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in the bleak midwinter

So I’ve been reading Julia Spencer-Fleming’s rather marvellous Millers Kill books, and I have to say, I absolutely adore them. Thanks to Sarah Tanner of Monkey Bear Reviews and Keishon, AvidBookReader, for recommending the series to me.


The heroine is a newly ordained female priest called Clare Fergusson, and the hero, Russ Van Alstyne, the police chief of Millers Kill, a little town in upstate New York that never seems to see much sunshine.

In The Bleak Midwinter is the first book, and our first encounter with Clare, an ex-army helicopter pilot, who’s moved into Millers Kill, as the new priest of St Albans, the local Episcopal church.

Out of the deep I cry

When Clare finds a new-born baby abandoned on the steps of the church, the search for the baby’s mother brings her in contact with Russ Van Alstyne, Millers Kill chief of police, and the man who’s destined to test her strength of will and make her question her loyalty to God. In Russ, Clare discovers her Mr Right, the man that completes her, and acts as a salve to her soul. The only problem is…he’s married.

Yep, not a book for the romance purist perhaps.

From Darkness

This isn’t really a review, more of a ramble about the fabulousness of the Millers Kill series, and our (romance readers) obsession with keeping the romance genre reality-free.

Infidelity is a huge taboo in romance, one that few romance purists would ever be able to stomach, yet due to Spencer-Fleming’s excellent story-telling and incredible depth of characterisation, I totally found myself desperate for Clare and Russ to be together, even though he had a great wife, who loved him, and who he’d been with for twenty odd years.

It made me wonder why as romance readers, we get so caught up in a whole lot of dos and donts, when surely the emphasis should be on execution?

I can’t think of anything less romantic than infidelity, yet Russ and Clare’s story forced me to re-examine my preconceptions about what should and shouldn’t be included in romance books. (Erm, rape and incest are still non-negotiable)

All Mortal Flesh

Whenever some egg-head from the New York Times, or some other ‘respectable’ literary reviewer disses readers of romance as sad women who live with ten cats, and spend their day living in a fantasy world, one of our favourite form of defence is to wax lyrical about how romance readers are more likely to read outside the genre.

Considering all the rules within romance, I wonder how true this really is?

Oh I’m aware that here in Blogland, there are readers who venture outside the genre, but I wonder how many average rom readers actually regularly read non-fiction books for pleasure. Or sci-fi books, or crime books? Books where really bad things happen to the hero/heroine and they don’t actually get over it?

I shall not want

Personally, I read two genres, romance and mysteries/crime books, and that’s it. Of course I do happen to read auto-bios, but that’s mostly because I’m a nosy bitch. I don’t do sci-fi, I don’t do general non-fiction and literary books usually bore me to tears. Hmmm, does that make me shallow?

SarahT twittered that she’d been afraid of recommending the Millers Kill books to romance readers because she was afraid that they would have a negative reaction to the plot device, but as it happens she found that quite a few rom readers love the books. Which begs the question again, why do we spend so much time worrying about what is and isn’t romance, especially when it seems that the books that push the envelope are the ones that tend to resonate with us the most?

Anyway, JSF’s Millers Kill books are ace, and I don’t have a problem recommending them to anybody who wants to read well written mysteries with two fantastic protagonists who have enough chemistry between them to light up the 02 Arena.

You can learn more about Julia Spencer Fleming here, and buy the Millers Kill books here and here.


  • My reading for the year stands at 49/50 books (my goal is 50 per year).

    YA 5
    Western 3
    Horror 11
    Nonfiction 6 (bio, autobio, gardenening and paganism)
    Classic 2
    Mystery 4 (All of these are Sharyn McCrumb’s Ballad series)
    literary fiction 4
    Gay romance 8 (includes mystery, horror, anthologies, contemporary)
    Straight Romance 6

    My last will either be Dead Until Dark, a paranormal mystery or Annie Proulx’s Close Range anth.

    I don’t mind infidelity in my romances. I write it now and then. I don’t like a steady diet of it. A steady diet of anything is dull.


  • wendy
    December 20
    9:08 pm

    At the moment I read a lot of textbooks, but I usually read Romance and SciFi and Fantasy. I do not read Romantic Suspense, so won’t be reading JSF.


  • ME2
    December 20
    9:40 pm

    I guess I just can’t figure out why ANYONE would get their knickers in a knot over anything/something that is FICTION. (Do I really have to say excluding incest and/or rape? That will never fly. ever. period.)

    That is almost as inane as the “which hero would you like to meet/marry?” @@

    Gimme an effing break! Roarke isn’t real …. Rothgar isn’t real …… Mr Darcy isn’t real, well maybe he is, er was, but he’s long dead!

    It is shit like that which gives romance readers a bad rap and/or rep.

    When it comes to ANY/ALL fiction, I think some suspension of belief is probably a good idea or else you’ll drive yourself batshit crazy!!!!!!


  • I will probably give this series a try, for the chemistry between Russ and Clare, but mainly because I want to see how the author will eventually resolve their situation. One way or the other, it will be resolved.

    I am one of those readers who don’t like infidelity in her romances, but I know how temptation lurks around us, especially in real life. That’s why I’m willing to give this series a try. Will I find myself rooting for Clare, since she’s the other woman in this series? I don’t know.


  • I agree with you. I don’t like to limit myself when it comes to fiction reading (won’t touch bestiality). That’s why I think I read mysteries because sometimes it will have a more compelling romantic relationship dynamic than what you see in the romance genre with or without the HEA.

    Just to throw this tidbit out there, Dana Stabenow’s Liam Campbell series has this same relationship dynamic at the start but the series is set up differently and set in Alaska. Loved that series but the author hasn’t written another book in that series in a long while. It’s on hiatus. But anyway, I’m glad you’re enjoying them, Karen. I hoped you would. Next book comes out in April! Woohoo!


  • I’m so glad you’re enjoying this series!

    I’d heard good things about Julia Spencer-Fleming’s books for a couple of years, but I was put off by the religious aspect. I was afraid they’d be preachy. But I needn’t have worried! I appreciate how JSF balances Clare’s beliefs with Russ’s atheism.

    JSF particularly excels at attention to detail and subtle characterization. The people in her books feel real, with credible flaws and idiosyncrasies. I love how a very minor character in one book might become vitally relevant in the next.


  • […] Scott has fallen in love with Julia Spencer Fleming’s writing (and who can blame her). Scott asks whether the average romance readers really do read outside the […]

  • Emily
    December 22
    12:07 am

    I tried the first book and couldn’t really get into it. And yeah, it was because I could feel the adultery coming on. There was nothing wrong with his marriage, so it bugs me when a nice person has to get hurt.

    I read outside romance regularly. Right now I’m on a YA kick. What I love about YA is there are fewer rules. it’s also more cleanly written. The story usually grabs you right away, there isn’t too much cluttering it up.

    My favorite genre, though is SF, particularly romantic SF. Unfortunately a lot of RomSF is now focused on urban fantasy, which I do not like. Enough vamps and werewolves already!!


  • My sister recommended the Millers Kill books to me. I don’t read much mystery but my sis knows I like great characterization and religion in books (I’m also a big fan of Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series). I’ve started the first one and am already enthralled.

    I think we’re selling romance readers short when we say “oh, romance readers won’t like these b/c of the infidelity possibility”, as if they’re not capable of distinguishing between a book sold as a romance and a book sold in another genre and adjusting expectations accordingly. I recommend good writing no matter the genre!

    Have you tried Connie Willis? I’m not a sci fi fan but my editor recommended her books. They’re so incredibly awesome. I recommend Doomsday Book, a time travel set in Oxford, very, very highly.


  • Anne W
    December 28
    7:46 pm

    Enjoyed this blog immensely. I am a huge fan of JSF and her Miller’s Kill series. She has artfully written an extremely entertaining series with strong and focused characters. This series is not about “infidelity” and too much emphasis is placed upon this label. There is so much more. It’s not an easy life in Miller’s Kill and neighbors are gathering to help one another and solve crimes and find love and raise children. Some walk the path straight and narrow; others fall completely off the path, while others climb off and on the path along the way. Highly entertaining series by a marvelously talented writer. I’m anxiously awaiting the next book in her series — “One Was a Soldier” coming April 13, 2010!!!!


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