Murder in East Texas by Sharon Wilfong

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Allow me to introduce my first book. It’s a murder mystery.

Here’s the blurb on the back cover:

What does a single mom need to do to meet Mr. Right when there are no eligible men at church, and bars are out of the question?

You join a dulcimer club, of course!

Kimberly may not meet her future mate at the dulcimer clubs she’s joined but she finds the people friendly and fun.

Then one by one, her friends start dying.

Is this normal, she wonders? Or is something darker at work? With the help of her son’s new mentor, former gang member Miguel Villanueva, she discovers that even small towns in northeastern Texas are not safe from murder.

And just to give you a taste to see if you’d enjoy it, here’s the first four chapters:

Murder in East Texas

A Murder Mystery by Sharon Wilfong

Chapter I

 “Why are we going to Pittsburgh?”

“Because there’s a dulcimer club there and I want to jam with them.”

“People don’t jam on folk instruments.”

“People jam on anything.  People can jam on rocks, if they want to.”

“I don’t want to.”

“That’s why we have dulcimers.”

“I don’t want to play the dulcimer either.  I asked why we are going to Pittsburgh.  Why can’t you go without me?”

“Don’t get smart. I want to meet people with mutual interests and I also want to spend time with my precious baby boy.”  I waited for the eye roll then continued.  “I told you we’ll eat at Pizza Hut afterward.”

Thus ran the conversation between my son and myself.  Christopher, fourteen years old, felt his Saturday was ruined by having to drive to a town forty-five minutes away with his mother, who was trying to rake up some vestige of a social life.

I was the music teacher at a local school in my town, Longview, Texas, and I decided that teaching my students the dulcimer would be a valuable addition to the other array of instruments we played.  I was also the single mom of an adolescent boy. 

I had been divorced for five years and did not like being single.  I never wanted to be divorced, but there I was.  There were no eligible men at my church, at least, I wasn’t meeting any, and I did not think hitting bars was a good idea.  Sure, it’s happened, but my personal opinion was that meeting your future spouse at a bar… in addition to being highly unlikely… and how many sorry sod suckers would you have to meet before meeting the right one… assuming bars attract “right ones”… would not make the kind of love story you’d want to tell your grand kids.

Longview was pretty limited for social activities.  In fact if you didn’t include churches and bars, you were left with Walmart.  Could love happen in the ice cream aisle?  So far, no.  Which was why I was driving north to Pittsburgh to join a dulcimer club. 

Perhaps I should mention that of all the things Texas is noted for, giving towns the same names as more famous cities from around the country and the world should be near the top of the list.  Here in East Texas we have Athens (noted for its fishery), Paris (with its very own Eiffel Tower), Atlanta, (the economic center of Cass County!), Palestine (Hot Pepper Festival), and Pittsburg- home of, you guessed it, the Pittsburg Dulcimer Club.

What do these East Texas towns have in common wit their more famous namesakes?  Aside from carbon-based life forms, nothing, what do they have in common with each other?  Together they possess a population of your average state college.  They’re small.

It was to Pittsburg I drove with high hopes of meeting someone. That special someone. Not the man of my dreams, because I was still plagued with nightmares of my ex-husband.  No, someone with irresistible qualities, which at this point added up to a Christian man, somewhere near my age, who was single and wanted to marry me.  I’d also like him to be employed, unless that was expecting too much. 

I’d settle for a student studying engineering. He’d have to be a non-traditional student.  (“After I retired as a full bird colonel from the Air Force, I decided to go to back school and get another degree…”) I always had high hopes of meeting my future spouse every time I entered a new situation, new job, new store, new room… and so far they had been dashed. 

But this time was going to be different.  This was a dulcimer club!

As Christopher and I entered the community center, I took a quick look around.  My hopes wavered and came slowly sinking to earth like soldiers parachuting out of a plane. They always did.  First high in the sky, then landing with a depressing thud. 

The median age in the room was around sixty.  It looked like a retirement home for elderly musicians.  Everybody was sitting around in a big circle with dulcimers on their laps and music on little fold out stands in front of them.  They all looked happy.  They were happy.  Only two people in that room weren’t happy and they had just walked into the room.

No matter.  We were here and we were going to play the dulcimer.  After all, I was truly interested in playing and teaching my students.  I even got a grant from the local Lyons club to buy dulcimers for my classes.

And I must say, a good time was had by all, minus the youngest member of the club, as we strummed away for a couple of hours singing along to tens of folk songs. 

Folk songs are easy to learn because they are made up of a simple A B construct:  verse, chorus, verse, chorus etc…  Most of the songs told stories, long stories, of unrequited love, hillbilly life, country life… life when people had a ton of time on their hands to sit around on a front porch and make up songs about their lives. Who does that now?  Maybe they weren’t as educated as we are, but they were more creative.

One thing I like about older people is that they’re more sociable than young people.  Go to one of those hip, contemporary churches and if anyone greets you, you know they’re over forty.  I don’t know if the same is true for bars. 

 Before Christopher and I left, we got to meet and greet most of our fellow dulcimer players. 

A couple of hours later found us standing outside the center waiting to cross the street.

I said, “Well, I enjoyed that.  Those people were interesting to get to know.  It’s a small town, and they all know each other, which is kind of nice, isn’t it?”

Christopher wasn’t as impressed.

“Mom, did you notice how they all talk about their medical problems?  Everyone there had diabetes, or arthritis or some kind of sickness…”

“Well, let that be a cautionary tale, Christopher.  When you’re old and people ask how you are you don’t give them your medical history.”

“They even all have the same…”

At this point a truck roared past and drowned out the end of Christopher’s sentence.

“What did you say?”

“Are we eating at Pizza Hut here or in Longview?”

“We could eat here, but you heard that the group was going to the Pizza Hut here so they could continue playing.”

“So let’s go to the one in Longview.”

“Aren’t you hungry?  I am.”

That was met with a glare so I said, “There’s one in Gilmer.  That’s closer.”

And it had an Italian buffet, something I did not need but oh well.  I had lived in Longview for three years now.  I had moved down here from New Jersey.  I arrived a size eight and had since ballooned up to a size fourteen/ sixteen, depending on the make.  I did not need to be eating at Pizza Hut, but it was the only way to appease my son.  Mother guilt is a great motivator.   I was too desperate or selfish, take your pick, to stay home and be lonely on the weekends.

Chapter 2

I blame Longview for its lack of social activities, but if I were being honest, my efforts at creating a social life for myself had been minimal at best. A case of “I tried nothing and, for some crazy reason, it didn’t work.”

I am not an outgoing person and divorcing a man who had been unfaithful to me for years had left me crippled with self-doubt and hyper-sensitive to rejection.

 School took up most of my time, which was OK because it paid the bills.  I enjoyed my job, because it was a creative outlet and I loved the kids. I liked being the music teacher because I got to know the entire student body and it also meant that I only had to make three different kinds of lesson plans for the three different grades, although they all learned pretty much the same things, modified to their age levels.

But then I came home, exhausted.  Fridays were great.  Christopher and I put on some high energy jazz music in the car, drove to Little Caesars and got some cheap pizza, which was fine by us, because we had cheap tastes, came home and enjoyed the rest of our day. 

Saturday was OK.  Sunday was another trial because every single week I went to church wondering if I was going to meet my future husband.  As far as I could tell, the single men had girlfriends, except one, a single dad who sat behind me.  Every week, I hoped he would talk to me.  Initiating conversation would set me up for rejection so I avoided that.  Aside from the normal meet and greet, this man never spoke to me at all, which was too bad, because he had the most delightful voice.  It was deep and rich with a sexy, Southern drawl.  He wasn’t bad looking either.  But no.  Never a glance my way.  I always left church depressed.

Sunday night was the witching hour.  My mother knew this and would call from Florida to help walk me through the valley.  She faithfully called me every Sunday night and patiently listened as I told her how my life was a bag of garbage.  I hope I’m as good a mother one day.  I guess my son will have weekly conversations with his therapist about having to attend old people activities.

Then Monday came and I was fine for another week.

But not having a social life was starting to lie heavily on me.  Doing nothing really does not work, so I looked up possible social outlets in northeast Texas.  A couple of churches offered singles groups, but I was too self-conscious.  “Here we are.  Single.  Looking to get un-single. Heh.”

I thought subterfuge was a better strategy.  Join a group that is not obviously a place to meet people and then, surprise!  A man my age looking for Mrs. Right.  I was convinced I was somebody’s Mrs. Right.

I did not mind marrying a cowboy.  Cowboys are educated.  Cowboys have college degrees.  Cowboys like to read.  Some do.  I knew I was working against the odds, not because they were Cowboys, but because I didn’t know anyone who read as much as I did.  It’s like a sickness with me. Or that’s how some people make me feel.

 One friend, after looking around at the piles of books in my house, on my coffee table, end tables, floor, informed me she only read her Bible and Christian books.  For the record, I didn’t slap her, but God knows I sinned against her in my heart. 

I considered joining a Cowboy church, there was number of those around the outskirts of my town, but I never did.  At least I could join a dulcimer group.  I also joined a traveling Sacred Harp group that gathered at different churches all over East Texas.  Christopher did not care for those activities, either, although I think he enjoyed singing more than strumming.  At least he could belt his heart out with the best of them.

And I joined another dulcimer group in Jefferson.  This one actually included any kind of folk instrument, including singing if a voice was all you had.  Otherwise the music was the same.  Christopher liked this group because everybody brought desserts, which made it worth his while.  Also, Jefferson is historical and scenic with big antebellum houses, and antique stores. After the gathering we’d walk around and browse, especially the stores with old books. It was fun.

Chapter 3

The next month we were back at Pittsburgh.  I wanted to sit next to the man who I sat next to the previous month.  He was a widower.  No, he wasn’t husband material, he was seventy-eight years old, but he was interesting.  Yes, he told me his medical history (“I got the diabetes.  The doctor told me on my birthday.  How’s that for a ‘Happy Birthday’?”)  but he also talked about his life.  His name was Dave.

He had been in the Navy and had traveled all over the world. Served in Vietnam. He had been stationed in Iceland for a year. 

“What was it like?”  I asked.

“Dark for most of the time.  We were there in the winter.  We got about four hours of daylight.  And we were alone.  Men were going nuts.  They got pet rocks and put them next to their beds.  Just lay there and talk to their rocks.  And you better not touch their rock or you’d have a major fisticuffs on yer hand.”

He was talking about Iceland.  I had meant Vietnam, but maybe he didn’t want to talk about that.

After he got out of the Navy, he became a piano tuner.  He sounded like a brilliant piano tuner.  If I got a piano, I would definitely hire him.

“I learned not to just tune, but renovate.  I got pianos from every sort of saloon and bar or old time Movie Theater when they played ‘em for silent films.  People thought they were good for kindling.  I took them, replaced the hammers, the strings…painted ‘em.  They were good sounding instruments after I got through with them.”

I said, “Well, if you get one I can afford.  I’d like to get it from you.”

“I have a player piano that was in a cabaret for eighty years.  It was built in 1920.  It’s a bright, lime green.  I was going to paint it, but if you take it as it is, I’ll give it to you for a hundred dollars.  You’ll have to move it yourself.  Then I’ll come and tune it.”

“It’s a deal!”

That was last month.  I looked around for Dave but did not see him, so Christopher and I sat next to a sweet woman, who had come with her son and his wife.  I soon learned she had some sort of dementia, but we managed to carry on a conversation.  Because her memory was limited, our topics shifted a lot, but I didn’t mind.

During a break I leaned past the woman and asked her son, “Where’s Dave?”

The son, whose name was Michael, said, “There’s three Daves.”

“Are they all here?”

“No, only two.”

You’re on your way to dementia yourself, aren’t cha, pal?  I put on my patient smile, which I hoped did not look like my condescending smile, and crisply Drewiculating my consonants asked, “Where’s the Dave that is not here.”

“He passed away.”

“Oh!  I did not know he was sick.”

“I heard him tell you he had diabetes.  Don’t you remember him telling you that?”  Michael frowned at me like I was suffering from dementia.  I allowed my smile to become condescending.

“Diabetes doesn’t have to kill you, Michael.  Did you know that?”

OK. That was cheap, but Michael deserved it.  Anyone his age who lets his hair grow as long as he did deserved a condescending smile.  The top of his head was bald and as shiny as if he’d polished it, but it was encircled by long gray, stringy hair that looked like it was dancing “Ring Around the Bare Patch.”   The front part of his face was covered with a long, gray, crinkly beard that lightly rested on his chest.  With no mustache, he looked like a cross between an elderly mountaineer and an Amish Farmer.

 I mentally prepared myself to rib him, but first I had to wait as he explained to me how someone could die from diabetes. 

“Well, you can die from not taking care of yourself, eating the wrong food, stepping on a nail and getting an infection in your foot, because diabetics can lose feeling in their extremities.

“Yes, I know…”

“… and forgetting to bring your insulin with you and going into insulin shock with no one around to help.”

“Thank you, Michael, I happen…”

 “Dave lived alone and he went into insulin shock during the night and the next Sunday morning his daughter found him dead.”

I remarked, “Well, at least his daughter came the next day.”

“Did I say that?” Michael was once again miffed at me for my poor listening skills.

“Dave did not die Saturday night?”

Michael began twisting the knobs on his dulcimer.


“How long had he been dead?”

“He was alive when his daughter came to take him to church the previous Sunday and he was dead when she came to get him the next Sunday.  He had been dead a while.”

Dave only had a visitor once a week?  He knew what loneliness is.  I wasn’t the only one coming to the dulcimer club for friendship.  After one conversation, we had become friends.  My stomach began to hurt.  I should not have taken my loss as hard as I did. I hardly knew the man; but my counselor told me that my divorce would leave me with abandonment issues.  I fought back tears and felt like an idiot for being so unexpectedly emotional.

 And here was Michael, being friendly and I was already pushing him away.  Why?  Because he looked like a hillbilly Moses?  He faithfully brings his mother to the dulcimer club, even though she did not have a dulcimer, but because she loves to listen. I deemed myself a bad person and dropped the condescending smile.  I decided to start a friendlier conversation.

“What do you do, Michael?”

“I am the pastor at a local church.”

“Oh, that’s nice.  Which church?”

“First Christian Reformed of Pittsburgh.”

“What denomination is that?”

“Christian Reformed.”

“Oh, I’m sorry.  I misunderstood.  What’s its name, then?”

“First Christian Reformed of Pittsburgh.  I said that already.”

“So you did.  Why is it called “First”?  How many Christian Reformed churches are there in Pittsburgh?”

“There are no other Christian Reformed churches here.  The next closest is in East Mountain.  After that, you’d have to drive to Tyler.”

“So you could call yourselves the ‘Last Christian Reformed of Pittsburgh if you wanted to, couldn’t you?  Or even the ‘Only Christian Reformed’.  The ‘Best Christian Reformed’ or the ‘Worst Christian Reformed.’”

“I suppose we could,” his tone had become frosty, but I had gained momentum.

“The ‘Hallelujah Reformed’, the ‘Standing on the Mountaintop with Christ my Savior Reformed Church of Pittsburgh; ‘Reformed Church of the Holy Spirit’;

“We were considering “Christ the King, Reformed Church of Pittsburgh…”

“… ‘Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam Reformed Church of the Rising Sun’…”

“You’re full of cow patties.”

I stopped, stunned.  I admit I had gotten out of hand, but his mother was giggling at every brilliant title that poured out of my smart mouth.

I wasn’t non-plussed that a pastor used the term, “Cow Patties.”  I was shocked because he did not say “Cow Patties”.  He used the swear word.

“Oh, I’m sorry did that offend you?”   Michael laughed.

“Yes, it did,” I answered.

“Why?  What’s wrong with that word?”

“The Bible speaks against using coarse and vulgar language.  You used a swear word.”

“No, I didn’t.  A swear word is when someone takes a vow.”

“A curse word, then.  That is unbecoming of a Pastor and remember that teachers are going to be judged more strictly by God.”  Forgetting my previous irreverence, I had shifted into pious gear.

Michael shrugged.  “Paul said it.”


“In Phillippians chapter three, verse eight.”

“Paul said all his good works were like a ‘dung heap’.  ‘Dung’ is not a swear word.”

“Curse word,” Michael corrected. 

He shrugged again.  “It’s just a word our society decided is a swear word.  Society could have decided that a red book is obscene.  It’s just random.”

I will not bore you because this argument went on throughout the jam session.  Between each song, we picked up where we left off.  It continued as we walked to our cars. At my car, Michael apologized.

“I’m sorry I offended you,” Michael said.

 That should have been the end of it, except his tone of voice changed the meaning of his sentence to:

“I’m sorry you’re so ignorant in your faith.  Sigh.  I suppose that I as the stronger brother should not have exercised my Christian liberty over my weaker brother.”

Yes, his tone was quite precise.  I heard his meaning very clearly.  Some people are masters at saying one thing while meaning something else.  I hoped he didn’t deliver his sermons in the same snarky tone.  He’d be lucky to have twelve people in the congregation.

When I got home I looked up the word the Apostle Paul used.  There seemed to be two camps.  One camp claimed Paul was swearing and thought it was funny and edgy.  This included an Anglican pastor in New Zealand that had a blog with the entire passage typed out in Greek, I suppose to prove to everyone that he spoke Greek.  It didn’t prove anything, because I don’t know Greek and I doubt most of his readers did, either.  His argument seemed to be based on, “See?  I can write Greek, therefore I am right.  Aren’t I a clever boy?”

The other camp thought “dung” or “rubbish heap” was a more appropriate translation.  This included a secular scholar whose interest was to accurately translate Greek and not whether Apostles used curse words or not.

One thing I noted was that those that insisted Paul was dropping the “S” bomb showed no examples in any other ancient Greek texts that indicated that the Greek word was considered a curse word.  The ones that said it was not a swear word, showed many examples of the word used in government documents and other official records.

Because of my tendency to obsess, I brooded over this all month.  I gathered my evidence and armed myself with irrefutable arguments and waited until the next dulcimer gathering to foist my retort upon Michael.

Chapter 4

All of which was wasted because the next month there was no sign of Michael.

Christopher and I found a couple of empty seats, sat down and got out our dulcimers.  A soft, charming accent asked if the seat next to Christopher was taken.  I turned to see a short man with woolly iron gray hair and a mustache.  His face was crinkled into a smile.

“Not at all,” I said and gestured for him to sit down.

He did and got out his dulcimer, put it across his lap and reached out a hand to me.

“I’m Jack McDuffy,”

I took his hand and shook it.  Where did I know his accent?  It sounded a bit British.

“Where are you from,” I asked.

“New Zealand,” he replied.

“You sound like you’re from Johannesburg.  You’re not Afrikaans?”

“Well, my family is from Scotland but they moved to Rhodesia before I was born.  I was born there.  It is now Zimbabwe, you know, and I lived there for some years after my parents moved back to Scotland.”

I will briefly explain here that I am not an expert on all the accents in the world.  My ex-husband was from South Africa and his father was Afrikaans.  I recognized the unique way they pronounce English.

 I asked Jack, “How did you end up in New Zealand?”

“Ach, Zimbabwe became quite intolerable, I must say.  The living conditions became impossible, and there was no more work, so I moved to London where I met a woman from New Zealand.  I followed her home, got work there and bided my time until she caught me (broad smile and twinkling of the eyes). Then I married her.  I became a naturalized citizen and there you are.” 

Twinkle is an appropriate description for Jack. The entire time he talked, his whole face twinkled.  His voice was soft and low.  I could have listened to him all day, besides, I was curious about him.

“Do you live here?”

“Oh, yes.  Fifteen years.”

“How did that happen?”

Well, you see.  I worked for an oil company for a number of years in Saudi Arabia, this was after I married and had children.  We all moved there, our second son was born there…”

“Oh, that must have been interesting.”

“It was, but you know, it’s a Muslim country and they do not allow alcohol.”

“I see,” I said. But I meant, ‘So?’

 Jack was apparently fluent in tone of voice.

“Well that is simply inconceivable,” he explained.  “A man has to have his drink.  So my wife and I built a still on the roof of our house.  We then bought the separate ingredients at the local grocery store.”

“You never got into trouble?”

“Ach, no, not ever.”  He pronounced it “evah”.  “We weren’t the only ones.  The merchants knew.”

He winked at me.

 “Sometimes we would forget an ingredient and the cashier would remind us.  “I believe you have forgotten the sugar, sir.’”

Jack laughed like a jolly little elf.  He was about five foot four or five and just needed a beard and pipe.

“Well, I have never heard of someone, not from the backwoods, making homemade liquor.”

“Oh yes.  It was quite good, too.  My wife would go up the stairs to the roof with a baby on her hip.  She made up little songs, ‘Up, up, up, to the tippy, top, top.  That is where the drinky drink drink is.  Down, down, down, to the bottom down, down, and now we have some fun!!’  Soon our boys were skipping up the stairs with their mummy singing in chorus.”

I must have looked judgmental because he said, “Now, now.  We of the Commonwealth do like our Spirits.  You Yanks have frightful inhibitions.”

It was time to change the subject before I lost my temper. A thought occurred to me.

“Where’s Michael?  Do you know him?”

Jack said, “Oh yes.  He’s our pastor; He was feeling under the weather so he stayed home.”

“You go to the same church?”

“Indeed I do.  I’m an elder.”

This was my chance.  Surely Jack did not know his pastor swore.  Furthermore, he was an elder so he would hold him accountable.

“You know, I had a strange conversation with your pastor.”

“Yes, yes, I know all about it.  Michael mentioned it at our last board meeting.  Apparently you had a problem with his use of the word, ‘Cow Patty’” (remember I’m bowdlerizing).

  I should have realized then that Jack would not be on my side, but still I plowed ahead.

Every point I made, each point I carefully researched and stored away was laughed off with a dismissive, yet cherubic, smile and chortle. If he had a pipe, he would have taken it out of his mouth and waved it around. How could someone look so much like a leprechaun yet mock my reasoning?  Then again, I guess a leprechaun would mock my reasoning.

“How can Paul in one passage say no swearing and then swear himself in another section?  It’s God’s word, is it not?  It’s really God speaking to us.”  I could hear my voice getting louder, but I couldn’t stop.

“Now, now,” he soothed.  “You have to understand that each writer of the Bible has his own unique style.  Paul was simply engaging in a little earthy Hebrew humor.”

“How many people attend your church, Jack?”

“About twelve.  Why?”

“Just curious.”

I gave up.

Am I the one who’s crazy?  Was there no one who felt as I did about swearing?  And as to this dulcimer club, not only were Christopher and I the youngest people there, there were no eligible men.  Sure there were some single men, but I’m only willing to go five years over or under, not ten years, especially since I was forty.  I did not want someone already hitting the half-century mark and guys in their thirties were starting to look like children.

 There was a guy there who looked about my age, but I was pretty sure he was married, if a gold band on the third left finger means the same thing in Pittsburgh, Texas as it does everywhere else in America.

I left a little disheartened. My only friend at the club had died.  I waited all month to win an argument, only for the person to be too sick to attend.  His substitute pooh-poohed everything I said.  And then there was the slight depression I always felt at meeting no marriageable men.  Again.

Christopher, on the other hand, always experienced an inverted mood to mine.  As we left the Community Center, his spirits lifted as mine sank.

“Are we going to Pizza Hut, again?”

“Of course.”  Who needs a waist line when there isn’t a handsome, single man to appreciate it?

Did this stop me from attending next month?  Of course not.  Surely there’d be someone then.

End of Sample.

As Amazon says, if you enjoyed this sample, maybe you’d like to read the rest. Here is the link for the book:

There is also a Kindle Version.

I am also in the process of creating an audio version. I’m going to narrate it myself, because I am a control freak.

If you enjoy my book, please leave a review on Amazon; it will help bump my book up their search engines.

Merry Christmas!

This has been an interesting week before Christmas. I have had a painful infected forefinger since September. After three rounds of antibiotics and no improvement, my GP sent me to a hand specialist.

I saw the specialist Monday morning. Monday afternoon I was in the operating room having surgery on my finger.

I remember so clearly being wheeled off to the operating room….and waking up in the recovery room. It’s a weird experience.

So that’s where I’ve been all week. I just got home today. I will be receiving antibiotics through a port in my arm for the next few weeks. My husband will be performing the honors. They have sent a thin tube all the way to my heart.

I’m really fine, until the painkillers wear off, but I am already feeling better than before the surgery and I’m grateful the staph infection did not reach my bone.

I am taking the next several months off performing the piano, something I probably should have done in September.

I had Josh bring me my own night gown and blanket to feel a little more at home.

Interesting painting at the foot of my bed.

So while my husband is off getting some antibacterial solution to soak my finger in, I will share my best wishes to all of you out there in blogging world. Here’s some photos of my home:

Angel tree. The nativity is from Ecuador.

I also have a bird tree and the very first nativity I ever owned.

Love and joy come to you and to you a Merry Christmas too!

And God bless you and Have a Happy New Year and God bless you!!!

Mystery in White by J. Jefferson Farjeon; The Christmas Egg by Mary Kelly

For the month of December I have collected a bunch of cozy Christmas reads. So far they have been fun and go perfectly snuggled up in a soft, warm blanket and a hot cuppa. Here are a couple of reviews:

Mystery in White by J. Jefferson Farjeon

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the first mystery I’ve read by Joseph Jefferson Farjeon and I can tell you that I am going to be reading a lot more of him.

A group of passengers on a train find themselves stranded in a snowstorm. They consist of four young people: a brother and sister, a young male clerk and a young showgirl. Two other people are with them: a middle aged man and an elderly man.

The group can wait until the train is cleared or brave the blizzard themselves and hope to find another train or other mode of transportation to get them to their destination.

None of them enjoy the prospect of spending the night on a train, especially since it’s Christmas Eve, so they decide to leave and plow through the snow to the next station.

This turns out to be a foolhardy attempt, because they are soon lost in the snow, and purely by accident do they blunder into a house. The door is open and the house is empty, but it appears to have been recently occupied: the lights are on; a fire is blazing in the fireplace and tea is getting ready to boil.

But where are the residents? Nowhere to be seen. As uncomfortable as it is for honest people to “break in” to a house, they see no other option as the snow is continuing to pile up outside and their chances of finding the train they left an hour ago being next to impossible.

Many positive elements to this story:

The main characters are well developed and multi-faceted. They inspire sympathy and create a believable ingredient since their personalities are convincing with no one person being the stooge or butt, even though certain of them start out that way. Less savory characters enter into the story at later times.

The dialogue never drags. The banter between each character flows with wit.

As to the story line, Farjeon’s mystery is well plotted with surprising, but believable developments that keep the suspense at a steady pace. The story is eerie with possible supernatural overtones, making this mystery not just about murder, but a good helping of ghost story elements as well.

And it takes place on Christmas Eve and Christmas making it a great cozy winter read.

I will looking out for more of this author. Farjeon was well known in his time (he died in 1955) but much of his work is out of print. Luckily certain publishers, like the British Crime Library and HarperCollins’ Collins Crime Club have reissued many of his detective fiction.

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The Christmas Egg by Mary Kelly

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My first book by the author.

In a nutshell: An elderly lady is discovered by her landlady to be dead. She died of an overdose of drugs, presumably suicide.

Of course it is not suicide or we wouldn’t have a murder mystery on our hands. The lady turns out to be part of the Russian Aristocracy who escaped Russia after the Bolshevik Revolution. It also turns out she smuggled many priceless heirlooms with her and these are gone.

Who stole them? She lived with her grandson, Ivan, but he was at work at the time of death. Inspector Nightingale assigns Officer Beddoes to trail the grandson. This takes Beddoes on a tedious journey as Ivan proceeds to pub crawl his way across London, getting drunker at each turn finally staggering across a bridge, mumbling something about a “Christmas Egg,” until he jumps over into the river far below.

This is not the end of Ivan, nor of Beddoes, who jumps in after him, but rather the start of a journey that involves underworld criminals and traders in jewels both legal and stolen.

So. What is this “Christmas Egg” Ivan is crying over and what made him attempt to end his life?

Strengths: I love Inspector Nightingale and Officer Beddoes. Kelly does a great job making these two protagonists interesting and sympathetic. This is a primary ingredient as far as I’m concerned. I want to care about the good guys.

Also: the story developed very well as far as presenting the mystery and making it intriguing. I read the book at night before going to bed in a few sittings and it was a book I looked forward to coming back to. That’s an essential ingredient in a “cozy read”.

I suppose if I were to find a weakness, it would be I found the end part a little hard to follow at first, although it is made finally clear. I think the problem was that Kelly decided to uncover the mystery soley through dialogue, without 3rd person narration (of which the rest of the book is comprised), making it a little harder to put the pieces together. But, nevertheless I was able, after a small struggle, to catch the final solution. That’s the only reason I left off a star.

In short: I will want to read more of the author’s mysteries.

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As you may notice from the photo there will be more Winter read reviews coming.

The Hobbit by J. R. Tolkien

Josh and I just finished reading The Hobbit together. Tonight we’re starting on Lord of the Rings. Perfect winter reading!

What can I say about The Hobbit that has not been said by wiser or more insightful people than I ?

Only my own individualized, fresh and sparkling take on a wonderful tale. 

Ha, ha.  I jest, yet it’s true that this post contains my own thoughts on why The Hobbit resonates with me.  I can’t presume why other people like it.  That in itself is an interesting topic for discussion:  why do very different people love the same book?  Is it for the same reasons or not?  Does a cerebral software engineer enjoy the Hobbit in the same way a right-brained musician enjoys it?

Being a right-brained musician married to a cerebral software engineer, I can only say that as much as we both love the same story, we like it for very different reasons.

Having said that, I am going to focus on why I like The Hobbit, even though I am not a fan of fantasy.

I like The Hobbit because I am a hobbit.  I like my little hobbit hole, filled with books and tea and coffee.  I like my old comfortable furniture for visiting with friends, reading, or watching old “Columbo” episodes with my cerebral computer wonk.

I don’t like evil.  I don’t like thinking about evil and I certainly would hate to leave the comforts of my hobbit hole to fight evil.

But sometimes that is exactly what we are called upon to do.  Sometimes the evil doesn’t take an obvious form like a troll or Orc.  

Sometimes it’s a really mean person who makes life hard at work.  Sometimes it’s your mother being diagnosed with stage three lung cancer.  Or being afflicted with our own chronic illness.    Or terrorism, or war or rumors of war.
We wish these things didn’t happen to us.

  I wish it need not have happened in my time, said Frodo.

So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.

That quote is from Lord of the Rings and not The Hobbit and, while Frodo had his adventure thrust on him, Bilbo’s was  voluntary, even if he was reluctant at first.

It’s hard to leave our comfortable existence and venture out into the unknown on an adventure. 

But on the other hand, what were we made for?  Simply to exist and be comfortable?

Bilbo finds out that the Tookish part of him says, “No!”  This ultimately decides him.  So off he goes with Gandalf and a troop of dwarves whom he has never met and doesn’t particularly like (the feeling is mutual on the dwarves’ part) and goes off on an adventure with no guarantees of ever returning alive.

Why did he do it?  For his share of the treasure?  I doubt it.  The camaraderie?  Certainly not. Bilbo did not find the dwarves to be pleasant people and they had serious doubts about his usefulness.

The idea belonged to Gandalf the Wizard.  Why did he persuade the dwarves they needed Bilbo and why did he persuade Bilbo that he needed to accompany the dwarves?  For what purpose really?  For some Treasure? Understandably, Thorin was determined to gain the rightful property and possessions of his family, but how were they going to fight a dragon for it?

I believe that Tolkien tapped into a universal truth that there are greater powers at work in our lives than we see.  Because Bilbo or the dwarves could not have known it, but their adventure set off a chain of events that led ultimately to the defeat of a great and insidious evil.

As a Christian, that makes perfect sense to me.  I can only see threads not the entire tapestry, yet I know the tapestry is there and an unspeakably beautiful picture is being woven. 

That is why I love The Hobbit.  It’s a marvelous demonstration of the juxtaposition of small and large.  We as individuals with our tiny lives are nevertheless working towards something truly great.

As great as learning to love unloveable people.  Because Bilbo learned to love those hard-headed dwarves.  And they came to love him as well.  When Thorin finally repents and gives up his life for the greater good, Bilbo weeps like a child.  Every time I read that section, I find it hard not to cry myself.

And it’s a journey that requires hardship, even suffering.  One day my cozy hobbit hole may be taken away from me.  It’s happened to better men than I.  

I love Bilbo because as a Hobbit he so effectively exposes human nature.  Placed in a fantasy setting we can more clearly see our own reality. 

If there are any Hobbit lovers out there.  I would love to hear your own musings about the story.

J.R. Tolkien

Caravaggio: the Complete Works by Taschen and Beautiful Bookbindings: A Thousand Years of the Bookbinder’s Art by PJM Marks

I am combining a couple of book reviews because they are both about art and not very long. 

Caravaggio. The Complete Works by Sebastian Schütze

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Other reviewers have described Caravaggio’s dark side so I won’t bother to here. I will simply state what I loved about this book and I did love it.

Let’s start with the book itself. It is compact, only 7 by 6 inches long and wide, but a good two inches thick. It is a hard back with an enticing dust cover. The face of Judith (the charming lady who beheaded Holosfernes-but he did deserve it) is shown in detail. It is a solid, heavy book and it feels good to hold it. The pages are all glossy and, even though it is not coffee table size, Taschen has mde sure to give coffee table size detail to each and every painting as well as smaller versions of the complete painting. In short, this book is an absolute treat.

I did not know much about Caravaggio, although I did recognize some of the paintings. I came across him in an encyclopedia I was reading about the history of art. He entrigued me so I got this book plus a biography.

This book, while giving some background, deals more with the analysis of his works, who influenced him and whom he influenced.

A couple interesting facts: Caravaggio elevated the technique of chiaroscuro to an unprecedented level. Chiaroscuro is creating sharp contrasts between light and dark. His work influenced later artists like Rembrandt.

Another thing Caravaggio did was to create realistic paintings, much to the shock of his contemporary public. Traditionally, biblical figures were made to look unearthly, above the common man. Caravaggio painted them in contemporary dress looking like ordinary people.

His paintings are highly dramatic, sometimes sordid, such as the beheading of John, or David holding the head of Goliath, whose eyes look as though they were still fading from life. Other paintings are depictions of the martyrs and also Lazarus being raised.

The most powerful painting for me is his second rendition of Paul on the road to Damascus. Paul is on his back, his arms in the air as he tries to shield himself from the blinding light. He is lying next to his horse whom he has presumably just fallen off. He looks in danger of being trampled underfoot. I’d print the picture, but I’m not sure about copyright laws. However, you can google it and find it easily enough.

Caravaggio’s temperament got him into trouble, he got into brawls, killed a man in a duel, was in and out of trouble with the law, escaping severe punishment because of his patrons. Nevertheless, he died young due to a sudden illness.

After his death little was known about him. It seems as if a lot of his life was erased and biographies only came later. But Caravaggio is an artist worth getting to know, his work is absorbing and this book does it justice.

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Beautiful Bookbindings: A Thousand Years of the Bookbinder’s Art by P.J.M. Marks

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of the most gorgeous books you will ever read. The illustrations are large, color and glossy. The quality of the paper perfect.

Basically the book traces books that were bound as an art form going back to before the printing press to present day artistically rendered book bindings.

It concisely explains the different materials involved, how different countries and cultures approached book binding as an art form, and what the different designs meant.

It has a chapter devoted to the influence of design and style and also a history of how the art originated and developed as well as who the book binders were.

If you were completely illiterate you would still love this book for the gorgeous photographs.

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The Way to Ilala: David Livingstone’s Pilgrimage by Frank Debenham; The Man Who Presumed by Byron Farwell

Saturday I got my Christmas decorations up. “One of these things is not like the other ones….” Can you find the “living ornament”?

I’m posting my reviews of Dr. Livingstone and Stanley back to back because I read the books concurrently, finished them on the same day and their biographies, even though written by different men, closely resemble each other.

The History Press | The man who found Dr Livingstone

the way to ilala by Frank Debenham

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was an incredible story. No fiction action\adventure story could compare to the real life adventures of Dr. Livingston and his explorations into the heart of Africa.

Dr. David Livingston was a British explorer and missionary who developed a strong heart for the tribes of Africa and made it his life’s work to bring them to the Gospel and end the deplorable slave trade that was still continuing throughout Africa at the hands of Arab slave traders and competing African tribes.

This sharply contrasts with the biographies of Sir Richard Burton who sided with the Arab slavers and embraced a “might makes right” philosophy and no record exists that he explored anything except for the magnifying of his own ego

Livingston outdid Burton and other explorers with his discoveries and maps of interior Africa. He was fascinated with the interior and spent his life creating maps of the unexplored parts of the Congo and Central Africa. He wanted to create highways and outposts for European civilization to permeate and end the barbaric practices of these isolated tribes who spent their lives warring, enslaving and eating each other.

Yes, eating each other. These tribes knew nothing but to fight each other. The winners enslaved the losing tribe. They sold men, women, and children to Arab slavers and kept the rest for themselves to use as slaves and also to eat.

There are frightening descriptions of Livingston and companions, walking through tribal villages and seeing human arms and legs lying about with gnaw marks made by human teeth.

Today it is fashionable to pour on the White Guilt, i.e. “white supremacist imperialist, exploiting and oppressing the poor African Tribal people.”

And there is no argument that England and Germany at the time were vying with each other to stake their claims in Africa because of the rich resources by which they hoped to enrich their countries.

But to pretend that the tribes of Africa were living sweet, peaceable lives until the Big Bad Europeans came is ignorant. If anything, the warring and cannibalism greatly diminished due to European influence, altruistic or not.

Frank Debenham wrote his biography and record of Livingston’s travels shortly after the missionary’s death, so he was able to record interviews with many European and tribal people who personally knew Livingston.

His book reads like an exciting adventure account and I found his book both informative and enjoyable.

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The Man Who Presumed: A Biography of Henry M. Stanley by Byron Farwell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Henry M. Stanley is primarily famous for discovering Dr. Livingston. Yet this biography shows that Stanley was a great explorer in his own right.

Born out of wedlock to a Welsh woman, Stanley (originally John Rowlands) was handed over to a school for unwanted children at the age of four. There he suffered physical abuse, deprivation and emotional neglect.

When his mother came to the school, when Rowlands was nine, someone pointed her out as his mother. 9 year old John asked, “What’s a mother?” He didn’t know people had them. His mother approached him with a little boy and girl in each hand. These were his brother and sister. His mother kept the brother and left the sister. He never saw his mother again.

At the age of fifteen after a severe beating, Rowlands lost it and beat up the school master who was whipping him. He then ran away from the school, joined a ship and sailed for America.

On the ship he found he was little more than a slave, so at New Orleans, he jumped ship and looked for work.

Walking through the streets he came upon a man sitting in front of his shop reading the paper. This was Henry Hope Stanley, a man who longed for children and a son of his own, but was never able to have any. Rowlands approached him and asked if he was “wanting a boy”, meaning someone to work in his shop.

Stanley was startled by the request and fulfilled it, both by hiring young John and adopting him as the son he always wanted. John Rowlands became Henry Morton Stanley.

Life was good and secure with his adopted father and mother, but then the Civil War broke out and he found himself fighting with the Confederate Army. At first he really didn’t know what any of it was about, but he soon did. He was then captured and imprisoned by the Union Army, but his heart came to side with the Union, so soon he was fighting on the Union side.

But he fled fighting and after work on Merchant ships took off for New York City. After the war, he became a reporter for the New York Herald. He traveled extensively across Europe and Asia, reporting on various current events, such as the Ottoman Empire and various political transitions and events.

Finally, the editor of the Herald sent Stanley to Africa to discover whether the great explorer, David Livingston was still alive. This Stanley did and eventually found him, leading to the famous, “Dr. Livingston, I presume.”

Stanley stayed with Livingston for three months and assisted him in mapping out parts of Africa. Afterward, Stanley left for England where he was feted and championed. He embarked on tours throughout Europe and North America, but meeting Livingston had altered him.

He believed in Livingston’s mission to “civilize” Africa and soon embarked on his own expeditions. His goal was to open up the interior of Africa with highways and townships in order to thwart the Arab slave trade, which he abhorred. He also wanted to civilize the African tribes and put an end to their constant warring, inter-tribal enslavement and, last but not least, cannibalism. He believed that the European culture based on Christian morals was the way to achieve this goal.

There are appalling descriptions in this book of the utter lack of human compassion or value of human life by the Central African tribes. I would describe it, but it isn’t for the faint of heart. I hope such atrocities no longer exist, although the Arab slave trade still exists today. Where’s the outrage over that, Social Justice Warriors?

He cooperated with both English and German governments, although he later regretted the German involvement after the atrocities committed by King Leopold to African natives.

He spent his life devoted to taking up Livingston’s cause and only returned to England when he became too ill to continue.

Stanley spent his final days, happily married (he met and married a wonderful woman when he was 49) and lived the next seventeen years with his wife on a house he and his wife built, adopted orphans and, even though chronically ill, lived happily until finally succumbing to the sicknesses he acquired in Africa, at the age of 66.

This, along with the Livingston biography are worthwhile reads for all history buffs and vicarious adventure seekers.

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Agatha Raisin and the Perfect Paragon by M.C. Beaton

See my ‘Tiels, Roosevelt and Pearl, on the top shelf? They’re shredding books I hate. Instead of throwing them into the recycle bin, I give literary dreck their proper reward. It’s a lot cheaper than the parrot toys you buy at stores.

I discovered M.C. Beaton when Josh and I were painting our house to sell. You may not know this or even agree, but I discovered that painting walls is interminably boring. I had never been one for audiobooks, but my husband suggested I take advantage of our library’s electronic library to help the time go faster.

After some trial and error, I stumbled across the mysteries of M.C. Beaton. Beaton was a Scottish writer who died in 2018. She had to grow on me, but soon I listened to most of her Agatha Raisin mysteries and also her Hamish MacBeth series.

Agatha Raisin is a woman in her fifties who left a posh job in London in advertising to live a quiet life in the Cotswolds. She soon finds herself embroiled in murders in her own neighborhood, working conjointly with the police and ultimately decides to run her own private detective agency.

Her rough background growing up on the wrong side of the tracks in the northern industrial town Birmingham, is something she is desperate to hide. She loses her tough street accent, and acquires an upper class London one. She is also a horrible snob, but cannot hide her tough background when she gets angry, which is often. She is no delicate flower and her salty vocabulary and acerbic wit show it.

Before getting into the actual story line, I’ll say that what sells Beaton’s books (and makes painting walls ever so much more bearable) is the caustic, yet sharp, witty banter that flows between the characters. If you don’t care for the mysteries, which I do, I think they’re well developed, you can at least enjoy the dialogue.

And, of course, with any series, you develop a sort of attachment to the characters.

A couple of women have narrated the audio books, but my favorite is Penelope Leach. She has the perfect voice for not only Agatha, but for all, even the male characters.


So, the review:

There’s a murder (duh). It’s a teenage girl. Her body’s been dumped in a wooded area. Who is she, why was she murdered etc…as Agatha Raisin is attempting to uncover this mystery, someone else is murdered. It turns out that the two might be related, but how?

Then yet another murder. This time someone who was suspected of murdering the teenage girl.

As the story unfolds, all the answers get answered bit by bit, until all the pieces are put together. The ending is logical, but not predictable.

What I liked about this particular story is that Agatha is no longer the lone wolf or the wolf with a couple of sidekicks. Now she has an entire team investigating:

Harry, a young college bound man who is taking a gap year and needs something to occupy himself. He’s scruffy looking with wild hair and piercings everywhere, but turns out to be a deft investigator.

The same is true for Phil, a 76 year old man, living alone, never married, needs money and is a good photographer. Agatha hires him because the vicar’s wife, Mrs. Bloxby has guilted her into it. Phil ends up being of far greater value to her than she imagined.

Patrick is an ex-policeman, tough, enigmatic, working in the background, but gets a lot of valuable information behind the scenes.

Because the story bounced back and forth between the above characters as well as their relationship with Agatha, add the regulars, Sir Charles, Agatha’s titled friend, with whom she has a love/hate relationship with, and Roy Silvers, a former employee from London, and you get not only an interesting plot, but also engaging, interesting characters that only add flavor to the

A couple of my latest sent postcards:

Oops!  That’s not a postcard.  That’s Puddle saying “Toodles until next time.”

Roshomon and Other Stories by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa

Another re-post from my old blog. I thought it would be fitting to post something uncanny on Halloween.

There seems to be two camps concerning Kindles.  Those that use them and those that wouldn’t touch them with a ten foot pole.  I must admit when they first came out I was appalled.  The thought of reading one of my glorious books on an electronic device was unthinkable.

Of course I’m conservative about everything.  I only wear clothes as they’re going out of style; they’re much cheaper that way, for one thing.  They’re no longer popular for another.  I hate belonging to a herd.  Maybe I’m arrogant.

But we were speaking of Kindles.  I had always brought my Kindle on overseas trips because it’s so much lighter than carrying a suitcase load of books.  There are also a lot of free downloads, which is nice.

Lately I’ve discovering a couple of other perks about my Kindle.  One, gratification is immediate.  I click on the buy link and voila!  The book is in my house.  Secondly,  I don’t have to worry about what condition it will be in we it arrives.  I have had a few bad experiences with that.  Some seller’s idea of “good” or “like new” condition do not match my own.

Finally, they are considerably cheaper.  I could have bought the complete British Pack of Mystery writers for about a hundred dollars.  Instead I got the complete set for $15.00 or .99 cents each.

Which is why I bought the following book for my Kindle.  It was only $1.99.  I got it immediately and wrote a review before it would have ever been delivered to my door.

I have 437 books on my Kindle.  I could travel around the world comfortably.  Just need to remember the outlet adapter.

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Rashomon and Other Stories by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Collection of short stories by the pre-war Japanese author, Ryunosuke Akutagawa. Akutagawa wrote around 150 short stories before he committed suicide in 1927.

The stories are creepy and eerie, but very well done. Perhaps they are even more beautiful in the original Japanese. Nevertheless, there is something dismal and Sartresque about them. Another descriptive word would be thought-provoking as each tale grapples with evil and the hopelessness of man.

Though the author is from the 20th century, the tales show an medieval, traditional Japan. Maybe Akutagawa saw that this way of life was on the verge of disappearing.

These perhaps were meant to be moral tales, hoping to provoke the readers into recognizing their own guilt and lack of compassion for their fellow man, much like the Indian writer and poet, Rabindranath Tagore.

The first one is probably the most interesting to me. In A Grove, is about a murder with no third person narrator, but several first person narrators. The entire story is through dialogue. Each gives their testimony as to what happened. As each new person gives their version of events, new information is added and enlightens the reader to the actual character of the previous witness. Finally, even the victim gives his testimony through a medium.


Another dark yet provoking tale is Rashomon. A recently fired servant visits a place where unclaimed corpses are dumped. While there he discovers a old woman stealing the hair from the corpses to sell.

He is angry that someone would stoop to desecrating the dead, but the woman insists she must do so to survive. She then claims the dead woman whose hair she is stealing stole fish when she was alive, but she, too, did it only to survive. So is it evil when one is only doing what one is forced to do?

The servant answers her, that if that is the case, he is justified in stealing from her. So he violently takes her clothes from her body and runs off, leaving the old woman naked among the dead.

I think it is a point well taken. When one begins to justify evil, where is the line drawn? It’s just a matter of might making right.

The last story, The Dragon, is the most suspenseful. A priest, tired of being mocked and bullied by his community decides to play a practical joke. He sets up a sign next to a lake near his temple that at a certain date, a black dragon that resides at the bottom of the lake will rise to the heavens.

As more and more people read the sign, word gets around and increasing hordes of people from all over Japan start arriving to see the spectacle. The priest begins to feel uneasy. He meant it as a joke so he could laugh at his fellow villagers. Now what will happen when everyone is disappointed?

The ending is not predictable and rather beautiful.

There is an interesting movie called Roshomon made in 1950 by the director, Akira Kurosawa. It’s considered a horror/thriller.

Skinny Reviews: Cloak and Dagger; The Life of Sir Richard Burton by Thomas Wright; Sabine Baring-Gould: The Man Who Told a thousand Stories by Rebecca Tope

I am not getting my reviews out like I should. I’m reading a lot, but I seem to be sinking into a mire of multiple responsibilities. I’ve got a lot of rehearsals (I’m a professional musician for those who don’t know); I’m an artist and I’m trying to get my Christmas cards painted and in stores around town; and finally I’m in the final stages of getting my first book published. It’s a mystery and I need to find people willing to read and post an honest review on Amazon. Please contact me if you’re interested. I’ll be posting the first two chapters in the next week or so, which should allow people to decide whether they would like a copy of not.

So… as the blog title suggests I am going to give extremely brief reviews of the last few books I’ve read.


The Life of Sir Richard Burton by Thomas Wright

On Kindle I’ve just finished a biography of Sir Richard Burton by Thomas Wright. I found this biography to be far more readable and enjoyable than the last biography I read of Burton by Joseph Kennedy.

Wright wrote his biography in 1906 and contacted many people who personally knew Burton, including his wife.

A review on Amazon complained that this biography was heavily bowdlerized, but I didn’t find it so. Wright was honest about what a pervert Burton was without making it a slog to get through his life.

Burton’s philosophies were considered shocking in his day, something he reveled in. He was a eugenicist-he didn’t think poor people or “defective” people should be allowed to procreate. He believed that Islam and Mormonism had it right with polygamy. And he really, really loved every sordid, bizarre and deviant sexual practice that he came across.

Most of his books are written about this topic. Burton could speak about 17 languages and he used this skill to investigate the cultural practices of the Middle Eastern peoples as well as the African tribes he encountered. But only so far as how that had shocking sex.

And the greatest irony is that his writing is so boring. You’d think such a topic would sell itself, but no. Burton excelled at making every cultural encounter and geographical discovery tedious.

A good writer is Thomas Wright, because he could make an otherwise odious person a good read, thanks to his fluid writing skills.

I especially appreciated his meticulous comparison of Burton’s and John Payne’s. translations of 1001 Arabian Nights. Payne wrote his version earlier and Wright provides several excerpts from both versions to demonstrate how Burton took most of his version from Payne. Except he added so much more to ensure that his would be far less interesting and far more tedious to read than Payne’s.

Sabine Baring-Gould: The Man Who Told a Thousand Stories by [Rebecca Tope]

Sabine Baring-Gould: The Man Who Told a Thousand Stories by Rebecca Tope

Gould might be known to some people as a hymn writer. He wrote the text to several hymns, the best known being Onward Christian Soldiers.

Baring-Gould was a clergyman, but also a researcher of the history of the British people. He collected many tales, largely supernatural from his native island and throughout Europe.

His book on Were Wolves is especially interesting and he has collections of the practices of witches, beliefs in ghosts and vampires as well. These are not merely collections of folk tales, but of the culture surrounding the belief in supernatural evil and the people who actually practiced witchcraft, and who believed they were Were Wolves and Vampires.

Tope, who happens to be related to Baring-Gould writes a well documented and informative biography of the clergyman’s life and work.


Cloak and Dagger and The Edmund Crispin Treasure, Volume 1.

Ok, these two books are really going to have skinny reviews: They are both collections of great murder mysteries and espionage stories. I loved them!

The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald

I love autumn. This is my first house with a fireplace. Last week, Josh took a plank of wood, stained it and attached it with supports over the fireplace. I love it! This is my favorite time of the year. Josh says that if you go into the bathroom and turn out the lights, look in the mirror and say “Pumpkin Spice Latte” three times, a white girl will appear in the reflection and tell you everything she loves about autumn. That’s me! Including pumpkin spice lattes!

Last Thursday our town had art walk and I exhibited my paintings and the latest cards. I didn’t sell any paintings this time, but I sold all my holiday cards.

However, the local Italian restaurant where my table was set up wants me to hang some of my paintings in his restaurant, so I’m happy about that.

I still have not written any new reviews, so once again I’m recycling an old review from my other blog.

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I had to write a review of The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald because of the impact it had on my sons. At the time I read this book I had two sons: my biological son, Derek and my foster son Coleman. Coleman has since gone back to live with his mother but while he was here we had a ritual of reading the Bible, saying our prayers, and reading a book before going to bed.

At first I was reluctant to read such an “old fashioned Victorian” sort of book. I mean, a book like this cannot rate very high on the “cool” scale, right?

Wrong. My sixteen and twelve year old sons loved this book. Let me give a synopsis and then I’ll tell you why they enjoyed this book so much.

Princess Irene has been sent to live in a palace away from her father, the King. Why? Because underneath the ground in a mountain is a whole city of goblins who intend to kidnap the princess and force her to marry the Goblin King’s son. What Princess Irene’s father does not realize is that for many years the Goblins have been slowly tunneling toward the palace where the princess lives and plan to come up from the basement of the palace in order to snatch her.

Luckily for the princess she has some help. First of all, she has a grandmother who lives in a tower in the palace. To everyone but Irene this tower is deserted and decrepit. Only Irene can see her grandmother. Although not explicitly stated, it seems the grandmother is angel from heaven come to help and protect Irene.

And then there’s Curdie. Curdie is a boy, not much older than Irene, who works in the mines with his father. While the other miners are wary of the goblins, Curdie isn’t afraid at all. He knows that the goblins are cowards and retreat if anyone puts up a good fight. And rhymes. They hate poetry. So Curdie cheerfully works through the night. If goblins surface from underground, he fearlessly “fights and recites” back at them. Curdie turns out to be an invaluable friend to Princess Irene and ultimately protects her from the Goblin King.
Lest you think Princess Irene is a wilting wall flower with no personality of her own, she is a vibrantly, strong young girl who knows right from wrong and how to stand up for what she believes in.

But she is a girl and never has to prove her worth by acting like a guy. Unlike just about every movie out in Hollywood today where the female protagonists  prove their equality with men by emasculating them. Let’s be honest: today’s movie ‘heroines’ are basically men with female parts.

Curdie is very strong in who he is and isn’t afraid to fight goblins, or care for and protect Irene. But while Curdie is Irene’s hero, she is his heroine because she has many qualities that he benefits from as well, such as her strong sense of propriety and how to act based on those principals. She teaches him to trust in the unseen and follow her even when his practical mind says they’re going the wrong way. In point of fact, throughout the story Curdie and Irene take turns “saving” each other from danger but without Irene sacrificing her innocence or femininity.

My! How counter modern culture.

I was concerned that my teenage boys were going to roll their eyes at this Victorian depiction of nascent love. Wrong again.  They wanted to be Curdie. Boys aren’t inspired by movies that depict the women as smarter and stronger than they are. They want to be heroes.

Curdie and Princess Irene are still kids at the end of this book but MacDonald promises a sequel where they grow up and get married. My boys’ response?

“Let’s go buy the sequel!”

JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis both credit Macdonald’s The Princess and the Goblin and it’s sequel, ThePrincess and Curdie as the inspiration for their fantasy books. That’s reason enough to read them, but if you want your son to read how young boys use to “man up” back in the day, I suggest you read them The Princess and the Goblin.

I published this back in 2013. Derek and Coleman are both grown and gone. Coleman is living in Houston and Derek is in China. But I have good memories of those years and I hope they do, too.

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