Saturday, September 18, 2021

Saturday Good Reads - Sept. 18, 2021


Memory can be powerful, and memories lead the list of Saturday Good Reads today. Brian Miller at The South Roane Agrarian considers
the sounds of his recently deceased father. David Murray at Writing Boots shares a poem about an old ballplayer. 

Vladimir Alexandrov at CrimeReads has a fascinating story of a Russian revolutionary who defied everybody: “The Russian Revolutionary Who Opposed the Czar and Defied the Bolsheviks.” 

You may think you know the story of Pinocchio, but you may only know Pinocchio as told by Walt Disney. John Hooper and Anna Kraczyna at Literary Hub have the original story: Is the Original Pinocchio Actually About Lying and Very Long Noses? 

More Good Reads

 Life and Culture 

The Face of Education – Jon Schaff at Front Porch Republic. 

Brilliance and Blind Luck: How Did Medieval Europe Invent the Concept of Quarantine? – Edward Glaeser & David Cutler at Literary Hub. 

Poetry 

On a Maundy Thursday Walk – Margaret Avison at Kingdom Poets (D.S. Martin). 

Mancunian Insomnia – Spangle McQueen at Burning House Press (H/T: Paul Brookes). 

Faith 

The Song I Sing in the Darkness and The Death of Porn – Tim Challies. 

Talitha Cumi – Nathan Eshelman at Gentle Reformation. 

What Does Ecclesiastes Teach Us About Work? – Russell Gehrlein at the Institute for Faith, Work, & Economics. 

The Ends and the Means – Seth Lewis. 

Writing and Literature 

Colson Whitehead on Why He Wrote a Heist Novel to Tell the Story of New York – Dwyer Murphy at CrimeReads. 

Great British Novels – Joseph Pearce at The Imaginative Conservative. 

American Stuff 

Aftermath of Battle at Gettysburg’s Spangler’s Spring – Jon Tracey at Emerging Civil War. 

“A brave, active, and sensible officer:” James Monroe in the Revolution – Mark Maloy at Emerging Revolutionary War Era. 

Morricone: Nella Fantasia – Mari Samuelson & Sylvia Schwartz

 


Painting: Woman Reading, oil on canvas by Edouard Vuillard (1868-1940).

Friday, September 17, 2021

The old soldier seeks help


After Ephesians 6:10-24
 

Living in a prison cell,

the older soldier seeks help,

not rescue or supplies, but

help of a different kind,

the help of the right words

placed in his mouth,

the help of courage

to speak boldly the truth

he carries, the truth he’s

carried since the light

in the road, the blindness

in the road, the scales

dropping from his eyes.

He carries it still,

even in this cell, 

which is not to say

his spirit never falters;

he’s human, after all,

prone to doubts and fears.

But he knows what

feeds him, not the food

delivered by the jailer’s

hands, but the sustenance

delivered by the prayers

of the faithful. He is

an old soldier, veteran

of many battles veteran

of many wars, and he knows

what always takes

the battlefield.

 

Photo by Eric Ward via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

"A Fatal Affair" by Faith Martin


It’s 1962. The village of Middle Fenton, seven miles from Oxford, is preparing for the annual May Day celebration. In the early morning of the big day, the body of the May Queen is found tied with ribbons to the Maypole. The young woman has been strangled. The victim is young, attractive, and with the kind of presence and personality that attracts men of all ages and offends women. 

The Oxford police investigate but leads and clues are few. Then the young woman’s boyfriend, a student at Oxford, is found hanging in the barn of a family he’s known since childhood. It looks like a case of suicide, either for remorse of the lost girlfriend or guilt for having killed her. The coroner’s jury at the inquest takes 10 minutes to return a verdict of suicide.

 

But the boy’s father, who happens to be the superintendent of the Oxford police, isn’t buying it. He turns to the coroner, Dr. Clement Ryder, and Women’s Police Constable (WPC) Trudy Loveday. The aging coroner and the young constable are an unlikely pair, but they’ve worked together to solve several murders, including crimes that looked like murder but weren’t. Loveday’s commanding officer isn’t pleased, but what can you do when your boss says just do it?

 

And progress is slow. It looks for all the world like what it appears to be – the young man killed his girlfriend and then took his own life. But if that were the case, why was he conducting his own investigation if the girl’s death?

 

Faith Martin

A Fatal Affair
 by Faith Martin is the sixth in the Ryder and Loveday mystery series, and it’s every bit as good as its predecessors. It’s clever to create a team of an older man trying to hide the symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease and a young woman who’s brighter than her boss and her colleagues but finds herself (it’s the early 1960s) assigned to filing, making coffee, and patrolling for purse snatchers. 

 

In addition to the Ryder and Loveday novels, Martin (a pen name for Jacquie Walton) has also published the series she’s best known for – the DI Hilary Greene novels, as well as the Jenny Sterling mysteries. Under the name Joyce Cato, she has published several non-series detective stories. Both Cato and Martin are also pen names for Walton. (Walton has another pen name as well – Maxine Barry, under which she wrote 14 romance novels.) A native of Oxford, she lives in a village in Oxfordshire.

 

Ryder and Loveday sometimes solve the crime (and crimes) at hand through smart deduction. Sometimes it’s legwork. And sometimes it’s stumbling into the truth. A Fatal Affair combines all three into one satisfying story.

 

Related:

 

A Fatal Obsession by Faith Martin.

 

A Fatal Mistake by Faith Martin.

 

A Fatal Flaw by Faith Martin.

 

A Fatal Secret by Faith Martin.

 

A Fatal Truth by Faith Martin.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

“When I Come Home Again” by Jennifer Rodewald


The past can come back to surprise you. 

Brenna Blaum works as a speech therapist. She has a nice loft apartment in what had been the old Limestone Hotel in Big Prairie, Nebraska. She has a boyfriend who’s a psychologist and counselor at the high school. This is the town she grew up in, the town where her father was the storied football coach, and the town who’d loved her Down’s Syndrome brother Scottie, who died in a tragic accident with a snowplow.

 

And Big Prairie is now the town to which Craig Erickson, one of the best wide receivers thew town had ever seen, was coming home. He’s been gone for seven years, and he’s only coming back because his mother has cancer and needs help for both herself and the two boys she’s foster parenting. 

 

Brenna and Craig had been a couple. Everyone expected them to eventually marry. So did they. But Craig’s football fame grew in college, it looked like the NFL was calling, and Brenna developed a bad case of jealousy over the girls who threw themselves at Craig and even envy at his success. She was a world-class runner, with hopes for the Olympics. They eventually broke up, and then Scottie’s accident happened. Brenna blamed Craig, because he should have been working out with her brother like he did whenever he was home.

 

Jennifer Rodewald

A lot of anger is simmering right below the surface, and sometimes above the surface. Brenna thinks she’s over the relationship, but even her current boyfriend knows she’s not. And Craig is struggling.


When I Come Home Again
 by Jennifer Rodewald is the story of Brenna and Craig and the first in the author’s Big Prairie series. Rodewald tells a good story; the novel is well-written and a cut well above most romance novels.

 

Rodewald has written several novels in the Rock Creek Romance series, the Grace Revealed series, and the Big Prairie Romance series, as well as several standalone books. She’s also written several young adult novels in the Uncloaked series. 

 

When I Come Home Again is a story with a wide appeal. It’s a romance, to be sure, but it’s what I’d call a thought-provoking romance. You learn how the past can continue to haunt, about what’s most important in football, about the difficulties for foster parenting for both parents and children, about speech therapy, and about the values that guide life in a small town. It’s a well-done novel.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Poets and Poems: Andrew Benson Brown and “Legends of Liberty”


Andrew Benson Brown has taken some of the signature events of the early American Revolution and turned them into an epic poem. But there’s a twist.  

This is an American Revolution that sounds familiar, vaguely, but isn’t quite what you’ll find in the history books. Thomas Jefferson is sent to Hell for some unknown sin and is guided through the underworld by none other than Dante. Paul Revere makes his famous ride on the fastest horse on earth. It’s not just the short heard round the world at Lexington and Concord; it may have fired by a British soldier and any of a number of other claimants. And if at first you think the story of farmer Sam Whittemore is made up, well, think again! I have a new octogenarian hero.

 

Brown’s Legends of Liberty: Volume One isn’t like any historical poem you’ve read before. A combination of rhymed poetry and illustrations (with stanzas printed right on many of them), this is part epic, part mock-epic, part historical fact, part historical invention, a strong dollop of the tongue-in-cheek, and all sheer fun. And underneath it all, Brown seems to be making a serious point.


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

Monday, September 13, 2021

“A Study in Stone” by Michael Campling


Dan Corrigan is taking advantage of his sister’s office to spend some time at her cottage in Embervale in Devonshire. He needs some serious downtime from his work in London, and he might possibly need to leave it behind permanently. Embervale is not easy to find, but he manages. And he discovers that the cottage has none of the modern amenities, like wifi.  

But he does meet a nice neighbor, Alan Hargreaves, a teacher and writer. Together they eventually find what Dan considers a decent coffee shop in nearby Exeter. And the owner tells them the story of the spring behind the shop. Covering the spring is a stone with a coded message – and no one has ever been able to crack the code. 

 

Dan and Alan set themselves to the challenge, and they’ve soon figured it out. But the owner is not only uninterested but downright hostile. And the two neighbors begin a search for the story behind the stone, which will take them back to World War I.

 

Michael Campling

A Study in Stone
 is the first in the Devonshire Mysteries by British author Michael Campling. It’s an intriguing story in that it has no murders, no violence, and no crimes whatsoever. What it offers is a mystery engraved on a stone.

 

Campling is the author of four books in the Devonshire Mysteries series: A Study in StoneValley of LiesMystery in May, and Murder Between the Tides. He’s also published numerous works of science fiction. 

 

A rather quiet story, A Study in Stone is nonetheless an engaging tale of secrets from the past, a family in turmoil, and an even a family would prefer to see left buried.

Sunday, September 12, 2021

A curious armor


After Ephesians 6:10-24

Expecting the weight

and awkwardness

of metaled defense,

it’s surprising to find

a different kind

of armor, the kind

you don’t see, can’t

see, but the kind

that’s stronger,

more flexible, resilient,

renewable, suitable

for the fight, the war

before us:

 

A belt of truth,

breastplate of 

righteousness,

shoes of readiness,

shield of faith,

helmet of salvation,

sword of the Spirit

(the Word),

the strategy of prayer

the tactics of staying

alert. And this

curious armor will

prevail.

 

Photo by Michal Matlon via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Friday, September 10, 2021

Saturday Good Reads - Sept. 11, 2021


Twenty years have passed since Sept. 11, 2001, and we seem to have come full circle. The Taliban are back in charge of Afghanistan, including some the very same people who were in charge when Osama bin Laden launched his attacks on the United States. CityJournal republished a 2004 essay by James Q. Wilson, entitled “What makes a terrorist? It takes a whole village – even a whole culture.” And it’s just as apt today as it was in 2004. 

Author Salman Rushdie, himself no stranger to terrorist regimes and their long reach, has continued to write after his The Satanic Verses raised the ire of the Iranian ayatollahs back in the 1980s. And he’s doing something unusual with his latest book – he’s serializing it on Substack. Alex Shephard at The New Republic wonders if Rushdie will be able to revive serialized fiction

 

Years ago, as in 1972, I read a small gem of a short novel called Catholics by Brian Moore. Set in the distant future (the end of the 20th century), it’s set in a monastery on a small island. A young priest is sent to force the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, and his efforts are not welcome. It was far from the only this this writer from Northern Ireland wrote. John Self at The Critic Magazine calls Moore “Belfast’s best-kept secret.”

 

Thomas Jefferson is known for many things – the Declaration of Independence, the founding of the University of Virginia, and serving as the third president (and paying $15 million for the Louisiana Purchase). But did you know he was also a poet? Michael Curtis at the Society of Classical Poets has the story.

 

More Good Reads

 

9/11

 

9/11 twenty years later – Andrew Mccarthy at New Criterion.

 

Artists remember 11 September – The Art Newspaper.

 

Inside the memory of 9/11 – David Smith at The Critic Magazine.

 

Teaching 9/11 to the Emerging Generation – John Stonestreet at Breakpoint.

 

The Sphere, 20 Years Later – Christina Stanton at Mere Orthodoxy.

 

Twenty Years Later – Elizabeth Stice at Front Porch Republic.

 

Writing and Literature

 

To Fit and To fix: The Moral Imagination of Alexander McCall Smith – Jeffrey Bilbro at Plough Quarterly. 

 

McIlvanney and Me: Remembering the Man Who Created Tartan Noir – Ian Rankin at CrimeReads.

 

Pius Samwise: Roman Heroism in The Lord of the Rings – Zak Schmoll at An Unexpected Journal.

 

My First Thriller: James Grady – Rick Pullen at CrimeReads.

 

Is Ambrose Bierce an Accurate Primary Source and Does it Matter? – Jon Tracey at Emerging Civil War.

 

Faith

 

I Don’t Think That’s what “Two or Three Gathered Together” Means – Paul Phillips at He’s Taken Leave.

 

Is Faith a Work? – Stephen Nichols at Ligonier Ministries.

 

Turning Toward Light – Andrea Sanborn at A View of the Lake.

 

Culture

 

A Critical Theorist Worth Reading – Carl Trueman at First Things Magazine.

 

The Courage of Peter Boghossian – Rod Dreher at American Conservative.

 

Art

 

Where was Van Gogh originally buried? We still don’t know – Martin Bailey at The Art Newspaper.

 

Scars in Heaven – Casting Crowns



Painting: Portrait of a Young Man Holding a Letter, oil on canvas (1518) by Rosso Florentino (1494-1540), National Gallery, London.

Suit up; war's on


After Ephesians 6:10-24
 

Know your strength;

know its source. 

The battle is on, and

the enemy isn’t whom

you think it is (know

the difference between

the chess pieces and

the hand moving them).

The light stands against

this present darkness,

against forces of evil

in the unseen, heavenly

realms. The time has come

to suit up. The game’s

afoot; the war is on.

 

Photo by Duncan Kidd via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Thursday, September 9, 2021

“The Cold Light of Death” by Scott Hunter


For the first third of the book, I wasn’t sure I was reading a DCI Brendan Moran novel by British author Scott Hunter. I checked the titled page at least twice to make sure.  

In Chapter 14, all becomes clear. But the first 13 chapters are set in 1976, and the Reading police are investigating the death of a shop owner. It appears to be a classic robbery gone awry, but Emma Hardy, 26, a newly appointed detective sergeant and in charge of the investigation, isn’t sure. It’s clear the shop owner knew his killer – he was bashed on the back of the head near the back door, as if he knew whomever had come to the back door. The till money is missing, which suggests a robbery, but DS Hardy is suspicious.

 

Her investigation chases down several promising leads; the shop owner wasn’t all he appeared to be. And a witness has reported seeing a suspicious man loitering near the shop shortly before the man was killed. The police artist draws a likeness, and it looks uncannily like one of Hardy’s own police detectives. And then DS Hardy goes missing. The investigation continues, and a suspect is apprehended with the dead man’s book of loans outstanding. The reader knows, or at least thinks he or she knows, what’s happened. 

 

Scott Hunter

Fast forward 45 years. A body is found interred in the old police garage that’s being torn down. Knowing the date of construction leads Detective Chief Inspector and his team to check for missing persons in 1976. They discover the listing for DS Emma Hardy, but the body turns out to be a male, one also connected to the shop owner’s death in 1976. 

 

The Cold Light of Death is the 8th mystery novel in the DCI Brendan Moran series. While the reader thinks the story (and the killer) is known, and this is a story of how Moran and his crew ferret out the truth, it becomes something different. And it turns out we didn’t know as much as we thought we did.

 

The “Irish Detective” series includes Black DecemberCreatures of DustDeath Walks Behind YouA Crime for All SeasonsSilent as the DeadGone Too Soon, The Enemy Inside, When Stars Grow Dark, and The Cold Light of Death. Hunter has also published the novels The TrespassThe Ley Lines of LushburyLong Goodbyes, and The Serpent & the Slave, and the memoir Rattle and Drum.  In addition to writing fiction, Hunter is an IT consultant and musician. He lives with his family in England.

 

The Cold Light of Death takes a while before it reaches the Brendan Moran story, but it turns out to be one of the best in the series, full of twists and surprises.

 

Related:

 

My review of Black December by Scott Hunter.

 

My review of Creatures of Dust by Scott Hunter.

 

My review of Death Walks Behind You by Scott Hunter.

 

My review of Silent as the Dead by Scott Hunter.

 

My review of Gone Too Soon and A Crime for All Seasons by Scott Hunter.

 

The Enemy Inside by Scott Hunter.

 

When Starts Grow Dark by Scott Hunter.

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

"Nineteen Hundred Days" by Florence Osmund


Ben Mattis, 12, and his sister Lucy, 6, live in rural Illinois, not far from Galena. Their home is isolated, and the two children are homeschooled, defined as mostly teaching themselves. Their mother works; their father, when he’s around, can usually be found drinking. 

One morning their father leaves, saying he has to help their mother at her job. They children don’t think much of it, until neither parent comes home that night. Ben feeds himself and his sister, and they wait. A neighbor comes by the next day, but neither Ben nor Lucy answer the knock. They don’t know what happened to their parents, but both children are terrified of landing in the hands of Child Protection Services (CPS), because Ben has talked to kids with that experience. 

 

They hide again when the neighbor, the sheriff and the CPS worker return. And Ben knows they need to flee to their aunt. And thus begins the journey of Nineteen Hundred Days by Florence Osmund. Added to the mystery of what’s happened to their parents are the artifacts Ben finds in the cellar while they’re hiding, artifacts which turn out to be worth more than a small fortune.

 

Florence Osmund

When they reach their aunt, they learn that she’s in the hospital. And here comes the dreaded CPS. It’s a coming-of-age story, a minor mystery story, and ultimately a story of tough love. (It also contains a notable amount of profanity.)

 

After three decades working for corporations and associations, Osmund retired to devote herself to full-time writing, Osmund has published several novels, including The RingThey Called Me MargaretLiving with MarkusRegarding AnnaRed CloverThe Coach House, and Daughters, and the non-fiction book How to Write, Publish, and Promote a Novel. She lives in Illinois.

 

Nineteen Hundred Days is a hard story that the reader knows from the prologue will end well. The focus is on the 12-year-old Ben, the decisions he makes, and how he finally learns to grow up.

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

“Spoon River America:” Jason Stacy on the Myth of the Small Town


Reading a book of literary and cultural criticism about a favorite poetry collection led me to understand something about the community I live in. 

Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters (1868 - 1950) was published in 1915; it has the distinction of being one of the few poetry collections that has never been out of print. It’s 212 characters tell their stories of their lives in the fictitious town of Spoon River in 244 poems. Many of the pomes were first published by Reedy’s Mirror, a weekly literary journal published in St. Louis under editor William Marion Reedy. 

 

What was unusual about the collection was how Masters developed and depicted the people of an American Midwest small town. Saints co-existed with sinners; sometimes, saints were sinners and vice versa. The poems read like tombstone epitaphs, as if summing up the life of each Spoon River resident. 

 

The collection was enormously influential, not only in literary and popular culture but in creating a myth of the small town. In Spoon Rover America: Edgar Lee Masters and the Myth of the American Small TownJason Stacy persuasively argues that the fictional town of Spoon River supplanted the idea of the New England village in the American mind, that it framed how we understand small town life and how we Americans understand ourselves.


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

Monday, September 6, 2021

"The Madness of Crowds" by Louise Penny


A new Inspector Armand Gamache mystery novel by Louise Penny is an event. Each story generally goes right to the top of the bestsellers’ lists, and with good reason. Gamache, his Quebec Surete colleagues, and his neighbors in the village of three Pines have legions of fans worldwide. And his fans have followed Gamache through thick and thin, from Montreal to Paris, from his unmasking political skullduggery at the highest levels of Canadian provincial government to his nearly dying. 

We love Gamache and how he solves mysteries. We love his colleagues Isabel Lacoste and Jean-guy Beauvoir, who also happens to be his son-in-law. We love Gamache’s wife, Reine-Narie. And the Three Pines neighbors: bistro owners Olivier and Gabri, poet Ruth Zardo and her foul-mouthed duck Rosa, artist Clare Morrow, and bookstore operator Myrna.

 

The Madness of Crowds is the seventeenth Gamache novel, and it helps to know two things about the book. It was written during the COVID-19 pandemic, and it was written before the emergence of the delta variant of COVID. It is set just after the pandemic has ended, with the widespread availability of vaccines. The people are Three Pines are coming together for a Christmas and New Year’s celebration, the first such celebration post-pandemic. 

 

Joining the celebration is a Sudanese woman nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, one who endured mass rape, torture, and disfigurement to go on to create a foundation for women and children. She is a worldwide celebrity, and the residents of Three Pines are initially thrilled. Until they get to know her, and discover that sainthood often involves a brutal, caustic personality.

 

Louise Penny

Gamache is called to a local university, to provide security for a speaker with unpopular views, in this case, the articulation of support for eugenics and the “culling” of the population, particularly during events like pandemics. Inspired by Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, eugenics was especially popular in the late nineteenth and first-half of the twentieth centuries. In the United States, it was associated with Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood. In Europe, it was associated with Nazi theories of racial superiority, and it was the Holocaust that dealt what many thought was a death blow to eugenics. Biotechnology, however, has brought it back, although in a different form and using different names.

 

It is a woman professor from British Columbia whom Gamache must protect, even as he finds what she says and believes to be abhorrent. Contributing to this abhorrence is that fact that Gamache’s baby granddaughter Idola, the child of Jean-Guy and Gamache’s daughter Annie, has Down’s Syndrome. 

 

Penny swirls all these currents and crosscurrents together, in the way only she can, to tell a fascinating story. Except something seems slightly off-kilter in The Madness of Crowds, and it’s not easy to say specifically what it is. It may be the disconnect of writing about a pandemic that has supposedly just passed, when the reader’s current reality is that COVID-19 is still very much with us. It may be that it takes several chapters before the reader knows what, exactly, are the controversial views the characters find to be so hateful. It may be that the murder, when it does finally occur well into the story, is connected to human experiments in the 1950s and 1960s. Using these experiments, the question of eugenics, and Sudanese atrocities as narrative devices in the novel runs the risk of a story without a center, and the book comes close to that. 

 

There’s also a sense that the author did not deal well with what happened during the first year of COVID-19, and it surfaces several times in the experiences of her characters. It is Gamache’s wife who tell us what happened to her husband and son-in-law during the lockdown; Gamache and Jean-Guy make little reference to it.

 

I love the Gamache stories. I’ve been amazed with the first 16 books and how Penny consistently wrote on exceptional mystery novel after another. The Madness of Crowds is a good story, but it might have needed a simpler plot line; the story of the Sudanese woman, for example, could have been a separate Gamache story all to itself.

 

But we remain faithful to the inspector, his colleagues, his family, and his friends. 

 

Related:

 

My review of Kingdom of the Blind.

 

My review of Glass Houses.

 

My review of A Great Reckoning.

 

My review of The Long Way Home.

 

My review of How the Light Gets In.

 

My review of The Beautiful Mystery.

 

My review of The Hangman.

 

My review of Penny’s A Trick of the Light.

 

My review of Penny’s A Fatal Grace.

 

My review of Penny’s Still Life.

 

My review of Penny’s The Cruelest Month.

 

My review of Penny’s A Rule Against Murder.

 

My review of The Brutal Telling.

 

My review of Penny’s Bury Your Dead.

 

My review of A Better Man.

 

My review of All the Devils Are Here.