Thursday, November 30, 2017

Holding in my hand

It's the proof copy of Dancing King, soon to join its Dancing Priest and A Light Shining siblings. If it all goes according to schedule, the print version will be available in about two weeks, with the ebook version about the same time or shortly before.

Did I mention that I feel like "Dancing Author" right now?

“Raven Black” by Ann Cleeves

Catherine Ross is from “down south,” which to most Shetland residents means England. She and her father moved to Shetland two years before, after the death of her mother. Her father is caught up in his own grief and seems to be barely functioning at times. Catherine has carved a special niche for herself in the equivalent of the local high school in the Shetland town of Lerwick. She’s the girl who doesn’t care what you think, the smart, beautiful girl who wants to pursue a career in film and is already doing a video project on the people and places of Shetland, one that will show they’re no different from anyone or anywhere else.

A neighbor and also a native of England, Fran Hunter, is walking on the beach and sees ravens circling. She finds Catherine, a very dead Catherine, strangled with her own scarf. As far as the Shetlanders are concerned, the obvious suspect is Magnus Tait, an old man who “isn’t all there” and who lives nearby the crime scene. Tait was suspected in the disappearance of a little girl eight years before, but the child’s body was never found. Coincidentally, Catherine and her father had moved into the home once occupied by the family of the missing girl.

Police detective Jimmy Perez isn’t convinced the killer is Tait. As he investigates, he finds suspects abound – a teacher at Catherine’s school; the island playboy; a childhood friend of Perez; and others. And what he finds as he looks for the killer is that the town he lives and works in is a bit different from the tourist posters.

Raven Black is the first mystery by British author Ann Cleeves in the Detective Jimmy Perez series. The series is also the basis for the BBC television series Shetland (available via Netflix). And it’s a terrific story, a peeling back of town and people (including Perez himself) that goes beyond the standard mystery or crime story.

Ann Cleeves
Cleeves has published seven mysteries in the Jimmy Perez / Shetland series, of which Raven Black is the first. The others are Red Bones (2009), White Nights (2010),
Blue Lightning (2010), Dead Water (2014), Thin Air (2015), and Cold Air (2017). She’s also published eight mystery novels in the Vera Stanhope series (also a television series), six Inspector Stephen Ramsay mysteries, and several others works and short stories. She lives in northeastern England.

Raven Black takes a multitude of twists and turns. Cleeves keeps the reader guessing, but she does it in an intelligent way, not with unexpected events or surprises clues but with tightly controlled plotting and character development. It’s a highly satisfying read.


Top photograph by Ignacio Giri via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

“Glory Happening” by Kaitlin Curtice

When I was a child, family vacations usually ended up in the vicinity of the Smoky Mountains. Even when primary destinations were North Carolina or Washington, D.C., somehow my parents would work the routes so that we would stop for at least a few nights in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, with drives through the Smoky Mountains National Park. Gatlinburg was a tourist town even then, but it looked radically different from what it does today.

A native of flatland New Orleans, my mother loved the mountains. And every trip we made, she could be counted on for saying “You feel closer to God in the mountains.” It wasn’t for reasons of altitude. It was because of the quiet and majesty of the mountains, the sounds of the roadside rivers and streams, and the sheer splendor of nature.

For writer Kaitlin Curtice, you don’t have to go to the mountains to find and experience the divine. In Glory Happening: Finding the Divine in Everyday Places, Curtice finds grace and glory in the everyday and the mundane.

A card game. A cave. A lost dog. A garden. Goats and chickens. Friends. A blood transfusion. A child with leukemia. Seedlings. Hunger. A theft of a laptop computer. Simple things. Obvious things. The things of everyday life.

Part memoir, part observation, and part prayer, Curtice has assembled 50 short reflections, each marked by a quiet simplicity. She brings the close eye of the writer, not the professional observer or watcher, but the writer who pauses, looks, sees, considers, and understands. She sees just enough, and provides a glimpse of the divine. Her response is prayer, and each of the 50 writings includes a prayer.

Kaitlin Curtice
The wonder is there, she says. Stop long enough to look for it. You’ll find it.

Curtice is an author, writer, speaker, and worship leader. Her writing focuses on the intersection of culture and spirituality. She’s writer for Sojourners, Decaturish, and Red Rising Magazine, among others. She blogs at her web site.

Glory Happening is an invitation to open your eyes, look at what surrounds you in your everyday life. You don’t have to travel to the mountains to find God.

Top photograph by Robert Collins via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

“Kristoph and the First Christmas Tree” by Claudia Cangilla McAdam

St. Boniface (675-754 A.D.) was born in Anglo-Saxon England, and played a critical role in the Anglo-Saxon mission to the areas known as Germania. He was known as the “apostle of the Germans” and helped reform the Frankish church. Many Catholics today still consider him a German national figure.

He’s also credited with inventing the Christmas tree.

It’s a legend, buttressed by accounts form the 18th century onward, more than a thousand years after his death. It may, or may not, have some foundation in fact, but it is a charming story, and plays rather directly to his mission to the Frankish tribes.

In Kristoph and the First Christmas Tree, children’s writer Claudia Cangilla McAdam retells a fictional account of St. Boniface and the Christmas tree. Kristoph is an orphan boy, and he’s accompanying a priest to a village. Their journey is interrupted when they discover a boy being readied to be sacrificed by pagan tribesmen to a tree they worshipped. The priest confronts the men, and sets up a test – he will chop the huge tree down with one blow of the ax.

Illustrated by Dave Hill, the book is aimed at the 5- to 9-year-old age group. It’s a simple but exciting story, and knowing how it will likely end doesn’t detract from its charm.

McAdam is the author of numerous books for children and young adults, including Portraits of Character (2001), Do You See What I See? (2006), Maria’s Mysterious Mission (2007), Awakening (2009), Riddles in the Rodeo (2010), A,B, See Colorado (2012), The Christmas Tree Cried (2014), and The Mermaid’s Gift (2015). Hill, a native of Glasgow, is an illustrator of comic books, video games, and picture books, including Hildegard’s Gift (2014).

Kristoph and the First Christmas Tree, whether based on a legend or fact, is a delightful book for children and a Christmas story for all ages.

Top photograph by Pail Itkin via Unsplash. Used with permission.