Wednesday, March 31, 2021

March Reading Wrap-Up

 White-Breasted Nuthatch

Photo credit:

March has been another month of beautiful weather.  We have had many above average temperature days and lots of sunshine.  All of our snow melted during the first week of March.  We have had some snow since then, but not enough to accumulate.  The average snowfall for March in our area is 5 to 7 inches.  

The trees are starting to bud.  Bleeding hearts and rhubarb are beginning to erupt.  This is all wonderful, but very early.  We don't usually plant our gardens until the end of May because we are likely to continue to get hard frosts until that time.  

The birds are abundant in the crab apple tree near our deck.  I saw a pair of Robins just a few days ago.  The Chickadees are still flitting around as well as White-Breasted Nuthatches (pictured above).  These birds are fascinating to watch as they creep head first down the tree branches.  Apparently, this is the best way for them to smell insects.  

In other news, I read 7 books.  This was a little on the low side for me, but life was busy.  We visited our youngest son, bought a rental property and I took my mom to have cataract surgery. Things are not going to slow down anytime soon as the months of April and May are full of good things.  We will be preparing the rental property for tenants and our oldest son is getting married in May.  

Here's the breakdown:

Cozy Mystery: 3

Historical Fiction: 1

Mystery: 1

Non-fiction: 2

Cozy Mystery:

Martinis & Mayhem (Murder, She Wrote, #5)

Martini's & Mayhem (Murder, She Wrote #5) by Jessica Fletcher and Donald Bain.  - Jessica travels to San Francisco to publicize her latest book.  While there she gives a talk at a women's correctional facility where she meets a woman convicted of murdering her husband.  The woman insists she didn't do it.  Jessica becomes convinced as well and tries to prove her innocence.  

The Cat Who Played Brahms (Cat Who... #5)The Cat Who Played Brahms (The Cat Who #5) by Lilian Jackson Braun - Qwilleran is spending a few months at the cabin of a family friend.  Some strange things go on while he is there including a murder.  With the help of his cats, he tries to discover what is going on. 

Poetry in Motion (Secrets of Mary's Bookshop, #7)Poetry in Motion (Secrets of Mary's Bookshop #8) by Kristin Eckhardt - Mary discovers a piece of notepaper with a poem written on it.  It is signed, "Katherine Lee Bates". Is this the original written by the hand of the author of "America the Beautiful"?  Mary will have to use her sleuthing abilities to find out the truth.

Historical Fiction: 

The Hawk and the Dove (The Hawk and the Dove #1)The Hawk and the Dove (The Hawk and the Dove #1) by Penelope Wilcock - Stories of Benedictine Monks who are relatives of the narrator.  The stories are told by a mother to her children. 


Under a Dark SkyUnder a Dark Sky by Lori Rader-Day - Eden Wallace arrives at Dark Sky Park to keep a reservation her husband made before he died.  When she arrives at the guest house, she discovers there are others staying there as well.  This is not what she expected, but must stay at least one night because she has a long drive home.  In the wee hours of the morning one of the guests is murdered.  Now she can't go home because she is a suspect.


A Philosophy of Education

A Philosophy of Education by Charlotte M. Mason - Volume 6 of the Original Homeschooling Series.  Charlotte Mason was a nineteenth century British educator who wrote a series of books on the philosophy she used and had found successful with her students.  I used many of her methods when educating my own children and I find her methods are very applicable to anyone who desires to be an educated person.  Her methods are based on using whole, living books rather than textbooks.  

Diggin' Up Bones: One woman's spiritual struggle and her golden retriever who leads her out of unconscious transgenerational shameDiggin' Up Bones: One Woman's Spiritual Struggle and Her Golden Retriever Who Leads Her Out of Unconscious Transgenerational Shame by Bonnie Wright - A memoir written by a woman who endured physical and emotion abuse while growing up.  She found herself following the same patterns when she became an adult.  It wasn't until she adopted a Golden Retriever with aggression problems, that she began to examine her own inner life.  

Currently reading:

I am listening to Boo by Rene Gutteridge.  It is so funny!  Rene Gutteridge is the head writer for Skit Guys Studios, so I am not surprised by the humor in this novel.  It is that same style of humor, only written on the page.

I am reading My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell.  Another funny book!  But also full of interesting wildlife.  

Around the blog:

My review of the documentary Murder Among the Mormons.

That's all for this month.  I hope you have all had a great March!

~ Gretchen

I am linking up with The Monthly Wrap-Up Round-Up hosted by Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction and Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight. 

Monday, March 29, 2021

Book Review: Under a Dark Sky by Lori Rader-Day

Under a Dark SkyUnder a Dark Sky. Lori Rader-Day. William Morrow (2018). 405 pages. Genre: Mystery, Suspense. 

First Line: "June. The first sign that things would not go as planned was the tableau that awaited me at the bottom of the open staircase: a pair of boxer briefs hanging from the newel post, as out of place as if they'd  been dropped from the sky."

Summary:  It has been nine months since Eden Wallace's husband died.  While going through paperwork, she discovered that he had made reservations at the Straits Point International Dark Sky Park in Michigan for their anniversary.  This was a surprise to her.  It was also out of character for her husband to make plans so far in advance.  She had hardly left the house since he died.  Maybe it would be a good idea to keep the reservation. 

When she arrives at the park, things are not quite as she expected.  It turns out she must share the guest house with others. She decides to stay just one night and head home the following day.  However, during that one night, someone is murdered.  Now she must stay because she is a suspect.  

My thoughts:  This is the first book I have read by Lori Rader-Day and I don't think it will be the last one.  I couldn't turn the pages fast enough!  

I liked Eden right away.  Even though she has been a loner since her husband died, she was very human and relatable. She is sensitive to the feelings of others and can put herself in their shoes. Since the death of her husband, she has been afraid to be in the dark.  She is dealing with intense grief, but also guilt.  She is so ashamed that her husband was driving drunk and caused an accident. I could feel what she was feeling. 

The mystery was very good.  The scenario Eden finds herself in is interesting and even without the murder contains lots of secrets and questions.  Since there were lots of secrets, there were plenty of twists, turns and complications.  The climax is quite suspenseful. There is a secondary mystery going on as well involving Eden's marriage.  Why did her husband make these reservations?  I appreciated that everything was brought to a conclusion.  I also appreciated that the final chapter takes place many months later giving the reader a upbeat conclusion to a tense novel. 

The novel deals with some heavy subjects, but it never felt too dark or heavy.  This was a fast-paced, compelling read that will keep you reading way past your bedtime.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Book Review: Poetry in Motion by Kristin Eckhardt

Poetry in Motion (Secrets of Mary's Bookshop, #7)Poetry in Motion (Secrets of Mary's Bookshop #8). Kristin Eckhardt. Guideposts (2013). 272 pages. Genre: Cozy Mystery, Christian Fiction. 

First Line: "Spring was in the air."

Summary:  When Mary discovers a piece of yellowed notepaper at the bottom of the book collection bin, she wonders if it fell out of one of the books.  As she investigates it, she discovers it is a handwritten poem.  It is titled "Pike's Peak" and signed "Katherine Lee Bates, 1893".  

Mary realizes that Katherine Lee Bates is the author of the poem that gave us the song "America the Beautiful".  Pike's Peak eventually became that song.  But, is this piece of notepaper the original work written by Katherine Lee Bates herself?  

Mary takes the paper to a local man who has some experience with historical documents.  The man believes it could be the original from the feel of the paper and the smell of the ink.  But, he promises to send it out to be tested.  While in his office, Mary meets his assistant, a young man who happens to be the nephew of her pastor.  After an interesting conversation with the young man, Mary leaves.

The next morning she receives a frantic call from the document man claiming that he can't find the poem and his assistant hasn't shown up for work.  Has the poem been misplaced?  Or did the assistant steal it and leave town?

My thoughts:  I am always amazed when I read a book from this series that each book is written by a different author.  They do such an excellent job of remaining true to the characters.  

The premise of this one was interesting with the poem written by Katherine Lee Bates.  I enjoyed learning a little about the history of that poem.  

There are plenty of things to unwind and discover.  Mary is careful not to judge others before she has all the facts.  There were lots of twists and turns in the mystery and a little suspense before it wraps up.

It was an added bonus that this story takes place in the spring.  It is rare that I coordinate reading a book with the same season that we are in.  It gave me extra appreciation for this lovely time of year!

    "Mary Fisher stood at the open window of her bookshop and breathed in the late afternoon breeze.          It had a fresh, earthy scent that made her eager to dig into the backyard garden of the house she             shared with her sister."

This was an enjoyable addition to the series.  It can be read as a stand alone, but there is much to be gained by starting at the beginning of the series.  

Just a note, Goodreads lists this as the seventh book in the series, but Guideposts and my records indicate it is the eighth.  


"'Do you remember how much Gram used to love thunderstorms like this? Betty asked with a reminiscent smile.  'I sure do,' Mary replied.  'Gram always said it was so glorious to feel just a smidgen of God's power shaking us up for a bit.'"

Monday, March 22, 2021

Book Review: Diggin' Up Bones by Bonnie Wright

Diggin' Up Bones: One woman's spiritual struggle and her golden retriever who leads her out of unconscious transgenerational shame Diggin' Up Bones: One Woman's Spiritual Struggle and Her Golden Retriever Who Leads Her Out of Unconscious Transgenerational Shame. Bonnie Wright. SS Safari All-Star Press (2021). 456 pages. Genre: Non-fiction; Memoir.

First Lines: "Living a divided life is a lie.  While I appeared normal to the world, I hid the dark shadow of trauma. It got inside me and followed me."

Summary: Bonnie grew up in a home full of harsh words, anger and criticism.  There was very little affection in her home.  Had it not been for her mother's deep faith, she would never have understood that there was something more than this life.  

As she grew up and left home, she found herself patterning her life after the home life she experienced growing up.  She married a man who turned out to be just like her dad.  How could she have done that?  She never intended to do that and yet, she found herself choosing another similar man.  The warning signs were there, but Bonnie's deep longing to be loved caused her to ignore them.  

She had been blessed with a couple of pets in her life and always found them as loving companions that loved her without condition. So, she decided to adopt a male Golden Retriever.  As Bonnie began training him and helping him through the aggression issues that he had, she began to realize that she had some heart issues that needed to be worked through.  This is the story of Bonnie's journey from a young woman full of shame and longing to a woman who has discovered true love and purpose. 

My thoughts: Bonnie and her dog, Siri, attend my church.  I have often been greeted by them at the front door on a Sunday morning.  Part of Bonnie's story was recently shared in one of our pastor's sermons.  I knew then that I wanted to read her book.

Bonnie's story is incredible in many ways.  She has endured things both as a child and an adult that no human being should ever have to endure.  It was often difficult to read.  But, there were always glimmers of hope.  She is an overcomer and that definitely comes through in the memoir.  She has been knocked down many times, but doesn't stay down for long. 

Her relationship with her dogs is beautiful.  Many people never experience that depth of relationship with a human being, let alone with a dog.  I learned a lot about training a dog and the grueling work required to get a dog ready for competition.  From my own experience I know that dogs can sense a person's feelings, but I learned much about the depth of a dog's feelings.  It reminded me that often the thing a hurting person needs is just someone to be with them.  Dogs can't say a word, but their loving presence often is better than words. 

I recommend this book for anyone who enjoys memoirs, is a dog lover or wants to read about an incredible faith journey.  

Friday, March 19, 2021

Book Review: A Philosophy of Education by Charlotte M. Mason

A Philosophy of EducationA Philosophy of Education (Original Homeschooling, Volume 6). Charlotte M. Mason. Tyndale House (1989) First published 1925. Genre: Non-fiction.

First Lines: "These are anxious days for all who are engaged in education. We rejoiced in the fortitude, valour and devotion shown by our men in the War and recognize that these things are due to the Schools as well as to the fact that England still breeds, 'very valiant creatures.'"

Summary:  Charlotte M. Mason was a nineteenth century British educator living and teaching in the Lake District of England. She wrote the first book in this series in 1886 containing what she had learned about teaching young children.  She established her "House of Education" in 1892.  This was a training college for governesses.  This is the sixth volume of the Original Homeschooling Series written by Charlotte Mason.  This volume details her philosophy of education as well as giving specific details about each area of the curriculum for elementary and secondary schools. 

My thoughts:  I have read this volume three or four times and each time I learn something new or deepen my understanding of something.  I used Charlotte Mason's philosophies while home educating my children.  I was amazed at the simplicity and rigor of the methods.  

At the crux of CM's philosophy is the use of books of literary quality in the curriculum.  Because of this, I think her methods apply to anyone who reads and I always find reinforcement for the reading life in her works. The importance of being someone who reads and thinks can not be understated. 

Something else that always strikes me when reading this book is the relevancy of her methods.  For example, I was first introduced to the importance of habits from reading this series.  Part of the philosophy are "Three Instruments of Education".  The three instruments are: Education is an atmosphere, Education is a discipline and Education is a life.  She says of Education is a discipline: 
"By this formula we mean the discipline of habits formed definitely and thoughtfully whether habits of mind or of body."  Some of the habits of the mind, intellectual habits, she discusses are; the habit of self-education, the habit of telling what they have read either orally or in writing, the habit of attention.

"Attention is not the only habit that follows due self-education.  The habits of fitting and ready expression, of obedience, of good-will, and of an impersonal outlook are spontaneous bye-products of educations in this sort.  So, too, are habits of right thinking and right judging."

She talks about what physiologists tell us about thoughts that become habits.  There are several recent books that have been written on this very topic.  

I highly recommend this series and specifically this volume for anyone home educating their children.  But I also recommend it to all parents, teachers and anyone interested in education.


"People are naturally divided into those who read and think and those who do not read or think; and the business of schools is to see that all their scholars shall belong to the former class; it is worth while to remember that thinking is inseparable from reading which is concerned with the content of a passage and not merely with the printed matter."

"If we fail to ease life by laying down habits of right thinking and right acting, habits of wrong thinking and wrong acting fix themselves of their own accord."

"Consider how laborious life would be were its wheels not greased by habits of cleanliness, neatness, order, courtesy; had we to make the effort of decision about every detail of dressing and eating, coming and going, life would not be worth living."

"For the mind is capable of dealing with only one kind of food; it lives, grows and is nourished upon ideas only; mere information is to it as a meal of sawdust to the body; there are no organs for assimilation of the one more than of the other."

"Education is a life.  That life is sustained on ideas. Ideas are of spiritual origin, and God has made us so that we get them chiefly as we convey them to one another, whether by word of mouth, written page, Scripture word, musical symphony; but we must sustain a child's inner life with ideas as we sustain his body with food."

The Literary Life Reading Challenge - A book on education

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Book Review: The Cat Who Played Brahms by Lilian Jackson Braun

The Cat Who Played Brahms (Cat Who... #5)The Cat Who Played Brahms (The Cat Who #5). Lilian Jackson Braun. Jove (1987). 245 pages. Genre: Cozy Mystery.

First Line: "For Jim Qwilleran, veteran journalist, it was one of the most appalling moments of his career."

Summary:  Qwilleran has made a decision.  He needs a break from city life and all that it entails.  He is going to use some vacation and take a leave of absence and spend three months up north.  He has an aunt, well she's not really an aunt, but a friend of his mother's that he calls Aunt Fanny.  She has a cabin up north that she will let him use.  His friend, Arch Riker, thinks he's crazy and wonders what he will do up there.  Qwill has some ideas for a book and intends to spend his days writing. 

Aunt Fanny is eccentric.  She has a deep voice and usually dresses flamboyantly.  Qwilleran hasn't seen her in forty years and she is overjoyed to see him.  

Aunt Fanny's cabin is more rustic than Qwilleran expected, but he and the cats will make the best of it.  Right away strange things begin happening.  The cats stare out the window toward a spot on the beach that looks like a grave.  Qwill is awakened in the middle of the night by what sounds like loud footsteps on his roof.  One day he returns to the cabin and catches a whiff of pipe smoke inside and finds a few small things missing.  As he tries to get to know the locals and discover if anyone else has noticed odd occurrences, he is met by closed lips and blank stares.  

When a local artisan is found dead in his workshop, Qwilleran realizes something strange is going on.  

My thoughts:  This story is full of quirky characters and strange occurrences.  

Jim Qwilleran is tired of city life and the crime, pollution and noise that accompany it.  Qwilleran was married, but is now a confirmed bachelor and mostly prefers it that way.  He has his habits and routines and his cats.  He rarely cooks, preferring to visit nearby establishments for sustenance.  However, he always feeds his cats meat, whether fresh or canned.  He has recently been writing restaurant reviews for the Daily Fluxion, which was a definite step down for him.  He has been spending time with Rosemary, who is much older than he is, but she is good company.  I like Qwilleran.  His life is predictable and he likes it that way.  So, it is a bit unsettling when he decides to leave the city and go up north for a few months. 

It is even more unsettling when he meets Aunt Fanny.  She is eccentric and has a hard time staying focused.  Then there is Tom, who seems to be her right-hand man.  But he is quiet and slow and a little creepy. Sometimes he just shows up inside the cabin.  Aunt Fanny says nobody locks there doors here.  Many of the locals are a little strange and not very friendly.  Qwill's nerves are on edge and he can't decide if his mind is playing tricks on him or strange things are really happening.

It is not until halfway through the book that the murder occurs, but then the mystery intensifies.  It was a good mystery with a twist.  As usual, Koko the cat, knows who the murderer is before Qwill does and tries to alert him.  I enjoy the way the cats are involved.  They always have some means by which they try to point something out to Qwill.  It is not magic, but something like flipping a light switch or opening a book to a certain page, or playing Brahms.  

There was a fortune teller in this story, but she wasn't taken seriously.  She was a resident of the town up north and tried to tell everyone's fortune whether they wanted her to or not.

This is an enjoyable addition to the series and I look forward to the next installment.


"On the other hand, Aunt Fanny had mentioned nothing about comforts and conveniences.  Qwilleran liked an extra-long bed, deep lounge chairs, good reading lamps, a decent refrigerator, plenty of hot water, and trouble-free plumbing."

"The little old lady who answered the doorbell was undoubtedly Aunt Fanny: a vigorous eighty-nine, tiny but taut with energy.  Her white, powdery, wrinkled face wore two slashes of orange lipstick and glasses that magnified her eyes."

Monday, March 15, 2021

Book Review: The Hawk and the Dove by Penelope Wilcock

The Hawk and the Dove (The Hawk and the Dove #1)The Hawk and the Dove (The Hawk and the Dove #1). Penelope Wilcock. Crossway Books (1990). 160 pages. Genre: Historical Fiction, Christian Fiction.

First Lines: "I wish you had known my mother.  I remember, as clearly as if it were yesterday, toiling up the hill at the end of the school day, towards the group of mothers who stood at the crest of the rise, waiting to collect their children from the county primary school where my little sisters went."

Summary:  When Melissa was fourteen years old, her mother would tell her and her siblings stories of her ancestors.  The stories had been told to her mother when she was a girl by her Great-Grandmother.  Many had been handed down in the family for more than 700 years.  These stories were told by Edward, a Benedictine Monk who lived in monastery on the edge of the Yorkshire moors.  

He had spent forty years as a wandering friar.  Around the time of his sixtieth birthday, he entered the community of Benedictines at St. Alcuin's Abbey.  He was made the infirmarian of the Abbey.  He had some knowledge of tisanes and poultices gained during his time of wandering, which he was able to use in healing the sick and caring for the old at the Abbey.  He met many interesting men during his time at the Abbey and when he was old, he loved to tell their stories.  These are the stories that have been passed down for more than 700 years.

My thoughts:  I had heard about this series years ago and wanted to read it, but never pursued purchasing it.  I recently came across the series at a used book store and was quick to buy it.  The Hawk and the Dove is the first book in this series. 

The book is narrated by Melissa who is looking back to the time in her life when she was fourteen years old.  She was the second of five children.  There is a large gap between the youngest three children and Melissa.  During this time of her life, her mother would often tell the children stories in the evening after dinner.  Melissa began to really look forward to the stories her mother told about Uncle Edward and his brothers at the Abbey.  

The majority of each chapter is a story taking place at the Abbey.  Most chapters begin and end with life in Melissa's home.  This was enjoyable and I looked forward to both.  Melissa has a loving family that expects her to help around the home.  One of her younger sisters is a handful and I appreciated how the older members of the family helped out with her care and made adjustments to their lives in order to make things run more smoothly for everyone.

I loved the atmosphere of the Abbey.  Each of the men we encountered had room for growth in his life.  If they entered the Abbey full of themselves, they often learned rather quickly that was not going to get them far.  There are rules that every member of community must follow.  One of them was that if you wronged another person, you were expected to ask forgiveness formally.  This often meant in front of the entire community.  Often it was the Father or Abbot that would determine what was necessary.  This process was extremely humbling, but also very freeing.  Rather than bearing guilt and shame for something done wrong, it was confessed and forgiven and forgotten.  Each of the stories told shows great strength of character.  

I enjoyed getting a glimpse of what daily life would have been like in a monastery.  I have always been fascinated by Benedictine monks and their lifestyle.  This story made that come alive, along with showing that these men were real people, who struggled with the same things men struggle with today. 

There are two more books in this series and I am looking forward to spending more time at St. Alcuin's Abbey.

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Documentary Review: Murder Among the Mormons

Murder Among the Mormons.png


Murder Among the Mormons. Documentary series. Netflix (2021).

Summary:  In the mid-1980's, Mark Hofmann discovered some historical documents that could be damaging to the LDS church.  Mark and his colleagues sold the documents to the church.  Not long after that there was a series of bombings in Salt Lake City that seemed to be targeting those connected to these transactions. This series walks us through what happened.

My thoughts:  This documentary was well done and covered an interesting true crime that I didn't know anything about.  It was well paced and easy to watch, containing relevant and interesting information without bogging the viewer down. The series contains three episodes.  Episode one tells the story of Mark Hofmann and the historical documents that he discovered.  This is done through interviews with several people who were close to him, including his wife and several of his associates.  We also learn something of his past and a little about Mormonism. 

Episode two begins just after the bombings have occurred and is told from the perspective of the law enforcement team that handled the crimes.  It was very interesting to travel through the investigation with them.  There was footage of the actual detectives in the "war room", the detectives working on the case in a secure room.  It was interesting to hear what they were saying at the time and then hear from them now as they were recalling that time.  They had very little to go on until someone came forward who saw a strange man the morning of one of the bombings.  

Episode three reveals what happened and how.  This portion included some science behind the techniques used, which was fascinating.  It also reveals why, with recorded interviews done with the murderer after he was arrested.  Also, we get the reactions of those close to him.  

Murder Among the Mormons is a compelling documentary series that tells a story of greed and deception that led to murder.  

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Book Review: Martinis & Mayhem by Jessica Fletcher & Donald Bain

Martinis & Mayhem (Murder, She Wrote, #5)Martinis & Mayhem (Murder, She Wrote #5). Jessica Fletcher & Donald Bain. Signet (1995). 287 pages. Genre: Cozy Mystery.

First Line:  "People who don't know Maine suffer from the delusion that it never gets hot there."

Summary:  Jessica is leaving Maine to spend a week in San Francisco publicizing her newest book.  Maine is having a heatwave and she is looking forward to the cooler weather in San Francisco.  As part of her tour, her publicist has arranged for her to visit a Women's Correctional Facility where she will give a talk on journal writing.  Jessica is feeling a bit apprehensive, but hopes she can offer some helpful information to the woman.  Most of the women seem uninterested, but there is one woman who asks some pointed questions.  When Jessica returns to her hotel later that day she discovers a journal in her handbag.  The journal was placed there by the interested woman at the Correctional Facility.  It turns out she is in prison for murdering her husband.  There was quite a bit of debate around the trial, as many thought she was innocent.  As Jessica reads the journal, she also becomes convinced the woman is innocent.  She is only in town for a short time, will she be able to find evidence to prove the woman's innocence?

My thoughts:  Spending time with Jessica Fletcher is always a treat.  This time was especially enjoyable because the book begins in Cabot Cove, so we get a taste of Maine before she heads off on her adventure.  

The bulk of the book takes place in San Francisco.  The author did an amazing job of giving the reader a feel for San Francisco.  At one point Jessica walks across the Golden Gate Bridge.  As she does so, she describes for the reader what she is seeing.  This helped me feel like I was there.  She also spends time at Fisherman's Wharf and some other landmarks in the area.  The author gives good descriptions as well as some history about some of the places she visits. 

While in San Francisco, Jessica learns that her friend George Sutherland is in town attending a conference.  It turns out that the woman in prison, Kimberly, grew up in Britain.  When she had been sent to prison, several of her family members visited George at Scotland Yard and asked him to help investigate.  George is also convinced she is innocent.  George and Jessica work together to investigate.  Along the way they discover that maybe they are interested in becoming more than friends.  Time will tell.  

The mystery was unique in that the police believed they already had the killer.  So they were not much help in the investigation.  However, Jessica made an agreement with one police officer who wanted her to read is book manuscript  and give him advice.  She agreed to read it and give her opinion in exchange for a look at some files.  There is not too much suspense, but as Jessica keeps digging, things finally begin to add up.

This was an enjoyable addition to the series.  I am reading the series in order and look forward to Jessica's next adventure. 

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Book Review: Affliction by Russell Banks

AfflictionAffliction. Russell Banks. Harper Collins (1989). 355 pages. Genre: Fiction.

First Lines: "This is the story of my older brother's strange criminal behavior and his disappearance.  No one urged me to reveal these things; no one asked me not to. We who loved him simply no longer speak of Wade, not among ourselves and not with anyone else, either."

Summary:  Wade Whitehouse has lived in Lawford, New Hampshire his whole life.  While his brother and sister moved away, Wade stayed.  Right after graduation he married his high school sweetheart.  They have a daughter, but are now divorced.  Wade would really like to see more of his daughter.  Her mother is remarried and has moved away, so Wade only sees his daughter a couple of times a month.  Although, he often gets the feeling that she doesn't want to be there.  In fact, the last time she came to see him, she asked to go home. 

Most days he digs wells for Gordon LaRiviere, unless it has snowed, then he plows roads instead.  In addition to this work, he is also the town police officer.  In his free time, Wade can often be found at one of the local bars where he drinks to excess and usually gets in some kind of altercation.  Many mornings he doesn't remember how he got back to his trailer just outside of town.  Most people just expect this of Wade and are patiently waiting until the crisis passes.  His brother, Rolfe, however is worried.  Rolfe lives about an hour away and rarely comes back to Lawton.  Many nights Wade calls his brother and tells him his woes.  

When Wade disappears, Rolfe interviews everyone who had contact with him before his disappearance to try and piece together what happened.  This is Rolfe's story.

My thoughts:  I received this book via my Used Books Monthly subscription.  As I opened the book and began reading those first lines, I was hooked.  Russell Banks is a great storyteller who is able to make you feel like you are there.  The plot is compelling.  As Wade's brother tells the story he fills us in on things he and everyone else in town knows, but we do not. He also describes the landscape, the history of the area, the town and the people.

"A fast-flowing river, the Minuit, runs south through the town, and most of the buildings in Lawford - homes, stores, town hall and churches, no more than fifty buildings in the center in all - are situated on the east side of the river along a half-mile stretch of Route 29, the old Littleton-Lebanon road, replaced a generation ago by the interstate ten miles east."

I have never been to New Hampshire, but after reading this book I certainly feel like I have. 

"For the tens of thousands of years that these narrow valleys and abrupt hillsides have been populated by human beings, life has been characterized by winter, not summer. Warm weather, high blue skies and sunshine, flowers and showers - these are the aberrations.  What is normal is snow from early November well into May; normal is week after week of low zinc-gray overcast skies; is ice that cracks and booms as, closer every night to the bottom of the lake, a new layer of water cools, contracts and freezes beneath the layer of old ice above it."

These descriptive passages not only give the reader a good idea of what the area is like, they also set the tone for the story.  This is not a happy story.  It is sad and dark and bleak.  In many stories, Wade would seem like a monster.  However, Russell Banks helps us see his humanity.  The reader can relate to him, we have had similar thoughts and perhaps done similar things. As Rolfe is trying to piece together what happened, he is also trying to make sense of their upbringing.  Their father was an alcoholic and was abusive and Wade seems to have taken the brunt of that abuse. 

The narrative passages in the story are what kept me reading.  When there was dialogue, however, it was laced with profanity.  It was difficult to read and I often skimmed over much of it.  Fortunately, there were a lot of narrative passages!  There is also sexual content in the book.  

There is a lot to like about this book, but the profanity, the sexual content and the overall darkness of the book make it difficult for me to recommend. 


"A country boy and the third child in a taciturn family that left children early to their own devices, as if there were nothing coming in adult life worth preparing them for, Wade from infancy had found himself, often and for long periods of time, essentially alone."

"But somehow, the sight of that shrunken old man holding the flower before him in trembling hands, unsure of what to do with it, made us briefly forgive ourselves, perhaps, and allowed us to see him as she must have seen him, which is to say, allowed us to love him, and to know that she loved him and that there was no way we could have saved her from him, not Lena, surely, and not I, and not Wade."