Friday, December 31, 2021

The best intentions

After Matthew 14:22-33

At first, a ghost, they think

until recognition kicks in.

No ghost, but the one

they follow, walking

across the stormy sea.

Hothead as he always is,

leader that he will become,

he says command me

to come to you, and hearing

the words, begins to walk.

But the storm, the waves,

the howling winds evoke

fear, and he’s sinking,

intentions forgotten,

sinking into the depths

as he cries out to be

saved. The one grasps

him by the hand and

pulls him to the boat,

and the waves calm,

the winds die down.

The picture of salvation

is painted.


Photograph by Tom Verdoot via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Thursday, December 30, 2021

"The Woods Murder" by Roy Lewis

An attorney is murdered in a small town. The police force is already grappling with the brutal death of a schoolgirl in the woods, and months have passed without a single good lead. Inspector John Crow is brought in from Scotland Yard to manage the lawyer’s murder investigation, much to the irritation of the local detective chief inspector.  

What he finds seems to lead nowhere, and fast. The lawyer was highly regarded, but a notorious womanizer. He’d hired a private detective for a case of suspected infidelity but never reported to results to the client. His housekeeper was also his mistress, who tolerated his wanderings. And everyone involved seems to be holding back information that could lead to the killer.


The Woods Murder is the third in the Inspector Crow mystery series by British author Roy Lewis. It’s a tale of murder with root far into the past, entangled with another murder investigation, police officers with chips on their shoulders who often make mistakes and miss the obvious, and a young woman thinking she’s protecting her boyfriend but leading herself into imminent danger.


Roy Lewis

Lewis is the author of some 60 other mysteries, novels, and short story collections. His Inspector Crow series includes A Lover Too ManyMurder in the MineThe Woods MurderError of Judgment, and Murder for Money, among others. The Eric Ward series, of which The Sedleigh Hall Murder is the first (and originally published as A Certain Blindness in 1981), includes 17 novels. The Arnold Landon series is comprised of 22 novels. Lewis lives in northern England.  


In addition to offer an intriguing story, The Woods Murder provides a more in-depth look at Inspector Crow than the first two novels in the series. He’s shown as his speculative best as he sails disastrously near the wrong suspect.




A Lover Too Many by Roy Lewis.


Error of Judgment by Roy Lewis.

A Cotswolds Murder by Roy Lewis

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

When the Worldwide Web Was a Marvel - and a Mystery

If you can think back to a time before Amazon, before Google, before Facebook and Twitter and even before My Space, you might remember how the worldwide web was first breaking into the public collective consciousness. In Breaking News: The Remaking of Journalism and Why It Matters Now, former editor of The Guardian Alan Rusbridger describes how his newspaper encountered the early web and tried to understand what it meant – and how to make it work.  

This new thing had arrived on the communications landscape, and no one understood if it even mattered, or what you might do with it. At the exact same time Rusbridger was grappling with the question at The Guardian, we were grappling with it out our company. His efforts had one major advantage over ours – a small “skunk works” of IT people at the newspaper were working on the technical idea of the web for the newspaper. At our company, the IT organization had looked at the web idea and concluded that it was a passing fad, that the business’s future was more in the province of software programs like Lotus Notes. 

To continue reading, please see my post today at Dancing Priest.

Photograph by Umberto via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Some Light and Dark Holiday Reading

Holidays are a good time to catch up on reading – and here are two short works that make some light and dark reading. 

What Child is This by Rhys Bowen

What Child is This, a novella by Rhys Bowen, is the story of Jack and Maggie, a young couple who live in London’s East End. It’s Christmas Eve, 1940, the Blitz is on, and German bombers decide to bring an extra Christmas present. Jack and Maggie flee their home when an incendiary bomb is dropped on the block, and they lose everything. She wants to go her sister’s farm in the country, but Jack has to stay near the docks, where he works and is exempted from military duty because of his protected status.


Virtually penniless, then find themselves in London’s West End near Hyde Park, until Jack discovers a nearby home with the front door wide open. The block is deserted, no one’s in the house, so they make themselves at home is what is a very posh place. And then a little boy wanders downstairs and asks if they’re burglars. It’s a Christmas-time story, overlaid by the tragedy of wartime and loss.


Bowen is a bestselling author of more than 40 novels. Her novel The Tuscan Child has sold more than a million copies, and her works have been translated into numerous languages. She’s received several awards for both her mystery books and her historical novels. A transplanted Brit, she lives in California and Arizona. 

Dark Project by Glenn McGoldrick

For a darker (and shorter) story, British author Glenn McGoldrick has published his latest story in the Dark Teesside series, Dark Project


Brian is the type of work colleague who seems to blend into the background. He’s known as “Boring Brian,” and it seems that women don’t find him very interesting, either. He had dated Jane, one of his fellow workers, for a time, but she lost interest or just stopped responding to him. 


He follows the news, and he’s currently following the disappearance of a man well-known to police for his drug and assault offences. The police believe the disappearance is gang-related, by Brian knows better. Dark Project is one of those stories that has you looking over your shoulder.


Writing since 2013, McGoldrick specializes in short stories. He’s worked for both land-based casinos and cruise ships for a time, basing many of his stories on those experiences. His stories are dark, gritty, often involve a twist, and inevitably open insights into the human psyche. And his characters run the gamut of good, bad, and something in between, and often find themselves moving far beyond the boundaries of acceptable behavior. He lives in northeastern England. 




“Yellow Feet” by Glenn McGoldrick.


Three New Dark Stories by Glenn McGoldrick.


“Six Down,” “Somewhere in England,” and “Dark Progresion” by Glenn McGoldrick.


 4 Stories by Glenn McGoldrick.


3+ Stories by Glenn McGoldrick.


Five Mysteries: 2 Short Stories, 2 Novellas, and a Long Story.


The Dark Stories of Glenn McGoldrick.


Watching Crows by Glenn McGoldrick.

Monday, December 27, 2021

"The Shivering Ground & Other Stories" by Sea Brkat

The Shivering Ground & Other Stories
 may be one of the most unusual collections of short stories I’ve read. These 11 stories by Sara Barkat defy classification. They might be literary, science fiction, alternative, speculative, dystopian, or something else. Every time I tried to define them, they slipped away and then around and laughed at me. 

Whatever the genre, the stories are all good ones. Fascinating ones, in fact.


“The Door at the End of the Path” is ostensibly about a door in a garden and the little girl who wonders what’s on the other side. But it becomes a metaphor for something else entirely. “Conditions” is about a man and the sister he hates more than anyone in the world. “The Mannequin” is just that – a mannequin, which stands dusty in a corner and contains the narrator’s heart. 


In “Brianna,” the title character is seeking a kind of escape, depending upon her brother orfriend or relative Peter to design an airship. “Noticing” is a bird story, told from the birds’ perspectives. “The Day Before Tomorrow” is a dystopian story, as two girls watch the gradual but relentless encroachment of a “mass of dark buzzing:” containing the “sound of waves.” It’s a phenomenon no one talks about, but it’s getting closer. 


Sara Barkat

The title story, “The Shivering Ground,” is a futuristic (or perhaps not) story about a man guarding a captured Solenoid, a creature whose people have waged war against humanity for a long and vicious time. And jailer and jailed are beginning to understand each other.


Barkat is the author of The Midnight Ball and The Yellow Wall-Paper: A Graphic Novel. She also worked with Tania Runyan in a collaboration for How to Write a Form Poem: A Guided Tour of 10 Fabulous Poems. A writer for Poetic Earth Month, she lives near the Hudson River in New York. 


The stories of The Shivering Ground are dark, often dystopic and apocalyptic tales. Common themes course through them: environmental concerns, broken relationships, and a sense that what we know is ending, and how we cling to that familiarity even when it should be abandoned. These are provocative and thought-provoking stories, placing the reader on the edge between the familiar and the unknown.

Related: The Midnight Ball by Sara Barkat.

Sunday, December 26, 2021

Storm on the lake

After Matthew 14:22-33

The thousands fed,

he craves solitude;

miracles tend to do that.


The disciples sent

to go before him

to the other side.


The storm upon the lake

arises, fierce winds,

raging waves, disciples trapped.


They are frightened

by the storm, and worse

mistake rescue for a ghost


As he walks towards them

on water, a solitary figure,

shining in white light,


Saying take heart, it’s I,

do not be afraid.


Photograph by Jasper Garratt via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Saturday, December 25, 2021

Saturday Good Reads - Christmas 2021

This edition of Saturday Good Reads is all about Christmas – in fiction, faith, literature, poetry, history, culture, and music. 

Short Stories


Father in Every Way but One – Chris Thomas at The Ploughman’s Rest.


A Leprechaun for Christmas – at Dancing Priest.




Key of David – Rebecca Martin at The Rabbit Room.


Theopolis Podcast: The Conception of John the Baptist—Luke 1 (Types of the Nativity) – Alastair Roberts at Adversaria.


O Little Town of Bethlehem – Warren Peel at Gentle Reformation.


When Christmas Uncovers Difficult Memories – Lara d’Entremont at Gospel-Centered Discipleship.


O Come Let Us Adore Him – Sandra Jantzi at Word for Word.




'A Christmas Carol’s' lesser-known successor gets its moment in the spotlight - Alison Flood at The Guardian


Christmas Dinner with G.K. Chesterton – Chuck Chalberg at The Imaginative Conservative.




Somewhere Near Christmas – Jerry Barrett at Gerald the Writer.


The Light of Bethlehem – John Banister Tabb at Kingdom Poets (D.S. Martin).


The Robin’s Christmas Eve – Spitalfields Life.




Christmas Scenes from Dennis Severs’ House – Spitalfields Life.


The Christmas Truce of 1914 – Stephen Masty at The Imaginative Conservative.


Henry’s Last Christmas – Sarah Kay Bierle at Emerging Civil War.




Why Christmas Ghost Stories? – Rhys Laverty at Mere Orthodoxy.


Keeping Christmas – Maclin Horton at The Lamp Magazine.


Christmas in the South – Micah Mattix at The Spectator.


Holiday Ride – Chevrolet.


All I Really Need to Know I Learned from ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ – B.J. Hollars at The Millions.




O Holy Night – The Canadian Tenors.


Music for a While, #56: Welcome Christmas – Jay Nordlinger at New Criterion.


O Holy Night (Cantique de Noël) Flute – Jennifer and Matthew Mazzoni, Flute/Piano (The Mazzoni Duo). 


Passion: O Come All Ye Faithful (His Name Shall Be) – Melodie Malone


Top photograph by Red Charlie via 
Unsplash. Used with permission.

Friday, December 24, 2021

Descending, on ropes

After Mark 2:1-12

On my bedding they lower me

into the room of noise and

smoke and the small of bodies

densely packed together.

Too many people inside,

too many crowding the door

for a chance to see or touch

or be touched by the healer.

My friends, the faithful four,

make a hole in the roof,

startling those below as

debris falls, and lower me

on ropes, a descent into

noise and smoke and

smell. The noise abates,

suddenly, as they point 

and watch me descend.

My eyes search the room

for him, our eyes meet, 

and he says, first, that

my sins are forgiven. He

looks around the room,

reading the hearts, and 

says, second, rise, take 

my bedding, and go home.

I stand. I take my bed.

I walk.


Photograph by Alejandro Luengo via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Thursday, December 23, 2021

"The Mystery of Mistletoe Hall" by Benedict Brown

It’s England, 1925. Seventy-five-year-old Lord Edgington is invited with his family for Christmas at Mistletoe Hall. The invitation comes from his old colleague from the police; the two had worked together for decades. He doesn’t bring the whole family; accompanying him are his daughter and two of his four grandsons, Albert and Christopher. The youngest at 17, Christopher has often “helped” his grandfather solve several crimes and murders. 

The snow is getting on the deep side as they arrive. The surprise is that Mistletoe Hall is ready to welcome guests with everything except the host and the servants. The place is devoid of human life. Fortunately, Lord Edgington brought several of his own servants with him, including the cook. In search of a Christmas tree, Christopher works his way through the snowy garden and woods beyond. He finds the perfect tree; he also finds their host, shot through the chest and very much dead.


Other guests arrive – a governess, a woman racing car driver, a stage comedian, a well-known cricket player, a fellow school student of Christopher’s and his father, and a police detective whom Lord Edgington knows well and has disliked the man as long as he’s known him. As the continuing heavy snow makes travel impossible, people start dying.


Benedict Brown

The Mystery of Mistletoe Hall
 is the fourth Lord Edington mystery by British author Benedict Brown. Like the other four mysteries in the series, it is part legitimate mystery and part send-up of the traditional mystery genre. Think Agatha Christie with the bite of satire. 


In addition to the five published Lord Edgington stories, a sixth is scheduled for publication in the spring of 2022. Brown has also written seven Izzy Palmer mystery novels and three novellas. A native of south London, he lives with his family in Spain. 


The Mystery of Mistletoe Hall, despite the pileup of bodies, is a fun, light mystery almost designed for casual reading at Christmas. It’s also well-researched; Brown colors the story with a number of historical details that place the reader smack in the middle of the 1920s.

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

A Leprechaun for Christmas - A Short Story

It was the worst Christmas ever. 

Eight-year-old Chris Hunter was facing the first Christmas without the person he loved most in the world, his Grandpa Malcolm O’Brien. His grandfather had died two months before from a heart attack. 


His grandparents lived in a large, two-story stucco home on East Ardennes Avenue, one of the oldest streets in Stonegate, a close-in suburb of St. Louis. Built in the 1910s, the house had tall ceilings, Frank Lloyd Wright-type mantles, lighting, and overall design. It was utterly unlike the large, contemporary ranch home his own family occupied in Woodfield, a far western St. Louis suburb some 20 miles from Stonegate and 35 miles from downtown St. Louis.


Chris loved exploring his grandparents’ house. From the attic to the basement, the home was filled with boxes, trunks, and old wardrobes full of magic. At least, that’s what his grandfather always told him. Magic was everywhere. And he’d let Chris loose to search, and sometimes join him, for the leprechaun’s pot of gold. 

To continue reading, please see my post today at Dancing Priest.

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Three Stories for Christmas

It’s not Christmas without some stories about the season and the holiday. And here are three that (almost) represent the diverse spectrum of Christmas – faith, memories, and romance. 

In The Miracle of Mistletoe by Emily Dana Botrous, Marcy and Colt Delaney live in a small town in southwestern Virginia. They’ve been married for four years, and they’re now growing apart. Colt travels a lot; he works in information technology for his foster father’s business in Boston. He says little about his past; Marcy knows that his back was physically broken in an accident when he was 12, and he lives with pain. And being of mixed race, he feels completely out of place in their town and Marcy’s family. What he holds on to is his faith in God.


For her part, Marcy thinks she’s dumb. She endured four years of an abusive relationship with a boyfriend who seemed to spend most of his time ridiculing her. What she’s never told anyone is that that she’s dyslexic. Before they married, she and Colt agreed they would never have children. But now Marcy finds herself pregnant.


The Miracle of Mistletoe is the story of two broken people, one still dealing with the effects of child abuse and the other with the often-paralyzing effects of a learning disability. The power of the novel is how the writer makes us care about these two people, groping toward each other and toward God.


The Three Christmases of William Spencer by Derek Blount tells the story of Christmas through three ages of a man. Billy Spencer shares his birthday with Christmas, and he’s seven years old on Christmas Day of 1930. What is wants more than anything is the sleek and fast red sled in the window of Mr. Mercer’s store. But it’s 1930, the Depression has started, and his father has lost his job. Billy gets a sled, but it’s not the one he wanted. And his grandfather has some advice.


The second story is Christmas, 1963. Bill has turned 40. His in-laws are visiting, and everything that could go wrong does. Bill is not Catholic, but he does what he’s done each year since the end of World War II – and lights a candle in the local Catholic church, remembering his grandfather’s advice.


Fast forward to 2010 for the third story. Bill is now 87, a widower, and his only son died of a heart attack 10 years before. His meals are delivered by Meals of Wheels. He has four presents underneath his tree that he wrapped for himself, remembering his grandfather’s advice. His praying that this Christmas will be his last. And then he hears a noise outside.


The Three Christmases of William Spencer is heartwarming, sentimental, and tear-evoking – and a wonderful story to read for Christmas.


Wildwood Lodge
 by Jennifer Griffith is what a Christian might call a clean secular romance. Jayne Renwick and Ben Bellamy are TV hosts at an Albany television station. Jayne hosts a lifestyle program, while Ben does a sports show – a sports show so popular that he’s constantly being recruited for a national program. 


Jayne has the possibility of an advancement in her career. She has two producers from a show in Boston coming to see what she’s planned for Wildwood Lodge, a vacation home she’s rented and five strangers she’s invited to share Christmas. One of the five turns out to be Ben, who’s carrying some psychological baggage form the past that’s all about Christmas and his grandparents. Jayne has a program in mind, but she’s planned nothing, and it’s Ben (and her guests) who come to her rescue. A Christmas romance begins to develop, and then the producers show up from Boston. And one of them is Ben’s former love interest.


Wildwood Lodge is a light, sometimes frothy story of Christmas that is still a fun read. 

Top photograph by S&B Vonlanthen via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Monday, December 20, 2021

“Old Christmas” by Washington Irving & “Saint Nicholas the Giftgiver” by Ned Bustard

Christmas as it’s celebrated today – the trees, the feasting, the presents – was given a major push in the 19th century with the publication of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens in 1846. Two years later, Prince Albert brought Christmas trees into the Christmas celebration at Buckingham Palace, building on a practice brought from Germany by Queen Victoria’s mother.  

That’s been our understanding, and yet someone else was ahead of Dickens. American writer Washington Irving, perhaps most famous for “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “Rip Van Winkle,” wrote a series of stories or sketches about the old English Christmas of days past – years before A Christmas Carol. And Irving had a great fondness for the story and the character of St. Nicholas. In 1835, he helped found the Saint Nicholas Society of the City of New York, and he promoted Christmas as a time for feasting and giving presents. In the United States, at least, Irving gets the nod as the individual who shaped the Christmas we know today.


Washington Irving

Old Christmas is a collection of five stories, all relating to the celebration of Christmas in Old England. In fact, they’re a series of related stories, about a journey during the Christmas season to a destination in York.


The first story, “Christmas,” is an extended description of the way Christmas was celebrated at one time in Old England. It hearkens back to feudal times, when a landowner (titled and otherwise) would have the servants and townspeople come together with the landowner’s family to celebrate. And it’s this story in which Irving inadvertently explains why he’s writing these stories. “The world has become more worldly,” he writes. “There is more d dissipation, and less of enjoyment. “Pleasure has expanded into a broader, but a shallower stream, and has forsaken many of those deep and quiet channels where it flowed sweetly through the calm bosom of domestic life.” 


“The Stage-coach” describes the traveler’s journey to the north of England, with an ample description of the coachman and three schoolboys who are his traveling companions. He plans to stay at an inn in “Christmas Eve,” but meets up with an old traveling companion from years past who happens to be on his way to his family home nearby. “Christmas Day” is all about the great day itself, with “The Christmas Dinner” a separate story, filled with details about the food and drink of the great Christmas feast.


Old Christmas is a charming and sentimental look at how an “Old English” Christmas was celebrated.


And speaking of St. Nicholas, writer and illustrator Ned Bustard has published Saint Nicholas the Giftgiver, aimed at children between ages 4 and 8. The story explains who Nicholas was and how he came to be associated with gifts and presents. It’s a retelling of the story, as opposed to the myth, and it places the saint in his historical context (he was jailed for a time during the Diocletian persecution). He served and cared for the people of his town, and he was eventually appointed to be a bishop known for his gifts to the poor and needy. Bustard has a bit of fun with his story, mixing in a bit of “The Night Before Christmas.”


Bustard is an author, illustrator, graphic designer, and printmaker. He’s written, illustrated, or edited numerous books. He’s creative director for Square Halo Books, curator of the Square Halo Gallery, and a member of the board of the Association of Scholars of Christianity in the History of Art and The Row House Inc. He lives with his family in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.


Saint Nicholas the Giftgiver is a fun story to read or have young children read aloud, and the illustrations are delightful.


RelatedHow Washington Irving shaped Christmas in America.

Sunday, December 19, 2021

The crowd goes crazy (silently)

After Mark 2:1-12

Through the roof he comes

on ropes, almost a theatrical

scene; that’s bad enough

(no sense of decorum

In honor of those present).

But then the healer says

the man’s sins are forgiven,

and theater becomes


His sins are forgiven?

Who does he think he is,

God? The impertinence!

the outrage! That’s 

an offense meriting stoning!

(But he did heal that leper

so it might be best to huff

and puff in silence.)


The healer looks around,

and he has the knack

of looking not only at

but also through the heart,

and he knows exactly

what we’re thinking.

To hammer home his point,

he doubles down, and after

pronouncing forgiveness

he tells the man to rise,

take his bed, and go home.

And the man does.

Sometimes it best to huff

and puff in silence.


Photograph by Sushil Nash via Unsplash. Used with permission.