The Third Grace – review

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It’s always a joy to celebrate the coming out of a new book by a fellow Canadian writer. Today is the day we fete Deb Elkink and the re-release of her prize-winning debut novel The Third Grace (originally published in 2011). It comes out with a new cover, but the same rich interior. Here is my review of The Third Grace (review first published in 2011).

The Third Gracesumptuous as a period costume

Aglaia Klassen’s jaunt to Paris has been a long time in coming. But now it’s three days away—a business trip for which the main character in Deb Elkink’s debut novel The Third Grace, has significant plans of her own. On the evening we make her acquaintance she is trying to inveigle from her worldly friend Lou, how one would go about finding someone in that vast city.

When her country bumpkin mother Tina bursts upon their little soirée with the embarrassing request that Aglaia take the Bible that Francois left at the farm fifteen years ago and return it, Aglaia is beyond humiliated. But the Bible does find its way into her luggage and becomes a magnet once she discovers the notes this French exchange student scribbled in the margins all those years ago.

As she reads them, she is transported back to that summer of young love when she was seventeen and sure that Francois’ heart was all hers. She recalls the Greek myths of which the Bible stories they read in youth group reminded him, and finds tucked inside a photo postcard of the Three Graces. The Third Grace, Aglaia, is what Francois called her. That’s why she has not been Mary Grace—the name her parents gave her—for many years.

Much has happened since that crossroads summer at the farm in Nebraska. She has made an impression on the cultural scene in Denver where she works as an up-and-coming costume designer. As far as she’s concerned, her Mennonite past is history despite the longing in her parents’ eyes and their thinly disguised pleas for her help with the farm. Aglaia’s friend Lou has her own agenda and their paths get crazily entangled in this story that explores young love, faith, identity, and loyalty to family and friends.

The well-realized characters make this book a delight. Lou is a devious college prof who we don’t trust from the minute we meet her—though Aglaia wants to and tries to, to our dismay. Eb, Aglaia’s boss at the costume shop, is an eccentric, wise, father-figure and my personal favorite. Francois, the charming, lascivious student from the past plays a large role through Aglaia’s memories. Aglaia’s Mennonite parents ring true, with their homespun sensibilities, their ethnic cuisine, and their Plautdietsch-inflected pronunciations: “trock,”  and “tanse” for “truck” and “tense,” and germanisms like “Na jo,” En betje.”  Finally there’s Aglaia herself—talented and ambitious, yet idealistic, wistful, and tortured in the way she continues to carry the torch for her teenage sweetheart.

Elkink’s writing is a tailored garment of sensuous description, trimmed with just the right words to signal deeper meanings. Note this bit from the opening scene where Aglaia is entertaining Lou in her apartment:

“Aglaia angled her glass and looked into its blood-red interior. Wine was a symbol of communion, she thought, and she was using it with carnal deliberation to seal this relationship that had so much to offer her.”

The Third Grace, page 12.

Or this snippet describing Aglaia’s relationship with her craft:

“From the time she was a child…she’d hankered to sew. She learned the smell of the flax beneath the linen, savored the variance between silk and wool. She had a habit still of chewing a strand  each time she laid out a length of yard goods ready for the shears. She made a sacrament of touching and sniffing and tasting—a sensual adulation.”  

The Third Grace, p. 42.

I wasn’t surprised to learn that Eklink is herself a seamstress and has designed costumes.

I enjoyed this tale for its literary forays as much as its finely crafted characters. Elkink seems as comfortable recounting Aglaia’s fall from faith and attraction to the occult world of Greek myth as she is describing a scene of teenage seduction, a Paris bistro, or a child-squirmy kitchen. Through Eb she shares wisdom from Christian luminaries like Saint Augustine, Dante, and the Bible.

For a reading experience as layered and sumptuous as Aglaia’s period costumes, The Third Grace by Deb Elkink won’t disappoint.

Want more? Find out about Deb and her writing on her website DebElkink.com. Her second full-length novel, The Red Journal, came out in 2019 and is also available for purchase.

The humour of Ms. Google

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Just over a week ago hubby and I returned from an autumn holiday. It involved a fair bit of driving in places altogether unfamiliar to us as we explored Canada’s maritime provinces: Nova Scotia, PEI, and New Brunswick. To avoid having to navigate with my head buried in a map, I prepared for the trip by downloading and learning to use Google Maps as our GPS. Ms. Google was certainly a holiday-saver! She also gave us a few groans and a couple of laughs.google-maps-1797882_640

For example, on our way from Lunenberg to Blue Rocks NS, she led us down a No Exit road.

Several times just after I (the navigator) noticed the fleeting Re-routing banner, she would begin pouring out a virtual river of instructions. A river because we usually ignored her attempts to get us back on track by traveling on to where it was safe to make a U-turn so that we could get back to the original route. I know I detected relief in her voice when she would announce: “You’re back online.”

Another time, after we had visited St. Stephen N.B., which is within eyeshot of Maine, she began giving distances in miles instead of meters and kilometres, totally mystifying us two Canadians for whom metric has become the norm.

navigation-2049643_640We got the biggest chuckle the day we missed the turn into our motel and found ourselves back on the highway, racing northeast while Ms. Google, sounding more frantic with each repetition, called out “Go southwest. Go southwest! Go southwest!!” She toned down after we took the first exit we could and she then proceeded, with the greatest patience and never a scolding word, to circle us back to our missed destination.

I would never want to go on another trip on unknown roads without Ms. G. holding my hand. The fact that we could laugh at her foibles is testament to how she helped us relax and enjoy our drives.

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spiritualjourneyfirst-thursday-copyThis post is linked to Spiritual Journey (First) Thursday, hosted today by Jan at her blog Book Seed Studio, where you will find links in the comments to more articles on the subject of Humour.

Wanderlust (poem swap edition)

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Summer+Poetry+Swap-1

What’s second-best to Christmas? A parcel from the post-person during summer poem swap season, of course!

When I opened my front door after a summons by the bell on Monday, there was no one there. But there was an intriguing white package propped against the doorframe—poem swap goodies from Irene Latham!

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The Car and the car! (Summer poem swap 2017)

The parcel had in it a coloring sheet, perfectly in sync with my 2017 one-little-word “Listen,” a book, The Car, by Gary Paulsen, an actual car—a tiny metal roadster complete with two seats and a transparent front window (cutest thing you ever saw), and this poem…

RoadSong 1

I love everything in this poem swap parcel but my favorite item is the poem. It reminds me of the summer and fall way back, when I and a couple of friends spent four months backpacking around Great Britain and the Continent. (Yes, that’s what we boomers did in the 70s; we called it the “Europe cure.”) For two of those months we rode the trains, crisscrossing Europe on a Eurail Pass.

Irene’s got it exactly right. The train cubicle, your pack, the hostel are your whole world—bed, dining room, office, garbage can… The sky is the only constant. And you begin to feel like a creased old map, up for any destination, knowledgeable, wise, and invincible.

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poetryfridayThis poem is linked to Poetry Friday, hosted today by Linda Mitchell at her blog A Word Edgewise where a poetry prompt auction is going on!

A Traveler’s Advisory (review)

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A Traveler's AdvisoryA Traveler’s Advisory by Marcia Lee Laycock
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In A Traveler’s Advisory, author Marcia Laycock takes readers from the Arctic Circle to the jungles of Papua New Guinea and home again. Each of the 52 meditations draws spiritual lessons from a travel experience (sections are titled “In the Air,” “On the Road,” “On Vacation,” and “Far Away Places”) and make practical applications to life.

Written in Marcia’s characteristic warm, easy-to-read style, they make for fascinating and uplifting reading. Some of my favorites:

– Most fun: “Sea Shells and the Process of Faith” (p. 111)—hunting for sea shells on a Papua New Guinea beach.

– Sadly relatable: “A Wrong Turn to the Right Place” (p. 34)— going in circles is not fun!

– Would make my bucket list: “Angels in the Badlands” (p. 71)—a visit to the Passion Play in the Alberta Badlands.

– Most scary: “Doubts in the Storm” (p. 41)—being stuck on a highway from the Yukon to Alaska in a snowstorm.

– Most beautiful: “Small Miracles” (p. 87)—a hike through the Sepik area of New Guinea.

– Most weird: “An Appreciation of Light” (p. 73)—a trek through some skeleton-filled caves, a relic of cannibalism, in New Guinea.

Through these devotions we discover that God’s voice, help, direction, comfort, and protection can find us wherever we are.

A Traveler’s Advisory would be a wonderful volume to read while on holiday. Or if home-bound, enjoy these travels vicariously from the safety and comfort of your reading chair. Your life will be enriched and your appreciation for the Earth, its inhabitants, and the God who made them enhanced.

I received a copy of A Traveler’s Advisory from the author for the purpose of writing a review.

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Love Triangles (review)

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Love Triangles, Discovering Jesus the Jew in Today's IsraelLove Triangles, Discovering Jesus the Jew in Today’s Israel by Bobbie Ann Cole
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In her memoir / travelogue Love Triangles, Bobbie Ann Cole writes about her love affair with Israel. When she and husband Butch move there, it is to fill a six-month time period till their rented property will again be available to them. However, after only three months they begin thinking of applying for permanent residency, called making Aliyah* when you’re Jewish (as Bobbie is).

There is one problem. Bobbie and Butch are Christians. The interpretation of the Jewish immigration policy in the last years has kept many Jews who believe Jesus is their Messiah from gaining permanent residency. This has Bobbie constantly on edge, worried that she’ll jeopardize her chances of immigrating. And so she guards what she says, avoids establishing intimate friendships with the locals, and even changes who she associates with.

Much of the book is descriptions of biblically familiar Israeli sites. In vivid and picturesque language Cole describes what she hears, sees, smells and touches. She also recalls what happened in the Bible places like Nazareth, Capernaum, the Sea of Galilee, Jerusalem and more. Repeatedly she mentions that in Israel she feels closer to Jesus than anywhere else in the world:

What I loved, but as someone relatively young in faith had never known before, was following Jesus all around the Land. That was a powerful incentive.

In our three months there, we had met Him in the Negev Desert, in Jerusalem’s Old City, and on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. … We had discovered that even though the country was constantly on high military alert, there was what Butch referred to as ‘that safe, spiritual feeling,’ a serenity rooted in faith, a trust that God ‘has it.’” KL 129.

I found this book informational and inspiring in several ways. First, it opened my eyes to the way Jews who believe in Jesus are singled out as ineligible to become Israeli citizens. Second, Cole’s descriptions of modern Israel juxtaposed against her sometimes whimsical and imaginative retelling of what happened there in Bible stories made me want to visit Israel more than ever. And finally, through Cole’s story I have gained a new appreciation for Israel’s story and the love of the people for the land both in the past and present.

You’re probably wondering if Bobbie and Butch made Aliyah. Were they successful in immigrating? You’ll have to read the book to find out.

*‘Aliyah’ literally means ‘going up,’ a term originally used to describe how Jews from all over the ancient world would go up to the temple at the very top of Mount Zion in Jerusalem for Jewish pilgrimage festivals” – KL 768.

I received the Kindle edition of Love Triangles as a gift from the author for the purpose of writing a review.

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Summer Plans

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Balloons floating in air

Summer Plans

My mom has signed me up for summer camp.
That’s twenty-one meals in the dining hall.
It’s shivering in a towel that’s always damp
and taking dares to scale the climbing wall.
It’s harnessing to be the zip line champ
contests of shooting with the basketball.
Can’t wait for campfire and those yummy s’mores
—of course we earn them all with cabin chores.

This summer I’m supposed to learn to swim
I’m scared of getting water up my nose.
Styrofoam kick-board helps me float and skim
remember, breathe and stroke and kick your toes.
The water in my eyes is nothing grim
it’s just two weeks of crawl and backstroke woes.
I’m dreading Friday when I take my test
(I’ll simply die if I don’t earn my crest!)

This holiday we’re traveling by car
we’ll even spend a night in a motel.
By daddy’s map it doesn’t look too far,
but hours of driving make me want to yell.
My sister and I get into a war
I tease her and she answers that I smell.
We eat some burgers and it’s on and on…
Such a long drive isn’t a lot of fun!

This summer I’m not going anywhere
I’ll jump the trampoline and read a book.
My dad said he might take me to the fair,
Mom said she’d prob’ly teach me how to cook.
I’ll treehouse sleep at night high in the air
at noon fish in the creek with worms and hook
on hot days water-park in my own yard
I’ll fill my days with fun – it won’t be hard!

© 2010 by Violet Nesdoly

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Though school has been over for about a month in the US, here in Canada, students are only done in the next week or so. I haven’t been in school as a student or teacher for many a year but still some internal clock of mine keeps track of school and no-more-school.

“Summer Plans” was inspired by a 2010 ottava rima prompt and challenge on Miss Rumphius Effect’s blog.  I  posted it in her comments there and am bringing it out again today to celebrate the end of school for Canadian kids, and the beginning of summer for everyone!

poetry+friday+button+-+fulllThis poem is linked to Poetry Friday, hosted today by Carol at Carol’s Cornerwhere you’ll find links to lots more poetry and poetry-related goodies.