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review 2018-12-07 16:56
Day Of Penance Book: "In The Bleak Midwinter - The Rev. Clare Fergusson & Russ Van Alstyne Mysteries #1" by Julia Spencer-Fleming
In the Bleak Midwinter - Julia Spencer-Fleming

The only thing better than a good book is a good book that is the start of a series. "In The Bleak Midwinter" was a great read that starts a series which currently sits at eight novels.

 

I took a risk when I bought this book - a mystery about a new woman priest and the Chief of Police of a small town in upstate New York could have been a recipe for saccharine scenes, hallmark sentiments and a story targetted for prime time on a Christian TV channel.

 

I knew I was safe at the 2% mark when the book made me laugh out loud at the scene where the small town Police Chief unexpectedly meets the new priest and discovers she’s female. The Police Chief asks himself:

What was he supposed to call her? “Mother?”

“I go by Reverend, Chief. Ms. is fine, too.”

“Oh. Sorry. I never met a woman priest before.”

“We’re just like the men priests, except we’re willing to pull over and ask directions.”

I was still surprised at just how good the book is. There's more to it than smart dialogue, Julia Spencer-Fleming has come up with two strong, likeable characters, with military backgrounds, who have their own, non-clichéd, approaches on how to exercise their authority. The rapport and the conflict between them is credible and engaging.

 

The Reverend manages to be caring and tough. The Police Chief manages to be authoritative without creating conflict.

 

The two are brought together when a newborn is abandoned on the steps of the Reverend's church with instructions that he be given to a member of her congregation and an as yet unidentified young woman who has recently given birth is found murdered.

 

What follows is a solid mystery that is a pleasing mix of detection, exploration of moral dilemmas/social issues and tense action. 

 

The Reverend's continuing close involvement in work that should be done by the police requires a little suspension of disbelief but is well managed. I found her ignorance of the clothes and vehicles needed to cope with mountain winters a little harder to accept but perhaps that's because I've spent so much time in those conditions.

 

This isn't a "cosy mystery" nor is it a voyeuristic rid into violence. It's something much rarer: a character-driven crime story that manages to acknowledge the bleakness of reality without being overwhelmed by it.

 

I've already bought the next book in the series, which has the rather off-putting title of "A Fountain Filled With Blood".

 

I read this book for the Day Of Penance Door in 24 Festive Tasks.

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review 2018-11-28 23:26
24 Festive Tasks: Door 8 - Penance Day, Book
The Brimstone Wedding - Barbara Vine
The Brimstone Wedding - Barbara Vine,Juliet Stevenson

Tedious, predictable, and boring beyond belief.  I'd never have thought I'd actually ever say this about a book by Barbara Vine (Ruth Rendell in her standalone thriller writer incarnation), but there we are -- and not even Juliet Stevenson's lovely narration could do anything about it.  The tedium of unhappy marriage and an ultimately equally unhappy adulterous affair, experienced by two women of different generations and different social classes who tell each other their respective stories ... yawn.  Been there, done that, all probably pretty realistic, especially the present-day story, but by the same token that narrative strain in particular is just utterly predictable.  OK, OK, the "marriage" bit was perhaps foreseeable given this book's title, but in view of the author and since the title also has the word "brimstone" in it, I really was expecting a bit more of the hellfire and demonic machinations that Vine normally so excels in.  But even in the older woman's story, which is marginally more interesting, the "big reveal" at the end had been telegraphed pretty much from the start, and the book ends with a twist intended to tie both stories together even more firmly which (1) also was not exactly a surprise, given the amount of foreshadowing in that particular direction, and (2) is in itself, never mind the foreshadowing, artificial to the nth degree and as unnecessary to the storyline as an extra limb.  Shame, Baroness Rendell; I'd have expected so much better from you!

 

However, since this book is literally brimming (bad pun intended) with people searching their souls, hiding guilty secrets -- not only of the adulterous kind -- and seeking absolution, I'm claiming this as my read for Penance Day so as to at least get something out of it after all.  This is incidentally also the only reason why I finished it.

 

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review 2018-11-26 18:23
Kind of Like Our Town Taking Place in Ireland
The Copper Beech - Maeve Binchy

We have two characters who are men of the cloth (we get one of the characters POV, and we find out that another character is hiding a very dark secret, along with another one hiding a secret that ends up benefiting her). 

 

It's funny, I think I read this one eons ago (back in the mid-2000s) but I never got into it. At least I can say that nothing read as familiar to me when I started this. I thought that the way that Binchy balances all of the characters, and then we get to see them in the end, adults, married, with children was great. I always want to know what happens next in a story, so we get a little of that here.

 

Binchy divides up the book and focuses on certain characters in the village of Schancarrig. We start off with Father Gunn, then we move to Madeline Ross (known as Maddy) which also introduces Father Barry. We have other adults in this one, Dr. Jims and Nora Kelly but they are in the mix of when the school children are introduced. After them, we move to the children who go to Schancarrig school. First we have Maura, then Eddie, Nessa, and Leo. We also have another character who is not one that went to the school, Richard. He is related to one of the characters we hear about in this story, Niall. We don't get Niall's POV in this though.  

 

I have to say that out of everyone I liked Nessa's and Leo's stories the most. Probably because Nessa gets to see a different side to her mother's relationship with her father, and she realizes that it's better for her to give her strength to someone who needs it/her instead of throwing herself away on someone who doesn't deserve her.


Leo's story was heart wrenching. Her family gets twisted upside down and she is forced to keep a secret that haunts her. I did love how the village reprobate Foxy made good and how he was hell-bent on marrying Leo. I thought it was odd though that Binchy didn't switch Foxy in for Richard's story. One of the main reason's why I gave it 4 stars. 

 

Maddy's story was a hot mess. Dealing with an overbearing mother, she throws her all into being an assistant teacher, and then her friendship with Father Barry who is another mess. Her ending was not happy at all, and I liked how Binchy looped her back in the end. 

 

I really liked the writing in this one. You really have to pay attention to what is going on while reading this since you get hints of thing to come in other people's stories. Also Binchy does a wonderful job of looping things back. For example, you don't know what caused Leo to suddenly change how she was personality wise. You just know that other characters remark upon it. Eventually you do find out while reading Leo's story. 


The flow was good too, though some of the individual stories, I was a little bored with like Richard and Eddie. Eddie's story gets better by the end, but the beginning of his tale was slow. Richard I didn't like at all, and it was odd that was even included I though except it gave us insights into two other characters, Nessa and a woman we hear mentioned a lot, Mrs. Gloria Darcy. 

 

The setting is Shancarrig in the 1960s. When the book ends we are in 1970 I think or at least 1971. The book focuses on the school (the old stone house) and the tree that the children wrote their initials on as they grew up (the copper beech). 


The ending leaves things on a hopeful note for all of the characters except for Richard and Maddy. 

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text 2018-11-23 21:12
24 Festive Tasks: Door 8 - Penance Day, Task 4 (In the Desert: Egypt, with an Addendum for Moonlight)

As many here know, I've lived in Southern California for a while, which is of course largely a desert region, and traveled throughout the American Southwest from there -- but the last time I visited a desert was when I took my mom to Egypt a few years ago:

 

Gizah:


Saqqara:

Abu Simbel:

Sunrise in the desert, and our "caravan" of 40 or so tourist buses (as a prevention against armed attacks -- by terrorists or robbers -- the only way, other than flying, that you were permitted to travel to Abu Simbel at the time; the "caravan" was heavily guarded by police)

Entrances to the temples of Ramses II and his wife, Queen Nefertari

Temple of Ramses II

Temple of Nefertari
(photography not permitted inside either temple)

 

Temple of Hatshepsut:

Hatshepsut depicted as a pharaoh, in the traditional manner ... and in a rare instance, as a woman

Head sculpture of the goddess Isis

Wall paintings, depicting Hatshepsut's army (glorifying her military conquests), as well as the 3 sacred symbols: Uas (salvation, the sceptre of the gods), Djet, or Zet (stability, the backbone of Osiris), and Ankh (life, eternity)

 

Valley of the Kings:

Model of the Valley of the Kings: each of the dots represents a tomb ... and excavations are still continuing

"KV 62" -- the most famous of them all

Tutankhamun's burial chamber (not my own photo: source here)

 

Karnak:


Entrance to the temple compound and Alley of Rams

Great Hypostyle Hall
The photo doesn't really do the height of these columns justice (no photo could); they totally dwarf us humans ... we don't reach much higher than the bottom pedestal and the lower part of the actual column

Toppled obelisk of Hatshepsut, and scarab altar (for luck, you're supposed to circle it -- seven times IIRC)

Statue of Sekhmet, the lion goddess, and colored relief of Ankh with two falcons (or eagles -- not sure)

Looking back towards the main compound from the other end of the temple district

 
 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

For Moonlight, as a follow-up to her Day of Penance post: San Xavier del Bac, way back when I visited ... and without trying to touch up or re-colorize the photos in any way.  Though they're not quite as ancient as they look; they were just taken with a cheap camera (my very first one).  So you'll just have to take it on faith that the sky was as brightly blue as in your photos and the church as gleaming white! :)

 

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text 2018-11-23 17:17
24 Festive Tasks: Door 8 - Penance Day, Task 1 (Comfort Reads)
The Complete Sherlock Holmes - Arthur Conan Doyle
Poirot: The Complete Battles of Hastings, Vol. 1 - Agatha Christie
Poirot: The Complete Battles of Hastings, Vol. 2 - Agatha Christie
Gaudy Night - Dorothy L. Sayers
A Man Lay Dead / Enter a Murderer / The Nursing Home Murder (The Ngaio Marsh Collection) - Ngaio Marsh
The Clock Strikes Twelve - Patricia Wentworth
Envious Casca - Georgette Heyer
Margery Allingham Omnibus: Includes Sweet Danger, The Case of the Late Pig, The Tiger in the Smoke - Margery Allingham
The Great Detectives - JULIAN SYMONS,TOM ADAMS
The Golden Age of Murder - Martin Edwards

It's probably no secret that my comfort reads are Golden Age mysteries -- I'm slowly making my way through the works of the members of the Detection Club, including the forgotten and recently republished ones, but most of all, I keep coming back to, again and again:

 

Arthur Conan Doyle / Sherlock Holmes: Still the grand master -- both the detective and his creator -- that no serious reader of mysteries can or should even try to side-step.  I've read, own, and have reread countless times all 4 novels and 56 short stories constituting the Sherlock Holmes canon, and am now making my way through some of the better-known /-reputed Holmes pastiches (only to find -- not exactly to my surprise -- that none of them can hold a candle to the original), as well as Conan Doyle's "non-Holmes" fiction.

 

And, of course --

 

The Golden Age Queens of Crime

Agatha Christie: Like Sherlock Holmes, part of my personal canon from very early on.  I've read and, in many cases, reread more than once and own (largely as part of a series of anniversary omnibus editions published by HarperCollins some 10 years ago) all of Agatha Christie's novels and short stories published under this name, as well as her autobiography, with only those of her books published under other names (e.g., the Mary Westmacott romances) left to read.

 

Dorothy L. Sayers: My mom turned me onto Sayers when I was in my teens, and I have never looked back.  I've read all of her Lord Peter Wimsey novels and short stories, volume 1 of her collected letters (which covers her correspondence from childhood to the end of her career as a mystery writer), and some of her non-Wimsey short stories and essays.  Gaudy Night and the two addresses jointly published under the title Are Women Human? are among my all-time favorite books; not least because they address women's position in society decades before feminism even became a mass movement to be reckoned with, and with a validity vastly transcending both Sayers's own lifetime and our own. -- Next steps: The remainder of Sayers's non-Wimsey stories and of her essays, as well as her plays.

 

Ngaio Marsh: A somewhat later entry into my personal canon, but definitely a fixture now.  I've read all of her Inspector Alleyn books and short stories and reread many of them.  Still on my TBR: her autobiography (which happily is contained in the last installments of the series of 3-book-each omnibus volumes I own).

 

Patricia Wentworth: Of the Golden Age Queens of Crime, the most recent entry into my personal canon.  I'd read two books by her a few years ago and liked one a lot, the other one considerably less, but Tigus expertly steered the resident mystery fans on Booklikes to all the best entries in the Miss Silver series, which I'm now very much looking forward to completing -- along with some of Wentworth's other fiction.

 

Georgette Heyer: I'm not a romance reader, so I doubt that I'll ever go anywhere near her Regency romances.  But I'm becoming more and more of a fan of her mysteries; if for no other reason than that nobody, not even Agatha Christie, did viciously bickering families as well as her.

 

Margery Allingham: I'm actually more of a fan of Albert Campion as portrayed by Peter Davison in the TV adaptations of some of Allingham's mysteries than of her Campion books as such, but I like at least some of those well enough to eventually want to complete the series -- God knows I've read enough of them at this point for the completist in me to have kicked in long ago.  I've also got Allingham's very first novel, Blackerchief Dick (non-Campion; historical fiction involving pirates) sitting on my audio TBR.

 

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