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review 2020-04-22 17:39
"All Mortal Flesh - Clare Fergusson /Russ Van Alstyne Mysteries #5" by Julia Spencer-Fleming
All Mortal Flesh: A Clare Fergusson and Russ Van Alstyne Mystery (Clare Fergusson and Russ Van Alstyne Mysteries) - Julia Spencer-Fleming

'All Mortal Flesh' is book five in this crime series about a woman priest and the Chief of Police of a small town of Millers Kill in the Adirondack mountains in New York The two of them keep being thrown together as they try to sort out various violent deaths in the town. 


Book by book, the attraction between them has grown, fed partly by denial and mostly by a common urge to act and to protect.




...the Police Chief is married. To a very nice, very attractive woman (it annoys me a little that it matters whether she's attractive - it shouldn't pile on the angst - she's his wife - that should be enough) that he dragged to this small town when he retired from the Army and with whom he has not been able to have children with. His wife, he believes, is a woman that he still loves.


...the Priest is deeply committed to her faith and her parish and knows that she can't honour those things AND keep feeding her attraction to the Police Chief.


By the violent and traumatic end of the fourth book, aptly titled ‘To Darkness And To Death’, both of them have realised that, although they haven't had sex, they have had an affair in their hearts, with all the betrayals that that involves.


I'd wondered how the fifth book would cope with this. I had expected another mystery during which the two of them would go through the slow torture of deciding what to do, even though there are no good choices but Julia Spencer-Fleming is braver than me and she's given the fifth book an explosive start.


The book opens with the Priest having gone on a week's retreat, during which she's reached a conclusion and now expects never to see the Police Chief again. THEN I find that the Police Chief's wife has thrown him out and shared the reasons with her best friend. THEN her best friend finds the Police Chief's wife murdered.

And all of that was in the first five per cent of the book.


I'd clearly underestimated how much pain Julia Spencer-Fleming is willing to put her characters through. This was an edge-of-the-seat -how-can-THIS-have-gotten-worse sort of book. 


This book has claws and it slipped them into my imagination the way a cat will hook your flesh if you show it too much trust. I needed to know what happened next, not just because the plot was full of surprises that kept me guessing about who had done what to whom, or because the way the story cut back and forth between Clare and Russ kept the tension ramped up but because I needed to see a way through the grief. 'All Mortal Flesh' is soaked in grief, real messy, ugly, I-want-to-look-away-from-this-grief, not the romantic don't-you-just-want-to-hug-him/her kind.


Neither Clare nor Russ let themselves off the hook for their actions or the consequences of their actions. Both are determined to do the right thing. It's painful to watch but it feels true.


The language of the book is one of the things that make it so powerful. Take this description that opens the chapter in which Russ appears for the first time in this book:

There are moments in life that are between: between the blow and the pain, between the phone ringing and the answer, between the misstep and the fall. One that comes to everyone is a moment, or three, or five, between sleeping and waking, when the past has not yet been re-created out of memory and the present has made no impression. It is a moment of great mercy; disorienting, like all brushes with grace, but a gift nonetheless.

'when the past has not yet been re-created out of memory and the present has made no impression' - I love that.


Then there's this description of Clare in a moment when she is guilty entertaining the hope that she and Russ might have a future. I think it captures Clare's values perfectly:

But she could not forget Russ’s pain, his poor murdered wife, or the guilt – equal parts sin and complicity – that clung to her like a wet dress.

I was very impressed by this instalment of the series and I'll be back for book six, ' I Shall Not Want', shortly.

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review 2020-01-14 23:43
"To Darkness and To Death - Clare fergusson / Russ Van Alstyne Mysteries #4" by Julia Spencer-Fleming
To Darkness and to Death - Julia Spencer-Fleming

This book is dominated by a complex plot, pivoting around the independent but interlocking actions of three men, each of whom uses violence, mostly against women, to defend things that they see as central to their sense of self.

It also pushes the relationship between the Priest and the Sherrif beyond any pretence of being platonic.



If this hadn't been the fourth book in the series, I might have set it aside after the first chapter.


It opens with a woman awakening alone and finding herself bound and with no knowledge of where she is or how she got there. It was scenes like that that led to me abandoning "Criminal Minds". It's too close to turning horror into either banality or voyeurism.


The book righted itself quickly, coming back to characters and a writing style that I recognised but it left me wondering if this was going to be another book looking at the bad things that men do to women in a way that revels a little too much in the power the violence gives to the men.


I should have had more faith in Julia Spencer-Fleming. She delivered a book which is about men who commit acts of violence against women and sometimes men, but the focus isn't on the violence but on the process by which these men convince themselves that what they are doing is, if not right, then necessary, especially if they can get away with it. I found myself being impressed by the way each of the men, with different perceived threats, different hopes and different social situations trod, independently, the same path to violence, or, as the title has it, to darkness and to death.


The plot that interlocks the stories of these three men is intricate. The linkages are complex and clever, The reveals kept me guessing and cranked up the tension with the actions of each man amplifying the damage done by the others.


In the midst of all of this, we have Claire and Russ, the Priest and the Sheriff, bringing humanity to the story and preventing it from degrading into a clever but mechanical thriller. Seeing people through Claire's eyes or Russ' eyes makes them more real. It allows us to see them as more than plot devices.


The book also moves forward the story arc of the unlooked-for but inescapable attraction between Claire and the very married Russ. I thought this part of the story was very well done. Clichés and moral judgements were both avoided. Instead, we were shown too fundamentally good people who want something that they can't have without becoming different people than the ones they want to be. It seems clear that Claire and Russ have reached a point where they will have to make a decision. I think it shows how well this was written that I found myself unable to say what should happen next and was only certain that they can't stay as they are.


I'll be back for book five and hoping that Claire and Russ find a path and that the next plot is a little less violent.

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review 2019-09-06 16:13
"Out Of The Deep I Cry - The Rev. Clare Fergusson & Russ Van Alstyne Mysteries #3" by Julia Spencer-Fleming
Out of the Deep I Cry - Julia Spencer-Fleming

"Out Of The Deep I Cry" links Clare, our modern-day ex-army helicopter pilot turned Episcopalian Priest and Russ our local boy returned to be sheriff after a little too long in the army, more closely to the past of the small town of Miller's Kill, New York.


As with the previous books, "Out Of The Deep I Cry" manages to link the investigation of a crime to a topical issue, in this case, the inoculation of children. It then goes a step further and links the fates of the current Miller's Kill generation with the trials faced by their grandparents, when diphtheria was killing children, when inoculation was new and not widely accepted and when rural New York was the main route for smuggling illegal alcohol to New York City.


While I enjoyed the cleverness of the mysteries in the plot and how they were resolved, what struck me most was how the actions of previous generations can seem so long ago yet still have impacts and echoes in the daily lives of their descendants. I was impressed that the story of the previous generation was told with the same clarity and authenticity as the modern-day story.


Julia Spencer-Fleming managed to weave the two timelines together in ways that were easy to follow and which made both stories stronger. In the process, she set out the dilemmas faced by parents trying to do the best by their children, without being judgemental.pencer


There is a lot of grief in this book, some of which has been carried for a long time. I admired the way that grief was respected and understood rather than being exploited. It kept the book human and it kept the emotions high.


The relationship between Clare and Russ continues to grow and to cause both of them pleasure and guilt. This too is handled with empathy and without ducking the moral issues involved.


It seems to me that this series is getting stronger as it goes along. I'm looking forward to reading the next book.

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review 2019-09-01 01:37
Ben Franklin's in My Bathroom - audiobook
Ben Franklin's in My Bathroom! (History Pals) - Mark Fearing,Candace Fleming,Malcom Campbell

Audience: Grades 3-5

Format: Audiobook/Library


Olive lay on her belly under the kitchen table.

- first sentence


This is a funny book about what would happen if Ben Franklin was somehow transported to today's world. Nolan & Olive find a strange radio on their front porch and as they are playing with the buttons, suddenly Ben Franklin appears. They try to hide him from their mom and everyone else, but his curiousity gets them all into a bit of trouble. Ben is fascinated by everything in Nolan's world, from electricity to libraries.


This was a funny book that kids in grades 3-5 will most likely enjoy. There are illustrations on many pages and when Ben tells a story, Nolan imagines it in graphic novel form. I listened to the audio, so I missed most of that. I would recommend that kids read the physical book so they can enjoy all of the illustrations.


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review 2019-07-05 22:31
What an ending
A Fountain Filled With Blood - Julia Spencer-Fleming

I have read this before, but I had totally forgotten how intense the last 25% of the book is. I wasn't really feeling it at first, and was a little bit disappointed, because I remembered the series being stronger than what I was getting from about the first 30% of the book. 


The chemistry between Russ and Clare was great, of course, and we are introduced to Margy Van Alstyne, Russ's mother, who is a hoot, so that was fun. It didn't feel like Spencer-Flaming was handling the hate-crime motive for the murders very well, though - it seemed heavy handed and awkward - during the first part of the book.


But then, holy hell, it just took off, and next thing you know, I am just unable to tear my eyes away from my kindle. The ending was amazing and heart-dropping at the same time.


Anyway, I am going onto the third book, because I can't help myself. I need more Russ and Clare.

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