Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Book Review: A Finer End by Deborah Crombie

Ancient Mystery and Contemporary Murder Mingle in Avalon Territory 
A Finer End, by Deborah Crombie
I don't often read something published as a traditional mystery, thriller, and even police procedural that I think my friends who are into paranormal or urban fantasy might like, but this just might be the book to bridge that gap.

Set in contemporary Glastonbury (well, almost contemporary: it was published in 2002) at the foot of the fabled Tor, this is Book Seven in Crombie's "Kincaid and James" series of British mysteries, but it most definitely will stand on its own. 

Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James are experiencing both personal and professional upheaval in this book. They move out of their roles as professional partners and explore their personal relationship--wherever it may be going--while Gemma faces a challenging new professional assignment and Duncan copes with the loss of his erstwhile sergeant (Gemma, who's been promoted) and begins to learn how to parent Kit, the twelve-year-old son he only recently discovered he had.


Is the mysterious Glastonbury Abbey monk Edmund for real?
When Duncan's cousin Jack Montfort asks him to come to Glastonbury for a weekend to help with a rather unusual matter, Duncan and Gemma hope spend some pleasant, relaxing time with him and each other. 

But when Jack's "unusual matter" turns out to be mysterious automatic writing from a twelfth-century monk named Edmund of Glastonbury, in far more literate Latin than Jack could manufacture on his own, the weekend takes a decidedly unusual turn. 

And that's before the murder of artisan tile-maker and former midwife Garnet Todd upends everything. What was Garnet's odd obsession with the runaway pregnant teenager Faith Wills, and why is Faith seemingly compelled to climb the Tor, despite her delicate condition? Did someone also try to kill Jack's girlfriend, the local vicar Winnie Catesby
Why does the pregnant teenager, Faith, keep trying to climb the Tor?

Ancient violence, contemporary murder, and intertwining mysteries reveal themselves through the eyes of many viewpoint characters, and spin into a gripping climax and resolution that you will not see coming.

I've been following Deborah Crombie's work for several years (fairness disclaimer: she's also a valued friend), and in 2015 I made it a project to read all 16-and-counting titles in her "Kincaid and James" series of mysteries set in Great Britain (a rewarding experience for me, both as a reader and as a writer). 

This book in particular is a master-class in juggling more than the usual number of POV characters while keeping all of them distinct and interesting, and weaving past and present, myth and police procedure, analytical logic and mysticism into a fascinating, multi-dimensional tapestry of story.

IMAGES: Many thanks to Amazon, for the book cover image; unfortunately, A Finer End is out of print, but Amazon still has copies available. The beautiful photo of the Glastonbury Abbey ruins is from TripAdvisorUK, and the evocative photo of Glastonbury Tor is by the AP photographer Peter Morrison, via Fairyroom.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Schaller's "Winter White" Show offers varied visions

I love artisanal ceramics. My sister once said, "If you're going to have useful items in your house, they might as well be beautiful." I wholeheartedly agree. Beautiful and useful items--including artisanal ceramics--add joy and texture to daily life.

The delicate texture of this Bowl and Dinner Plate set by A. Blair Clemo is my favorite of the show.
At some point, this interest got me onto the mailing list of the Schaller Gallery, of St. Joseph, MI. Each month they feature top-shelf ceramists in several themed shows, which they share online. I recently logged on to view their "Winter White" show.

Here's a different view of one of A. Blair Clemo's wonderful bowls.
I've always loved the effects that can be developed with a white overglaze on subtle textures, so I eagerly clicked on the link. My standout favorites in this show were the bowls and dinner plates of A. Blair Clemo, who teaches at Virginia Commonwealth University, and whose work has been featured in shows all over the world.

Martha H. Grover's subtle touch turns her Nested Bowls into something magical.
Another highlight of the show for me was Martha H. Grover's  Nested Bowls, which also offer a subtle texture and organic treatment to a practical object. Grover is a widely-exhibited and highly regarded functional potter and porcelain artist who lives in Maine. She describes her approach as seeking to create "a sense of elegance for the user while in contact" with each piece.

Here's a wider view of Grover's Nesting Bowls, which combine subtle elegance and organic form.

Minnesota regionalist Matthew Krousey turns a simple Berry Bowl into something more.
I also liked Matthew Krousey's Berry Bowl, featuring a graceful, spiraling base that turns a utilitarian object into a piece of practical artwork--just the aesthetic my sister described. Krousey describes himself as a "modern day regionalist" from Minnesota who regularly exhibits his pottery, sculpture and murals.

This angle gives a better look at the upper part of Krousey's Berry Bowl.
These three artists offer markedly different approaches, but they all arrive at the fusion of practical and beautiful which is the joy of fine artisanal craft art.

IMAGES: All images are courtesy of the Schaller Gallery's "Winter White" online exhibition. Please take some time to look at the entire show for yourself. There are many other wonderful pieces to see there!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Winter Blues? Try these ideas with a creative approach!

Do you live in a place where you have cold winters? If so, this post is for you.

Where I live, we are currently experiencing cold weather, including snow. My sister-in-law in Minnesota has it worse, but it's quite cold enough in Kansas City, thanks!


Yes, those are bare trees behind hm.
Pascal Gephardt, my Beloved, hates winter and loves summer. Every year on the Summer Solstice, he exclaims that he can feel the world turning colder with the shortening of the days. 

Sometimes he'll shiver with dramatic flair and look for a coat, even if the air temperature is in the 90s F (32 C or above). 

And on the Winter Solstice? I'll let the picture at right tell you how he celebrated it this year. (For a few minutes, until the pictures were taken. Then he hurried back inside). Silly? Well, yes. But I love the creative flair of his response, not to mention the ironic impulse.

Is Winter really bad for you?
There are a lot of reasons to think so, actually. Here's a great video from DNews, with a number of reasons why winter is a bad idea for humans. 

Less sunlight can cause lower levels of Vitamin D in our bodies, which places us at greater risk for illness. It also can cause Seasonal Affective Disorder (appropriate acronym: SAD). No, it's NOT all in your head. Winter really is out to get you. 


Can Creativity "Cure" Winter?
I wish! But creativity can come in handy when you're going through it. I've collected some of my favorite ideas about creative things to do, that can lighten the winter blues. If you have other suggestions, please share them in the comments section! 

1. Plan your Summer Vacation! When better, right? This is an anywhere-anytime idea. Collect images of your dream destination and paper your cubicle at work (management willing, that is), your refrigerator, or bulletin board with them. Create an idea journal, or just paint lovely pictures in your mind. Consider the possibilities! 
Just walking past Jessica Abelson's beach-vacation-themed cubicle ought to get the whole office smiling!
2. Have a fireside camp-out. I know people may suggest this for entertaining children--and kids are great generators of creative fun. But who says an adult can't roast weenies and marshmallows in the fireplace (assuming you have one) for him/herself? 

No fireplace? There are creative ways around that, too. Got candles? Got computer? If you need to look at a fire, those might do in a pinch, though you'll probably have a hard time roasting weenies on them.
Creative solution for a "Fireside Chat" meeting
theme. Could work in a living room, but it won't
toast your marshmallows too effectively.

Cradle a tin cup of a warm drink in your hands, watch the flames (however generated), and pretend you're in your favorite camping spot. 

Play "sound effects" in the background (recordings of all sorts of things are available). Crickets? Birdsong? Waves on the beach? Wolves howling? Be--what else?--creative! 

3. Take a cue from Pascal, and act as if it's summer. Fix yourself a tall, cold fruity drink (I'll leave the contents to your taste preferences). Add a parasol, if it helps improve the festive mood (available at party stores or online). Play Bob Marley or the Beach Boys. Make an ice cream treat. Put on a lei, your sun hat, your favorite Hawaiian shirt. 

Lots of ideas for planning gardens large and
small are available online and in books.
4. Plan this spring's garden. Even you only have a container on your balcony or a planter by your window, winter is the perfect time to browse through gardening catalogs or websites. 

If you have more ground you can cover, consider making more elaborate plans for growth and development. 

Remember, after a winter cooped up inside, getting out in the sunshine will help you make up those Vitamin D deficiencies you've developed all winter. 

Best of all, everyone knows fresh-picked veggies are the tastiest, and how better to indulge in cut flowers all summer than to grow your own?

IMAGES: Many thanks to my husband Pascal, for letting me post his photo (which I took), and to DNews for the video. The epic "beach vacation"-themed cubicle is from Jessica Abelson's "Complete Cubicle Survival Guide." Check out her other great ideas, too! The "Fireside fix" with the computer image was the creative idea of my friend Tracy Majkol, at a meeting of the Kansas City Science Fiction and Fantasy Society last May. The garden-planning image is from Wendy's post, "Garden: Planning," from the blog This Beautiful Day.