Sunday, January 25, 2015

THE BISHOP'S WIFE by Mette Ivie Harrison








Mette Ivie Harrison’s The Bishop’s Wife surprised me.

Many mysteries use religion as a setting, something to add interest. In The Bishop’s Wife, Linda Wallheim’s Mormon faith informs the story.

The murders occur as a reaction to or a distortion of the Mormon faith.

Carrie Helm runs away from her husband and small daughter. Later, someone murders her.

At the same time, Linda Wallheim, the bishop’s wife, becomes friendly with another middle-aged woman whose elderly husband is dying. 

As the man dies, everyone starts to ask what happened to his first wife. And the story goes from there.

The two stories don’t mesh. They are more parallel, similar kinds of things which happened at different times.

Harrison describes parts of Mormonism, especially marriage practices and the role of women in the church.

I was raised Catholic. I always used to watch the women take more power in the church than the structure wanted to give them, maybe not complete power, but more power. Something similar was happening here.

The bishop more-than-tolerates his wife investigating terrible things. He allows her to put herself at risk. 

Others in the church might not understand Linda Wallheim, but her straight-laced husband does.

Bishop Wallheim and his wife still have to talk about a long-ago tragedy in their own lives.

I wondered what faithful Mormons thought about The Bishop’s Wife.

I found this to be a well-written and interesting story. The two threads paralleled in an improbable way, but that didn’t interfere with my enjoyment of the book.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Not a mystery--THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JESUS CHRIST by Jose Saramago








Jose Saramago’s The Gospel According to Jesus Christ is just what it says, a gospel, a reworking of traditions to reflect the author’s faith.

This particular “gospel” tells the story of an all-too-human Son of God.

Fundamentalist Christians will almost certainly find the book blasphemous. When Jesus asks God why he has to die, God replies that Jesus’ death is a PR scheme.

God doesn’t use those words, but what God says is that Jesus’ death will extend belief in God beyond the Jews. This will involve pain and death, not just Jesus’ death but the deaths of many people over all of history. The martyrs will die. Those killed in the Crusades will die. Those killed in later Christian-related violence will die. Violence is one of the methods by which the gospel spreads.

Some would object to the book because of Jesus’ continuing sexual relationship with Mary Magdalene. To me that was old hat. Some non-canonical gospels hinted that Mary was Jesus’ wife, and several wildly popular recent novels (i.e. The Da Vinci Code) exploited the idea to sell books.

Saramago does what gospel writers from the four canonical gospels to the non-canonical gospels did. He reworks the traditions to express his faith and (in this case, especially) his skepticism.

My summary of the major point only hints at the wide range of things many will dislike.

One thing struck me. This is a miracle-based story. Saramago devoted only a few pages of the more than 370-page book to what Jesus taught.

What the human Jesus taught is what interests me most. One thing I admire about Pope Francis is his emphasis on the love, peace, and justice Jesus taught.

This book deals with the nature of evil, what it means (or doesn’t mean) to be the Son of God, and how Satan is necessary if there is to be a God.

A friend loaned me this book. I’m glad he did.

Monday, January 5, 2015

TOO BIG TO MISS by Sue Ann Jaffarian








Sue Ann Jaffarian’s Too Big to Miss was fun and easy-reading.

Odelia Grey, a single plus-sized woman (the book blurb’s description), investigates the apparent suicide of a friend.

The case seems open-and-shut. Online still photos from Sophie London’s website show what happened. Even the nature of the sexually-explicit site shows how troubled Sophie must have been.

But Odelia doesn’t believe it. She thinks there has to be another explanation.

When someone runs down a possible witness, Odelia becomes even more convinced.

Along the way, Odelia finds a lover. 

Using her skills as a paralegal, Odelia delves into Sophie’s past to reveal a shocking story. And she unmasks the real killers.

Even though I guessed at least one of the less obvious killers early on, the details behind the murder (along with the interesting characters) kept me reading.

I bought this book because I enjoyed the two Odelia Grey short stories I read at Christmas.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

AUNT DIMITY'S CHRISTMAS by Nancy Atherton



Nancy Atherton’s Aunt Dimity’s Christmas has two traditional themes.

Atherton combines the theme of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” with the theme of Barbara Robinson’s “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.”

Lori Shepard finds a dying tramp outside her cottage door. Aunt Dimity willed the cottage (and her huge wealth) to Lori. Now Lori and her husband Bill hope for a peaceful two weeks before Christmas.

But the tramp calls Lori to something else.

Lori tries to find out who the tramp is. She learns the man’s story, and in the process, has her life is changed. 

Aunt Dimity’s Christmas involves PTSD, the bombing of Dresden, the hatred that sometimes happens in families, the wisdom of the spirit of Aunt Dimity, and the theme that Christmas is about opening our hearts to the poor and disenfranchised.

All the while, the village plans for its Christmas pageant.

For me, this was a perfect book to finish on Christmas Eve. It reminded me again of the joy of Christmas.

So much about Christmas can be difficult. Many hard things happen in this “joyous” season. But, after all, the child we celebrate at Christmas was poor. He cast his lot with those we would leave out.

 So, with these brief comments about a good book to read at Christmas, all of us in our family (even Truman the cat) wish you the blessings of this season.

Monday, December 22, 2014

HO HO HUMBUG by Sue Ann Jaffarian








Sue Ann Jaffarian’s Ho Ho Humbug contains two wonderfully humorous Christmas short stories. Both stories take place at Friendship Mall.

Odelia hates Friendship Mall. She is only there because her husband shamed her into taking her much-disliked mother-in-law on a shopping spree.

Odelia ends up sitting beside a murdered man in a Santa Claus suit. 

After that, she unwittingly helps the police solve the murder.

In the second story, several years later Odelia takes her mother to the mall. Odelia still hates the mall. She struggles with her mother’s domineering ways, but this is Christmas. When they are asked, good daughters take their mothers shopping.

This time, they have a standoff for a parking place. Odelia and her mother take on a well-known TV star. In the end, they come out the winners.

I’ve not read any of the longer Odelia Grey stories, but these two short stories make me want to read more.

I bought this e-book book for 99 cents.