Saturday, December 14, 2019

Saturday Good Reads

Interesting week in these Still United States (for now, anyway). The Inspector General released his report on the FBI, and we immediately heard from the news media that the report supported the 2016 FBI investigation into the Trump campaign. Then people (reporters) started to read the report and discovered another story entirely. Mollie Hemingway at The Federalist (she’s conservative and a straighter shooter) looks at the report, recalls how the media praised Adam Schiff’s 2018 memo that he’d seen the documents on the FBI and there was nothing there, and concludes that Congressman Schiff didn’t tell the truth. And that has implications beyond the Inspector General’s report.

By the way, Jared Wilson at Lifeway Voices has some suggestions for the election season, as in, ways Christians can stay Christians during the election campaign.

It’s no surprise that the Christmas season brings, for some, a sense of grief – family and friends who are no longer there to celebrate, or perhaps loved ones who died at this time of year. Glen Sharp at Front Porch Republic writes about one kind of grief in “Pancakes with My Father.” David McLemore at Things of This Sort writes about another in “There Most Assuredly Will Come a Morning.”

The teacher of the year in the state of Arkansas uses hometown pride – and poetry – to connect with her students. Kalyn Belsha at Urban Faith has the story.

More Good Reads

Life and Culture

Lefty Lingo – Lionel Shriver at Harper’s Magazine.

The Houston Astros, Digital Espionage, and the Harsh Demands of Justice – Kevin Clarke at Church Life Journal (Notre Dame University). 

I Wonder as I Wander – Marcelo Gleiser at Orbiter Magazine.

Derangements I Have Known – David Warren at Essays in Idleness.

News Media

The Dark Psychology of Social Networks: Why it feels like everything is going haywire – Jonathan Haidt and Tobias Rose-Stockwell at The Atlantic.


Being Leonardo: On "Leonardo da Vinci' at the Louvre – James Hankins at The New Criterion.


All In – Story by Doug Spurling at Spurling Silver.

(Anti)Virtue-Signaling – Rut Etheridge III at Gentle Reformation.

American Stuff

Cromwell, More and the Most Hated Man in America – Nancy Bilyeau at English Historical Fiction Authors.

How the Left Gets America’s “Civil War” All Wrong – John Horvat at The Imaginative Conservative.

The Importance of Finding the Original Source – Kevin Pawlak at Emerging Civil War Blog.


The Pencil – Amit Majmudar at Light Poetry Magazine.

Frontlets – Mary Harwell Sayler at Interlitq. 

Hood weeps inside his tent at Tupelo – George Green at The New Criterion.

214 N. Broadway | Post, Texas – Mark Cole at Literary Life.

British Stuff

The Bridge at the Place of the Bridge – Barb Drummond at Curious Historian.

Writing and Literature

Pale Ink: Commonplace books and the illusions of memory – Ed Park at Lapham’s Quarterly.

The Joy and Risk of Naming the World – Micah Mattix at The American Conservative.

A Mighty Fortress – HeartSong Cedarville University

Painting: An Old Man Reading, oil on canvas by Jan Lievens (1607-1674).

Friday, December 13, 2019


After Philippians 4:4-9

Instead of anxiety,
consider and embrace
the true, the honorable,
the just, the pure,
the lovely the commendable,
the excellent, the worthy
of praise and admiration.

We know this.
We have known this.

Practice this, 
practice these things
in our lives; demonstrate
our learning, what is given,
what we’ve heard and seen
nestled within the peace
passing understanding.

Share this.
Like this.
Retweet this.

Photograph by Fernando @cfredo via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

"The Poker Game Mystery" by Peter Bartram

It’s the mid-1960s, and Colin Crampton, crime reporter for the Brighton Evening Chronicle, is facing one of his toughest professional crises yet. He discovers a body that at first looks like suicide but turns out to be murder; a strange poker hand is set up near the deceased. He and his girlfriend Shirley Goldsmith get chased and nearly caught by thugs. And his beloved newspaper, with all of its eccentric editors, reporters, and librarians, is experiencing an existential crisis – the owner has died, and the owner’s son has lost the paper in a poker game with an Australian businessman who likes putting titillating photographs on page 3. And that’s just for starters.

What’s a reporter to do?

Take it all on, and then some.

The Poker Game Mystery by Peter Bartram is the latest of the “Crampton of the Chronicle” mysteries, and if you’re a junkie for old-style journalism stories, this is a book for you. It has all of the memorable characters of the previous books in the series – chain-smoking editor Frank Figgis, the ladies of the newspaper library (morgue) who could out-Google Google, girlfriend Shirley who not only puts up with Crampton’s shenanigans but often instigates them; the bumbling police superintendent who’s bested by Crampton at every turn, and more.

Peter Bartram
The story includes one of the funniest, not to mention wildest, chase scenes ever – Crampton and Shirley on a bicycle, being chased through London’s Piccadilly by thugs in a car and on a motorbike, and careening their way through the lobby of the Ritz Hotel. 

Bartram has published several Colin Crampton mystery novels and story collections. He had a long career in journalism, including being a reporter on a weekly newspaper, an editor for newspapers and magazines in London, and freelance journalism – all of which have been utilized in creating the character of Colin Crampton. Bartram is also a member of the Society of Authors and the Crime Writers’ Association.

The Poker Game Mystery takes Crampton back to World War II and secret plans to thwart the expected German invasion, along with having to learn (quickly) how to cheat at poker. It’s funny and wild, with a good mystery story thrown in for good measure.


Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Romance in Ireland: 2 Novels

Two novels tell the stories of Americans heading off to Ireland – and finding romance.

Gillian, a university librarian, turns 25 – and is contacted by an attorney who turns over a safety deposit box key. Inside the box is her deceased mother’s diary, a ring, and money. After her father’s death, her mother had eventually remarried, to the well-to-do businessman J.W. Oaks. Gillian had been raised by her maternal grandmother – her mother and Oaks had divorced not long before her mother died.

Gillian receives a summer assignment from a magazine – a feature on Ireland. Oaks wants to talk with his stepdaughter, whom he hasn’t seen in years. Gillian thinks he abandoned her, but the story will turn out to be more complex. Oaks sends his son Pete to Ireland, ostensibly on hotel business, to track Gillian down and bring her back to the States. Romance follows and grows.

Kristy Tate
Irish Wishes by Kristy Tate is the story of what happens when Pete follows Gillian to Ireland. He learns that the scrawny, skinny 15-year-old he remembers has turned into a beautiful young woman. She finds that her admiration for her stepbrother is turning into something else entirely. 

Tate has published more than 20 books, including several in the Beyond series and the Witch Ways series. She writes romantic mysteries, humorous romance stories, and speculative young adult fiction. Irish Wishes is a fast-reading novel with a considerable flavor of Ireland. 

An Irish Heart by Jackie Zack is the story of advertising manager Greta Connor, who remembers her mother’s dying words, “Go to Cork,” and decides, when she’s 27, to do just that. She wants to see the place where her parents met. She decides to go “full Ireland” and stays at a small inn in a small Cork village, owned by the family of Aedan O’Riain. The inn is struggling, despite the good food and more-than-adequate accommodations.

Jackie Zack
Greta undertakes two projects – an advertising program for the inn and a search for her father’s background and history. For his part, Aedan at first believes that Greta is his old flame who left him at the altar, returning to haunt him. Greta is a dead ringer for the beautiful Iona. Only gradually does he come to learn that they’re two different women. And he finds himself falling in love with the young American who’s trying to help his family.

Zack is the author of five Christian fiction novels: A Chance MistakeX-edWay of the RavenRafe’s CafĂ© Book 1, and An Irish Heart. She lives in Indiana.

An Irish Heart blends mistaken identity, secrets from the past, romance in the present, and a good measure of Irish scenery and countryside. 

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Listening to the Poets in the Sounds of Silence

If a single word could be used to describe the 2400-acre Shaw Nature Reserve 40 miles southwest of downtown St. Louis in Franklin County, it would be silence. When a soul craves contemplation or calm, it’s the silence that attracts. It’s not serenity I’m looking for, though, but rather a cure for restlessness.

I’ve been here before, and late November is a good time to visit. The temperatures are cool without being chilling; slithering creatures have crawled into their dens for the approaching winter; and the gray brownness of the trees and terrain guarantee few visitors, especially on a Monday.

The reserve opens around Pinetum Lake, and the scene, especially in autumn, could pass for a landscaped design in 18thcentury England, like at Blenheim Palace. All that’s missing is the Greek temple.

To continue reading, please see my post today at Tweetspeak Poetry.

Photograph: Pinetum Lake, Shaw Nature Reserve.

Monday, December 9, 2019

"This Tender Land" by William Kent Krueger

It’s 1932, and American society is moving toward the pit of the Great Depression. Odie and Albert O’Banion are brothers, sent as orphans to the Lincoln Indian Training School in Minnesota after the death of their father. Odie is 12 and Albert is 16, and they are the only white faces in a sea of Indian children at the school, removed from their parents for “reeducation.” 

The school is a nasty place, run by a nasty headmistress and her husband. Punishment is meted out by a sadistic worker, who’s rumored to do more than punish disobedient children. Odie has a particular problem with following the school’s rules, and he often finds himself in “the quiet room,” a tiny, unheated cell that more than resembles solitary confinement in a prison. The best thing about the cell is the rat, nicknamed Faria, which visits looking for crumbs. When not in the quiet room, boys will find themselves hired out to local farmers, with their pay going to the school.

The school situation isn’t entirely bleak; a young teacher finds ways to ease the harsh conditions and a janitor befriends Albert and watches out for Odie and their Indian friend Mose, at least until she dies in a tornado and leaves her young daughter an orphan. And then, one night, Odie is sent to the quiet room, and the sadistic worker decides the boy will finally get what’s coming to him. Odie has to fight for his life, and the worker will end up dead from a fall. Odie, Albert, and Mose decide to leave; they take Emmy, the teacher’s daughter, with them and head for the Gilead River. 

Soon they’re canoeing, with the vague plan of finding Odie and Albert’s aunt in St. Louis. In what becomes a kind of Huckleberry Finn story, the group will discover the good and evil in people and the evil of the times. Odie, in particular, will be fleeing from what he calls the Tornado God, the deity that seems only interested in punishment and destruction. The river, in addition to a highway, becomes a place of safety; the group learns that they are only really safe when they’re in the canoe, paddling for St. Louis.

This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger is the story of Odie, Albert, Mose, and Emmy. It’s a coming-of-age story set in harsh economic climate of the 1930s, with its Hoovervilles, desperate people, con men, faith healers, and revivalists like Aimee Semple McPherson. Because it’s a time of extremes, we also see the goodness that exists. Most of all, it’s a story about a boy named Odie, who will learn things about himself he never knew and find ways to survive in what seems a dark, capricious world.

William Kent Krueger
Krueger has published 18 mystery novels in the Cork O’Connor series, set in the North Woods of Minnesota, and three standalone novels: Ordinary GraceThe Devil’s Bed, and This Tender Land. He’s received a number of awards and recognitions, including the Minnesota Book Award, the Loft-McKnight Fiction Award, the Anthony Award, the Barry Award, the Dilys Award, the Friends of American Writers Prize, and the Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America. His last nine novels were all New York Times bestsellers. Krueger lives in St. Paul, Minnesota.

This Tender Land is a moving, engaging novel, even as the narrative hurries a bit too fast toward the end. You find yourself urging Odie and his band to get back to the river to safety, as they’re chased by both villains along the way and the long arm of the school’s headmistress. It’s a story of goodness surviving in the midst of evil, told through the eyes of a young boy. 

Top photograph: Mount Pleasant Indian Industrial Boarding School in Michigan, similar to the fictional school in Krueger's novel.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

How then we shall be

After Philippians 4:4-9

How, then, we shall be?
Certainly not besotted
with the modern disease,
the modern addictions
of anxiety. Now, as then,
the Lord is near, his presence
permeating and spreading,
growing so silently and 
subtly that we tend
to miss it, but that is 
our problem, our failure,
he is here and near, and
his peace surrounds us,
guarding our hearts,
guarding our minds.

Reject anxiety, he says;
set it aside. Derangement
syndromes are always
with us, and have been 
since the great expulsion.

Photograph by Gabriel via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Saturday Good Reads

Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio, is 100 years old. James Person Jr. at the Kirk Center considers its place in American literature, and what kind of world Anderson was describing in the book (it wasn’t unlike our own).

Moral grandstanding, a very close relative of virtue signaling, is everywhere these days – newspapers and other media, Congress, social media, and normal daily discourse (I was running into at work long before I retired four years ago). A psychologist thinks it’s possible to make a moral argument without resorting to grandstanding, and he has some advice at Vox.

I confess that I’ve never been interested in exploring Enneagrams, but apparently a lot of people do, including a lot of Christians. Allegra Hobbs at Medium argues this this mix of self-help, astrology, and wellness is starting to upend American Christianity.

Julian Peters at Plough Quarterly read Carl Sandburg’s poem “Buffalo Dusk,” and did a series of watercolors that interpret it visually. And they’re beautiful. 

Writing and Literature

The Pleasures of a Liturgical Calendar of Reading – Amanda Patchin at Front Porch Republic.

Living in the Same Spiritual World: C.S. Lewis & Charles Williams – Bradley Birzer at The Imaginative Conservative.

American Stuff

Civil War Log Cabin Discovered – Emerging Civil War Blog.

Life and Culture

The Unexpected Virtue of Arbitrary Sports Allegiances – Kyle Keating at Mere Orthodoxy.

Remembering humanism – David Warren at Essays in Idleness.


Study: Religious attendance flatlining, but giving remains strong – Yonat Shimron at Religion News Service.


Wendell Berry and the Depth of a Moment – T.M. Moore at Society of Classical Poets.

The Advent Calendar – Brett Foster at Kingdom Poets.

News Media

British Stuff

William Mason (1725-97) Memorial for his wife – Barb Drummond at Curious Historian.

Winter in Japan – Mt. Moriyoshi

Painting: A Novel Reader, oil on canvas by Vincent Van Gogh.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Best Books I'm Not Recommending for Christmas - 2019 Edition

For quite a few years now, I’ve posted a list of books I’m not recommending books for Christmas. My reason for “not recommending” is that I’ve always considered book-buying to be a personal decision, best left to the reader. But I do like to highlight the best of what’ve read during the year, as much as for myself as for others. This list is always a reminder of what helped to guide me and shape me during the previous 12 months.

It’s also a way to see just how out-of-step I am with the general culture. The past weekend, the St. Louis Post-Dispatchpublished its list of its (or the book editor’s) 25 favorite books of 2019. I read two of the 25 – A Better Man by Louise Penny (what’s not to like about Inspector Gamache?) and The Long Call by Ann Cleeves – both mysteries. I can agree on Louise Penny, but the new Ann Perry book was disappointing. At the end of the Post-Dispatch article, they list best or favorite books from Publishers Weekly and a host of local booksellers. I hadn’t read any of those, either. I must be a real cretin. Or countercultural. Or both.

What’s nice about this year’s list was how difficult it was for me to select one book in each category. I read a lot of really good books, so if a work is noted at all, it means I really, really liked it or loved it as well. 

Children’s Books

I surprised myself here. Except for books I’ve read to my grandsons, all of the children’s books I read this year are by British authors. The best include a traditionally-told story, Poppy Field by Michael Morpurgo (he of War Horse fame); a wonderfully written but horrifying tale in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne;  and three rather strange ones: The Boy Who Hit Play by Chloe Daykin, The 1000-Year-Old Boy by Ross Welford, and Boom! by Mark Haddon (which made me laugh out loud). My nod for best goes to The 1000-Year-Old Boy; the story captured me on page one and never let go.


I’ve been reading (and buying) mystery stories since I was six years old, and I’ve never outgrown them. (T.S. Eliot loved mysteries, too, so I’m in good company.) Louise Penny published the afore-mentioned A Better Man; she hasn’t written a bum one in the entire Inspector Gamache series. Magpie Murder by Anthony Horowitz was amazing – a book within a book within a book. The British Library keeps publishing its Crime Classic Series, and they’re all good stories. I read two by Jonathan Dunsky – A Debt of Death and The Dead Sister – that reinforce my admiration for Israeli noir. The Eric Ward series by Roy Lewis, first published in the early 1980s, are being republished, starting with The Sedleigh Hall Murder. And I discovered two new police detectives – Scott Hunter’s DCI Brendan Moran and Keith Moray’s Torquil Mackinnon – which I thoroughly enjoyed. 

My choice for best is a tie – Dunksy’s A Debt of Death and Lewis’s The Sedleigh Hall Murder, which are as different as night and day. The first is about an Auschwitz concentration camp survivor who is a private detective in 1950s Tel Aviv, and the second other an attorney gradually going blind from glaucoma in 1980. I’ve now read all of Dunsky’s books (another one is coming soon) and the first four of Lewis’s (with a bunch more being republished), so I’m a happy mystery reader.


My reading of history books was less in 2019 than last year, but I read some really good ones. Dominion by Peter Ackroyd continues the author’s history of England series and covers the Victoria era. Andrew Delbanco’s The War Before the War is focused on the issues, people and events that led up to the American Civil War. The Pioneers by the American institution David McCullough studied the settling of the Ohio Territory. Justice on Trial by Mollie Hemingway and Carrie Severino is technically more “current affairs” and history; it addressed the confirmation hearings of Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court. 

My choice for best among all of these really good books is McCullough’s The Pioneers; he tells history like few other Americans writing today. (And this book will not make the “best” list of virtually any mainstream media, for the simple reason is that it’s a traditional popular history which doesn’t bow the knee to the cult of victimization.) (It was still a best-seller.)

Biography and Memoir

Jean Moorcraft Wilson published a fine biography of poet and author Robert Graves, one of the World War I poets best known for his novel I Claudius. I read Kevin Belmonte’s Defiant Joy: The Remarkable Life and Impact of G.K. Chesterton; it was published in 2011 but I read it this year (which serves to point out that any of the books noted in this post were ones I read this year and were not necessarily published this year). Michael Brendan Dougherty’s My Father Left Me Ireland is as much a memoir as it is an exploration of a family history that wasn’t what the author had been taught it was. James Como’s C.S. Lewis: A Very Short Introduction is a wonderfully concise summary of his subject’s life and works. Ian Sansom’s September 1, 1939 is as much about Sansom as it is the poem that is its ostensible subject, by W.H. Auden. 

The Graves biography is excellent, but my choice for best biography I read this year is Belmonte’s Defiant Joy, which truly brings Chesterton to life.


Poetry presented a a really tough choice for “best.” There were simply too many collections that I read that could qualify, like Joe Spring’s Let There Be LightSome Permanent Things by James Matthew Wilson, A Child’s Year by Chris Yokel, Deaf Republic by Ilya Kaminsky, Soft Launch by Aaron Belz, Bravery & Brevity by Edward Holmes, Justin Hamm’s The Inheritance, and Umbilical by Michael Spence. (I just noticed that all of these collections were written by men.)

I finally narrowed my list down to two, and both actually tell stories. Ali Nuri’s Rain and Embers is about the life of a family forced to flee Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, and Black Sunday by Benjamin Myers tells a highly creative tale of the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. 


I read so much good fiction this year that it’s difficult to know where to start. Noah Hawley’s Before the Fall is a can’t-stop-reading novel about a man and a young boy who survive a plane crash. Paris in the Present Tense by Mark Helprin is a wonder, as is Akin by Emma Donoghue. Throw Me to the Wolves by Patrick McGuiness and Lanny by Max Porter are about our out-of-control media, shaming, and trolling culture. Where the Desert Meets the Sea by Werner Sonne is about the transition in Palestine to the new Israeli state. Mark Haddon’s The Porpoise is a blend of contemporary and Greek myth, an amazing feat of writing.

If I had to select one book that affected me the most and moved the most, it would have to be the story of an insurance adjuster named Will Phillips, it would be Adjustments by Will Willingham. It’s my favorite novel of the year.

Historical Fiction

I read more historical fiction this year, and the works fell generally into one of two categories – English history and Civil War history. I read two by Annie Whitehead that were excellent – To Be a Queen and Cometh the Hour, both set in Anglo-Saxon times. Gemma Lawrence’s The Bastard Princess was a riveting story of the young Elizabeth I. Soldier’s Heart by Michele McKnight Baker and A Stranger on My Land by Sandra Merville Hart were both well-told stories of the American Civil War. 

For best historical novel, I’d say it was Annie Whitehead’s To Be a Queen

Romantic Fiction

I know it’s strange – a guy reading romance novels. They’re generally quick, easy reads, and you can learn a lot from them if the stories you write involve romantic scenes. The standouts this year were Tender Love by Juliette Duncan, Bending Toward the Sun by Mona Hidgson, The Man from Yesterday by Florence Witkop, A Rose Blooms Twice by Vivkie Kestell, Falling for You by Leanna Morgan, and Homecoming by Carolyn Aarsen. 

Vickie Kestell’s A Rose Blooms Twice get my nod for best romance. It’s set in pioneering, sodbusting days, and it tells the story of both a woman who loses her entire family in an accident and two Norwegian brothers who bring their families to America to make a better life. And it’s the first in a trilogy, with the other two books just as good.


This is such a broad category that it could have several sub-categories. There were theology books like Church Reformed by Tim Bayly and Living the Dream? by Tristan Sherwin; practical living books like Living a Life of Yes by David Rupert; current affairs books like Who is an Evangelical? by Thomas Kidd and In Search of the Common Good by Jake Meador; and one that defies classification, The 21: A Journey into the Land of the Coptic Martyrs by Martin Mosbach.

The best book about faith that I read is also the best book I read about writing and creativity – Adorning the Dark by Andrew Peterson. It’s marvelous.

Photograph by Dakota Corbin via Unsplash. Used with permission