Sunday, September 24, 2017

A Perilous Undertaking

Veronica Speedwell is back! This is the second in the series by Deanna Raybourn, and it is delicious! Veronica, lepidopterist and adventuress, is invited to the Curiosity Club, a ladies-only club for intrepid women. There she meets Lady Sundridge, who begs her to take on an impossible task; Miles Ramsforth, art patron, has been convicted of the murder of Artemisia, his artist mistress, and will hang in a week's time unless Veronica can unmask the true killer. For various reasons, Veronica accepts this challenge. With the help of Stoker, her natural-historian colleague, she hares about 1880's London, from palace to pleasure grotto, to resolve the case.

This book in the series is more raw than A Curious Beginning, but just as delightful. The characters are well drawn and likeable. The plot hums along. The tension between characters is recognizable and utterly believable. I look forward to the next installment.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Little Children

A novel by Tom Perrotta, Little Children is about a group of suburban, thirtyish parents and the children they bring to the playground. However, it seems to be more about the childish, selfish behavior of said parents. It's a sad book with no growth on the part of any character. It simply chronicles the dissolution of several families.

The Round House

This novel by Louise Erdrich was a National Book Award winner for fiction in 2012. It tells the story of the Coutts family, Geraldine, Bazil, and Joe, Ojibwe who live on a reservation in North Dakota. One Sunday in Spring, 1988, Geraldine is brutally attacked. The rape occurred near the Round House, a sacred space for the Ojibwe. This complicates justice, for the Round House is on tribal land but is surrounded by multiple jurisdictions. Unless the traumatized Geraldine can remember exactly where the attack took place, her white attacker will go free. Geraldine enrolls people into the tribe; Bazil is a tribal judge. Both of them have had occasion to "meet" the attacker through their files. Joe, the 13-year-old son of aging parents, realizes it is up to him to reclaim his family. With the help of his friends Cappy, Zack, and Angus he sets out on a course of revenge. Because the attacker has gone free through the jurisdictional nightmare. And, even if the rape had happened on tribal land, the tribal leaders would be unable to prosecute because the perpetrator was non-Indian; federal law prohibits them. (This burns my butt!) Something else I learned in the course of this book that is upsetting, to say the least. The number of women subject to sexual assault in this country is 1 in 5. That's sad. The number of native women who face sexual assault? 1 in 3. The number is surely higher because not everyone reports rape. 86% of these assaults are carried out by non-Native men. 86% cannot be prosecuted "in house", so to speak, leaving a Native woman to tell her story, relive the trauma, more than necessary. And face possible prejudice as well as the stigma of rape. Too sad. Must be changed. This unjust law must be changed.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Goodbye Days

A novel by Jeff Zentner. I. Am. Wrecked! This is a young adult novel; why is the YA genre so gaspingly real! Carver Briggs is a bright young man who has maybe done a stupid thing. He texted his friend Mars; a friend on the way to meet him with his two other best friends, Eli and Blake. Then there was The Accident. All three of his friends died, and on Mars's phone was a half - finished text to Carver. Now Carver is friendless, going to funerals, blaming himself, being blamed by some of the family members of his friends. Mars's father, a judge, is pressing the district attorney to charge Carver with negligent homicide. Eli's twin sister, Adair, stares daggers through him and uses her considerable influence at the prestigious Nashville Academy of the Arts, where they all went/go to school to turn people against him. He's having panic attacks. Yet Carver does have a support system still. His family. Jesmyn, Eli's girlfriend. Dr. Mendez, his psychiatrist. And Nana Betsy, Blake's grandmother, who asks Carver for a goodbye day, where they fill each other in on their parts of Blake's story. His life. It was successful. Cathartic. Soon the other families are asking for goodbye days. Will they be as successful?

Silent in the Sanctuary

A Lady Julia Grey Mystery by Deanna Rayburn. This is the second in the series, and quite entertaining. Lady Julia has spent six months recovering in Italy, but with her brother Lysander's precipitous marriage to a hot-headed Italian woman they are all called home to spend Christmas at the decommissioned Abbey in Sussex that serves as her father's estate. To buffer her father's anger, her brothers Lysander and Plum determine to invite their Italian friend, the Count Alessandro Fornacci, along. Lady Julia is grateful for his presence when Nicholas Brisbane is among her father's guests, with a friend of his own. Romantic intrigue takes a backseat, however, when one of the houseguests is found murdered in the chapel. Nicholas and Lady Julia investigate as snow cuts off communication and transportation and a murderer walks the halls.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Longbourn

This lusciously imagined novel by Jo Baker is a literary spin-off of Pride and Prejudice. Longbourn is the manor of the Bennet family; and the book focuses on the world of the servants. The novel begins with the central character, Sarah, a housemaid, getting on with the business of washday. Simply gruelling. A startling insight into servanthood in regency England. Sarah is beginning to find service restrictive; she's young, she wants to see the world. Then a new footman hires on, and begins to turn the servants' world upside down, especially Sarah's. James Smith has secrets, though, and what he does to keep those secrets distresses everyone below stairs. A good read.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Saint Vs. the Scholar:

The Fight Between Faith and Reason. Jon M. Sweeney wrote this as a historical account of the clash between Bernard of Clairvaux (now recognized as Saint) and Peter Abelard. Unfortunately, the book often descends into a screed against Bernard. Sweeney represents the clash as one between faith and reason, two different ways of thinking about revelation and tradition (also, Tradition) that continue to this day. Yet his obvious bias against "faith" makes it difficult to accept anything he says as objective or accurate. His solution to the dilemma,  "let's just agree to disagree" is untenable when one considers the questions the Church faces today.

I found this an unsatisfactory read. I read it for my church book club, and barely finished it. (We discuss it this evening.) I'm sure our next book won't be such a slog.

Monday, September 11, 2017

The Forever Summer

A novel by Jamie Brenner, it's a bit convoluted, reminding that people and the choices they make often leave life messy, and hard, and unspeakably beautiful. Marin Bishop seems to have it all: a burgeoning career as a Manhattan lawyer, a handsome banker fiancée who works as hard as she does, parents who've been married thirty years as the perfect role models. Then she's involved in an office scandal, finding herself unemployed and alone. Enter Rachel, a stranger from Los Angeles, who insists Marin is her half - sister. Suddenly she and Rachel are off to Provincetown to meet family they didn't know they had, along with Marin's mother, who has just unleashed a secret that makes Marin question her entire life. They find refuge with Amelia, the young women's paternal grandmother, in a beach side inn. More secrets are divulged and much love is shared. Family is created.

Friday, September 8, 2017

A Bridge Across the Ocean

This is a novel by Susan Meissner. I didn't particularly care for it; one of the reasons is it skips time frames, eras, and years seemingly at random, and if you miss the heading, you are lost. And, as an HSP, the paranormal is one of the things I generally avoid. Meissner relates the horrors of WW II for Simone Devereux and Annaliese Lange. Finally, in February 1946 these two women are joining hundreds of other European war brides aboard the RMS Queen Mary (a character in her own right) to cross the Atlantic and be reunited with their American husbands. But at New York Harbor, only one of these two will disembark....In the present day, Brette Caslake visits the famously haunted Queen Mary at the request of a friend. This visit sends her investigating a 70-year-old mystery, as well as sets her out on a voyage of self-discovery.

Silent in the Grave

A debut novel by Deanna Rayburn, this is a fascinating Victorian era period mystery. Sir Edward Grey has been receiving threats and has quietly engaged the services of Nicholas Brisbane, a private inquiry agent. Sir Edward collapses and dies in front of his wife, Lady Julia, and several dinner guests. Sir Edward has long had a heart condition, so Lady Julia is angered when Brisbane suggests he was murdered. Much, much later she discovers one of the threatening letters and engages Brisbane's services herself to bring the murderer to justice. Through the investigation she uncovers some unpleasant truths and finds herself.

A Homemade Life

Stories and Recipes from my Kitchen Table. By Molly Wizenberg, this is a personable book telling of her life centered around the kitchen. I was not familiar with Molly's blog Orangette, however, it seems to have international acclaim. Most of her recipes are accessible for plain old cooks like me; and all of her stories are relatable to anyone. A great read.

Reading People

How Seeing the World Through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything.  This is a delightful overview of some of the most common personality frameworks by Anne Bogel, best known (so far) for her fabulous blog Modern Mrs. Darcy and her interesting podcast What Should I Read Next . I was selected to be on the launch team for this debut work; as such I was given an advance copy of the book by the publisher. If you pre-order this book at https://www.readingpeoplebook.com/ before its release date of September 19, you'll get some fun bonuses: a FREE download of the audiobook (which Anne recorded) and a class to dive deeper into the 9 reading personalities based on the quiz found on ReadingPeopleBook.com. (I'm an explorer.) The class comes with book recommendations for each type!

Okay. With all the business out of the way, let's talk about the book! I am a personality framework junkie, however, even if you're not, this book is incredibly helpful. We can all benefit from understanding ourselves better and, once we get to know ourselves, we can begin to know others; especially their motives. When typing yourself, in whatever framework, be sure to see yourself as you are, not as you want to be.

Anne begins with a discussion of introverts (that's me!) and extroverts. I learned some things; for instance, extroverts process information in less time than introverts. The reason is fascinating to me. Anne then has a chapter on those with high sensitivity (yep, HSP here!). This was a chapter I had intuitively grasped but cognitively knew nothing about. Since I am also raising highly sensitive children, I will make use of the wonderful bibliography to research this topic more thoroughly.

The next chapter is an overview of the framework found in Please Understand Me II, by David Kiersey. This one was a new one for me and a little difficult to grasp. I believe I am an Idealist (NF), with cooperative tools and abstract words. I will have to read this overview several more times, then read the book referenced to fully understand.

She then goes on to address the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. This is perhaps the most well-known framework and maybe the most difficult for some because it breaks down into four dichotomies; thus sixteen possible combinations. I am INFP; introversion, iNtuition, feeling, perceiving. The next chapter continues MBTI with a discussion of the functions (another I'll have to read again).

Chapter 8 was about the Clifton Strengthsfinder, which focuses on what's already working. There are 34 themes in 4 loose categories to find the top 5 themes. This one was brand new to me; just eyeing the themes I came up with belief, communication, empathy, input, and intellection. Next, Anne addresses the Enneagram (I'm a 1, the Reformer, with a need to be perfect). Whoops! Somewhere in here she talked about the five love languages... I seem to have skipped over them. My primary language is quality time.

Anne, of course, explains each framework, tells some of the science behind each, and gives anecdotes from her life as to how each one has helped. This is a gentle introduction to personality frameworks and leaves the reader wanting to study more for himself. Recommended.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Before the Fall

This is a compelling novel by Noah Hawley. One foggy Summer night eleven passengers - ten wealthy, one painter trying to begin anew - and three crew members leave Martha's Vineyard on a private jet for the short hop to New York. Within sixteen minutes, the plane crashes into the ocean. There are only two survivors; the painter, Scott Borroughs, and JJ, the four year old son of a rich, powerful media mogul. The story of their survival is harrowing, heroic, incredible! What happens after the survival is just harrowing, for they are chased by the media. The "objective" news reporters won't wait for investigators to tell them what happened to the plane; they begin speculating what could have happened based on the people on the plane. And reputation means nothing to the media - when Scott refuses to answer questions they begin destroying his. Some go beyond those kind of tricks... Meanwhile, the bond between Scott and the boy, JJ, grows.

Parts of this book were beautiful; parts were caricature. Characters, mainly. As though Hawley has been writing screenplays so long he can no longer write an unlikeable character without overdoing it. A shame. It's a good read, otherwise.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Be gentle with yourself

I was having a conversation this evening with Secunda and Quatorze... Secunda getting more and more passive aggressive and, finally, a bit vicious in what she said. I gathered my things up to leave as Quatorze fled the room in tears. Then my beautiful teen apologized and cried. We were able to speak calmly about what was going on and find some solutions.
 
At one point, I said to her, "You are so hard on yourself! And I don't know where that comes from." She looked at me as though I'd sprouted two heads. Then, quietly let me know she just acts like me. My heart broke!!! I made a pact with her that we would both try to be gentle with ourselves.

I tried. I tried to keep my mental illness, my self deprecation, my own loathing away from my children. I don't want any of them to be my age and have to look back on such a life. Don't get me wrong: my life is lovely now. But by the time it became that way I had such an ingrained habit of looking at myself negatively... I am having trouble breaking that habit. And now one of my vital, amazing children has seen and internalized that nasty habit. I tried to teach them that they were loved by God, important simply because they were made in His image and likeness. Unfortunately, my actions have spoken louder than my words. Father God, help me with damage control. Because this negative self image and harsh self treatment is damaging! Give me the words for each of these precision souls. I love these people you have entrusted to me. And I'm learning to love myself. May we be gentle.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Same Kind of Different as Me

A Modern - day Slave, An International Art Dealer, and the Unlikely Woman Who Bound Them Together. This is a powerful work by Ron Hall and Denver Moore with Lynn Vincent. I was surprised to find it classified as Religion/Spirituality: I simply thought of it as memoir. However, you throw a mention of God in there and you're labeled... and as the book went on it began to fit its label. It's a fantastic read!

Deborah and Ron Hall met at TCU, married, through the years had two children. Ron went from selling soup to grocery stores to investment banking to selling masterpieces in the art world. Debbie and he (mainly Debbie) grew closer to God and to serve Him, together they began working at a homeless shelter in Fort Worth. One morning, Debbie told Ron of a dream she'd had the previous night of a wise man who changes the city. She'd seen his face. Soon, she saw the same man at the shelter. It was Denver Moore, an angry man who refused to sleep inside; a loner who frightened everyone (except Debbie). Denver grew up in virtual slavery as a sharecropper in Louisiana until he hopped a train to Fort Worth. Life on the streets was a step up, in his opinion. This is the story of an unlikely friendship, forged by an incredible woman.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Quiet:

The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. As an introvert, I loved this very well - researched book by Susan Cain. Here in America, we live in a society geared to extroverts. Quiet, more contained, possibly shy people are greatly undervalued as a result. Cain tells how the Extrovert Ideal became the norm in Western society. She cites psychological and neurological studies which show stunning differences between introverts and extroverts. She gives personal stories of introverts who "fake it", recharging in private after their successful outgoing presentation or sales call or whatever. She gives pointers for how the introvert can give a little to better meet the world and how the world could give to better meet those who are introverts, especially quiet children. A fascinating study.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Glitter and Glue

This is a mini-memoir by Kelly Corrigan. It tells the story of how Corrigan, in her early 20's and on a Grand Adventure, ran out of money in Australia. She was faced with the decision to go home and face her mother ("I told you so...") or get a job. This is how she wound up as the nanny to newly-widowed John Tanner's two children. As she stepped into this role, she began to hear her mother's no-nonsense voice everywhere. She had not expected this. Like many "daddy's girls", Corrigan's relationship with her mother was fraught... sometimes distant. Her time with the Tanners is when she first began to appreciate her mom. Later she had her own children and a health scare, cementing the bond she now has with her mother. Who we admire and why changes as we grow and develop. That's what this book is about...as well as motherhood and what that looks like in its absence as well as in its glorious, messy, mind-wracking presence.

The Shepherd of the Hills

This lovely work by Harold Bell Wright is my mother's favorite book. So when my Reader's Challenge included "A book published before you were born" I knew what it had to be. I had actually read it once before, in my teens, and hadn't seen what all the fuss was about (it was one of my grandmother's favorites, as well). Now that I'm an adult, with children and a relationship with God, I get it. It's a gentle tale of second chances, forgiveness, and the love we bear through the generations.

Daniel Howitt comes into the Ozark mountain community of Mutton Hollow from the City - the world outside. For reasons of his own, he takes his place among the simple backwoods people as a shepherd for Grant Matthews and his family. He teaches young Sammy Lane how to be a real lady, since her intended has gone to the City. He fills in for the preacher. He finds a home and, eventually, peace for his heart. There are secrets revealed, and pride broken down, and hearts eased. It's a lovely book. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

I Let You Go

Holy cow! I just finished this intense, compelling novel by Clare Mackintosh; it is four in the morning! The novel opens with a young mother walking her son home from school one rainy day. Excited to be home, he darts across the street when she momentarily lets go of his hand. He is struck and killed by a car whose driver then flees the scene. Jenna leaves her life in Bristol behind; everything she lived for has been taken away. She moves to Wales to begin anew, but is haunted by the car accident that instigated her move. And there's Ray and Kate, the police investigators in charge of finding the perpetrator of the hit-and-run. As they're drawn deeper into the twist -filled case, they're drawn closer to each other... An excellent read: highly recommended.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Good As Gone

Amy Gentry's debut novel, and a true suspense thriller. Julie was kidnapped from her own bedroom when she was thirteen years old, while Anna and Tom, her parents, slept downstairs and Jane, her ten year old sister, watched from a closet. Eight years later, Julie returns, with an unbelievable story of what happened and where she has been. Is Julie lying to them? Is this young woman who showed up at their door even Julie at all? And if not, what does she want?

Sunday, August 6, 2017

The Stars Are Fire

This is a fabulous novel by Anita Shreve! She began with the truth of the largest fire in Maine's history, and spun her story of a young mother finding herself around that. In October 1947, after a summer-long drought, fires break out all along the Maine coast, racing out of control from village to village. At 24, Grace Holland and her two toddlers are home alone because her husband has gone to fight the fire. She saves herself and the children by huddling together under a blanket in the sea overnight. They emerge to a changed world. They are now penniless, homeless, left in a town that no longer exists. Grace must learn to rely on herself - to drive, to find a home, a job, a way to care for the children while all these other things happen. She finds a freedom and her own strength in the aftermath of the catastrophe. Little does she know, her greatest test still lies ahead. A fantastic read. Highly recommended.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

The Secret Keeper

A novel by Kate Morton which I found to be uneven but intriguing nevertheless. Laurel Nicholson is hiding from her sisters in her childhood treehouse during a family birthday party when she sees a stranger coming onto their farm. She watches as he and her mother speak... and then witnesses a crime that calls into question all she thought she knew about her loving, imaginative, near-perfect mother, Dorothy. Fifty years later, Laurel is a successful actress in London. The family is gathering at the old farmhouse for her mother's ninetieth birthday and Laurel decides it's time to find the answers for that crime that still haunts her; answers buried in her mother's past from pre-WWII England through the blitz and the unlikely friends she made then, to the 1960s and beyond.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Death Comes to Pemberley

This is a fabulous novel by P.D. James! She has taken the characters from Pride and Prejudice and drawn them into a murder mystery with emotional ramifications for the Darcy and Bingley families. It is 1803. Elizabeth and Jane have been married six years to their respective mates. They are each mothers, in charge of large estates. Elizabeth has settled well into Pemberley, with Jane nearby. Her father visits often; Darcy's sister Georgiana may soon marry. They are all busily preparing for the annual autumn ball when a coach barrels up the drive. Inside is a hysterical Lydia, Elizabeth's disgraced sister who married the infamous Wickham, both of whom have been banned at Pemberley. Lydia is screaming that Wickham has been murdered in the woodland. Pemberley is now embroiled in a murder mystery.

The first chapter of this book is given to a synopsis of Jane Austen's original work. Then we're given a glimpse of the peaceful, orderly world of Pemberley with Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth Darcy in charge. Then the mystery.... P.D. James has lovingly and masterfully re-created the world of Pride and Prejudice. There are no glaring anachronisms, no one slips out of character.... It really could be a "sequel" . It almost feels traitorous to Miss Austen to say that. This was a pleasure to read. Highly recommended.

My Stubborn Heart

Can't think why I had a Christian romance novel by Becky Wade on my to-be-read list. Any kind of romance novel. I determined long, long ago I could not read romances; they left me dissatisfied with my life as it was and I just couldn't handle that irritation. Now that I'm married, actually, now that my identity comes from God rather than from my husband or our relationship, I find I can read romances again. The Christian romance is often quite saccharine, setting my teeth on edge (and there seem few Catholic Christian writers in this genre). 

This book avoids the too-sweet pitfall. It's well written, with real interior struggles between main characters and the Maker included. Kate, disillusioned by both her work and dating, agrees to accompany her grandmother to Redbud, Pennsylvania to restore her childhood home. Their contractor is Matt Jarreau, handsome, clearly wounded. What in his past could cause this rift between him and others, God, himself? Kate sets herself the task of finding out.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

November's Past

This is the first in a series by A.E. Howe. Larry Macklin is not fond of his job as a deputy in a small Florida county. Doesn't even think he's that good at it. But when two murders and an arson case seem related by incidents that happened thirty years ago, that may involve his dad, the sheriff, Larry finds he's a better investigator than he suspected. This is a self - published book with some grammar mistakes that are a little irritating.

Friday, July 28, 2017

The Forgetting Time

I didn't like this debut novel by Sharon Guskin. I don't agree with the subject matter, reincarnation, and actually should have stopped reading when I realized that was what the book was about. However, by that time I was invested. And, it is against my nature to stop reading a book mid-stream.

Janie is a single mother of a "difficult" son. Four-year-old Noah is terrified of water and won't take a bath. He has horrifying nightmares. He cries inconsolably, asking when he's going home and where his other mother is. Then Janie gets a pivotal call from Noah's preschool and help for him becomes crucial. Jerome Anderson was once a preeminent scientist, but his research led in a laughable direction. Now, he may be Janie and Noah's last hope, and, after a devastating diagnosis, they are definitely his last case.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

John of the Cross: Selected Writings

From the Classics of Western Spirituality series, edited by Kieran Kavanaugh, O.C.D. I have long been interested in Carmelite spirituality and picked this up for my morning devotions. John of the Cross wrote beautiful, mystical prose and poetry, but I had not familiarized myself with his work. Taking pieces of this book in the morning would be just the ticket, I thought. No. Maybe it was the fact that these were just selections... maybe it was the translation used... maybe it was simply not the right time for me to tackle this Saint. The Ascent of Mount Carmel was difficult: The Dark Night well nigh impossible! The Spiritual Canticle easier: The Living Flame of Love most available, understandable, and my favorite offering in this book. Knowing his two most important works left me scratching my head is a little depressing. I have farther to go on the spiritual path than my arrogance(?) was thinking, and look how far I've come! With God's grace, I'll get there.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The Sea of Tranquility

The debut novel by Katja Millay which I found un-put-down-able. I read it in less than a day. In it we are introduced to Nastya Kashnikov, who has just moved to a new town to make a new start. She is determined that no one know of the tragedy that befell her two and a half years before, making her feel half the girl she once was. She wants to get through high school, keep everyone at a distance, and nurse her rage. Yet she is, inexplicably, drawn to someone just as isolated as she. Josh Bennett could be a tragic figure, if he milked it more. At seventeen, his last family member has died, there is no one left. Everyone at school considers knowing him tantamount to a death sentence; they give him a wide berth. Except Nastya. Together, will the miracle of second chances find them?

This book was well plotted, the alternating viewpoints added much. My library copy had a reader's club guide in it which really made me think, as well (I read everything in a book). We are given bits and pieces of the story, a little at a time. Having it doled out like that really keeps you keen for the rest of the story. A great read. Highly recommended.

Jane Steele: A Confession

This nod to Jane Eyre by Lyndsay Faye was recommended by Modern Mrs. Darcy (or her readers) for the reading challenge in the category of being "un-put-down-able" . I didn't find it so. However, it is a rollicking good read! Jane Steele is raised on tales of owning Highgate House by her beautiful, fragile, French mother. Yet she lives in the cottage on the grounds while her spiteful aunt and hateful cousin live in the manor house. They become predatory when she is left an orphan and she is shipped off to a boarding school where she has to fight for her very life. She escapes to London, leaving the corpses of her tormentors in her wake. She spends time writing "last confessions" of the recently executed, to make her way and hide from the law herself. Then she sees the advertisement; her aunt has died and the new owner of Highgate House, Mr. Charles Thornfield, is looking for a governess for his ward. Interested to know whether the manor is, indeed, hers, Jane goes undercover as a governess at a greatly changed Highgate House. For the new residents are all Sikh and lately from the wars.... She learns much about herself during her sojourn there, even as she falls in love with the tragic Mr. Thornfield.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

J.K. Rowling's final book in the fascinating fantasy series, this one moves kind of slowly at times and is quite frenetic at others. All the pieces are tied together, with one omission ( the goblin Gripnhook took the sword of Gryffindor, yet Neville uses it toward the end and this is never explained). It is sad, and satisfactory at the same time. The epilogue leads one to believe more books may be in the works with the second generation, but Rowling seems to have moved on to other projects. Of course, the play "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child" has been released.... Not Rowling's and not quite up to her standards.

Harry Potter and the Half - Blood Prince

In this sixth installment of the fantasy series by J.K. Rowling, Harry gets to be a normal teen wizard. He concentrates on lessons (with help from the mysterious Half - Blood Prince), quidditch, a girlfriend. The war against Voldemort is not going well, so Dumbledore gives Harry private lessons searching for the complete story of Voldemort's life in hopes of finding what makes him vulnerable. This book is darker still and may cause tears...be warned if you're reading aloud to the children.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

The fifth installment of J.K. Rowling's fantasy series and the darkest yet. As the Dark Lord increases in power, the Ministry of Magic remains in denial. The Ministry also fears Dumbledore's influence and so makes great changes at Hogwarts. These things take away from Harry's study time for the Ordinary Wizarding Level exams. Friends are even more important this year for Harry, especially as sacrifice looms ever closer.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

The fourth novel in J.K. Rowling's fantasy series, and Harry's fourth year at Hogwarts. He's halfway through his training as a wizard in this book. He gets to go to the Quidditch World Cup with his friends. He finds out about a mysterious event taking place at Hogwarts involving two rival schools of magic, he has a crush. In short, he wants to be a normal teen wizard. However, Harry has never been normal... and that difference can be dangerous!

Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Birth Order Book

Why You Are The Way You Are, by Dr. Kevin Leman. Dr. Leman takes the four positions in the family; first born, middle child, baby, and only child, and tells how that position helps shape your personality and influences your interests and career choices. He gives the typical strengths for each birth order to nurture and the usual weaknesses to be overcome. He includes relationship information of all types. I enjoy personality theory books; this one is more anecdotal than evidence based, though he does include notes referencing scientific studies on occasion. I have had the pleasure to hear Dr. Leman speak at a Hearts at Home Conference; he is a delightful man. This is an enjoyable book. It helped explain some things I'd wondered about in my family of origin for many years. Big plus!

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

This young adult fantasy novel by J.K. Rowling is, in the words of my oldest daughter, neither too silly nor too dark. When I realized my youngest daughter was rereading the series for the nth time, I thought I would reread them as well. I think this was also the last book in the series which had a dedicated editor. This is a delightful book, and the blurb on the back tells what it's about; "For twelve long years, the dread fortress of Azkaban held an infamous prisoner named Sirius Black. Convicted of killing thirteen people with a single curse, he was said to be the heir apparent to the Dark Lord, Voldemort.  Now he has escaped, leaving only two clues as to where he might be headed: Harry Potter's defeat of You-Know-Who was Black's downfall as well. And the Azkaban guards heard Black muttering in his sleep, ' He's at Hogwarts... he's at Hogwarts.'  Harry Potter isn't safe, not even within the walls of his magical school, surrounded by his friends. Because on top of it all, there may well be a traitor in their midst."

Monday, July 3, 2017

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

This is a delightful novel written by Mary Ann  Shaffer and Annie Barrows. Set as a series of letters to and from Juliet Ashton, a London author just after World War II, it tells the story of the German occupation of the Channel Island of Guernsey and how the people survived. Some, with the help of literature, make-do recipes, and friends, even thrived. Highly recommended.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

The Secret Keepers

I read this juvenile novel by Trenton Lee Stewart at the advice of my daughter. Stewart is the author of the Mysterious Benedict Society series; books that were devoured at our house. This novel falls into that category, too. Reuben is an 11-year-old explorer of the Lower Downs, the part of the city of New Umbra in which he resides. New Umbra is a sad city, in the grip of the Smoke, a mysterious man who tyrannizes all those under him, including the Directions, his lookouts and enforcers. One fateful day Reuben finds a watch which gives him a special power. That leads him to Mrs. Genevieve, to Penny, to Jack. The secrets and danger pile up... can the Smoke be toppled by this unlikely alliance? A great read (or read aloud).

Monday, June 26, 2017

Peace Like A River

This is the second time I have read Leif Enger's debut novel. The extraordinary tale of Jeremiah Land, a single father raising three children; Davy, Reuben, and Swede,  in Minnesota in the 1960s. Jeremiah is a man of deep faith, and 11-year-old Reuben ,who owes his very life to a miracle which came through the hands of his father, has noticed more miracles surrounding him. A feud 16-year-old Davy has with two kids at the high school turns deadly; they break in, intent on harm and he shoots them. The day of his sentencing, Davy escapes. Soon the rest of the Land family set out on a quest to find him. During their journey, the kindness of strangers help keep them going, including Roxanna, who offers them a place to stay during a blizzard and wins their hearts. Meanwhile, a federal agent is on their trail, convinced they will lead him to Davy. This is a great book full of danger and devotion.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Patty Jane's House of Curl

This novel by Lorna Landvik follows Patty Jane and her sister Harriet from the 1950s through the 1980s, through love, loss, birth, death, second chances and always the triumph of the human spirit. After Patty Jane is abandoned by her handsome, irresponsible husband, his mother Ione moves in to help care for newborn Nora while Patty Jane decides how to support them. She opens a beauty parlor in their home, which becomes a support group; even a school. Harriet's one true love dies in a plane crash, she finds solace in drink. She is helped from the gutter by a policeman who is a reformed alcoholic; they marry. Patty Jane and her male manicurist get together; and her husband returns, with interesting ramifications. This was an entertaining story, in the style of Forest Gump and Lake Woebegone.

We Were Liars

A young adult novel by E. Lockhart. Cadence is the eldest grandchild of a privileged, beautiful family. The whole family spends every Summer on their private island. But something happened the Summer she turned fifteen, she and all the other Liars; her cousin Johnny, her cousin Mirren, and Gat, the nephew of her aunt's boyfriend and her own love. Cadence suffered a traumatic brain injury. Why? How? Why can't she remember what happened? Why will no one talk about it?

This was a surprising book. Spare prose. I do wish some explanation had been given as to why and how the four friends initially got the epithet "Liars". Other than that...it will stay with you.

Four Seasons in Rome

On Twins, Insomnia, and the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World. This is a journal of Anthony Doerr's year in Rome with his family. As he came home from the hospital after his wife had given birth to twins, in the mail he found news from the American Academy of Arts and Letters that he was the recipient of the prestigious Rome Prize. It came with a stipend and a writing studio in Rome for a year. So when the twins were six months old, he and his wife pack them up, leave Boise and settle in Rome. Pope John Paul II is fading, and rallying, and finally dies while the family is in Rome. Doerr is not religious, though he seemed touched by the very familiarity of the Pope. He enters a pool betting on the next Pope (he doesn't choose the eventual frontrunner). Aside from the Catholicism that gets skipped over (he was within walking distance of the Vatican and it's scarcely mentioned! This Catholic, who dreams of going to Rome precisely to see the holy spots is aghast.) I will admit, though, he was busy. I remember those new parent days; and I didn't have twins. His wife Shauna is quite capable and they were able to hire a Philipina babysitter so they could have time together. Owen and Henry, the twins, learned to walk and talk in the eternal city; and it must have felt eternal to Doerr, for on the rare occasion when both boys slept, he couldn't. He read Pliny the Elder because he couldn't write, except for this illuminating journal.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

The Nearness of You

This novel by Amanda Eyre Ward explores what it means to be a mother; DNA or the nitty gritty dailiness of being there. Heart surgeon Suzette Kendall and her husband Hyland had agreed not to have children. Suzette's mother lives in a mental institution and she feared intensely passing those genes along. Hyland suggests a baby via surrogate. Dorrie Muscarello is the young woman chosen to complete their family. She intends to use the money to go to college - a life of possibility. But they also, all three, face a future of uncertainty.

The Second Mrs. Hockaday

Written by Susan Rivers, this novel was inspired by a true incident. Major Gryffth Hockaday is called back to the front lines of the Civil War, leaving his new bride, teenaged Placidia, to care for her husband's 300 acre farm and the infant son of his deceased first wife. She is not prepared for the responsibility and spends the darkest part of the war on her own. When Major Hockaday returns two years later he is a different man, and Dia is apparently different as well. For she has borne a child in his absence and is accused of murdering that child. What really happened while he was gone? This is a well written, excellent book that ends with great hope.

Home

A thriller by Harlan Coben. Ten years ago, two wealthy young boys were kidnapped. Ransom was paid, but not collected, and the trail went cold. But now Myron Bolitar and his friend Win have a lead on at least one of the boys, now a teen. A daring rescue is made, and Patrick is brought home. What can he tell them about the last ten years? And what can he tell them about his friend Rhys? This novel goes into the meaning of home and family and what some people will do to protect those commodities.

Touch

This novel by Courtney Maum could be seen as a reactionary call to arms - as long as those arms are human. Sloane Jacobsen is a powerful trend forecaster, with global companies paying to hear her opinions about the future. Her recent forecasts on the family, for various reasons, say children are an extravagant indulgence (she's hailed as the "anti-mom"). So tech giant Mammoth hires her to lead their annual conference, this one celebrating the voluntarily childless. Soon into her contract, Sloane begins to sense a movement against electronics and toward empathetic human contact. Her predictions are completely against her employer's rationale: her partner, a French "neo-sensualist", publishes an op-ed on the death of penetrative sex, and her closest relationship is with her driverless car. In spite of all that, Sloane is convinced her Instincts are spot on and she goes about defending human interaction, opening herself up to love and connection along the way.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

A Year of Food Life. By Barbara Kingsolver, Steven L. Hopp, and Camille Kingsolver. I was intrigued by the title and got this book with little idea what it was about. Barbara Kingsolver and her family move from Arizona to Virginia partly to reduce their carbon footprint and realign themselves with the food chain as it actually grows. They make a pact to buy only food grown in their neighborhood, grow it themselves, or do without, for a full year. This was surprisingly engrossing. Never preachy, simply present facts (with resources listed where you can see for yourself) and state what those facts mean for their family. I really enjoyed the recipes and meal plans Camille (Barbara's daughter) included. Barbara provides the memoir, her husband Steven adds more environmental information. Fascinating stuff. They are grateful for their good life, but they are not religious people. It was more a vague "thanks to the universe" sort of thing. They wrote about a year of incredible bounty and good health that kept them able to sow and reap and preserve. Recognizing Whom it came from? Perhaps that too will come in time.

Mrs. Chippy's Last Expedition

1914 - 1915 The Remarkable Journal of Shackleton's Polar-bound Cat. This bit of history was actually written by Caroline Alexander. Sir Ernest Shackleton headed a journey to the Antarctic in 1914. The ship's carpenter, Harry "Chippy" McNeish, brought along his cat from their home in Cathcart, Scotland. The male cat was dubbed "Mrs. Chippy". He apparently did much to improve morale, especially during the long Winter that the Endurance was trapped in the ice. The "journal" ends abruptly after the ship has been crushed by the ice and the expedition party has trimmed their goods in preparation for the long march across the ice to Paulet Island. All of the men under Shackleton's command were rescued in August, 1916. Mrs. Chippy? Who knows? I was left with the impression he was left behind from the get-go.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Fireman

By Joe Hill. Oh. My. Goodness! I tore through this engrossing novel in three days (it's about 750 pages long). A plague has entered the world. Known as Dragonscale, it is a highly contagious, deadly spore that first marks the afflicted with beautiful black and gold patterns then later causes them to spontaneously combust. The resulting fires and mass hysteria creates an apocalyptic world. Harper Grayson is a nurse treating hundreds of infected patients, until her hospital burns down. She and her husband Jakob had made a pact; if they become infected, they will commit suicide together rather than burn to death. But when Harper finds the telltale black and gold markings, she realizes she wants to live, at least until she can bring the pregnancy she just learned of to term. She had seen at the hospital infected women give birth to healthy babies and wants to give hers a chance. Jakob becomes convinced she has infected him and becomes unstable. He tries to kill her, eventually joining a Cremation Crew, vigilantes who roam the streets killing anyone who is infected. Enter the Fireman, a mysterious stranger wearing a fireman's jacket and carrying a halligan, who can control the fire within him left by the Dragonscale and who uses that fire to protect the hunted and avenge the wronged. A fabulous read.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Always

By Sarah Jio, this is a typical romance. By that I mean everything is just too pat, works out too well. Kailey Crain is a journalist, engaged to a near - perfect man, living the dream in Seattle. As she leaves the restaurant after a romantic candlelight dinner with her fiancée, she approaches a skinny, bearded homeless man to give him her leftovers and is shocked to find he is Cade, the love of her life who just disappeared ten years ago. She begins to help Cade get his mind back, initially keeping it from Ryan, her fiancée. And soon she must decide what - and whom- she wants. The book alternates between the past and present, telling the two love stories, very definitely manipulating you to pull for one over the other. And it's just so pat.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Into the Wild

Written by Jon Krakauer, this adventure non-fiction work tells the story of Chris McCandless. After he graduated from Emory in 1990, fulfilling his parents' dreams for him, he set out to meet his own dreams. He gave away a considerable savings account to charity, and in the course of a transcontinental adventure abandoned his car, most of his belongings, burned the cash in his wallet, identified himself as "Alex" ... He made his way by hitchhiking, picking up odd jobs along the way. April 1992 found him heading into the Alaska bush to commune with nature and make his way the best he could in a last great adventure. His body was found in August. The mystery of what happened to this idealistic young man is addressed in this book, as well as why he left to begin with and what happened in that two year span. An engrossing tale. Left me praying for his soul and all the people so affected by his loss.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand

A debut novel by Helen Simonson, a quiet, charming, delightful romance. Major Ernest Pettigrew (retired) lives a quiet life in a small English country village, espousing proper English duty, decorum, and a well-brewed cup of tea. His brother's death kicks off an unexpected friendship with Mrs. Jasmina Ali, the Pakistani shopkeeper from the village. Their shared love of literature and the loss of their spouses deepen the friendship. But culture, tradition, and family may all conspire to keep them apart.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Trixie Belden and the Marshland Mystery

By Kathryn Kenny. This series was one of my favorites growing up; and when I came across this one at a Friends of the Library sale recently I couldn't remember reading it. My children have not been drawn in by Trixie and her friends as I was, though I think some of the books have been read by some of them out of curiosity. I wanted to belong as a young person, and had an empathic soul that wasn't really nurtured. Reading about the Bob-Whites, the altruistic club Trixie forms with her friends, satisfied some of that longing in me. My children have each other for friends and we try to volunteer as a family. I was drawn to mysteries; my kids not so much. They like science fiction or fantasy more. I don't mind, although those are my least favorite genres, because they are reading. They also expand into non-fiction on occasion. A steady diet of one type of food is not only boring, but leaves you malnourished. In the Marshland Mystery, the Bob-Whites try to keep an elderly woman from being forced into the Home by the City Council. A rainstorm foils their plans, but as luck would have it, another way opens up. A child prodigy complicates matters, but of course that situation is resolved nicely as well.  That may be another reason I liked these books; nothing is left messy. All the ends are tied up in the best possible way. Not like my life at all. Pure escapism.

Bundle of Trouble

This is the first in the Maternal Instincts Mystery Series by Diana Orgain. A body has washed up in the bay, and heavily pregnant Kate is given reason to believe it is her brother -in-law, George. Soon, other bodies turn up, all connected somehow. Can Kate find George (with newborn in tow ) when he doesn't want to be found? And can she make a go of a private detective business from home, so she won't have to return to work and leave her child? This book didn't really address the dilemma working families face with any substantial answers; but even a gloss - over is more than most books give. A bit of fluff for my Kindle.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Dead Letters

A debut novel by Caite Dolan-Leach. Ava and Zelda are twins, raised in a dysfunctional, alcoholic family: owners of a failing vineyard. Straitlaced, well behaved Ava was primed to take over the family business and care for her mother with early onset dementia, until wild-child Zelda betrayed her. So Ava ran to Paris, and has kept silence with her sister for two years. Now she's back at the vineyard, for Zelda has fallen asleep in the barn with a lit candle. She is dead; burned up. But this is too pat for Ava... just too Zelda. It's surely one of her games. Then she gets an email from her sister.  There is a lot of drinking in here; and some associated messiness. Mind your triggers. An engaging book.

Friday, May 12, 2017

The Most Dangerous Place on Earth

The debut novel by Lindsey Lee Johnson seems spot on; and I am so extraordinarily grateful to have escaped high school before the days of ubiquitous social media! My own high school experience was extremely negative as it is; if I had the ills of seeing the cruelty of my peers in my own home through a gadget I held in my hand... I may not have made it. This novel is about the real people under the typical high school stereotypes and how decisions made affect everyone. How cyber bullying works and it's effects. The difference a teacher can have, both positive and negative, on a student's life. And the feedback a teacher may get from his/her peers. A sorry book. Some elegant writing, just the wrong vehicle for me.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The River at Night

Erica Ferencik wrote this novel. It requires a suspension of disbelief  - a "what else could go wrong" mentality to get through. And if you can do that, it sucks you right in, leaving you staying up way too late to read one more chapter... and another... and another. Our narrator is Winifred Allen, middle - aged, recently divorced, stuck in a go-nowhere job, reeling from the death of her brother. Her annual girls' trip with her three best friends is coming up; they've chosen white-water rafting in the Maine wilderness. It becomes the trip to Hell and back, a thrill a minute, making your heart beat as fast as the current of the river.

Public Library and Other Stories

I enjoyed this collection of short stories by Ali Smith. The stories are about books; how they charge us to be mindful while helping us forget, how they change and challenge us. Interspersed with Smith's short stories are conversations with writers who are also readers about the importance of libraries in their lives. The blurb on the back of the book calls this a work of "literary activism"; I love the term!

Nutshell

This is a novel by Ian McEwan. It tells the pedestrian tale of Trudy, who has ejected John, her husband, from his ancestral home, and installed his brother, Claude. The ancestral home is a decrepit pile worth an absolute fortune on the London market; but it is still owned by John. Therefore, Trudy and Claude are planning his demise. It all sounds so tawdry. What makes the novel is the narrator: the resident of Trudy's womb. Nine months along, John's son hears all, and makes this novel a retelling of Shakespeare's Hamlet. Fascinating.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

A is for Actress

A Malibu Mystery by Rebecca Cantrell and Sean Black. This is the first in an alphabetic series featuring Sofia Selgado, one - time child star of The Half-Pint Detective, who has quit show business and joined the private investigative agency of Brendan Maloney, who once served as the technical consultant on her show. Another fluff piece for my Kindle.. I enjoyed it enough that if the others in the series show up free as this one did, I'll pick them up too.

Present Over Perfect

Leaving Behind Frantic for a Simpler, More Soulful Way of Living. This is a collection of essays by Shauna Niequist that blend mindfulness with Spirituality. They tell the story of Niequist's frantic life trying to earn her worth and the journey she took becoming present to those she loves, stilled and rested, content in her worth as a child of God. So much I could relate to here - if you're religious at all and looking for purpose, read this one.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

What She Left Behind

This is an intriguing novel by Ellen Marie Wiseman. Izzy Stone is in foster care because ten years ago her mother shot her father dead. She refuses to visit her mother in prison or even to read the letters she receives from her. Doctors have determined her mom is sane, but Izzy can only accept what she's done by believing she is unstable. And she fears this for herself. Her latest foster parents are curators of a museum charged with clearing out a defunct asylum; this is where Izzy finds Clara's journal. Clara was a longtime inmate of the asylum, but was not mentally ill. There is a dual timeline to tell the stories of both young women that is nicely interwoven. The author took quite a bit of creative license in treatment Clara received at the asylum; as if being committed against one's will were not horrifying enough; some of the treatment she has ongoing in the 1920's and 30's were discontinued as inhumane in the 1880's. And there was definitely criminal activity going on that no one questions or stops in both timelines.

The Life We Bury

A debut novel by Allen Eskens, this book tells the story of college student Joe Talbert and Carl Iverson, a stranger Joe interviews for his biography assignment. Carl is a hero from the Vietnam War; he is also a convicted rapist and murderer. He has served 30 years of a life sentence, but has been medically paroled since he is dying of cancer.  Joe comes to believe in Carl's Innocence and sets out to prove it before Carl dies. The consequences of this decision are incredible.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Concussion

An eye - opening non-fiction work by Jeanne Marie Alaska's. It is the story of Dr. Bennet Omalu, an immigrant from the corruption, fraud, and civil war of Nigeria. In America he became a neuropathologist; one day "Iron Mike" Webster was the body in front of him in the morgue in Pittsburgh. Once a Hall of Fame center for the Steelers, after retirement, Webster suffered a steep mental decline. Out of curiosity, Dr. Omalu preserved Webster's normal appearing brain for study. What he found was evidence of disease caused by relentless blows to the head. After he found this evidence in two more players' brains, he took on the NFL; and realized America has its own brand of fraud and corruption.  The story is well written, reads like a novel, good stuff.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Luckiest Girl Alive

A debut novel by Jessica Knoll,  this was an engrossing read. I didn't like the main character, TifAni FaNelli, at all until she began growing. Standing up for herself in a mature way. We meet her as she's reinvented herself: shortened her name, a glamorous job, wardrobe, fiancee.... Why did she have to reinvent herself? Made me first feel sympathy, then empathy for her. Why do women feel "less than"? Why are so many of us feeling unbearable pressure to have or do it all? This book explores that a little and gives insight into what happens when that pressure bursts. A good read.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Orphan Train

This is a novel by Christina Baker Kline. It details the life of one young girl on an orphan train; trains that ran regularly from the East Coast to the Midwest from 1854 to 1929 bringing orphaned and abandoned children by the thousands, often to a life of indentured servitude at the end of the line. Vivian is one such girl.We meet her as she is 91 and going through the detritus of a lifetime. We get her story juxtaposed with that of Molly, a seventeen year old girl in her umpteenth foster home, helping Vivian clean her attic to avoid going to jail. Vivian and Molly become friends; helping with school assignments and moving into the computer age. And closing out chapters of lives; for they were more akin than they realized. Recommended.

Forty Martyrs

By Philip F. Dealer, this is a novel - in - short - stories. It was recommended by a local librarian, is set locally, and I have once attended the eponymous Catholic Church. I thought I couldn't go wrong suggesting this for my book group. Oops! It's a lot racier than anything we've read before. Deaver deals with fairly real situations; the wounded warriors of life. We may have a lot to talk about in book group after all.

Friday, April 14, 2017

The Broken Way

A daring Path Into the Abundant Life. Ann Voskamp seems to be a polarizing author; people either like her style or they don't. That's the opinion of her popular blog. This book is not her blog made large; if you have trouble with her blog - style, go ahead and try this book. If you are trying to follow Christ yet aren't sure what that looks like, try this book.

At points while reading, I felt absolutely undone. At points, I felt I could do this Jesus-walk. Mostly I felt acutely aware of my own brokenness. However, "it's all okay. Maybe the love gets in easier right where the heart's broke open." Brokenness brings abundance. May my brokenness bring Him glory. A highly recommended book.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

This Is Where You Belong

The Art and Science of Loving the Place You Live. By Melody Warnick, this is an interesting book. It tells how to feel more rooted in today's mobile society. By researching place attachment - the deep sense of connection that binds some of us to our cities and increases our physical and emotional well-being - Warnick came up with a list of things to do to make her latest move Home. She lists ten activities to make yourself feel at home in the place you live; from walking and biking to acclimate yourself to volunteering to staying loyal after a disaster. It's well researched and not dry at all. However, her principles are not meant for the working poor (buy local, eat local food). She does allocate just a portion of your budget for these goals, however... I don't see how they would work for our family. Other things she suggests, yeah, I want to get started on or do more of. Recommended.

A Mother's Choice

This is an eBook I read by Kristen Noel Fisher. I usually choose fluff for my ebooks, since I only read them while waiting at appointments and such. This book left me feeling decidedly torn; not only did Autumn's mother make an unbelievable choice, but the author made her characters Catholic. There's absolutely no way the choice could have happened from a Catholic mindset. It was too unbelievable. I will not read this author again, most likely.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Breathing Into Life

Recovering Wholeness Through Body, Mind and Breath. This little gem by Bija Bennett was very helpful to me. I am in a Dialectical Behavioral Training group to learn skills to help me cope with life with a mental illness. Let me tell you, DBT skills would be useful for anyone! Two of the major skills are mindfulness and breathing exercises. Bennett's little book contains breathing exercises. At the end of each of our sessions our group practices a mindfulness exercise, sometimes led by those who have been in the group longer. It's coming up on my turn... I've just found the perfect exercise for our group given what we'll likely be studying that day. I also found one I can use for my second go-round. The exercises are geared to those who already know the mechanics of deep breathing, yet are easy to follow, even playful. Not something to put undue stress on a scrupulous person. A great find at the Friends of the Library sale!

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Temperament God Gave You

The Classic Key to Knowing Yourself, Getting Along with Others, and Growing Closer to the Lord. This is a treatise on personality by Art and Laraine Bennett. He is a counselor, her background is philosophy. Together they have taken the four basic temperaments identified by ancient philosophers (choleric, sanguine, melancholic, and phlegmatic) and blended this classic wisdom with modern counseling science and Catholic spirituality. They show how to identify your own temperament, including its strengths and weaknesses, and use that knowledge to be a better spouse, parent, friend, and Christian.

This book has a lot of information in it. I highlighted. I took notes. I will still reread this. It is that good. Helpful. Effective. I look forward to sharing it with my children, especially the chapter on Temperament and the Spiritual Life. I think it could really make a difference if utilized wisely.

The Girls in the Garden

This novel by Lisa Jewell sucked me right in. I was intrigued by the mystery, but when I got to the perpetrator...huh? And when I read how the characters responded afterwards...what? It left a terrible taste in my mouth, so to speak, and I wound up not liking the book at all.

Clare and her daughters, Grace and Pip, have been forced to relocate, start anew. They choose the large, settled Virginia Park, with charming parents and a clique of tweens and teens. Then, after a midsummer party, which also happens to be Grace's thirteenth birthday, younger sister Pip finds her lying unconscious and bloody in a secluded corner of the rose garden. The mystery is what happened to Grace? And who is responsible?

The Heart of Virtue

Lessons from Life and Literature Illustrating the Beauty and Value of Moral Character. Donald DeMarco presents twenty - eight different vrtues in this work. He uses stories that personify those virtues and shows how love is at the core of each one. In addition to the personifying story, each virtue is explained through philosophical analysis. A truly edifying book.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Remarkable Creatures

Tracy Chevalier wrote this novel based on actual events experienced by historical people. Mary Anning, who survived a lightning strike as a baby, has "the eye" on the 1820's English beaches around Lyme Regis. She finds fossils no one else can see. Elizabeth Philpot is also a fossil - hunter, and Mary's champion in the scientific world she is increasingly involved with, a male dominated world which doesn't ascribe to women their due for their contributions.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Death of an Avid Reader

This is a Kate Shackleton mystery by Frances Brody. Kate is a private investigator at a time when ladies just didn't do that sort of thing; 1920's England. She is retained to find the daughter of Lady Coulton, the daughter conceived and born while Lord Coulton was abroad. The child was given to a trusted couple to raise as their own. In her search Kate has much to do at her local library, where rumors of a ghost are suddenly recirculating. In laying the ghost to rest the body of a strangled man buried under a load of books is found in the basement. An Italian organ grinder in poor health is also found (Kate has already come across his capuchin monkey, stowed away in her car). Umberto, the organ grinder, is too weak to have committed the murder, but is charged for it by the local police. Kate sets out to find the actual murderer, at some danger to herself. An interesting read. This is actually the sixth in a series, though it works quite well as a standalone.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Fifth Letter

Written by Nicola Moriarty, this is a fast-moving plot in a novel I devoured in one sitting. Joni has been friends with Deb, Eden, and Trina since high school (year seven in Australia; so I think what we in America would call Junior High). Every year they take a trip together, but work, husbands, children are all threatening to pull them apart. Joni hates this and is struggling to keep the relationship as it was. During their trip, they decide to share a secret anonymously with the others as an antidote to not talking to each other as they used to. These secrets threaten to tear them apart. Then Joni finds a fifth letter, full of hate and images of death, from one of the group toward one of the group. But who? It was all done anonymously!

I found this book to be incredibly realistic, delving our most base selves and bringing out the hope that lies within each heart. A great read. Highly recommended.

The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories

A slim collection of short stories by P. D. James. She was often commissioned by newspapers and magazines to write a special short story for Christmas; four of the best are gathered for this delightful romp of a book. The back of the book explains the stories best with no spoilers:

"In the title story, a bestselling crime novelist describes the crime she herself was involved in fifty years earlier...in "A Very Commonplace Murder," a "pedantic, respectable, censorious" clerk's secret taste for pornography is only the first reason he finds for not coming forward as a witness to a murder..."The Boxdale Inheritance" finds Dalgliesh implored by his godfather to reinvestigate a notorious murder, an investigation that will reveal a family secret so dark that Dalgliesh will firmly rebury it...and in "The Twelve Clues of Christmas," Dalgliesh is drawn into a case that involves a family with "an aversion to natural death." "

Since James's death I had no hopes of new works coming out; this collection was quite welcome to me, especially since two of the stories involved Adam Dalgliesh, the poet-detective from the Metropolitan Police (her most famous creation).  I read two of the stories while waiting at various appointments. An easy read with some twists. Good stuff!

Friday, March 17, 2017

Only Daughter

This is a psychological thriller written by Anna Snoekstra. In 2003, at age 16, Rebecca Winter disappeared from her Canberra neighborhood. She had been enjoying Summer break, working at McDonald's, shoplifting with her best friend, crushing on an older boy. Then came feelings of being watched, an ominous presence in her bedroom at night...then Bec disappeared. In 2014, panicked after being arrested, a young woman claims to be Bec, now missing for a decade. Soon, this imposter is welcomed into Bec's life, hugging her parents, teasing her younger brothers, sleeping in her bed. But the more entrenched the imposter becomes, the more "off" she finds things. And she realizes whoever took Bec is still out there, and she herself is in great danger.

I read this book in a day. A couple of times I thought I had it all figured out and was wrong. Twists kept coming.  Few names are used for characters; this adds to the atmosphere of the book. It is far creepier to read about "the father" crying than about "Bob" or somebody crying. The main character, the imposter, is never identified by her actual name; to make the merging of her life with Bec's more seamless, perhaps, but also I think so the reader will more readily identify with her. An interesting novel.

Monday, March 13, 2017

The Alchemyst

The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel. By Michael Scott, this is a YA offering in the fantasy genre. Nicholas Flamel was actually a renowned alchemist born in Paris in 1330. Records show he died in 1418; but upon inspection his tomb was empty. It was said he discovered the secret of eternal life. According to this book, he is still living. The secret elixir of life is hidden in the book he has protected for nearly 700 years; the Book of Abraham the Mage. Also known as the Codex, it is the most powerful book that has ever existed; in the wrong hands, it could destroy the world. Those hands belong to Dr. John Dee. He works for the dark Elders who want to destroy humankind. The Codex also contains prophecy, including one concerning silver and gold twins with the power to save the world. Sophie and Josh Newman are those twins. This is the beginning of their journey into legend.

I had a hard time getting through this work. Too much "black" magic, dark arts, foul creatures. The characters he chooses for "good" guys are questionable (at best). I know most young people would not get all of the allusions, but the Witch of Endor as an ally? No. I won't be reading the rest of this series, nor will my children be reading it.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

All the Bright Places

Devastating! This YA novel by Jennifer Niven is heartbreaking. And hopeful. Stunning. Sad. Beautiful. Theodore Finch is fascinated by death; knows suicide letters by heart, yet each day he finds some reason to stay present. Violet Markey lives in the future, when she can escape high school, her small Indiana town, her aching survivor's guilt from the accident that claimed her sister's life. Finch and Violet meet, unexpectedly, on the ledge of the bell tower at school six stories above the ground. They help each other back to safety and, through the course of a school project, help each other truly live. Then Finch is handed an unwanted label and his fear of it makes him shrink as Violet continues to grow.

This is an unflinching look at bullying, mental illness, child abuse, and teen suicide. (Mind your triggers!) You wouldn't think a book with so many dark themes could be hopeful, funny, bright. This one manages. The characters are so well-drawn.... I haven't read Niven's other work, but this is a tour de force.

Finding Hope

This is a Christian romance by Melanie D. Snitker. It is advertised as Love's Compass Book 2; but I had no trouble reading it as a standalone. Lexi Chandler is an ER nurse in Texas when some pain leads her to seek a doctor for herself. What she learns and what follows could test her faith and her budding relationship with Lance, her little brother's best friend, who is quickly becoming her own best friend.

Of course, it's a romance, so no one is tested too far and everything comes out nicely in the end. This was a Kindle book; a nice bit of fluff to read while waiting. I don't usually read this genre - it tends to make me dissatisfied with my life. A steady diet of anything with big, romantic gestures and not enough reality in it: from pornography (not that there's necessarily anything romantic there) to soap operas to romance novels lead a person to expect behavior from their loved ones that just is not humanly possible or sustainable for any length of time. When you expect what you don't get you end up dissatisfied, disappointed, inhumane to all around you.

Monday, March 6, 2017

A Curious Beginning

This is the first of a new series by Deanna Raybourn. Veronica Speedwell has been nursing her maiden aunt, but with her death orphaned Veronica is now free to resume her world travels in search of adventure and butterflies (she is a lepidopterist by trade, one of the few scientific trades open to an adventuress in the 1880s). She is also thoroughly modern, enjoying the company of foreign gentlemen when abroad from her native England. She has learned how to take care of herself.  Yet her plan to embark on a world tour is foiled as she thwarts her own abduction and meets a secretive German baron who has information about her parents. He leaves her in the care of his friend Stoker, a bad-tempered natural historian with secrets of his own. Before the baron can share his information he is killed, and Stoker and Veronica are wanted for his murder. Can they find the real killer? And can they hide in a London gearing up for Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee?

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Veronica is not a Victorian lady at all; she's had an unconventional upbringing (unschooling, anyone?) and she's made the most of it. I now want to read other books by Raybourn, and I will be following this series.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

H is for Hawk

Written by Helen Macdonald, this is an odd conglomerate of memoir, literary exposition, and field guide. Macdonald writes of her father's death and her own crushing grief. An experienced falconer, she obtains a goshawk, which she names Mabel, to train as an attempt to tame the fierce wildness she senses inside herself. She also becomes reacquainted with T.H. White's The Goshawk, his own chronicle of training a falcon, in which as a novice he does everything wrong. Macdonald becomes obsessed with White and his life and his work. It's all a bit much. I didn't dislike the book, but I didn't feel it lived up to its hype.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Big Rock Candy Mountain

Written by Wallace Steiner, this novel left me impatient and restless. I'm not entirely sure if that was the result of the fact I typically feel that way when reading something where one of the main characters doesn't grow and develop throughout the book or if I felt that way because of the same character's constantly striving to get something for nothing, always looking for a big score that requires nothing from him. Life doesn't work that way; it has no meaning that way.

Elsa has taken care of her family since her mother died; then she finds out her father is going to remarry. She's so horrified by his choice of wife that she runs away to take care of a bachelor uncle. Living there she meets a dreamer and schemer, whom she marries. Soon they have children. The schemer carries them along from pillar to post, never caring how the lifestyle is affecting his family. Elsa manages love and a home in spite of the challenges.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Taking Flight

An engaging novel by Adrian Magnuson. Jeremy is a 14 year old who lives in Seattle with his dad, a surgeon heading to Africa for charitable work. Jeremy is being sent to New York City to stay with his mom, who has bipolar disorder. He doesn't want to go. Harry Herndon is an older man in the thralls of Alzheimer's. He is running away from home. These two have a common interest in birdwatching. The novel follows their adventures as they join forces in taking flight and form an unlikely, yet unshakable bond.

The Quotidian Mysteries

Laundry, Liturgy, and "Women's Work". This little gem by Kathleen Norris is the publication of the 1998 Madeleva Lecture in Spirituality given at Notre Dame. I reread this for my morning devotions and it struck me so that I read it again with a highlighter. Norris emphasizes how important daily work is and how we can make our daily work godly worship.

Too often I look at the endless daily chores of my household and just am paralyzed in defeat. They are overwhelming and... never done. Yet Norris points out this was God's plan. It is precisely in these mind - half - there projects that we meet our Lord as well as serve others as He wishes. I need to reset my thinking about these chores; perhaps then they will get done willingly rather than grudgingly if at all. Sloth is my chief enemy. According to St. Benedict, sloth is disobedience. Straight out. Pure and simple. Of course, all sin is disobedience to God. But having the one sin I struggle with (my "pet" sin?) characterized as such was eye-opening. Lent is coming!

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The First Time She Drowned

This is the harrowing debut novel by Kerry Kletter. Cassie O'Malley has spent the last two years in a mental institution; dumped there by her mother. Now at the age of her majority, she signs herself out and enters college. Nothing in her tumultuous life prepared her for college life, though, and as she explores herself, her past, and her relationship with her mother she is challenged as never before.

This is billed as a young adult novel; but it is heartbreaking. If a youth were on the brink he/she could go either way while reading this book. Granted, there's hope, and a strong message of (finally) loving oneself... I won't be suggesting it to my young people, though. The book is full of suicide, abuse, mental illness, and jokes about these serious subjects. Mind your triggers. 

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore

A delightful novel by Robin Sloan, this book combines many elements. It's a magical blend of cutting - edge technology and medieval mystery. Clay Jannon was a web designer until the recession swept his job away. He is now working the night shift as a clerk at a vertical bookstore with few paying customers. Instead, the patrons borrow obscure volumes from odd corners of the store. Odd, but not random. Clay enlists friends to help him solve the mystery of the bookstore and brings his analysis to Mr. Penumbra. That's when he finds the mystery encompasses much more than one curious bookstore; it is the very search for immortality.

"There is no immortality that is not built on friendship and work done with care. All the secrets in the world worth knowing are hiding in plain sight." My favorite quote from the book. It is a highly enjoyable book about friendship and living a fulfilling life. Recommended.

Footnotes from the World's Greatest Bookstores

This is a compendium of blurbs about seventy-five of the world's most renowned bookstores by Bob Eckstein. Each report also contains a newsy little bit from that particular bookstore by someone in the know. And each entry has a magical illustration in color of the bookstore. There are two things I dislike about this: Eckstein has included bookstores that are now defunct, and the design of the book itself is unwieldy. The cover opens up, while the book itself opens in the usual manner. And to keep the cover from coming off completely, the reader must hold it up while trying to turn pages.  It is not a relaxing, read-in-bed book simply because of its design. Sad. It does have a foreword by Garrison Keillor going for it.... I checked this out of the New Book Room at the library; the back cover is already coming unglued because of the stress. Sad.

I've been reading everything I can get my hands on about books and bookstores because that's what my husband and I want to do; open our own used bookstore. We are already selling some online until we can afford a brick and mortar store. We hope the children will work with us. This is our dream.

Dark Matter

This is a novel by Blake Crouch, billed as un-put-down-able. Some people rave about this book. I am not one of those people. It is not because the physics and quantum mechanics are over my head; those are explained in an accessible, almost charming manner. I think I just couldn't suspend my disbelief enough to accept happenings toward the end of the book.

Jason Dessen is a physics professor, happily married with a teenage son. Then one night he is abducted, asked if he's happy with his life, and wakes on a gurney surrounded by people in hazmat suits. They show him true deference,  for in this world he is a scientific genius who has accomplished the impossible. Which world is real? And how can he get back to his family if that is the life he desires?  A science - fiction thriller that I thought was okay, but that many others like.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Love Letter

By Cathleen Schine, this novel is a delight to the senses! Helen MacFarquhar owns a little bookstore in a small seaside town with everything just as she likes it; she is a divorcee, mother to an eleven -year -old daughter away at camp, and very much in control of herself and her life. Then an anonymous love letter arrives in her mail, and becomes an obsession. Who is it for? Who is it from? When does passion become love? As she uncharacteristically begins an affair with one of her employees, she gets a chance to answer this last question. Shine's writing is rich and descriptive. The book perhaps depends a little too much on sex and "f*** you", but the writing is strong despite that.

It left me wondering what to do with the love letters my husband and I wrote to each other during our courtship. Some are chaste and sweet, some are graphic and yearning; but all are permanent. How embarrassed will be the people who find these letters when we are gone? Is that my business? Should the letters be kept for posterity, or should they be destroyed and remembered fondly? What if I lose my memory, or my husband? So much to consider.

Monday, February 13, 2017

The Nightingale

This is a novel by Kristin Hannah. At times effervescent and at other times heartbreaking, it's another book to mind your triggers: it deals with WWII France and the Holocaust in a personal way. Vianne and Isabelle are sisters who resist German occupation of their Homeland (and their home) each in her own way. I couldn't put this book down...so well written with such great characters; I had to see what was going to happen next. Recommended.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

Written by Karen Joy Fowler, this novel is not one of my favorites. Yet I had to read it in its entirety just to get the full story. It is informative, accomplished, and devastating. Rosemary Cooke is the narrator telling us of her family. Psychologist father, mother, brother Lowell, sister Fern. They live in a college town where her father conducts behavioral experiments with a steady stream of grad students. Then something awful happens and Rosemary's family is never the same. We enter the story in her college years as she looks back on the events that shattered their lives. Her father is now distant, her mother simply a shell of her former lively self, her brother wanted by the FBI for domestic terrorism. And Fern? Rosemary hasn't seen her since she was five and she is horrified to learn her fate.

The book is good; the subject matter serious. A lot of discussion of animal testing; mind your triggers.

Friday, February 10, 2017

The Sweetness of Forgetting

A novel by Kristen Harmel, this was an unexpectedly historically informative book and a run-of-the-mill romance at the same time. It has a Gallery Readers Group Guide: from the introduction;

"To say that Hope McKenna - Smith's life hasn't turned out quite the way she planned would be an understatement. At thirty-six, she's a law school dropout, a divorcee, the owner of a nearly - bankrupt bakery in a Cape Cod tourist town, and the caretaker of her beloved, Alzheimer's - stricken grandmother, Mamie. When Mamie suddenly presents Hope with a list of names and urges her to travel to Paris to find these mysterious strangers, Hope nearly dismisses the request as yet another one of her grandmother's delusions. But when she decides to take a chance on the unknown, Hope embarks on a trip of a lifetime; one that will take her both through Mamie's haunted past and through her own journey of self - discovery."

The book includes recipes. It also includes storylines referencing Alzheimer's disease and the Holocaust, so mind your triggers!

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Spiritual Passages

The Psychology of Spiritual Development. By Benedict J. Groeschel, this is a fascinating, insightful work. The cover states it is "For Those Who Seek", and it is an excellent place to start that journey.

The first part of the book deals with the psychology of spirituality: the call of God and how Christian is one's spirituality? It then moves into understanding development: human, religious, and spiritual. Finally, there is a chapter on psychology and spirituality together.

Part two deals with a psychological understanding of the three ways of the spiritual life: purgation, illuminative, and unitive. Finally, there's a chapter on how to take the the next good step, no matter where you are in your spiritual life. An appendix is included about the history of the doctrine of the three ways.

I read this as part of my morning devotions: in chunks. I look forward to reading it again in regular flow with a highlighter in hand, and to look up some of the authors in Father Groeschel's extensive notes, especially on prayer. Illuminating work and hard work to get through. Not a light read. But if you want to understand yourself both psychologically and spiritually, this is the place to start.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Where'd You Go, Bernadette?

This delightful novel is written by Maria Semple. The format makes for easy reading; it is a jumble of emails and letters. Bernadette Fox was once a renowned architect, but disappeared with her husband to Seattle and hasn't created for twenty years. She is a curmudgeonly recluse, her husband is a workaholic for Microsoft, and their daughter Bee loves them both madly. Bee has made perfect grades at her school and for a prize she asks for a family trip to Antarctica. It's all downhill from there. Highly recommended for the importance of family and creativity in one's life.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

The End of the Affair

A novel by Graham Greene, I have long wanted to read this. It did not disappoint. Maurice Bendrix is an author in war-torn England, conducting an adulterous love affair with Sarah Miles. After an especially close bomb blast that leaves Bendrix dead, Sarah makes a hasty vow to a God neither of them believe in.  Bendrix comes back to her and that is the end of the affair. He knows nothing of her vow; only that he loved and lost. He begins to hate her. Henry Miles, Sarah's husband, comes to him for advice one day. Sarah is acting strangely, could she be having an affair? (Henry is quite obtuse.) Bendrix's hate for both of them leads him to answer uncharitably. Henry has the name of a detective agency; he burns it, but later Bendrix follows up. God. He has lost Sarah to God. How do you compete with someone you don't believe in? But Sarah believes and that is enough. He begins to hate God.

Bendrix is the narrator and states near the beginning of the book, "So this is a record of hate far more than of love..." It is actually a record of struggle. Mankind's struggle against "the hound of Heaven". The only Lover who counts pursues us until, gasping, we stop running and realize He had only the best in mind for us after all. This is a record of hope. It is one of Greene's best.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Life After Life

Written by Kate Atkinson, I considered abandoning this novel several times before I finally struggled through it. It is not in my character to close a book mid-stream. This novel just didn't appeal to me, though it came recommended.

Ursula Todd is born on a snowy February night in 1910. She is born dead. Yet, she is born on that night crying loudly and long, soon the picture of health. And so it continues. Ursula meets her end in a variety of ways; returns to that snowy night of 1910, and begins again. She is troubled with a sense of deja vu; so much so that her parents take her to see a psychiatrist. She goes to extremes to preserve her life, though she doesn't know that is what she is doing. She only feels she must do something to decrease the intense dread and anxiety building up. However, each decision changes the malleable past and there's more to keep track of, to "plan" for in the next go-round.  It's not true reincarnation, and it's not true time travel; it's more like "Groundhog Day" on a grand scale. The book ends where it begins: February, 1910. We're not left with any hope that Ursula got off her cosmic merry-go-round. I generally despise books with no hope. The premise is interesting and Atkinson followed it well; perhaps converting Ursula to a religion would have stopped the eternal carousel and given us all some hope in closure.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

No Trace of Christmas?

Discovering Advent in the Old Testament. This is a slim but packed book written in German by Christoph Dohmen and translated into English by Linda M. Maloney. Much of the imagery and many of the Biblical texts we associate with Advent and Christmas can only be understood in their full depth in the light of their Old Testament roots. I read this book as Advent reading this year; it was so thought - provoking that I slowed down and stretched it through the Christmas season. It is less than a hundred pages, yet delves deeply into the Old Testament to find the basis of Advent. St. Jerome once said, "Not to know Scripture is not to know Christ." He was not speaking of the New Testament. This little book is a good place to begin at the beginning of the Liturgical year.

Monday, January 30, 2017

My Sisters the Saints

This is a Spiritual memoir by Colleen Carroll Campbell, and it is fantastic! The best way to describe it is the blurb from the back of the book. "... Campbell tells the story of her fifteen -year quest to understand the meaning of her life and identity in light of her Christian faith and contemporary feminism.... Along the way, she wrestles with the quintessential dilemmas of her generation: confusion over the sexual chaos of the hookup culture, tension between her dueling desires for professional success and committed love, ambivalence about marriage and motherhood, and anguish at her father's descent into dementia and her own infertility.

Dissatisfied with pat answers from both secular feminists and their critics, she finds grace and inspiration from an unexpected source, spiritual friendship with six female saints: Teresa of Avila, Therese of Lisieux, Faustina of Poland, Edith Stein of Germany, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and Mary of Nazareth. Their lives and writings speak to her deepest longings, guide her through her most wrenching decisions, and lead her to rethink nearly everything she thought she knew about what it means to be a liberated woman."

There were so many ways I could identify with Campbell! Her book was incredibly helpful to me. I read it as a book club entry and would really love to discuss it. I have another meeting that night as well that I must attend and will get a half hour at book club. Boo- hoo! I look forward to investigation of St. Edith Stein especially in my future. There are entire pages highlighted in that chapter. A memoir highly recommended.

The Essential Blake

This is a slim volume of the poetry of William Blake selected by Stanley Kunitz. I had only read a few of Blake's poems before picking up this little book; I was quite excited to find it because on the basis of the limited information I had I thought Blake a Christian with strong creative and redemptive themes throughout his body of work. After reading this book, which includes some prose and some of his dreams written out, I can see why his contemporaries thought him mad. At the very least, he was a humanist who believed mankind controlled their own destiny. A disappointment to me, since his poetry is so beautiful at times. This volume contains Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience in their entirety, lyrics and other poems, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (complete), and a miscellany.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

A Funeral for an Owl

A novel by Jane Davis. It took me a long time to get through this book, only because it is the Kindle book I read while waiting at various offices. Jim Stevens is a teacher at an urban London high school. He is badly injured on the job and spends much of his recuperation remembering a seminal event from his youth. He has already shared part of this memory with Shamayal , a teen from the school whom he has befriended. He finally shares the whole story with Ayisha, a colleague. While Jim is in hospital, it falls to Ayisha to protect Shamayal, with mixed results. And as he gets back to work, Jim bumps against his past in an unexpected manner.

The narrative bounces between Jim's present and his past. The chapter headings are clearly marked, but because I was reading the book so disjointedly I would find myself confused. The novel deals with teen runaways, so mind your triggers.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Confessions of a Prayer Slacker

By Diane Hale Moody, I found this non-fiction work to be extremely helpful. Perhaps because it went hand-in-glove with other things going on in my life as I read it. Moody takes us through the dynamics of prayer, common reasons (excuses) why we don't pray, how to address those.... it's a reminder of the incredible importance of daily, heart-felt communication with the Creator of the universe who wants relationship with us! It's a guide of how to prepare for that communication and why to prepare at all. Moody is chatty with some lame jokes which didn't detract from her material, maybe because I needed to read the material. Recommended.

Monday, January 9, 2017

The Wednesday Wars

This is a Newberry Honor book by Gary D. Schmidt. And it is fantastic! Holling Hoodhood is in seventh grade; his teacher is Mrs. Baker. She hates him. She makes him read Shakespeare. Only him. You see, every Wednesday afternoon, half of Holling's class goes to Hebrew school at Temple Beth-El. The other half leaves for Catechism at St. Adelbert's. Holling, however, is Presbyterian. That leaves him alone in the 1967 Long Island classroom with Mrs. Baker.

Mrs. Baker becomes a mentor to Holling rather than just a teacher. Holling's growth in many areas is delightful to see. We also get a glimpse of the current events of that era (the Vietnam Conflict,  the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy, the Cold War) and how those events affected suburban families. I have talked this book up to my kids, but made them wait until I finished. A great book.

Friday, January 6, 2017

A Man Called Ove

By Fredrik Backman, this novel is fabulous! It is set in Sweden, but is universal. Ove is a curmudgeon. And dealing with many changes in his life. And grappling with a decision. Well, actually, he's made the decision, but life circumstances continue to intervene to keep him from being able to follow through on his decision. It all started when his mailbox is crushed by the new neighbors. They're an ethnically mixed couple with two daughters and a child on the way. They talk too much; they don't know how to do things properly and they won't leave Ove alone. Then there is the cat. And his other neighbors, as well as the young men at the café....

I laughed with this book. I cried with this book. I thought of people I know who are similar to Ove (hello, Dad).  It is funny and harrowing and oh, so poignant! Highly, highly recommended!