In which Ruth reads and reads and reads…

I’ve been on holiday this week for my post-Christmas ‘and relax’. Of course it never is a total relax because you have a whole house to tidy which has been ignored for weeks with all the comings and goings of the Christmas season. There is forgotten mail to deal with, letters to open, filing to be done, the Archers to catch up with, the photocopier to repair, and a whole host of other thankless tasks to undertake.

I had plans of course. Oh yes, I had plans. Of art galleries to visit, movies to see, family to visit. Not one of them happened. And they didn’t happen because I had to wait in for parcels to be delivered, photocopier repairmen to arrive, a new church noticeboard to arrive, and a son who hasn’t got his Christmas presents yet to visit. That left one day in which I was free to go out and it was blowing a hoolie and all I managed was a visit to papa in the Twilight Home for the Bewildered.

I did, however, manage to read. And read. And it was glorious. Want to know what I read? books open

First I finished Fathomless Riches by The Revd Richard Coles, he of Saturday Live fame. The sub-title of the book is ‘Or How I Went From Pop To Pulpit’ and tells of his life as part of the duo that was the Communards with Jimmy Somerville to CofE Vicar and media darling. Of course there was drug taking, unsafe sex, parties and naughty behaviour before his ‘conversion’ experience and a huge shift into the world of religion and then ministry. To his credit he doesn’t talk about others in his book, well not in a kiss and tell way which so many memoirs do. Nor does he hold back on his own ‘sordid’ past and I found so many ways in which this could have been my story too. (Without the pop star bit of course!) The conversion and subsequent journey to priesthood was almost identical to mine, although I never did ‘go to Rome’. So I enjoyed reading his pilgrimage immensely.

I read two Inspector Gamache mysteries by Louise Penny, one before my holiday and one during. I am reading them in order and trying to savour them but I always reach for them when I know I will have time to read them in one go, or at the most over two days. I read Bury Your Dead (no 6 in the series) which was quite different from the others in that very little was set in the village of Three Pines (which is a bit like Midsomer where a small village is struck by a million murders a week, or so it seems). I think reading them in order is essential because the you get to know the characters gradually and that knowledge is so important to the storyline. There are three stories going on in this book, one linked closely to the previous book which is another reason to read them in order. The next book A Trick of the Light is set back in Three Pines and revolves around the art world and also continues the development of all the characters we know and love. I loved this book especially the Alleluia moment at the very end, which will mean nothing if you’ve not read the others. I’m not sure exactly why I love these books so much. Usually I prefer something much more bloodthirsty but I think they create such visual images for me, and who could resist the descriptions of the wonderful food? And there are some lovely spiritual messages in them, although they are not overtly religious.

the beesNow the next book is highly recommended – The Bees by Laline Paull is a most extraordinary book, full of religion and fierce courage and feminism and spirituality and… bees. You will never look at a bee in the same way again, and if you’re not a huge fan of bees then you will be by the end of this book. If World Book Day was giving away this book I would beg to take part and thrust it into everyone’s hands and plead with them to read it. If I say it is a bit like Watership Down I don’t want to put you off if you don’t like books written from the perspective of a creature, but it is worth trying something you might not normally read. Flora 717 is a sanitation bee, born into the lowest caste of bees, only fit to clean. But Flora is different. She is a fierce bee who wants to learn, to explore, to challenge the hive’s mantra of ‘accept, obey and serve’, and she does with exciting consequences. Some have compared this book to The Hunger Games or The Handmaid’s Tale but it is much more. I really couldn’t put this book down.

A History of Loneliness by John Boyne was another Christmas book which I’d wanted to read since I heard the author speak on radio of his reasons for writing the book. I was a huge fan of his Boy in the Striped Pyjamas but this is much more adult and set in Ireland from the 1970s to the current time and explores the child sexual abuse scandals in the Roman Catholic Church. It is a sad book and makes uncomfortable reading, but there is honesty and truth within it which makes it a must-read. If you are in any way concerned about the celibacy issue then this will confirm all your suspicions. And it highlights starkly the loneliness of ministry which many clergy suffer. It is a novel which surprised me and at the same time made me very sad.

So there we have it. My post-Christmas reading list. I’m trying to squeeze in the next Louise Penny one before I go back to work tomorrow. Greedy, or what?


In which Ruth lets down her readers

Oh what a bad blogger have I been! My intentions fall by the wayside in direct proportion to looking after two more churches during their interregnum. I collapse at the end of the day in front of the TV with my pussy cats by my side and zonk out completely. And you know something? I don’t even remember what I did last week.

I know it has taken me about a month to read The Cuckoo Calls by Robert Galbraith, aka J K Rowling. I can give you a short review: OK story but too long. I only persevered to find out whodunnit. Writing was ok just too much of it.

On Sunday I had great fun with one of my little interregnum-flocks. We did SWOT analysis and looked at what they wanted in a priest. I managed to contradict most of that. Well, everyone wants a ‘family man with young family’. Jings. You’d be far better with an old wifie my age, I told them. We want someone ‘healthy’ someone said. I take 10 pills to get me going in the morning, said I.  I’ve left them doing the Parish Profile and look forward to reading that.

The diary is pretty full from now on so don’t expect me back here until reflection time. But heh! you never know. I just might be bursting to share something.

Here are some lovely BVM pics to ponder at this pregnant season…

BVM mullan  pregnancy-test  Pregnant Virgin dreamstime  The Crowning by Sara Schnelle

In which Ruth had a week off and didn’t do very much

It is tricky using up all your holidays when you didn’t start early enough in the year. Now I’ve got to the stage where people say, “Are you off on holiday AGAIN?”  And you immediately stutter that it was ages since the last one, or how many weeks you didn’t get last year, or how hard-working you’ve been. And because I didn’t take time at the beginning of the year I still have two weeks to take so managed one last week. Was going to go away but that didn’t happen so it was a lovely week chez moi.

Think I may have given myself a thrombosis sitting so long reading books in the first three days. I managed the Book Group one: The Light Between Oceans by M L Stedman which was jolly good and didn’t take long at all. Then I read The Black Rose of Florence because it was set in Florence really. Found it a little disappointing for a thriller and not as much about Florence other than a few place names thrown in here and there. Not a mention of the Boboli Gardens either. How can you have a whodunnit without the Boboli Gardens? And finally I started Wool but am only half way through, it being small print and lots and lots of pages. It is a sort of grown up version of the Hunger Games, perhaps not so exciting but intriguing all the same.

I also did a bit of knitting for the Christmas Fair coming up. Still on the infinity evening scarves. There will have to come a point when I stop knitting them, I know. There are only so many events one goes to that require an infinity scarf after all. But once I find something I like doing I have been known to rather overdo it, in a sort of addictive way. It was the same with smoking, you may remember. (Almost a year, btw.)

Rita kitten is poorly again so there were some vet visits too. Her anaemia is back again so it looks like this will be her future. 4-5 months of okay health and then quickly descending into weakness, heart-racing, lying around. She has had all the jags this time but they’ve not made much of an impression. Last time this led to blood transfusions but I don’t think this is possible this time. As the big Maine Coon cat who lived locally and was a donor match for Rita kitten has moved away there is no other source of blood. Told today the blood bank has none either but there may be a Vet in Glasgow who has some – at about £1000. Eeek. Don’t really know what to do. Except worry.

Went to church on the Sunday of my hol to Linlithgow – my old stomping ground. It was lovely to catch up with old friends and be shocked and amazed at the size of the young people. J & R were just wee souls and now J towers over me and R is so articulate – he just ran round and round when I was there last. These people do feel like part of your family still but sort of distant relations. Made me slightly envious of all the young children they had, mind you. They did a fabulous Harvest presentation.

My baby was 35 too last week. 35! He, his girlfriend and I all went out for lunch. What did he want most on his Wish List for birthday presents? Star Wars Lego. Is this normal?  Last time I played with Lego it was at the Tisec flat when we were training to be priests. Not sure whose box of Lego it was (perhaps Gareth S?) but we were known to build our own sanctuaries when the studying got too much. Of course now those memories of sumptuous sanctuaries are long gone and we realise that we live with what we’re given. Cracked and crunchy tiles and all. Lego Church Top

And that was my holiday. I did sneak in a few wedding orders of service by the weekend because it was all looking rather hectic when I got back. Naughty, I know. But if you do take on looking after two churches during their interregnum then something has to go. And now a week later and the wedding is done and my day off today was spent attending the funeral of a good friend, and you realise that it is really that thing about being a priest 24/7. Ontologically and all that jazz. You do what you do because you want to, not because you have to.


Some books what I have read

Raven BlackWhen we were on Iona I thought I’d have another go at Wolf Hall but no, I just couldn’t get into it. Something about it is just not grabbing me at the beginning when I know I have a pile of murder mysteries waiting. So I gave up after 3 nights of reading the first few pages over and over again and tore into the first in the Shetland Quartet by Ann Cleeves: Raven Black.  Now there is a bit of a similarity with the Lewis Trilogy by Peter May in that it is set on a Scottish island although Cleeves does not give us as much of the ‘tourist info’ that May does.

I discovered as I was half way through that some of it seemed familiar. That was because it was made into a BBC drama called ‘Shetland’ which I watched a few months ago. I much preferred the book to the TV programme.

Teenager Catherine is found dead in the middle of a Shetland winter. Elderly Magnus Tait, a simple soul with a secret, is an easy target. Enter Jimmy, the lonely detective and watch the story unfurl. Great character analysis and good suspense. I didn’t guess whodunnit at all.

I’ve put the rest of the Quartet on my wish list. 4 stars.

The next book I read was Simon Parke’s A Vicar Crucified. I’m a fan of Parke’s column in the Church Times. He was a CofE vicar who gave it up and worked in a supermarket for a few years, I think. Sometimes that is tempting to me too.  He is also a fan of the Enneagram, of which I know little but always mean to find out more.  He has published a few books on various subjects including Pippa’s Progress which I really enjoyed. I think his Publisher suggested Crime as it always sells so this is the first in the upcoming Abbot Peter mysteries. (Oh how we love a series of murder mysteries.)

The blurb says this:

Abbot Peter has recently swapped leadership of a remote monastery in the Sinai desert for retirement in the bleak and stormy English seaside town of Stormhaven.

When the local vicar is discovered crucified naked, in the vestry, the Abbot is invited to act as a Special Witness investigator. He partners the attractive and ambitious Detective Inspector Tamsin Shah – and discovers a surprising connection along the way.

Shocked by such cruel death, the church community adjusts to the knowledge that the murderer is one of them. The curate? The bishop? The treasurer? As cold waves crash against the winter shoreline, suspicion replaces friendship at St Michaels: no one safe and no one trusted. Abbot Peter believes the mystical nine-point enneagram symbol can help. But as the ravenous press descends on the town and secrets unravel, there will be more victims and a desperate climax before the hidden truth becomes clear.

I read it quite quickly because I enjoyed the style of writing and humour and who doesn’t want to know which of the Vestry or clergy dunnit? I’m not sure that the Enneagram stuff added anything to it and the book could easily have done without it. For me anyway but that might be because I don’t know much about it. (Other than being told I’m probably a 4?) Again I didn’t guess the killer and it did seem a little unlikely. Don’t let that put you off because on the whole, most of it was really good. 4 stars for the churchy stuff.


Murder, mayhem and macho

I forgot to report on my last two fiction books read before Lent so here we have a wee word about them both.

The first was our Book Group choice: The Killing Floor by Lee Child. Now you might think this a strange choice for a Book Group and indeed you could be right. However one of our group has found herself unable to finish the last few books because they have been… well, a bit boring to be honest. A bit worthy, if you know what I mean. Definitely not enough excitement in them for her. So our oldest member (late 80s) suggested a Lee Child book. It would appear that her granddaughter has recommended them to granny and she has been wolfing them down. So we agreed to start with the first one of many, many in the series. Having read it I can see why the critics were so surprised that Jack Reacher was played by Tom Cruise in the latest film. Tom Cruise being known for his shortness of stature and Jack Reacher being known for his 6foot 5inchesness, or thereabouts. It was okay. It was short sentences and the story kept going at a good pace. I just got a little fed up with the amount of people he killed with no recriminations. I know they were baddies but it did seem just a tad unlikely that a stranger could wander into town, get to potter about the police station undisturbed, and then wipe out the local baddie population with much gouging of eyes and swift neck cracking. 2 stars.

The second book I read was The Priest by Gerard O’Donovan. This was a good old murder mystery set in Dublin, and a debut novel. I think I picked it up in a charity shop and needless to say the title was what grabbed me. Who could resist the strapline: “Light your candles. Say your prayers. Confess your sins. The Priest is coming.” Quite. It was another page-turner with a cop and rookie journalist fighting the establishment to catch the killer who likes to brand his victims with a cross. It was pretty exciting and not a bad plot but there was just one thing which niggled me and that was the whole ‘Priest’ thing. Now it may be that I fell asleep and didn’t take in why this killer was going around branding everyone with crosses but I did feel that this could have been made more of the story. In fact, I can’t even remember now why he was doing it and I only finished it 4 days ago. I mean, he wasn’t actually a priest if memory serves me well. 3 stars.

And now it is Lent and fiction has been set aside for Theology. Watch this space.

Agatha Raisin whiled away a happy couple of hours

Sometimes you just get the reading bug. You spend your day off with your nose in a book and finish it in one sitting, and then you just become greedy for more. So I found myself scouring my ‘unread bookcase’ on Saturday evening looking for something quick and easy to read. And that was when I spotted Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death by M C Beaton. I have never read an Agatha Raisin book but I spotted a pile of them in a Christian Aid Book Sale once and scooped up half a dozen. The Quiche of Death happens to be the first in the series, and I see that they are now a popular Radio 4 series starring Penelope Keith. Who knew?

How delicious and speedy it was too. Agatha Raisin is sort of the antithesis of Miss Marple. Where Miss M was cosy and sweet, Agatha R is caustic and tart. Retiring early from a career in PR, Agatha fulfils her dream of leaving London and living in a sleepy Cotswold village. However, village life isn’t all its cracked up to be and she doesn’t find it easy to make friends. To make friends she enters the quiche making contest but as she can’t cook she cheats by buying one from her fave London deli. Sadly, the competition judge dies after eating the quiche and Agatha is revealed to be a cheat and potential poisoner. She then has to turn amateur sleuth to clear her name.

It only took me a couple of hours to read and was just the right mix of humour and whodunnit. Very light, no blood and gore, but some lovely images.

In which Ruth reads another gruesome whodunnit

Well thanks to Canon Malcolm Round, I now have another list of books to put on my ‘to read’ pile. For at the Clergy Conference we discovered that we shared a passion for the whodunnit, especially if there is a good old forensic pathologist to add some gruesomeness. I didn’t know that the TV show Rizzoli and Isles actually were books first but Malcolm highly recommended them.

The first book, The Surgeon by Tess Gerritsen, features Rizzoli but no sign of Isles, the pathologist. (I’m told she doesn’t appear until about Book 3.)  This book is more about the relationships between Rizzoli, the cop, and her partner Moore. But it is also about the relationship between Moore and the beautiful doctor who is being stalked by the killer. In fact, sometimes I wondered if Rizzoli had been forgotten altogether but I’m guessing her role develops in the books. She is gutsy and prickly, and the men in the department don’t take kindly to a female detective in their midst. So there is a bit of that Jane Tennyson thing going on too, where male cops undermine her all the time.

The great thing about this book is that it is written by a doctor so there is real knowledge about medical procedures and I did enjoy that. The killer targets lone women and then tortures them ritualistically before finishing them off. All rather gory but the suspense was great and I finished it in one go. (That was my day off, dear friends: a bit of dusting then a long read… heaven on earth!)

4 stars.

In which Ruth returns from the Clergy Conference

Every year our diocese gathers in the sumptuous surroundings of the Atholl Palace Hotel in Pitlochry for a few days. It is the best time to go – November – for the hotel is surrounded by trees of every hue and the hills look glorious in the sunlight. Yes, even a city girl can admire a lovely country view from inside a comfy hotel. In the olden days I’m told that the clergy met in an old youth hostel. Not many went. Funny that. Now that we meet in a nice place, many do come. Not all, but many.

This was the first Conference with our new Bishop John at the helm. Our speaker was Canon Malcolm Grundy who has written books on Leadership and Oversight. I’m afraid our little group couldn’t quite get in to the topic of leadership and shared episcope but we managed to talk about plenty other things. That’s the beauty of the Clergy Conference – even if the talks don’t quite inspire, it is always good to catch up with other clergy and share our stories.

Dare I say that the highlight was going with Mother Anne to the House of Bruar and having a good old window-shop. I even managed to find the spurtle I’ve been looking for for ages. (The boiled wool mules were not such a success. Who knew boiled wool could be so uncomfy?) And sadly they do not seem to do Pickled Quail’s Eggs any more. Where else will I find them, I wonder?

While I was in the bar one evening I got to talking to a certain Canon. (Not the speaker at the conference – one of our very own.) This certain Canon is not someone whom I know particularly well. Our paths don’t cross often in churchy circles.  In fact, I’ve probably thought in the past that we really had very little in common. However, and this is the beauty of the Clergy Conference, we found out that we actually had quite a lot in common. We both shared a love of James Bond movies, and in particular the cars. We also shared a love of a good whodunnit and had read many of the same authors. He had read all the Rizzoli and Isles books and I had watched the TV series, and he’s convinced me to try the books. We blethered for ages on our love of the iPad. And don’t get us started on forensic pathologists – we both adore them, the bloodier the better. And that is one of the joys of the Clergy Conference, because how else would we have found that out about each other? I am also keeping him in my prayers for something he shared with me.

So I have come to the conclusion that that is why we meet every year in Pitlochry. Sometimes we are blessed with unexpected pleasures. And that is one of the joys of ministry. Finding something in common with another human being and hearing their story.

Another Book Review

If you enjoyed the Millenium trilogy and Swedish detective writers in general, then you’ll love The Savage Altar by Asa Larsson. This is the first in the Rebecka Martinsson series so as good a place as any to start.

Set in the frozen north of Sweden, Rebecka comes to help her friend who is accused of murder. The brother happens to be a charismatic leader in the church called The Source of All Our Strength, a large evangelical and wealthy mega-church. Rebecka, now a corporate lawyer, is reluctant to go back to the place of her childhood which holds so many bad memories for her. And the townspeople, especially the church leaders, are not too happy to see her either.

The authors writes beautifully and the plot twists and turns and keeps you interested all the way through. I did find the ending a little abrupt and could have done with a bit more explanation but it may be in the next book in the series.

If you like Swedish whodunnits, then you will certainly enjoy this one. Recommended.

Some bitter taste

Have just finished reading Some Bitter Taste by Magdalen Nabb. It is a crime thriller set in Florence which must have been why I bought it. It was a good mystery as mysteries go but made all the more interesting because of the glimpses of life in Firenze. As the blurb on the back says:
‘Magdalen Nabb’s books are set in a Florence so vividly brought to life that I long to go back there after reading each one.’

Oh me too.