Book Review: Miss Seeton Cracks the Case

Product DetailsMiss Emily Dorothea Seeton is a sleuth like no other. Trouble seems to follow the sweet, retired art teacher, who is either the law’s greatest asset or nightmare, depending on the officer queried. Armed with her ever-present brolly and her art supplies, she purports to draw culprits, but in fact makes bizarre sketches for Scotland Yard that baffle until fairly eccentric connections are made to reveal the culprit.

In Miss Seeton Cracks the Case, Scotland Yard faces not one but two criminal gangs. The Sherry Gang befriends those in need to gain entry to their homes, only to dope them with drugged sherry and steal their victims blind while they sleep. Meanwhile, the Dick Turpin gang hijacks buses to steal the occupants’ valuables at gunpoint. Both gangs have detectives at a loss, despite Miss Seeton’s sketches depicting pirates and the World War II bombing of Britain. To make matters worse, the village of Plummergen in which Seeton lives houses some of the most imaginative gossips in all of fiction. Two in particular, Miss Nuttel and Mrs. Blaine who are not-so-affectionately known as “the Nuts,” seem to have it out for the oblivious Miss Seeton.

This ninth entry in the Miss Seeton series began by Heron Cavic in the late 1970’s and now written by Hamilton Crane is a wonderful satire of the elderly female sleuth. Seeton deduces nothing and makes subconscious connections seemingly out of thin air, while accidentally tripping robbers with her brolly, pondering her vacuum purchase, and wondering if she has gingerbread for her adopted nephew. Miss Marple would cringe. Moreover, the inhabitants of Plummergen are truly hysterical with their beyond outrageous suppositions. Overall, Miss Seeton Cracks the Case is a delightfully funny, cozy mystery.

(Received from the publisher through Netgalley.com.)

Book Review: The Muse

Product DetailsThe Muse revolves around two interconnected story lines. In the 1960s, Olive Schloss moves with her art dealer father and her depressive socialite mother to a Spain on the verge of revolution. There, the secretly artistically-gifted girl falls in love with Isaac Robles, a revolutionary, and befriends his sister, Teresa. Robles becomes Schloss’ muse, spurring her to paint brilliant works. These paintings are passed off as Robles’ to Schloss’ father, as tensions rise between the characters and in Spain. In late 1960’s England, a young writer from Trinidad, Odette Bastien, becomes a typist at the Skelton Institute of Art. There, she comes to the attention of an older woman, Marjorie Quick, but when Bastien’s boyfriend brings a lost Robles’ painting in for evaluation, Quick begins to lose control.

Jessie Burton has written a truly enjoyable novel in large part due to her complex characters, whose motivations are subtle and multi-faceted. Furthermore, Burton has a gift for pacing her novel, smoothly switching between story lines at the perfect moment to leave the reader wanting more. Finally, The Muse addresses the sexism and racism of the times without being cliché. Overall, The Muse is a genuinely enjoyable novel.

(Originally published in Manhattan Book Review.)

Book Review: One Ordinary Sunday

Product DetailsThe premise of Paula Huston’s One Ordinary Sunday is really quite simple. She attempts to explain the power of Sunday Mass in her own life for herself and for those who do not really understand what occurs during Mass. To do so, she researches Church fathers and contemporary theologians, popes and Christian historians. She proceeds to meticulously examine each aspect (and sometimes individual lines) of the Mass, tracing them as far back as their Jewish roots. To stop here, however, would only tell half the story.  As Huston sits in her pew reviewing her research, she also reveals her own inner struggles: her vague, gray feeling of grief over the deaths of those she has lost, her worries for her grandchildren’s futures, and her discomfort with aspects of the Mass because of her Protestant upbringing. Indeed, in one poignant quote, Huston says, “Do I understand all of it? No. Do I believe it? I am trying.” Therefore, the beauty of One Ordinary Sunday is how it reveals the coming together of human beings, with their problems, doubts, and sorrows, to be transformed by a 2,000-year-old liturgy which is suspended in time, pulsing, and occurring around the world on any given Sunday. In capturing that coming together of human frailty with ancient liturgy, Huston encapsulates the power of Sunday Mass for those who may feel disconnected from it.

(I received a copy of this book from the publisher through Netgalley.com.)

Book Review: Illuminating the Way: Embracing the Wisdom of Monks and Mystics

Product DetailsIn Illuminating the Way: Embracing the Wisdom of Monks and Mystics, Christine Valters Paintner applies the modern psychological concept of archetype, or “primordial blueprint” in human consciousness, to twelve famous and not-so-famous figures. She then leads readers on a gentle inward journey to hidden insights into their own psyches’ light and shadows. Her choice of monks and mystics is refreshing and unexpected at times: Francis of Assisi, King David, the Virgin Mary, Dorothy Day, Desert Mother Amma Syncletica, Brigid of Kildare, Brendan of Nursia, the Old Testament’s Miriam, Rainier Maria Rilke, Hildegard of Bingen, and Thomas Merton. Each of these provides a basis for an archetype: the Inner Fool, the Sovereign, the Mother, the Orphan, the Warrior, the Healer, the Pilgrim, the Sage, the Prophet, the Artist, the Visionary, and the Monk. She addresses each monk or mystic and his or her related archetype in a separate chapter in which she provides a reflection on the person in question, a discussion of the “light” and “shadow” aspects of each archetype, and a connection to a Gospel story. She then suggests a meditation and a mandala practice. Finally, she lists questions for reflection and includes a poem addressing that monk or mystic as a closing blessing.

Although raised in a Catholic home, I have never felt any real appreciation for long-dead monks, mystics or saints. I believe this is in part because many were rather eccentric and their lives were far removed from my experience of the world. However, Valters Paintner’s application of the concept of archetype to their lives suggested a new lens through which to view my own inner life that I found insightful. For this reason, I think this book has significant value for both personal introspection and for group study.

(I received this book from the publisher through Netgalley.com.)

Gotcha!, Part 2

After discovering far more patience than I normally exhibit, I finally had the opportunity to get a clear picture of my chickadee. I’m pretty certain he’s a Black-Capped Chickadee.

Black-Capped Chickadee

Black-Capped Chickadee

In the process of obtaining this photo, I’ve actually become quite fond of this little fellow. He’s pretty darn interesting. He does not eat at the feeder like the goldfinches. Instead, he sneaks up and snatches a sunflower seed before darting back into the safety of the shrubbery. Although it made taking his photograph more complicated, I admire his cleverness.

Feeling Hawkish?

I have to preface this post with an apology about the quality of the photography. It is clearly awful, but I was shooting fast across several acres with my zoom lens, and I will readily admit that I will take an grainy photo over no photo at all, if that is my only option.

Yesterday, we had what I believe were two hawks hunting in our goat pasture. I couldn’t see enough to identify either definitely. I know that one got a good meal, though.

Hawk on fence.

Hawk on fence.

Nicer view of top portion of hawk with snake.

Nicer view of top portion of hawk with snake.

Hawk with snake.

Hawk with snake.

You just never what you may see here on a given day!

Gotcha!

I finally moved quickly enough to capture pictures of hummingbirds at both front and back feeders!

Hummingbird at back feeder.

Hummingbird at back feeder.

This little lady appeared at our back feeder. I believe this is an adult female Anna’s or Rufous hummingbird because of what I think is a small patch of red under the neck. That said, I reserve the right to change my mind if I get better photos.

 

 

 

Meanwhile in the front, I took two nice shots of this little visitor.

Close up of hummingbird at the front feeder.

Close up of hummingbird at the front feeder.

Hummingbird at the front feeder.

Hummingbird at the front feeder.

I believe this is also a female because her tail feathers are clearly white tipped in another photo, but again I’m not sure whether she’s an Anna’s or Rufous.

Now, I wondering if in fact she is the same bird in all three photos?

In any case, gotcha!