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 "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.