Sunday, May 30, 2021

Book Review: Bookmarked for Murder by V. M. Burns

Bookmarked for Murder (Mystery Bookshop, #5)Bookmarked for Murder (Mystery Bookshop #5). V. M. Burns. Kensington (2019). 256 pages. Genre: Cozy Mystery.

First Line: "'Samantha Marie Washington!' It was never good when my grandmother included my middle name."

Summary:  Sam and the ladies from the Shady Acres Retirement Village have taken a bus trip to Chicago.  As they return to the bus for the ride back to Michigan, they discover that the bus driver has had an emergency and a new driver is being located.  When everyone finally gets back on the bus, Irma discovers her new friend, Max, slumped over in his seat.  Unfortunately, Max does not respond when Irma tries to wake him.  

It is not immediately apparent how Max died.  There are no obvious wounds.  After a medical examination it is determined that he was murdered.  Nana Jo, Sam's grandmother, begs her to figure out who did this.  As the bus trip was for residents of Shady Acres, she assumes it must be a resident who murdered Max.  

Sam and her grandmother's group of friends set out to question each person on the bus hoping to learn something that will lead them to the killer.  It turns out Max was a famous author who wrote conspiracy theory books.  He was working on a book about the murder of Robert Kennedy.  Did he discover something in his research that led to his murder?  

My thoughts:  I always enjoy catching up with Sam and her friends in North Harbor, Michigan.  Nana Jo, Sam's grandmother, and her friends are such a quirky bunch of characters and they take center stage in this installment.  

The mystery was unique and unfolded slowly.  It is determined that Max didn't die of natural causes, but the cause of death is not revealed until halfway through the book. The timing was right though, because there was a lot to figure out about Max before the cause of death made much difference.  Sam and the ladies meet daily to hash out what they have learned.  Each of them is assigned to question several people from the bus.  This can be tricky and often not much is learned.  When a second murder occurs and then an attempted murder, the ladies have to step up their game.  Detective Pitt is involved but only because Sam asks him to be.  The original murder didn't happen in his jurisdiction, but Sam realizes he will be helpful to the case.  He takes some convincing, but does get involved especially after the second murder.  When all is finally revealed, the reader realizes that most of the clues were there all along.  

A unique aspect of this series is that Sam is writing a mystery novel.  Throughout the story, Sam will take time to work on her novel and the reader is privy to what she writes.  The story in Sam's novel was  just as intriguing as the main storyline.  

Sam's two standard poodles, Oreo and Snickers, play a larger role in this book than most of the others. They don't play a part in the mystery, but have a larger presence in Sam's life.  We learn that they are getting older and how this is affecting Sam.  

Sam's relationship with Frank makes some progress and they spend a lovely New Year's Eve together. i enjoy this budding relationship and the care they have for one another.  Even though Sam's husband passed away before she moved to North Harbor, she has quite a family around her.  I love the part her grandma, her sister and her nephews play in her daily life.  The sense of community and family is one of the things I like most about this series. 

If you enjoy cozy mysteries with a strong sense of community and some quirky characters, give this series a try.

Monday, May 24, 2021

Book Review: The Secrets of Bones by Kylie Logan

The Secrets of Bones (Jazz Ramsey #2)The Secrets of Bones (Jazz Ramsey #2). Kylie Logan. Minotaur Books (2020). 336 pages. Genre:  Cozy Mystery.

First Line: "Wally the puppy was a nineteen-pound ball of boundless energy with more sass than a three-year-old kid, and more common sense than one, too."

Summary:  Jazz Ramsey is in the process of training her new puppy, Wally.  She has only had him for a few months, but is looking forward to the day she can certify him as a Human Remains Detection dog. However, things are busy at work right now so Wally is not getting the attention he needs.  Jazz works as an Administrative Assistant at St. Catherine's Girls' School.  The end of the school year is rapidly approaching and she has been busy setting things up for Assembly Day.

When the day finally arrives, everything is in order until one of the presenters is unable to keep her commitment.  The school's principal, Eileen, asks Jazz to step in and take her place by doing a dog demonstration with Wally.  Since Wally is not well-trained enough to do a dog demonstration she borrows a friend's dog who is.  Eileen opens up the fourth floor to give Jazz enough room for the demonstration.  Jazz chose two spots to hide the bait she had brought along for the dog.  The dog locates the first bait easily.  The girls are impressed and have lots of questions.  Finally, Jazz gives the dog the okay to search again, but the dog is doing a lot of sniffing in an area not near the second bait.  When the dog alerts, Jazz becomes concerned.  Is the dog confused or has he discovered human remains?

Before opening the small door the dog indicated, Jazz has Eileen take all of the girls out of the room.  It was a good thing she did.  When Jazz opens the door she discovers a human skeleton.  This skeleton is wearing a large cross that Jazz immediately recognizes as one worn by a former staff-member at St. Catherine's. Bernadette Quinn left St. Catherine's three years ago.  However, no one has heard from her since.  Has her body been in this closet for three years?  How did it get up there?  She wasn't well liked, but did someone dislike her enough to kill her?

My thoughts:  I really like Jazz Ramsey.  She is a down-to-earth person with a heart for others.  Even when someone is difficult to deal with she does her best to be patient and try to help them.  That was definitely the case with Bernadette Quinn.

This story is unique in that the murder took place several years ago.  In the process of trying to solve the murder, the author gives the reader details by having the characters recall incidents that happened previously.  This was handled well and it wasn't hard to follow. We are given the full picture of what was happening with Bernadette up until the time she left the school.  But it was revealed bit by bit as things came up in present time and lent an air of suspense to the story.

The mystery itself was good.  There were lots of clues and plenty of red herrings to throw the reader off.  There were a few twists and surprises as well.  I had an inkling as to what had happened, but pieces were missing.  Eventually those pieces fell into place and the mystery was solved.  It turned out I was partly right.  

The supporting characters are also great. Jazz's relationship with Detective Nick progresses a little as well.  They are learning to become friends again and I enjoyed this.  I appreciate the relationship Jazz has with her boss, Eileen and her best friend, Sarah.  Both of these women care for Jazz and encourage her.  They add depth to the story.  Unfortunately, the dogs didn't play much of a role this time. I am hopeful they will have more involvement in the future.  

Kylie Logan's writing style pulls me right in and I have a hard time putting the book down.  This second book was a great addition to the series.  

Friday, May 21, 2021

Book Review: Goodbye, Things: The New Japanese Minimalism by Fumio Sasaki

Goodbye, Things: The New Japanese MinimalismGoodbye, Things: The New Japanese Minimalism. Fumio Sasaki, Eriko Sugita (Translator). Norton & Company (2015). 259 pages. Genre: Non-fiction.

First Lines: "There's happiness in having less.  That's why it's time to say good-bye to all our extra things."

Summary:  Fumio Sasaki was just a regular guy.  He had a good job, a nice apartment and the money to buy the things he thought were supposed to make him happy.  He loved to collect books, CD's DVD's, vintage cameras, knickknacks and other things he thought made him an interesting person.  The problem was he wasn't happy, didn't have much interest in anything and felt stuck.

When he came across the concept of reducing his possessions to just the minimal essentials, he was intrigued.  As he looked around his cluttered apartment, he realized that most of the things he had accumulated weren't adding value to his life.  He went from having too much stuff, to having only the things he truly needed.  What he didn't expect was to be changed in the process.  As he let go of possessions, he was able to see more clearly what he really wanted in life. 

In Goodbye, Things, Sasaki shares his personal experience with clutter and what his life is like after removing it.  He also gives tips on how to minimize and the benefits he has found by living with less.

My thoughts:   I became interested in the simple living movement over twenty-five years ago.  It was during the time before our first son was born.  At the time my husband and I both worked.  However, with the impending birth of our first child, we were considering whether we could make it on only one income.  I remember going to the library and discovering a section about frugal living and nearby were books about living simply.  We read voraciously.  Those books and ideas changed our lives.  I left my job and stayed home with our son.  And we continued to pursue a lifestyle of simplicity and frugality.  

Simple living and frugality are not necessarily the same thing, however, they often cross paths.  So do simple living and minimalism.  The idea of making your life simpler by reducing your possessions makes sense to me.  However, it is a constant battle.  Things just seem to find their way into our home.  So, I like to remind myself of the benefits of having fewer possessions.  I tend to read anything and everything I come across on this topic.  I discovered this book on a visit to my library.

I enjoyed reading about Sasaki's life before and after getting rid of many of his possessions.  Something that was unique about this book was that rather than focusing on the physical details of getting rid of things, it dealt more with our mindset about our things.  For example, the first tip he offers is "Discard the preconception that you can't discard your things."  He goes on to say,

"There's no such thing as a person whose nature won't allow him or her to discard their things.  We only think we're unable to part with our possessions.  'Learned helplessness' is a term used in psychology that can explain what's happening here. Though we have the ability to get rid of things, we've given up trying because we've experienced a number of failures."

Something else unique about the book was that it began with photographs.  There were pictures of Sasaki's apartment before and after minimizing his things, as well as the homes of others who have reduced their possessions.  Right off the bat you can see that minimalism looks different for each person.  He is also quick to admit that there is no one right way to be a minimalist, but instead it will look different for each person because each of us needs to become aware of what is truly important to us. 

"For a minimalist, the objective isn't to reduce, it's to eliminate distractions so they can focus on the things that are truly important.  Minimalism is just the beginning.  It's a tool. Once you've gone ahead and minimized, it's time to find out what those important things are."

Even after having read so widely on this topic, I found encouragement to continue to live as simply as possible.  I enjoyed the unique perspectives offered in this book. If you are interested in learning more about reducing you possessions, give this book a try.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Book Review: The Last Bookshop in London by Madeline Martin

The Last Bookshop in London: A Novel of World War IIThe Last Bookshop in London. Madeline Martin. Hanover Square Press (2021). 320 pages. Genre: Historical Fiction.

First Line: "August 1939. London, England. Grace Bennett had always dreamed of someday living in London."

Summary:  Grace and her best friend Viv have finally arrived in London.  After years of dreaming of one day living there, that day has arrived.  They will be renting a room from a childhood friend of Grace's mother.  Mrs. Weatherford offered the room to Grace over a year ago, just after her mother passed away.  Grace wasn't ready to relocate then, but she is eager to start a new adventure now.  The first task the girls must complete is obtaining a job.  They have high hopes of getting work in a department store.  However, in order to get a job in a department store one needs a letter of recommendation.  Unfortunately, Grace's uncle refused to give her one even though she had worked for him for a year. 

Mrs. Weatherford uses her powers of persuasion to get Grace a job at Primrose Hill Books.  The owner, Mr. Evans, insists he doesn't need an assistant, but there is no refusing Mrs. Weatherford.  Mr. Evans agrees to allow Grace to work for him for six months, at the end of which he will give her a letter of recommendation.  Grace accepts and figures she can do anything for six months.  As Grace shows up day after day, she begins to slowly transform the bookshop.  As customers increase, Mr. Evans can't help but acknowledge the positive changes Grace has made.  

As war descends on London, many are scared and uncertain.  The Bookshop and the books it contains slowly become a lifeline to many in the nearby neighborhoods.  

My thoughts:  I absolutely loved this book!  It is such a good story full of good people in the midst of the devastation of war.  

Grace is such a likeable character.  She has been through some difficulties, but is often an encouragement to others.  She is industrious and keeps herself busy making things better wherever she finds herself.  She is full of compassion and empathy, often giving others the benefit of the doubt. She willingly gives up her own wants or comforts in order to help someone else. 

Mrs. Weatherford is a great character as well.  She is a true homemaker, who works hard to make her home a shelter for whoever comes her way.  Her home is tidy and clean.  She fixes regular, delicious meals.  And she finds time to volunteer.  She often knows what others need even before they do.  She is the mother figure Grace needs.

Mr. Evans is at first a bit distant and cold.  However, it doesn't take him long to warm up to Grace.  When he fails to give her any direction while she is at the shop, Grace sets out to tidy things up.  Mr. Evans grumbles about this, but he soon sees the good in it. He is a man of few words, but when he does speak his words are meaningful and often give Grace the encouragement she desperately needs.  I especially appreciated the way Mr. Evans reminds Grace that helping others doesn't always have to be in big things, but that it is often the small kindness done to others that are the most helpful.  Mr. Evans becomes the father Grace doesn't have. 

The author's descriptions of the bombings in London from the viewpoint of the citizens made me feel like I was there.  I could imagine the fear they must have felt, but also the apathy after a few false alarms.  I appreciated learning more about what those days were like for the residents of London.

This story contains much loss and grief.  However, hope is never far behind.  Grief is dealt with realistically, showing how loss and devastation takes a toll on a person's soul.  However, human beings are incredibly resilient and this is also portrayed well in the novel.  

The setting of the Bookshop and the role that books played in so many lives was delightful.  

"But in a world as damaged and gray as theirs was now, she would take every speck of pleasure where it could be found.  And much pleasure was to be had in reading."

There is a lot to like in The Last Bookshop in London.  It will be one of my favorite reads of the year and I highly recommend it.


"Light spilled in from the window above the sink and at the back door, filtering in through parted gauzy white curtains.  Everything was as pristine in her narrow kitchen as it had been in the entryway.  The sun shone off clean white countertops, and a few dishes had been neatly set in a rack to dry.  Towels the color of lemons were draped on a rack, and the scent of whatever she was cooking was even more tantalizing."

"'Reading is...' His brows knit together and then his forehead smoothed as the right words appeared to dawn on him. 'It's going somewhere without ever taking a train or ship, an unveiling of new, incredible worlds. It's living a life you weren't born into and a chance to see everything colored by someone else's perspective.  It's learning without having to face consequences of failures, and how best to succeed.'"

"You can't save the world, but keep trying in any small way you can."

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Library Loot and Spring in My Yard


Between COVID and remodeling our library has not been open for browsing for over a year.  This week they opened in a temporary location with walk-in hours!  I was ridiculously excited to visit the library and wander the rows of books.  Here's what I checked out:

The Last Bookshop in London by Madeline Martin

Bookmarked for Murder (Mystery Bookshop Series #5) by V. M. Burns

The Secrets of Bones (Jazz Ramsey #2) by Kylie Logan

goodbye, things by Fumio Sasaki

I am currently reading and enjoying The Last Bookshop in London.

Spring has arrived in earnest and I thought I would share some pictures of what has been happening in  my yard.  Above is a new bird bath we acquired this year.  Those are a pair of House Finches perched on the edge.  The male has quite a bit of red on his head and breast, which is difficult to see in the picture.

Our Crabapple Tree is in full blossom, but because we have had such dry weather, the blossoms are not as full as they have been.  This tree is in our backyard.  We also have two Crabs on our boulevard that are light pink, as do the neighbors on both sides of us.  We have several Bleeding Heart plants in our backyard as well.  They are so pretty while they last.

Last week while eating breakfast one morning, I spotted this Red Fox in my backyard.  In this picture he is close to my deck and I imagine he had caught a whiff of the rabbit family that lives underneath.  It is rare to spot a Red Fox as they are generally nocturnal.  

That is what has been going on in my yard this spring.  Our son's wedding is about a week away!  Things will probably be a little quiet around here for a couple of weeks.

Hope you are all enjoying spring wherever you are!

~ Gretchen

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Book Review: The Dressmaker of Khair Khana by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon

The Dressmaker of Khair Khana: Five Sisters, One Remarkable Family, and the Woman Who Risked Everything to Keep Them SafeThe Dressmaker of Khair Khana. Gayle Tzemach Lemmon. Harper (2011). 258 pages. Genre:  Non-fiction, Biography.

First Line: "'Kamila Jan, I'm honored to present you with your certificate.'"

Summary:  Kamila Sadiqi has just received her teaching certificate.  The year is 1996.  The place is Khair Khana, Afghanistan.  Kamila is the second of eleven children, nine girls and two boys.  Her country has always been at war, but woman have been free to become educated.  Mr. Sadiqi has instilled in his children the importance of obtaining an education.  

The very day Kamila receives her certificate, there are rumors that the Taliban is taking over.  Within 24 hours, Kamila's life completely changes.  Yesterday she was able to travel freely around her city wearing only a headscarf.  Today, she can leave her house only for necessities and then she must wear a full burqa and be accompanied by a chaperone or risk being beaten or killed. 

As the Taliban continues to take over, Mr. Sadiqi's life is endangered.  He retired from the Army, but he is seen as a threat to the Taliban because he served the enemies of the Taliban.  It becomes necessary for him to leave the country.  Within a few weeks his wife joins him, leaving their children in Khair Khana where it is safest for them.  Kamila is the oldest child still living at home and feels it is her duty to somehow bring in some money to help the family.  Women are not allowed to leave the house to work.  But, Kamila's older sister has a tailoring business.  While Kamila never learned to sew like her sister, she is determined to learn so that she might make suits and dresses for local shops. 

My thoughts:  The Dressmaker of Khair Khana is a riveting story.  It is told by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, a reporter who met Kamila while doing research for her graduate's degree.  Her topic was women who work in war zones. She had been an ABC News Political reporter for ten years before deciding to return to school to obtain a graduate's degree.  She was adept at uncovering stories that mattered.  As she conducted her research she spent a lot of time with Kamila and would consider her a friend.  This gave her some superb insight as she wrote the story.

The first thing that struck me about Kamila was that she came from a wonderful, loving family.  With a mother and father who loved one another and their children and were very involved in one another's lives.  Her father felt strongly that all of his children should become educated and successful.  The family felt like a cohesive unit, all working together for the good of the family.  There was no hint of rivalry or teen angst of any kind.  But rather, each child was eager to help out however they could. 

When the Taliban first took over and the girls were no longer able to attend school, they spent most of the day reading books owned by their family.  The girls were voracious readers and soon read all they could from their own library.  Kamila suggested that they contact some of their friends in the neighborhood and exchange books with them.

"'She reads a lot, though I am not sure what kinds of books she likes.  We have the poetry covered; maybe she can bring some of those great Persian detective stories - I think she is addicted to them.'"

It was amazing to me that Kamila could learn to sew a dress so quickly.  Maybe this was a liberty taken by the author to move the story along, but maybe when one focuses only on that and is not distracted by television, movies and social media the learning curve is much smaller. 

Before reading this book I knew very little about the history of Afghanistan.  The author includes bits of history along with the story she is telling, which is also history, but it is history that has happened during my lifetime.  It was fascinating to hear about events, such as 9/11, from another part of the world and gain another perspective. 

Some of the themes I appreciated were family, hard work, perseverance, kindness, and following rules.

I recommend this book if you like biographies of people from other countries, if you are interested in learning what it is like to live under Taliban rule, or if you like stories about strong families.  

Monday, May 10, 2021

Book Review: Collateral Damage by Lynette Eason

Collateral Damage (Danger Never Sleeps, #1)Collateral Damage (Danger Never Sleeps #1). Lynette Eason. Fleming H. Revell (2020). 320 pages. Genre: Romantic Suspense, Christian Fiction.

First Line:  "Sergeant First Class Asher James stared at Captain Phillip Newell, sure that he'd heard wrong."

Summary:  Asher James left the army after a horrible mission that went wrong.  He and his team were sent to bring in a fellow unit member, Isaiah Michaels, who is suspected of being a traitor.  While en route, a bomb went off killing half of his team.  A second bomb exploded in the bistro they were headed to, killing Isaiah.  Since that day Asher has suffered from PTSD.  

After several months in the United States, Asher is still having nightmares.  He decides he needs to talk to someone who might be able to help him get past this.  He has heard that Military Psychiatrist Brooke Adams has also returned to the US after being honorably discharged.  She was in the bistro at the time of the bomb and was with Isaiah Michaels when he died. 

Brooke was injured in the bombing and is only just getting back to work.  She makes room in her schedule for Asher on her first day back. However, when Asher arrives early to his appointment he finds her office ransacked and her assistant murdered.  Fortunately, Brooke hadn't arrived yet.  It becomes clear that she was the intended target.   Brooke and Asher begin working together to figure out who is trying to kill her and why. 

My thoughts:  Lynette Eason is a go-to author for me.  She can always be counted on to create likeable characters with interesting jobs, plenty of suspense and just the right amount of romance.  Collateral Damage was no exception.

Brooke's job as a Military Psychiatrist can be difficult.  Military personnel are generally pretty tough and so just getting them to see a psychiatrist often takes an order from a superior.  While that might get them into her office, that doesn't mean they will talk.  Brooke is disappointed when this happens, but mostly that is because she is concerned for her client.  Her big heart for others is what stood out to me about her.  

Asher is one of those tough military personnel who don't like to open up to others about their problems. But he finally decides to get some help for his nightmares and Brooke is just the one to help.  While his appointment with Brooke never happens, they do get a chance to talk.  Asher is relieved to learn that Brooke really does understand what he his going through.  This gave me a deeper understanding of what many of our veterans deal with and reminded me how grateful I am for the men and women who serve our country in the military. 

There were several supporting characters that I hope we get to know better in future books.  Sarah and Kristin, who were both investigative reporters and Sarah's brother, Cade would be welcome characters in future books. 

The crimes in this book are rather dark, but the author does a great job of giving the reader enough information to know what is going on without spending lots of time on the gritty details.  In the end, the criminals were caught. 

The pacing in this book was good.  It starts out suspenseful and then slows down for a bit before picking back up again.  This kept me turning the pages. 

As Brooke and Asher spend time together, they begin to develop feelings for one another.  The romance was never the focus of the story, but just developed naturally without the author having to say much about.  As far as I'm concerned, it was just right. 

Collateral Damage is a great start to a new series.  If you enjoy romantic suspense, give this one a try.

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Book Review: The Mugger by Ed McBain

The Mugger (87th Precinct, #2)The Mugger (87th Precinct #2). Ed McBain. The Armchair Detective Library (1990, first published 1956). 151 pages. Genre: Mystery.

First Lines: "Katherine Ellio sat in a hard, wooden chair in the Detective Squad Room of the 87th Precinct.  The early-afternoon sunlight, burnished by autumn, tarnished as a Spanish coin, filtered through the long grilled windows, shadowing her face with a meshed-square pattern."

Summary:  There has been a rash of muggings on the streets of the 87th Precinct.  So far the only description they have of the mugger is that he wears sunglasses and just before leaving the scene, he bows and says, "Clifford thanks you". 

Bert Kling is anxious to get back to work.  He has been off for several weeks after having been shot in the shoulder.  Frankly, he's bored.  So, when a friend of his asks for a favor, Burt agrees.  The friend wants Burt to come to his house and meet his wife and agree to talk to his wife's teenage sister.  The wife fears she is involved with some unsavory people, but the girl keeps to herself and doesn't want to talk.  As Burt talks to the girl, he gets the feeling she is hiding something, but he isn't able to learn anything new. 

When a seventeen-year-old girl is found dead at the bottom of a cliff a few days later, Burt is saddened to learn it is the sister of his friend.  A pair of broken sunglasses are found near the body which leads the investigators to think this was done by their mugger.  However, there is not much evidence to go on.  

Burt has only been back to work for a few days when the murder happens and he is not a detective, he is a patrolman.  But, he feels somewhat responsible for the girl's death, wishing he would have pushed a little harder to get her to talk.  So he begins to poke around and ask questions. After being reprimanded by the captain, he promises to stay out of it.  But, he can't help the work that he has already done and the way his mind keeps working on it.  Will the precinct be able to get this mugger off the streets before he kills again?

My thoughts:  Last year my husband and I watched several seasons of Hill Street Blues, the famous cop show from the '80's. We both have memories of the show being on TV when we were growing up.  We enjoyed watching the show and loved the characters.  When I learned that it was inspired by Ed McBain's 87th Precinct novels, I wanted to read one. This book is the second in the series.  From what I understand the first book, Cop Hater, introduces the characters at the precinct.  I could tell I had missed something, but it wasn't too difficult to follow what was happening.

The book is very similar to the show in that there is usually one main crime case that they are working on per show. In this case it was the mugging, but there were side stories relating to the personal lives of the characters and other crimes that needed to be handled in the midst of the main investigation.  There weren't any of the characters that I loved from reading this book, but I could see how you might become attached to them after a few books. 

This book gives a insider's view of a police department in the heart of New York in the 1950's.  There are lots of derogatory comments, plenty of language and the use of some unconventional ways of  getting information from criminals. The author's descriptions of the streets and businesses in the precinct were vivid.  

The mystery was a good one.  The reader wasn't given all the clues in order to solve it, but I found myself turning back pages to see if I missed something.  We were told that Burt tucked something into the back of his mind for use later and I was trying to guess what it was based on what he had been doing.  This was fun and kept me extra alert for any clues.  I was completely taken by surprise when it was solved. 

While I am glad I satisfied my curiosity by reading this book, I don't necessarily feel the need to read any more in the series.  If you enjoy police procedurals, this one is a classic.  

Monday, May 3, 2021

Book Review: Father Elijah: An Apocalypse by Michael D. O'Brien

Father Elijah: An Apocalypse (Children of the Last Days, #4)Father Elijah: An Apocalypse (Children of the Last Days #4). Michael D. O'Brien. Ignatius Press (1996). 597 pages. Genre: Fiction, Christian Fiction.

First Lines: "Brother Ass found Father Elijah in the onion garden. The old monk was hoeing, sweating under his straw bonnet, and the young brother felt a moment of pity for him."

Summary:  Father Elijah is a Carmelite monk at a monastery near Jerusalem.  Raised in Warsaw, he lived through the atrocities of World War II.  However, the rest of his family did not.  It was this suffering, combined with more difficulties in his adult life that brought him to the Catholic faith and to the life of a monk.  He has been quite content to live this life for the past twenty years, having never left the monastery. 

So, it is a bit unnerving when he is called into the world to assist the Pope.  He wonders why he was chosen and thinks there must be someone better equipped than he to carry out this mission.  When he is sent he really doesn't know what his mission is, except that it relates to archeology, a longstanding interest of his. When he finally meets with the Pope the mission is made clear.  There is a new President of Europe who is rapidly rising in power.  He has many followers and more each day.  The Pope has asked Elijah to warn him of his spiritual danger and attempt to convert him to the faith.  The President also has an interest in archeology and this will be the connection between the two of them.  The Pope realizes that the President only wants to use the Church as a way to gain more followers.  Elijah will meet the President to report on some new Dead Sea Scrolls that have been discovered.  It is a dangerous mission that could cost Elijah his life. 

My thoughts:  I generally avoid apocalyptic novels and those that far exceed 400 pages, so if a friend had not recommended this book I never would have picked it up.  However, I really enjoyed this novel and am so glad I chose to read it. 

Father Elijah is such an interesting character.  At first he seems like a typical monk who relishes solitude, work and the routines of daily life in a monastery.  He is definitely that person now, but as the story unfolds, we learn of his past and how he came to choose this life. He is very devout and often encourages other members of the cloth in their faith.  I loved all those things about him.  But, I equally loved the juxtaposition of Billy, his friend from his first days in the monastery.  Billy is nothing like what you would expect a monk to be.  He is very outgoing, dresses in fine clothes and drives a luxury car.  By looking at him you would never guess that he is a man of the cloth.  However, he is also very devout and intelligent.  He does important work for the Vatican and is especially suited to do it. Their mutual respect for one another is wonderful.

This book read like a thriller with lots of twists and turns.  There are murders and cover-ups and people not being who they seem to be.  Father Elijah communicates in code with more than one person.  He must meet in secret with others.  Someone is bugging offices and cars and other things. No where is safe. There were a couple of parts that did slow down a bit.   These sections were usually where Elijah was in a debate with someone about faith in God.  They may have been slower, but were rich in theology.  The author's clean writing style made it easy to read. 

I am not Catholic, but I enjoyed reading about the rituals of the church.  There was also a fair amount of WWII history involved as Father Elijah was a Holocaust survivor.  He traveled to Rome and Poland in the course of the story.  While in Poland, he visited the place he used to live, knowing it would have changed, but needing to see it anyway. I enjoyed the descriptions of the countryside in Italy.

I have not read any of the other novels in this series, but I didn't feel like I was missing anything.  Overall, this was a fascinating read. 


"'Also, among your many outstanding gifts you have the gift of humor.  You make me laugh.  I'm a serious person, you may have noticed.'

'I noticed that.  You're not exactly a funny guy, Davy.'

'You see, you can't help yourself.  You always say amusing things.  That is a gift from the Lord.  It lifts the heart.'"

"'I live here in this great city like a monachus, a solitary one.  I pray. I work. I put good books in the hands of the people.  Perhaps good thoughts are born in their minds. That is my calling.'"

Saturday, May 1, 2021

April Reading Wrap-Up


Many mornings when I open the curtains on my sliding glass door, this is what I see.  The deer have been enjoying the crab apples that have fallen to the ground.  At times there have been as many as five deer in our backyard.  

Spring continues to unfurl and it has been lovely to watch.  The weather has been very spring-like with some rain, some clouds and some sun.  

Our oldest son will be getting married near the end of May.  We are looking forward to this blessed event and praying for good weather.  The ceremony will be held outside under a canopy of pine trees, with the reception being held at the same location under a pavilion.  

As far as reading goes, it has been a pretty good month!  I read 9 books in April.  Here's the breakdown:

Christian Fiction/Romance: 2
Cozy Mystery: 4
Mystery: 1
Historical Fiction: 1
Non-fiction: 1

Christian Fiction/Romance:

Boo (Boo #1)Boo by Rene Gutteridge - Skary, Indiana has made a name for itself by taking advantage of the fact that famous horror novelist, Wolfe Boone, lives in town.  Wolfe is a loner and doesn't know many people in town.  Ainsley Parker regrets that the town seems so enthralled with all things horror.  She imagines that Mr. Boone must be a terrible man and wishes he would make his home somewhere else.  When she learns that Wolfe has given his life to Christ and is giving up writing horror novels, she is skeptical, but as she gets to know him, she finds that there is more to Wolfe Boone than horror.

The Solid Grounds Coffee Company (The Supper Club, #3)The Solid Grounds Coffee Company by Carla Laureano - Professional climber Bryan Shaw has given up climbing and purchased a coffee farm in Columbia.  He returns to Denver to learn the art of roasting coffee beans and set up a roastery.  Ana Sanchez has been put on leave from her job at a publicity firm.  Bryan asks for her help in getting his new business up and running.  As Anna gets to know Bryan better, she realizes there is more to him than she suspected. 
Cozy Mystery:

Killer Kung Pao (A Noodle Shop Mystery, #6)Killer Kung Pao (Noodle Shop Mystery #6) by Vivien Chien - When a woman is electrocuted while having her nails done at the salon, Lana Lee uses her connections along with her detection skills to discover the killer's identity.

The Scent of Murder (Jazz Ramsey, #1)The Scent of Murder (Jazz Ramsey #1) by Kylie Logan - Jazz Ramsey spends her free time training human remains detection dogs.  One evening, while training a dog at an abandoned apartment building, she discovers the body of a young woman.  The woman is dressed in all-black and covered in thick white make-up.  As Jazz looks closer, she realizes she recognizes the woman. 

Here Comes the Body (Catering Hall Mystery #1)Here Comes the Body (Catering Hall Mystery #1) by Maria DiRico - Mia Carina returns to New York when her marriage ends. Her father has ties to the Mafia and has recently acquired a catering hall from a gambler who couldn't pay his debts.  He is determined to make catering his new career and Maria is going to help him.  Unfortunately, during their first event a woman is found murdered and the evidence is pointing to Mia's father as the killer.

A High-End Finish (Fixer-Upper Mystery, #1)A High-End Finish (Fixer-Upper Mystery #1) by Kate Carlisle - Shannon Hammer runs a successful construction business specializing in restoring Victorian homes. The day after a blind date gone wrong, Shannon stumbles over the body of her date at one of her construction sites.  Since the altercation she had with the man was witnessed by many, she is at the top of the suspect list. 


A Royal Affair (Sparks & Bainbridge Mystery #2)A Royal Affair (Sparks & Bainbridge #2) by Allison Montclair - Iris and Gwen are hired to vet Prince Philip for the royal family.  As they set out to learn something about the prince, they discover someone has been attempting to blackmail the royal family.  

Historical Fiction:

A Mosaic of WingsA Mosaic of Wings by Kimberly Duffy - Nora Shipley is attending the University in hopes of one day becoming an entomologist.  She is following in her deceased father's footsteps, whom she hopes to honor by her choice of career.  Life at home is strained as she and her step-father struggle to get along.  When she is offered an internship studying butterflies in India, she takes it hoping to win a scholarship to further her studies.  Unfortunately, her strong opinions and sharp tongue get her into trouble. 


My Family and Other Animals (Corfu Trilogy, #1)My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell - The author's recollection of his family's sojourn on the island of Corfu.  He was a young boy at the time and loved to collect and study animals. 

Other reading:

I am continuing to occasionally read a poem from One Hundred and One Famous Poems and am also doing a read/listen to The Iliad by Homer.

I hope April found you in the company of good books!

~ 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.