In the Bleak Midwinter (Rev. Clare Fergusson, #1) - Julia Spencer-Fleming
I have read this book twice now within six months. It only got better upon the second reading. The story wasn't what I thought it was going to be from the blurb because of their relationship statuses in the book. So it had me worried for a very long time. I think that was the reason for the four stars I gave the book after the first time I read it. I'm going to try to keep this review to the first book alone, though it's hard as I want to comment on what comes later. I apologize if I fail at it, but there won't be any spoilers.I love Julia Spencer-Fleming's writing style. It is descriptive without being over-flowery. There are no lines that stand out as trying too hard, she has a very consistent voice. She sets scenes that draw you into what's happening in an almost effortless way. It can dip into a bit of the cliche, but it never really dives in. Fleming doesn't write a mystery that drops clues along the way, allowing the reader to play junior detective along with the characters. You get the information as the characters do and it's a snaking vine that keeps you guessing but never allows you to get it right. I'm sure some people will hate that because they love trying to put clues together, but I really liked not being bored with the mystery because it was so easy to tell whodunit. The story is engrossing, and there are definitely a few edge of your seat moments. One that happens on a snowy mountain that I just love. Though this scene and the climatic ending do veer somewhat into head scratching territory it's easy to forgive because they're so absorbing. The number one thing Fleming does best is characters. I'm a character driven person. I can forgive a lot of things in a story if I love the characters, and a decent story will be terrible to me if I hate the characters. The love I have for this series is very much tied to my love for Russ Van Alstyne and Clare Fergusson. Both are very strong characters, intelligent, with great senses of humor. They're both stubborn (and that trait definitely gets her into trouble) and can set each other off, but they also listen to each other well (most of the time). I love that they're not perfect. They don't always make the right choices (and the choices they have to make get harder and harder). You would think that would be the case with a priest, but she has to fight her pride, her stubbornness, her emotions, and temptation. She has to question herself and her calling. The two have some similarities but they are also very different. For instance, Russ is clear about being an atheist and Clare is an Episcopalian priest. They certainly have their theological discussions but he doesn't really impugn her beliefs and she never preaches at anyone who doesn't ask her to. That's another thing I love so much about her. Throughout the series I found myself wishing they were real and my friends too many times to count.Their friendship is so effortless and such a joy to read. They get each other on such a fundamental level. And the reader gets to see that! It is so rare now that a reader gets to actually see a relationship begin and unfold instead of being told that it happened. We're given many conversations, joking around and even arguments. I never feel as though I have to take anything about them on faith. We can even see when it begins to evolve into something more. It was fun picking up on things I didn't notice before the second time I read it. Almost everything about their friendship just makes me happy. I start to flail and then I end up a lot like this guy:The secondary characters are just as easily likable, or they can be annoying or rage inducing, but that's their purpose and they're always well drawn and compelling. Even when they're doing things I don't understand.So, if you can't already tell from my rare, effusive gushing (that I still feel doesn't do this story justice), I heavily recommend picking up this book. Then I dare you to not devour the next six books in the series. I read all of them within a month and that was on top of reading other books, moving, and breaking bones.