying!)

about the author: jennifer freitag

JENNIFER FREITAG lives with her husband in a house they call Clickitting, with their two cats Minnow and Aquila, and their own fox kit due to be born in early December.  Jennifer writes in no particular genre because she never learned how, she is make of sparks like Boys of Blur, and if she could grasp the elements, she would bend them like lightning.  Until then, she sets words on fire.
Living with her must be excruciating.

Find Jennifer: The Penslayer // Facebook // Twitter // Goodreads // Pinterest

baffled by the planetary fantasy genre?

This should clear things up: What is Planetary Fantasy?

We've been waiting a while for this one, folks. On October 20th, readers everywhere will witness the explosion of one metric ton of rich, red-blooded literature coming to an Amazon near you in paperback form. It may not be able to fit in your pocket, but it will easily impress itself on your heart and mind. Mark your calendars and stalk The Penslayer until the big day: this release is only the first in a string of Plenilunar novels by Freitag. You're in for a treat.

Interested in more of Freitag's work? Click here to read my review of her debut novel, The Shadow Things.

The Year's Last Smile

03 October 2014

Beauty, beauty, there is beauty all around me.
If it were tangible, I'd bottle it up; if it were visible, I'd paint the skies with it.
Had I a brush, creation would bend at my touch.
I'd make the heavens into colors and patterns that you could smell, taste, touch.
You'd feel the scarlet in your soul burn against the copper and the amber-gold.
I'd dress myself in welkin-blue on the first day of the season when the wind adopts a singularly witching quality.
Smell the smoke, the sparks as they tangle in the locks you can never restrain, those same curls that tumble around your forehead and tremble on the base of your neck.
Send me the season's scent, the thick warmth, the wafting spice, the exotic air that runs through the day until each moment is an hourly gem on the year's necklace.
I'll tie it 'round my neck and wear it all my days.
Give me the chill that ices over my red heart, the cold that makes the cider steam in the stillness, the frosty silence that draws me closer to you.

Lend me autumn, and I'll bury it in my heart. Give me autumn, and I'll love you all my days.

[a bit of dusted-off heart-writing from last november]

September Chatterbox: Willa-My-Willa

22 September 2014

'cause honey your soul could never grow old, it's evergreen
and, baby, your smile's forever in my mind and memory
i'm thinking 'bout how people fall in love in mysterious ways
maybe it's all part of a plan.
"thinking out loud" / / ed sheeran

"That's enough, Willa."
She stopped herself before the cream had a chance to run over the lip of her brimming cup. A monotonous lethargy in her eyes creaked and settled back into place. As she raised the china to her lips, her teeth chattered and her hand shook so that the hot liquid splashed down the front of her blouse.
"Here, allow me."
She flinched as he gently dabbed at the stains.
"They won't come out without hard scrubbing."
"It's been five years, Michael."
A pause. "I know."
"Then there's no need to treat me like a child."
When he sighed, it was progressive, layered, as if it had been building up over many years. Five years. More than that, actually, if you counted the heavy days that came before, the days when the troubles began, but she was never one for particulars. All she knew was that he had sat in the same chair each evening for five years, read the same chapter of the same book for five years, and never had an edge of bitterness crept into his tone.
"You must eat something with your coffee," he reminded her. He'd been doing that for five years, too. Always making sure she ate and drank. Perhaps it was a helpful thing; her mind was so far beyond the physical and well into the depths of the ethereal that she often forgot mealtimes. Willa wondered what would have happened to her if Michael were not as sensitive to the particulars as she was ignorant of them.
"I'm not hungry."
"I don't care. You're going to eat something."
"Oh, mind Dickens and leave me be."
"Here." Michael reached over and snatched a pear from the fruit bowl on the wobbly-legged coffee table. "Have a bit of fruit."
"I can't stand pears and you know that."
"I thought perhaps you'd changed your mind?" The corner of his mouth tilted upwards in the ghost of a smile.
"I'm too set in my ways for change now." She was amazed how refreshing it was to admit it, and smiled faintly.
"Ah. That I do know." He winked briefly, but as her smile strained, snapped, and caved in on itself once more, the merriment left his expression.
"Come, Willa. We must go one night without bringing this up. It's been—"
"You think I don't know how long it's been since his death?" Her eyes may be dry now, but the tears would come soon, as they always did. Like clockwork, her life came in the same row of dull stitches that she forced herself to yank out and redo, yank out and redo, day in and day out, through each blinding sunrise and each wearying sunset. "Won't someone give me relief?" Time had lost its medicinal power.
"Come here."
She crawled close under his arm, sniffling against his shirt and feeling all of six years old. He held her as she wept through the familiar storm that seemed to lighten with each passing day. It was getting better. Willa no longer shook like a sapling when he brought up the incident. Still, she was only human, and a fragile one at that. He remembered his father's warning when he'd asked the pale girl to be his wife. He could still hear those words echoing through his head: Don't marry her, son. She's the kind that'll require too much of you.
She required great things of him, to be sure. Her tears at odd hours. Her periods of spontaneous melancholy followed by periods of spontaneous joy. The aches only she understood that made her cry out at night and the shaking that only slowed when she eventually slept again. She was the beam of light that slanted across his life, but she brought shadows with her.
She'd never required too much of him.
Bits of splintered wood crackled in the dying fire. Michael drew his wife closer and felt her cold frame grow warmer. Her lashes fluttered like damp-winged butterflies against the violet-hued skin ringing below her eyes. She sniffed one last time and then looked up into his face.
"I think—" her voice shook. "I think—I'll have a pear now."
It was no longer just a ghost of a smile that danced across his features.
Five years and one day. Willa reached out and clenched his hand.

we found love right where we are.

like what you read? click here to read past chatterbox posts.
curious about chatterbox? click here to join rachel's monthly meme. [this month's theme is pears]

Cover Reveal: Anon, Sir, Anon by Rachel Heffington

15 September 2014

Coming November 2014

The 12:55 out of Darlington brought more than Orville Farnham's niece; murder was passenger.

In coming to Whistlecreig, Genevieve Langley expected to find an ailing uncle in need of gentle care. In reality, her charge is a cantankerous Shakespearean actor with a penchant for fencing and an affinity for placing impossible bets.

When a body shows up in a field near Whistlecreig Manor and Vivi is the only one to recognize the victim, she is unceremoniously baptized into the art of crime-solving: a field in which first impressions are seldom lasting and personal interest knocks at the front door.

Set against the russet backdrop of a Northamptonshire fog, Anon, Sir, Anon cuts a cozy path to a chilling crime.

about the author

Rachel Heffington is a Christian, a novelist, and a people-lover. Outside of the realm of words, Rachel enjoys the Arts, traveling, mucking about in the kitchen, listening for accents, and making people laugh. She dwells in rural Virginia with her boisterous family and her black cat, Cricket.

Find Rachel: Blog / / Twitter / / Facebook / / Pinterest

Interested in more of Rachel's work? Read my review for her debut novel, Fly Away Home.

Snapshots of Summer

09 September 2014

Some wise sage whom Pinterest did not bother to credit said, "We only have what we remember." And I would add that we only remember what we repeat and retell. So that's what I'm doing in this blank white posting box that scares me too often with its blankness and its whiteness. This summer was one of the busiest and most memorable seasons of my life, and I want to record it for posterity's sake.

Maybe one day I'll look back on these youthful days and see the frivolity in them. For now, I feel like I'm hanging on to the tilt-a-whirl for dear life as it spins faster and faster. Be quick, now! Catch the pieces before they blow away!

And so I shall.

snapshots of summer

 / / Opening the cafe at six in the morning isn't so bad when the gym plays Ed Sheeran. / /

/ / Cleaning up, cleaning out, repurposing, and doing without are all very healthful and refreshing practices. / /

 / / Walking the streets of D.C. with a pastry in one hand and a cup of chai tea in the other. For all their talk about wood smoke, flannel, and rain, the hipsters may have hit on something: the thrill of visiting a new place and staying until you know it cannot be overemphasized. / /

/ / Families of seven and eight blend splendidly together. Few things sound happier than ten little feet bounding over the floorboards all at once. / /

 / / College dorms bear an unfortunate resemblance to prison cells. / /

/ / Spending a solid five days with this wonderful human being and all the giggling and hilarity that occurred as a result. / /

/ / Tuesday night Bible study and going through the Book of Exodus with some of the most God-fearing women I know. / /

/ / Four too-short hours in the historical district of Philadelphia. It had been too long. / /

/ / It's amazing how brief a time can birth such close bonds. / /

/ / David Copperfield and the Britishness of Dickens. Oliver Twist and maybe even A Tale of Two Cities will have to step aside; Copperfield has claimed my heart. A summertime prelude of the literature I'm now studying this year. / /

/ / Arlington Cemetery will never not be reverently stirring. / /

/ / When one is under a particularly cavernous dome, there's clearly nothing else to be done but mimic Rue's mockingjay whistle. / /

/ / Racing around a college campus on a rainy evening for the sake of pictures can make for some pretty interesting stories. Bree, for instance, is the only person still living who can claim an injury inflicted by George Washington. / /

/ / A Monticello visit that seemed to last the space of a second with the one and only Liza. / /

/ / "You know, I still don't know how to dance." | "I'll show you how. Just be there." / /

/ / Long summer afternoons by the pool eating good food and engaging in enriching conversation (there's something quite magical in tomato slices, basil, and mozarella on Italian bread). / /

/ / Good books come in all shapes and sizes. Besides David Copperfield, this summer's haul included Starflower, Flannery O'Conner's Prayer Journal, and Plenilune (coming October 20!) / /

/ / Roasting marshmallows, taking ridiculous pictures, laughing, eating, and celebrating on the Fourth. / /

/ / Notes, notes, and more notes. A whole book of them. Scribbling so fast that your hand starts hurting (and being mocked for not using the backs of the pages). / /

/ / Good cries may be necessary at night, but never—oh, never forget the joy that comes in the morning. / /

Here's to September and the mugs of hot cider, bonfire-air, apple-red cheeks, and autumnal memories to come!

Release Date Reveal: Plenilune by Jennifer Freitag

28 July 2014

a planetary fantasy
by jennifer freitag

The fate of Plenilune hangs on the election of the Overlord, for which Rupert de la Mare and his brother are the only contenders, but when Rupert’s unwilling bride-to-be uncovers his plot to murder his brother, the conflict explodes into civil war.

To assure the minds of the lord-electors of Plenilune that he has some capacity for humanity, Rupert de la Mare as been asked to woo and win a lady before he can become the Overlord, and he will do it—even if he has to kidnap her.

En route to Naples to catch a suitor, Margaret Coventry was not expecting a suitor to catch her.

Coming 20 October 2014!

The official cover for Plenilune will be revealed in the upcoming months between now and October. If you have a blog and you'd like to be a part of the event, email Jennifer at sprigofbroom293[at]gmail[dot]com so she can put your name on the list!

interested in learning more about Jennifer?

author website: Jennifer Freitag

This Mortal Veil of Fear

23 July 2014

breathe life into this feeble heart
lift this mortal veil of fear
take these crumbled hopes, etched with tears
we'll rise above these earthly cares
"dante's prayer," loreena mckennit

And thus we come to one of the best and most challenging aspects of blogging: accountability. A community waiting for an answer. My silence may have been some indication, but if it was not, you will know by the end of this post. I have not finished Anath's Song, and I will not be able to pick it up again until early August.

You can't know how tired I am of writing words like that. "It's going pretty well; I'm a little behind my goal"—and then, "I didn't finish," or worse, "I quit." Failure — because it feels so much like giving up — tastes bitter on my tongue. First Rifles, for which I have haphazardly researched, plotted, outlined, and written the better part of two years with little to show for it. Now this short project which should have been completed in two weeks still hangs on me unfinished. But good words come much more slowly than poor ones, and sometimes they have to be eked out with cups of tea and long bouts of still fingers and silent keys. And then sometimes other tasks simply must take priority, though I ignore that fact for as long as possible. An application for a college class that had to be sent in by a certain time. The business of shopping and packing for a two week trip also drains the hourglass. I'd like to say that life gets in the way of my writing goals, but life is the delays and the downtime and the dry months as well as the harvest.

Since I'll be out of town for the rest of July and unable to write, there's not much point in continuing to answer the questions for Actually Finishing Something [in] July after this week. Even though my word count is meager, I am so grateful for this opportunity to get a whole new project off the ground. And don't think for a minute that the story ends here. I had a mini breakthrough plot-wise just last week and the storybuilding will always continue. Reader, you have yet to hear the last of Anath's Song.

week three questions
actually finishing something [in] july

1. Were you able to meet your goal this week?

No, but I am satisfied with the current state of the novella and excited to get back to work when I return home again.

2. Where did you get the bulk of your writing accomplished? In the quiet of your room, outside on the patio, on the bus?

One evening when two of my siblings were out with friends and the rest were at the pool, I sat in our great room and carried on the wings of Pandora, typed away for two hours. It was blissful. As you can imagine, though, that doesn't happen often. The rest of the time I completed my writing in my room.

3. Share a couple of your favorite snippets!

Ha!” One eyebrow, visible in the slit between forehead and cheek, cocked in amusement. “You are nothing.”
“And yet, I am all I have to give.”
[anath's song]

Cassandra clenched her father’s hand until he cried out for her to release him. His hand burned, he said. Confused, she turned his palm upwards in her own. Long red burns, thin as spider webs, traced manic patterns over the surface of his skin. They singed her fingers and she flinched away in disgust. It was the last time she would touch her father.
[anath's song]

Young and naive, she had never guessed how her close, familiar life hung on a straining thread. One false step, and the fibers would snap altogether.
[anath's song]

4. Have you introduced a new character into your story? Tell us about his or her personality. 

Cassandra's father Titus has just recently entered the story and I've had an interesting time with his complexities. He was once a man of few words, strong, quiet, steady as the tide. One rash act later, and he is now entirely flat, washed of all identity save his own sins, which shine in brighter contrast. His daughter loved him once, but certain circumstances have changed that quickly enough.

5. List the favorite foods of your main characters.

Cassandra loves a rich roasted lamb, heavy with spices, the sort that she rarely tastes. Of her usual fare, she would not turn up her nose at plain bread and oil. Anath enjoys any sort of fruit he can find at the market that reminds him of his home city, specifically grapes and pomegranates.

6. Introduce us to the antagonist in your story and tell us about one of his or her quirks.

You've met Titus already, who plays a slightly antagonistic role in Anath's Song, so I'll give you Damon instead. Tall and swarthy, he's about as handsome and as proud as they come. He can't abide fish, women less than six inches shorter than him, and admitting defeat.

to all who are attempting to actually finish something this july, how are your projects coming along?

"I never could resist an adventure."

15 July 2014

via inspiration: anath's song
...And just like that, July is half over. To where exactly does time fly? I'd pay a pretty penny to the person who could give me the answer.

week two questions
actually finishing something [in] july

1) Were you able to reach your weekly goal?  

My goal by now was 10,000 words, and I'm not quite there yet. Thursday and Friday were busy days with work and entertaining guests, and I caught a nasty summer cold over the weekend that had me going to bed early and rising late for a day or two. By the grace of God and under the influence of Vitamin C, ibuprofen, almost a dozen bottles of water, and a box of tissues, I'm feeling better now and ready to attack the writing week. "I shall conquer this!—I shall!"

2) Is this challenge encouraging you to write more often?

Oh my, yes. As with each July (and November, if I'm participating in NaNoWriMo), there's the added push of accountability that keeps you flying, moving, and yes, sometimes scraping along through your project. Some days have been flooded with inspiration; others not so much. But I'm progressing.

3) At what time of the day did you accomplish most of your writing? 

My writing schedule juggles around depending on the time of the year. When I'm in classes during the winter and spring, I do most of my writing at night. Now that it's summer time, I'm home at odd hours of the day depending on my week's work schedule. This past week I accomplished the majority of my writing during the afternoon and evening.

4) Which musical tracks do you listen to most while writing? 

With Anath's Song, I listen to a lot of Loreena McKennitt (who supplies the proper sound) and Coldplay (who supplies the proper lyrics) for the story. If I get into a rut with those two, I'll change it up a bit and throw "Colors of the Wind" in for good measure.

5) Share a descriptive snippet or two of your writing.

Two swarthy eunuchs appeared in a second’s time, both armed, and they snatched for the foolish man. The Veiled One rose from her throne, as still and dreadful as Medusa herself with her veils whipping around her face like the fabled snakes. Her figure shook so terribly that the chains at her ankles clinked together in piercing echo. Her voice, when it came at last, was a weak gasp, as if he’d taken the very air from her lungs, but more real than anything she’d uttered before.
[anath's song]

A bit of the mockery fled Lysandros’ face, and it was like someone had briefly sent a cold finger down Anath’s spine. Still, he maintained his composure; it was only a woman, after all. Womenfolk had been known to cause enough trouble of their own accord without piling on unnecessary heavenly wrath. Lysandros had been spending too much time near Eleni’s lips.
[anath's song]

6) Share three dialogue-based snippets from your week one writing.

Free this man, my lady. His neck may be weak, but it does not belong to you.”
[anath's song]

If she be foul,” he conceded to his friend’s momentary satisfaction, “she has shown no aggression to this point, and I doubt she will in future. If she is savage as you say, maybe she’s a milder brute: the sort that is content with knocking furniture about every once in a while and refrains from bloody ritual and slaughter. I still say she is worth approaching.”
[anath's song]

I never could resist an adventure, especially on a night like this.”
[anath's song]

7) How are you going to move forward in this challenge? Are you changing your word-count goal or other plans? 

My word-count goal remains, but I'll probably have to increase the number of words I write in a day. We'll see how this next week progresses and take it from there.
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