MYSTIC TEA by Rea Nolan Martin

Quirky nuns, a little bit of what appears to be magic, a bit of mysticism, what’s not to like?

This endearing book is about a small (OK, tiny) community of mismatched, aging women struggling to find meaning and purpose on a ramshackle monastery in upstate New York. They are the last of their order, and have gotten pretty lax in following the rules of the order. Having spent their lives in service to a church that seems to no longer serve them, they are confused about their own futures and the future of the entire monastery. Led by Mike, the practical no-nonsense prioress, and Augusta, the grand ancient mystic hermit, they are joined by Gemma, a self-punishing novice, who believed she was sent to the convent by an angel,  and Arielle, a firebrand jailhouse conversion who was sent there out of rehab by an angel as well.   Augusta receives ‘instructions’ for recipes to make special teas for specific physic, emotional and physical ailments.

Prioress Mike receives a notice that they are being investigated by some arm of Rome, probably with an eye to closing them down and merging them with some other order.  There is consternation, and Augusta’s magical sacred teas draw the inevitable closer and closer.  This story is a lovely examination young and old, franchised and disenfranchised, pedestrian and mystic. Most of all, it is a story of female empowerment as the women find the courage to confront epic challenges, creating a surprising future from the oppressive ashes of the past. It will make you smile as much as it will make you think.

Ok, all that snazzy stuff about female empowerment and creating a future from the oppressive ashes of the past are not my words.  You probably guessed that, right?  Because whenever do I talk about female empowerment? And oppressive ashes?  But nevertheless, despite the overblown rhetoric, it really is a delightful book, because who doesn’t love the idea of an angel appearing to one and giving one a destination?  And magic tea?  All we have here in the house is Earl Grey Darjeeling Green, and Earl Grey Citrus Black.  Nothing mystical about those other than their possibly magical diuretic properties.  TMI?  Sorry.

 

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EIGHT MILLION WAYS TO DIE by Lawrence Block

This is the fifth in the Matt Scudder  detective crime series, out of  24 volumes, the last one being published in 2011.   It was made into a movie in 1986, starring Jeff Bridges.

I really liked this ex cop-turned P.I., so I will print out a list of the series titles in order and see what others I can snag.

One thing about mid-twentieth century crime fiction, it all kind of has the same flavor, and I read three or four almost in a row, and now the plots are all swirling about in the mosh pit of my mind.  Let’s see if I can sort out the story line of this book from the others.

Plot stolen from a much better reviewer than me (somebody named Kemper, to give credit where due, since it sure as shootin’ isn’t due to me for this symopsis) slightly edited so I can feel better about my outright theft:  “Still working as an unlicensed private detective, Scudder is approached by an upscale prostitute named Kim. She wants to quit the business but is nervous about telling her pimp, Chance. Kim hires Matt to break the news to Chance and gauge his reaction to see if he’ll try to keep her working.

After Matt tracks Chance down, he’s surprised to find that the pimp seems reasonable and doesn’t object to Kim leaving. Matt passes the word along to Kim and thinks his work is done. Days later, he’s shocked to learn that Kim has been brutally murdered.”

OK, enough of other people’s words.  Some interesting characters here, starting with the elegant Black pimp, a connoisseur of African tribal masks, and his stable of 5 working girls with a heart of gold.  One of his ladies is a not-successful poet, one is a woo woo hippie, etc.  The first soiled dove to be murdered is not the last, and Chance is starting to get nervous that someone is working their way through his entire stable.

Good mystery.  But the almost more interesting flip side is the fact that Scudder is a recovering alcoholic, and throughout the book we are witness to his sometimes not-so-successful struggle to stay off the booze.  The story is filled with AA meetings, and his musings on whether or not to drink.  It is a formulaic recovering alcoholic ex-cop turned P.I. / noirish detective crime mystery, but although both halves of the book are formulaic, somehow it really works.  A tribute to a good writer and story teller.

Lawrence Block is quite prolific, having churned out over 100 books.   Wow. If you set yourself the task of reading his entire oeuvre, even if you read two of his books a year, it will take you a couple of years.  Wow.

ANOTHER MAN’S MOCCASINS by Craig Johnson

This is the fourth book in the Walt Longmire series, which is kind of a tribute to the nostalgic cowboy mythology of the old west.  Great series.

When the body of a young Vietnamese woman is found alongside the interstate in Absaroka County, Wyoming, Sheriff Walt Longmire is determined to discover the identity of the victim and is forced to confront the horrible similarities of this murder to that of his first homicide investigation as a marine in Vietnam.

To complicate matters, Virgil White Buffalo, a homeless Crow Indian, is found living in a nearby culvert and in possession of the young woman’s purse. There are only two problems with what appears to be an open-and-shut case. One, the sheriff doesn’t think Virgil White Buffalo–a Vietnam vet with a troubling past–is a murderer. And two, the photo that is found in the woman’s purse looks hauntingly familiar to Walt.

The story is told in flashbacks, a technique I often find tedious, and yes, I found it a bit tediou in this book, too, but I forgive a lot in this Longmire series, because you do when you love someone, right?  Even the astounding coinkydink concerning the dead Vietnamese woman and Longmire.  But I have a forgiving nature.  It’s how I roll.

Moving right along to the next in the series, The Dark Horse.

 

 

THE COLD DISH by Craig Johnson

After having read two of the Walt Longmire series way out of order, I decided to get myself a list of the books  and read them in order.  As with all good detective/police procedural series, the protagonists develop and grow, and although each is a stand along mystery, the lives of the principle characters continue as a life does.   So, the first one in the series is The Cold Dish,  named after that old proverb, ‘revenge is a dish best served cold’.  We meet Walt, Sheriff of Absaroka County, Wyoming, and learn of his adult daughter Cady, a legal eagle practicing law in Philadelphia, and meet Vic, his tough deputy, a gal with a whole family on the police force in Philadelphia, who is smart, gutsy and has a mouth like a stevedore.

The blurb tells us that the story is about Cody Pritchard, a young man found dead. Two years earlier, Cody and three accomplices had been given suspended sentences for raping a Northern Cheyenne girl. Is someone seeking vengeance? Longmire faces one of the more volatile and challenging cases in his twenty-four years as sheriff and means to see that revenge, a dish that is best served cold, is never served at all.

So four young men brutally gang rape a young woman who suffers from fetal alcohol syndrome.  She does not testify against them, because she doesn’t want to hurt their feelings.  Then one of them is found shot.  And then another of the four.  Things get complicated, but the likable sheriff with the help of his lifelong bff, A Cheyenne native, work together to discover just who seems to be stalking those young men.

I really like Craig Johnson’s writing style.  Clear, with a touch of humor, he creates a decent guy as the protagonist, one we can all like.

SURVIVING MICHAEL by Joseph Birchall

An interesting, if not compelling, story of four young boys, who at the end of their school days, have a game of dares, at a cliff’s edge.  Michael was reluctant to jump into the waters, and so one of the others gave him a helpful push.  Michael did not survive the jump, and the three remaining are left to deal with this in their lives.

We readers get to follow their lives, told in alternating voices of the three, until 15 years later, when they have their annual get-together on the date of Michael’s death, although that death and Michael are never mentioned.

It is interesting to see the path of each of their lives, without our caring overmuch about any of them.

Nice twist at the end, although it was telegraphed rather heavy-handedly, so the astute reader could see it coming.

One reviewer called it ‘unput downable’.  Yeah, well, I put it down several times.  Wasn’t sure I really wanted to pick it back up again.

BOOKED TO DIE by John Dunning

This is a re-issue of the author’s first book, published in 1992,  a murder mystery, police procedural, and mighty fine, folks.  Mighty fine.  It won the Nero Award, and the Dilys Award.  I know, I don’t know what they are either, but then, it’s hard keeping up with all the various awards.

Our hero, Cliff Janeway (nifty name, no?),  is a homicide detective, has had trouble nailing the prosperous low life who is responsible for a number of murders in the city,  finally loses it, catches the guy, takes him out to some remote area and mano a mano, they fight it out, and he beats the kabooble out of the guy.  The guy is found, still alive, and claims that Cliff had handcuffed him and beat him with a weapon.  Cliff is under investigation, and decides to quit the force.

But you know what?  This book is all about book selling.  Yeah, how cool is that.  It is all about the acquiring of valuable used books, and you might be surprised to know, as was I,  that it isn’t just the really old books that are valuable.   A lot of current or recent best sellers are, also, if they are pristine first editions, and/or have been signed by the author, etc., and there is an ongoing competition probably in every city,  by bookmen who scour the thrift shops, and Goodwill, estate sales, yard sales, etc. looking for that overlooked big money book they can pick up for pennies.   And, if this book is to be believed, they can be killed for their valuable collections.

So our boy Cliff opens a used book store starting off with his own personal collection, and before he is even open, a young gal comes in looking for a job and talks him into hiring her.  She turns out to be a fast learner and a real asset.

Meanwhile, there is a damsel in distress, (distressed by that nasty a$$ whom Cliff beat up), and he is caught up in that issue, plus right before he quit the force, a raggedly ol bookman, who spent his days looking for the said overlooked treasure with which to make his fortune, is found dead in an alley.  Why would anybody kill him?  He had nothing, was nothing, and would seem to be harmless.  So although now no longer on the force, Cliff continues to investigate the old guy’s murder.

Really good mystery, good characters, and some more dead bodies.  What’s a decent murder mystery without a few murders, right?  There are five in this series, and he has a number of other books, as well.