Another year has gone by with another list of books to review. This tradition started two years ago with the post called My Bookshelf — Year 2014 Reflections. Here are the books that I’ve read in 2016 and my thoughts on them shortly after I’ve read them.

David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell
Another thought-provoking book by Malcolm Gladwell. He shows that in many cases conventional wisdom isn’t actually wise and that what normally thought of as advantages may actually, in some cases, be disadvantages, and vice versa. The David and Goliath story got me thinking about my own life in 2016. How can I find the advantages in what many, including me, might see as disadvantages in my life? Still thinking about that.

The other stories had me enthralled. The last story about the Vietnam War had me shaking my head in disbelief, but also wondering if there are parallels in our government’s war on terror.

Cat in a Topaz Tango by Carole Nelson Douglas
Another enjoyable Midnight Louis read. The target of the killer and his motives came as a surprise to me. I’m glad Max is getting wisps of memories back. And, I enjoyed the tidbits of info at the end. I liked that Midnight Louis had a part in solving the crime and catching the criminal and in helping to keep Matt safe from deadly harm. To me, Midnight Louis seemed more people-like in this book than in the previous ones for some reason I can’t explain. I also liked his new love interest Topaz.

Cat in an Ultramarine Scheme by Carole Nelson Douglas
I’m continuing with the Midnight Louis series so that I can catch up before the next (and I believe last) book comes out this summer. This book was difficult to follow, with several pieces in the story seemingly linked in some way, but nothing explicitly explained yet. I’m hoping things will get clearer in subsequent books. The murder in this book was solved quite abruptly, which I didn’t much care for. There was a surprise in the next “chapter” in the IRA storyline and a surprise ending to the book that will create complications for Temple in upcoming books.

Cat in a Vegas Gold Vendetta by Carole Nelson Douglas
I think this book will be one of my favorites in the series. Max is back but his memory is still hazy. Temple had her first case as a PI. Matt, Max, and Temple working together to piece together the new information about Kitty the Cutter and the Synth. This book was another in the series that I couldn’t put down. In the end, the two cases were tied together in an interesting way. I’m looking forward to reading the next in the series.

Rediscover Jesus by Matthew Kelly
I bought this book as part of the Best Lent Ever series by Dynamic Catholic. Although not required reading, it helped to expand on the daily video reflections with mini-readings (from the book) that I got in my email each day of Lent. This book is quite rich in information. Not all of the reflections struck a cord with me, but many did. I’d recommend it to anyone who wants a more in-depth study of Catholicism from a personal perspective — How can I become the person God wants me to be? I’ll probably go back and re-read some of the chapters and reflect some more. I’m not the type of person who can reflect on a topic for just a few minutes or even an hour and leave it at that. And, the topics are something we should all think about all year, not just during Lent.

Cat in a White Tie and Tails by Carole Nelson Douglas
I’m not sure what to say about this book. The white tie and tails figure into many of the different plot lines. Some of the previous murders have been solved, but not with enough proof to go to the police, so they’re still unsolved as far as Lieutenant Molina is concerned. Not to mention, the alleged killer has been murdered. There are still many open murder cases and questions. For the most part, I was lukewarm toward this book. But, it’s worth reading to the end. I was surprised by the ending. I look forward to seeing how the plot continues in the next book, Cat in an Alien X-Ray.

[Postscript: now that I’ve read a bit into the next book and thought about it, I guess I shouldn’t have been too surprised at how this book ended. After all, Matt is an ex-priest but remained Catholic, so his attitude toward Kathleen is consistent, especially after finding out Kathleen’s past.]

Cat in an Alien X-Ray by Carole Nelson Douglas
I’m not sure what I can say about this book either. It took me a while to read it. Not because it was difficult. It’s just that I seem to have always found something else to read rather than pick up this book. Maybe that statement right there says it all. I didn’t dislike it, but it’s not one of my favorites in the series.

Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us, From Missiles to the Moon, by Nathalia Holt

When Macie hired new women she had often told them, “In this job you need to look like a girl, act like a lady, think like a man, and work like a dog.” — from page 256

This was a library book. I heard about it on NPR. This is a fascinating look at the women (human) computers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) from the beginning back in the 1940s up to the present day. Although, with the advent of reliable electronic computers, the women went on to become computer programmers, engineers, Mission Design managers, and in some cases led their own teams on explorations of the universe (Sylvia Miller became a manager in the Mars exploration program). All encouraged in their studies by the women’s supervisors Macie Roberts and later Helen Ling. Barbara Paulson, who was also there from the beginning, is also talked about quite a bit, among several others.

This should be required reading for all parents of daughters and should be taught about in schools. Growing up, the only women in history I was taught about (that I can remember) were Sojourner Truth and Rosa Parks. While I was never discouraged from going into certain fields (well, except into teaching), I never learned about women in the sciences (other than Marie Curie… then again, I learned about Marie Curie from my father, not from school). I haven’t set foot in a classroom in decades, so maybe things are different now. If not, I think that history classes should do more to teach about the contributions women have made to all aspects of society.

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in learning about the early days of JPL and the human computers. I would have to caution that although not required to enjoy the book, it would help if a person had a bit of understanding about elementary scientific concepts and the space program. I think I would’ve gotten more out of it if I had. Regardless, now that I’ve read this book, someday I’d like to read more about the early days of NASA and the space program.

Cat in a Yellow Spotlight by Carole Nelson Douglas
Another good book in the Midnight Louis series. For some reason, I liked this book better than some of the previous ones. I thought maybe since the series is winding down, more of the past unsolved murders would be solved, but that was not the case. The plot was interesting, as were the characters and the sleuthing animals. Nose E makes another appearance. An interesting connection between a member of the band at the center of the plot and a regular character in the series. I liked how the book ended, relieved that a character that I’d grown attached to was not a bad person.

The Complete Peanuts, 1999 to 2000 by Charles Schulz
The final book in the series that contains the Peanuts comic strips. This book also has a bonus: the complete “Lil Folks” panels that were a precursor to the Peanuts strips. I have to say that I like the Peanuts comic strips better than “Lil Folks”, but some were amusing. I’m glad the publisher decided to include the collection here. As always, I enjoyed this installment of The Complete Peanuts very much.

The Lucky One by Nicholas Sparks
When picking out books to take on vacation, there are two authors that I seek out the most: Debbie Macomber and Nicholas Sparks. I took The Lucky One on my trip to upstate New York in June. I started the book on a Saturday and finished it on Tuesday afternoon. Besides being a quick read (even though it was nearly 400 pages), it was an interesting read. I liked that the story was told from many different perspectives. I also liked how the information was revealed to the reader and to the characters themselves. I liked the contrast between Logan and Keith as well. I’m not quite sure how I feel about the ending. I think Beth is a better woman than I because I’m not sure I would have the attitude she has at the end considering all that happened. But, then again, maybe with time providing the perspective I would. All-in-all this was another enjoyable read from Nicholas Sparks.

Cat in the Dark by Shirley Rousseau Murphy
This is the 4th book in the Joe Grey mystery series. This book took Dan and me awhile to get through. The Joe Grey mystery series is the latest book series we’ve chosen to read to each other…well, I’ve been doing all the reading ever since Dan’s voice has become permanently hoarse. Anyway… for some reason I didn’t like this book as much as the previous ones. It was an enjoyable read overall. A good cozy mystery to curl up with. But I think it would’ve been better if we would’ve read a little bit each day rather than stretching it out over months. I found the plot and characters quite forgettable. I’m hoping the next book in the series is more engaging.

Cat in a Zebra Zoot Suit by Shirley Rousseau Murphy
Another enjoyable book in this mystery series. And although this series is wrapping up with the next book that’s supposed to come out in August, this book left its readers with more cliffhangers and mystery. Hopefully, everything will be wrapped up in the end. I only gave this four stars because there were a lot of typos that distracted from the flow of the prose. Also, at one point when Matt and Temple were visiting her relatives, the author chose to describe sauerkraut in such a way that it made it seem as though Matt didn’t know what sauerkraut was. It is totally unbelievable to me that a man who grew up in a Polish household wouldn’t know what it was. Trust me. I’m half Polish and I grew up with the Polish side of my family. Polacks know what sauerkraut is.

The Time Keeper by Mitch Albom
I enjoyed reading this book as I have the other Mitch Albom books that I’ve read over the years. I could sympathize with the main characters and got into the story waiting for the time when all the characters’ stories would come together. It had a very poignant lesson. We’re only given so many days on this earth for a reason and we are put on this earth for a reason. We must learn what is truly important and live our limited number of days accordingly. I have a tendency to live in the future, thinking about (sometimes being anxious about) what needs doing tomorrow, next week, next year, etc. Rarely do I stop and just be in the moment and appreciate the here and now. I need to focus more on the here and now before it’s too late. Another part of my life that I thought about when reading this book: recently I ended a volunteer position with our homeowner’s association. After about a year in the job, I realized that life is too short to bother with what the homeowner’s association sees as important. Its priorities are not mine. I wanted to spend my time on things that are important to me so when my term ended, I decided to not seek election (I was previously chosen to fill a vacancy). I give this book 4 out of 5 stars because at times this book was hard to follow, not surprisingly because the story is played out on a nonlinear timeline.

Death in the Castle by Pearl S. Buck
The tragic story of a man haunted by his past, especially secrets in his past. This book was a re-read for me. It has been on my bookshelf for as long as I can remember. I decided to re-read it to see if I still liked the story. I do, so it’ll stay on my bookshelf.

The More of Less by Joshua Becker (audiobook)
Sometimes when I’m working I like to have something on in the background to distract me from my tendency to daydream and lose focus. I chose this book from our local library (through hoopladigital.com) because I follow Joshua Becker’s blog. I’m not necessarily looking to become a minimalist, but I’ve been trying to declutter for years. One stumbling block to my attempts to declutter has been paper clutter. I was hoping that by listening to this book, (a) I would get encouragement to stay on my decluttering path and (b) that Becker would offer some fresh insights into how to declutter paper. None of the websites I’ve looked at offer anything remotely helpful to me. They just regurgitate the same things like keep tax returns for 7 years, keep your birth certificate forever, etc. I know all that. It’s the non-essential papers I want to know how to declutter. What I liked about Becker’s approach is that he doesn’t see minimalism as the end; it’s the means to living a more fulfilling life. He starts out asking the question: what do you want to do with your free time once you have decluttered. He believes that our stuff not only takes up space but also takes up our time. By asking this question of ourselves, I think it’s a good way to keep on track with our decluttering. As for his take on paper decluttering (the non-essential papers) he suggests we ask ourselves three questions: Why do I keep the paper? What do I need to keep? How am I going to keep paper clutter under control? Reflecting on our clutter, why we keep it, and what our goals in life are, I think is a good way to stay focused when decluttering more difficult items in our homes. I haven’t yet put this method into practice, so I don’t know if this will truly work, but I like the idea of reflecting on why we do what we do and always keeping our eye on the end goals we have set for ourselves. Just a warning for those of you who are not religious or not Christian, Joshua Becker talks from a Christian perspective and the last chapter is all about using your newly freed time to help others in the community rather than focusing your time on selfish goals.

Old Fashioned by Rene Gutteridge (audiobook)
A well-written Christian romance novel. I saw the movie version about a year before I listened to this audiobook. I loved the movie. If I had to rate the movie I would give it 10 stars out of 5 (no, that’s not a typo; that’s just how much I love this movie). The book is nearly identical to the movie. There are a few scenes in the book that aren’t in the movie and some things are portrayed differently, but that’s understandable considering movies are a visual medium and books are a written medium. The scenes left out are minor, in my opinion, and the reasons for putting them in the book, possibly to add humor, but also to flesh out a couple of characters, are portrayed in other ways in the movie. Thankfully they are left out of the movie because I didn’t like them in the book (the scenes with Cozy and tee tee…ugh!). But, despite these odd, awkward scenes, I still give this book 5 out of 5 stars. I still think the book is worth reading, especially if you haven’t seen the movie. (In fact, the only reason I listened to this audiobook from the library is because they no longer had the movie available.) That being said, I think that the movie is a much better way of experiencing this particular story.

Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions by Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths
I heard about this book on NPR (I think) and it seemed interesting, so I checked it out of the library. The premise of using computer science algorithms to make our everyday decision-making better is an interesting one, but this book was not as interesting as the concept. I lost interest in the book fairly early on.

There were a few parts of the book that I liked better than the others. The chapters about sorting, caching, and scheduling appealed to me mainly because I’m on a multi-year quest to declutter my stuff and my life. Recently I got a new laptop, so in the process of transferring things over I had to confront the messiness of my email folders, namely my inbox. Currently, there are over 500 emails in my old email inbox. One of the things on my to-do list is to sort/declutter this mess. But, according to the authors of the book, it may be better to not sort it. The time spent sorting may in the long run not help in speeding up future searching since the search feature in the email program is pretty robust. In the meantime, a bunch of time has been wasted on a task with little benefit. I’m not sure if I agree with this. Certainly, sorting emails with receipts needed for tax purposes is worth the extra sorting. Looking in one folder for all needed receipts is much less time-consuming than trying to search through a mountain of emails especially if one forgets precisely what one has bought over the year (i.e. a search term may not be easily thought of to track down all necessary emails)

The authors’ take on procrastination was interesting: “procrastinators are acting (optimally!) to reduce as quickly as possible the number of outstanding tasks on their minds. It’s not that they have a bad strategy for getting things done; they have a great strategy for the wrong metric.” (p. 112) Early in my marriage often I would get frustrated because my priorities for things that needed getting done around the house were different than my husband’s. Turns out, according to this, we each were measuring the success of getting things done with different metrics.

I found the discussion of the marshmallow test fascinating. In the early 1970s, preschoolers, individually, were put in a room with a single marshmallow on a plate. The adult told the child that he or she would get another marshmallow if they did not eat the first marshmallow before the adult came back. The researchers followed up with the kids later in life and found that those who did not eat the marshmallow were more successful in their lives than those who did, thereby concluding that those who have a natural tendency to delay gratification will be more successful. But this experiment recently was tweaked by researchers at the University of Rochester. Before the marshmallow experiment was even mentioned, preschoolers were told to work on an art project but they were given crummy supplies. They were told that they would get better supplies when the adult came back in a few minutes. Half of the time the adult came back with better supplies; half the time the adult came back with nothing. Then these same kids were subjected to the marshmallow test. The kids in the second group were more likely to eat the first marshmallow. Therefore, the original marshmallow test may not actually test a kid’s natural willpower to delay gratification. What it could actually be testing is whether the kid believes that adults are dependable or not and would do what they told them they would do. So, success later in life may not totally be related to the child’s ability to delay gratification, it could be related to whether or not in early life children have reliable, trustworthy parents and caregivers.

Then there is this quote on page 182 that had me thinking about a TV show I saw recently, of all things:

Recent work in computer science has shown that there are cases where randomized algorithms can produce good approximate answers to difficult questions faster than all known deterministic algorithms. And while they do not always guarantee the optimal solutions, randomized algorithms can get surprisingly close to them in a fraction of the time, just by strategically flipping a few coins while their deterministic cousins sweat it out.

This quote reminded me of Dirk Gently (in the first season of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency TV show on BBC America) explaining his methods (I’m paraphrasing here): I go along then I get horribly lost. Then I find someone who looks like they know where they’re going and follow them. I don’t end up where I wanted to go, but I always end up where I need to be.

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
This book has been sitting on my bookshelf for years, perhaps decades. It’s one of my “ought to” books, meaning if I want to be considered learned, I have to read this book, or so my thinking was when I bought the book (probably at a library book sale). Most recently I wanted to read it because I wanted to know the actual story and not just the first line of the story. It took me quite a few months to read this book. I had a difficult time understanding what it was about from the beginning. The language used isn’t exactly plain-spoken English. Because of this I decided to follow along with online CliffsNotes to help me out. I also checked out an audiobook from the library in hopes that the narration would help me make heads or tales out of what I had read up to that point (through most of Book 2). The audiobook version helped quite a bit, especially in distinguishing one character from the other. I stopped referring to the CliffsNotes after the first book. Once I got to Book 2, reading was much easier. The third book is also fairly easy to read and the action is much faster. Despite this, I found the book quite boring overall. Except for the fact that the Manettes, their friends, and relations seemed like good people and I wanted all to be well in the end (a happily ever after), I didn’t care about the characters (although I did feel sorry for Sydney Cotton). I found Lucie to be overly dramatic and, hence, annoying. Dickens’ endless descriptions of the bloodiness of the Revolution was exasperating. Ultimately it’s a story of good vs. evil. It also speaks to justice—what is justice for wrongs done? The aristocracy was evil (callous) as evidenced by the Monseigneur. But the way the peasants meted out justice for wrongs done to them was evil (callous) too. The aristocracy didn’t treat the peasants as human beings and the peasants didn’t treat the aristocracy, or anyone associated with it, as human either during the Revolution. Seems like Dickens is saying that that was inevitable due to the way the aristocracy treated the peasants before the Revolution. In the end, I’m glad I read the book so now I know what it’s about. But this book is getting passed on to the library book sale. Hopefully whoever buys it will find the story much more engaging than I did.

New Website URL

I’ve recently changed the URL to this blog. Although I don’t normally like the word “branding”, I guess you can say I wanted to “brand” my various websites. Walking the Pathways is the title of this website. I also have a Tumblr blog called Walking the Pathways. And, although not called Walking the Pathways, I also have a Weebly website in order to display my travelogue entries. I wanted all my sites to have as uniform a URL as possible. Therefore, if you have come to this site by typing in http://jpsimkin.wordpress.com or if you have my site bookmarked, I ask that you please make note that the new URL is https://walkingthepathways.wordpress.com and change any links or bookmarks you have accordingly. The redirect I currently have set up on this website will be active until November 2017. Please make any changes necessary before then.

If you would like to check out my Tumblr blog, just click on the link in the above paragraph. My individual travelogue entries can be accessed by either clicking on the links on the Travelogue page on this website or by clicking the Weebly website link in the paragraph above.

And, if you want to know why I call my websites Walking the Pathways, please refer to my May 18, 2013, post called In the Walking of the Path…

100-2382_origI recently created the newest installment to my travelogue. This year for our vacation we went to Poplar Ridge, NY and stayed at my husband’s family’s cottage. We haven’t been there together for 10 years, but we hope to make this trip together yearly from now on. Above is the sunset over Cayuga Lake on Monday June 6, the best day of the entire week-long vacation. If you’d like to read more about our stay there and see more pictures, click here. Enjoy!


Personally, I’ve never felt a desire to give birth to children (although I’ve always said that if I’d marry, I wouldn’t deny my husband the joy of biological children.) However, since the 2nd grade, when I learned what adoption was, I had felt a strong desire to adopt children in the event that I would marry someday. Eleven years ago I married a wonderful man, but motherhood is looking less and less likely a possibility as time moves on. Recently I came across an article on Facebook titled “Spiritual Motherhood“. Perhaps I should take Dr. Alice von Hildebrand’s advice:

“From now on your daily prayer should be, “God, send me spiritual children and I will never turn any one of them down. The more the better.” Simple as that. Pray for the gift of spiritual children. It might very well be that in your beautiful desire to be a biological mother you have overlooked cases where you could have become a spiritual mother….

You are called to motherhood right now. Not next week, not next month. I’m absolutely convinced that God has placed people in your path and called you to motherhood. Your task is to love those that are weak, unhappy, helpless, and unloved.”

I’m posting this ahead of Mother’s Day for all the women out there who, for whatever reason, have not been blessed with biological or adopted children. Sometimes a sadness and depression can set in, a mourning if you will, when this happens. But, perhaps God has a different sort of motherhood in mind for you.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the biological, adoptive, and spiritual mothers!

This past Lent, as I do every Lent, I went about doing an examination of conscience in preparation for the sacrament of reconciliation. One of the ways that I do this is to review a printout that I have of the Ten Commandments that also has more specific offenses relating to each Commandment. Whenever I get to “Honor Thy Father and Thy Mother”, I usually tend to skip this one. My mother died almost 42 years ago; my father a little over 22 years ago so I figured this didn’t apply to me.

This year, as I was reading the chapter “Dancing for Joy” in the book Rediscover Jesus by Matthew Kelly, as part of the Best Lent Ever program, my mind began to wander.


The more we close the gap between the life we are living today and the life Jesus invites us to live through the Gospels, the more we will experience that joy.

So what stops us from closing the gap and dancing for joy?

— Kelly, Matthew. Rediscover Jesus [Kindle edition], Locations 1525-29

As my mind wandered, I realized that “Honor Thy Father and Thy Mother” did apply to me. More specifically, “Honor Thy Father”. Some time after my father died, he appeared to me in a dream. He was glowing, similar to how angels are pictured to be in old paintings, although with much more light. In this dream he spoke to me. He said “Hold His hand and test the waters.”

Anyone who knew my father would know that he never spoke like that in real life. His last words to me in real life were “have a good time.” I knew this meant that he knew he was dying. He wanted to let me know that now it’s time to live my life. Since I was a teenager (he had his first stroke when I was 13), I put my life on hold to take care of him. Now, at 23, it was time to live the life I was meant to live.

“Hold His hand and test the waters” I’m sure refers to the time when Jesus told Peter to come to him, but in order to do so Peter had to walk on water. As long as Peter kept his focus on Jesus he was able to do the seemingly impossible. As soon as Peter got frightened and turned his focus away from Jesus, he began to drown.


When I look back on all these worries, I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he had had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which had never happened.

— Sir Winston Churchill

By letting my anxiety take over and not trusting in God, I’m betraying what was essentially the last words my father spoke to me — the last wish my father had for me, and what God, the Father, wants for me. Letting my anxiety take over and not trusting in God prevents me from being the person God intended me to be and in all likelihood prevents me from fulfilling whatever purpose God intended for my life. And, as Matthew Kelly says, it also prevents me from feeling the joy that God intended.

So, how would I answer the question posed earlier: “So what stops me from closing the gap and dancing for joy?” I’d say my anxiety. But how do I let go and let God? So far, the only answer I get is “Just do it.” Unfortunately, it’s not that simple when dealing with chronic anxiety. Logically I know that I shouldn’t feel anxious when I do, but logic doesn’t make my anxiety go away. I need some other method of dealing with it.

I always say that books are put into our lives at just the right time. When I was pondering the questions above, I couldn’t find anything specific in the Rediscover Jesus book to help, but a non-Catholic book that I read before Lent did resonate with me. I highlighted several passages in Harnessing Your Emotions by Andrew Wommack. Perhaps I will review those again. Taken as a whole, perhaps both of these books along with prayer and scripture reading, talking to God, and listening in the quiet moments will help.

For months before my jaw surgery several years ago I would have panic attacks, then a day before the surgery, without me doing anything differently, a great peace came over me. I just knew everything was going to be OK. I’ve never forgotten that feeling. I want to feel that peace again in all that I do. I pray that God shows me the way if it is His will.


Where will your adventure take you and how will you go forth? Will you be like Peter, hedging your bet and looking at the storm-tossed waves? Or will you choose to see only the outstretched hand of Jesus?

–Kelly, Matthew. Rediscover Jesus [Kindle edition], Locations 1994-97

A New Beginning

This Lent I’m doing something a bit different than in the past. I used to get the Little Black Book that our church offered and spent a few minutes of the day reading the daily bit of trivia about saints and Catholic practices, the Bible verse, and the reflection. I’ve done this for many years but as I reflected more on this practice, I realized that it seemed like it was doing me no good. All the practices during Lent (fasting, abstinence from meat, almsgiving, giving up some bad habit or something you like, spiritual practices) are supposed to move one closer to God.

This year I’ve been feeling differently about Lent and the practices that are mandated. Do they really bring me closer to God?

On Ash Wednesday our heat went out. On top of that work and other aspects of my life had me stressed out. Needless to say my mind was not on Lenten practice for the day. By 3:30 in the afternoon it was getting unbearably cold to work (I work from home). Just as I was ready to quit early for the day (putting me even further behind in my work) and go downstairs where I have a space heater, the furnace repairman called to say that he was on his way. Thank God!

By the time the furnace was fixed, there was no time to get to Mass that evening. So, being that it was an atypical Ash Wednesday and I had had other things on my mind the entire day, I forgot to adhere to the Church-mandated Ash Wednesday fast. As I was lying in bed that night, I realized what I had done. How was I going to rectify that? I thought of several things, but ultimately it led me to reflect on these Lenten practices and to ask myself if these practices lead me closer to God. I’m told that they should, but personally they don’t. I wanted (needed) something more.

Recently, as I was looking at the St. Thomas Aquinas Church bulletin, I came across something that said “Don’t give up chocolate this Lent.” That led me to the Dynamic Catholic website and this:

What Should I Give Up for Lent?

Lent is the perfect time to form new life-giving habits and abandon old self-destructive habits. But most of us just give up chocolate. Then, when Easter arrives, we realize we really haven’t grown spiritually since the beginning of Lent.

Lent is not just about giving things up, like chocolate. Lent is about doing something—something bold to become a better husband or wife, father or mother, son or daughter, friend, neighbor, etc.

This intrigued me because I had just been thinking about the fact that giving up things for Lent was useless to me. It’s something I’m supposed to do, but it never changed me, my attitude, as it’s supposed to. If this offered an alternative, I was ready to look into it. I bought the Kindle version of the book Rediscover Jesus by Matthew Kelly and I signed up for the “Best Lent Ever” email series.

To get the most out of it, I intend to do the exercises at the end of the chapters. Reflect and write. Something I vowed to do, in general, once my term on our subdivision’s Board was complete. Interestingly enough, my term on the Board ended a day before Ash Wednesday.

I’m a bit behind on the reflections since I didn’t come upon “Best Lent Ever” until 3 days into Lent, but these questions seem to be some of the things that I should ponder not only during Lent but all year long. My pondering tends to take longer than a few minutes so I may end up thinking about the daily reflection on a daily basis and then go back and reflect and write at my own pace. I’m hoping this more reflective practice will indeed have me rediscovering Jesus and growing closer to God.

The first question for reflection: In what area of your life is God inviting you to experience a new beginning?

Another year has gone by with another list of books to review. This tradition started last year with the post called My Bookshelf — Year 2014 Reflections. Here are the books that I’ve read in 2015 and my thoughts on them shortly after I’ve read them.

Cat in a Kiwi Con by Carole Nelson Douglas
I actually read this book in 2014, but it was after I had published my 2014 reflections, so I decided to add it here. I decided to start my Christmas vacation reading a book from one of my favorite mystery series. Although I gave this book the same number of stars as Cat in a Jeweled Jumpsuit (see the Reading List tab above), this book, in my opinion, is better. At times the language was a bit strange (forced?), that’s the reason for the 4 stars and not 5, but this book kept my attention and at times it was hard to put down. I found the underlying story that runs through more than one book in this series a bit hard to follow, but that may be because I don’t read these books one after the other and forget some details as a result. Although there is some background given, I would not recommend picking up this book if one is new to this series.

Cat in a Leopard Spot by Carole Nelson Douglas
This book is what began my love of Midnight Louis cozy mysteries. I read it years ago, so this was a re-read for me. But, because it was so long ago since I read it the first time, I had forgotten the story line. If one does pick up the series in the middle, this is a good book to start with before going back and reading the previous ones. In my opinion, this was a much more enjoyable read than the previous two books in the series.

Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
I found this book for free on iTunes. I wanted to read the book in anticipation of seeing the movie. I still haven’t seen the movie at the time I’m typing this, and after reading the book I’m not sure I really want to pay good money to see it in the theater. The book was slow to get through, but that was probably because I have a hard time with non-modern English. There wasn’t much to the story, really, and I couldn’t get into the characters. If the main character is supposed to be a strong, smart woman (although Hardy seems to disparage women in some of the writing), she sure doesn’t act like it at times, especially when it comes to the men in her life and that was just a turn-off to me.

Cat in a Midnight Choir by Carole Nelson Douglas
Another enjoyable read in the Midnight Louis series, however I felt saddened at ending. I was hoping that Matt wouldn’t have to do what I thought that Matt had done.

Cat in a Neon Nightmare by Carole Nelson Douglas
What saddened me at the end of the last book, had me relieved once I found out what I thought happened did not. However, not totally relieved since a dead body turned up. Things are heating up between Matt and Temple (yea!), but Max is still in the picture although being his usually elusive self. What stayed with me about this book was Matt’s take on confession (and what should be confessed) from both a priest’s standpoint (he’s an ex-priest) and now from a parishioner’s point of view (although on this day of reflection, he deliberately missed Mass). His summation of it pretty much summed up my views on the subject. Here, he’s not debating confessing missing Mass, he’s debating confessing what did or did not happen Saturday night (see the end of last book).

“Was he a lamb of God or a leper? Did he need confession, and if so, exactly what sins should he confess? For the first time, Matt understood the constant internal agonies of overscrupulous Catholics caught up in an obsessive-compulsive round of self-doubt….
… Now that his mind was splitting hairs, too, he began to see the torturous thumbtacks of self-incrimination that pinned these overanxious souls to a rack of worry and insecurity.” (p. 179-80)

In my mind, self-reflection is good. Confessing your sins is good (even if the confession is just between you and God), but I don’t think Jesus meant for us to get overanxious about every little thing (venial sins) as long as we acknowledge our error, correct any damage caused because of it if necessary, and strive to not sin again. But, that’s my opinion only, and I respect the Catholic Church’s viewpoint on the subject. And, in some cases, depending on the priest, a confession, even for what one might think something minor, can be a cathartic experience. But, in my experience, those times are few and far between.

Cat in an Orange Twist by Carole Nelson Douglas
In my opinion, this is not one of the better books in the series. Several pieces of information gets repeated too much. I think even for someone who just picked up the book at this stage, it’s too much of a repeat. In a way I understand some of the repeating information because the story is told from several of the characters’ points of view, but maybe it could’ve been done some other way to make it less tedious. Some parts of the story line also turned me off, but over all, I still looked forward to picking up the book and reading it.

How to Talk to Anyone: 62 Little Tricks for Big Success in Relationships by Leil Lowndes
I listened to the audiobook version. I found the reading to be annoying. I don’t know if the tips are accurate or not since I haven’t really tried most of them. I did try the “premature we” technique once. That met with total failure. Maybe I was too premature with the “premature we”. I’ll never know. When listening to many of the tips, however, I kept thinking to myself that it’s so disingenuous to act that way. Is this really how extroverts act in social or business settings? I don’t want to be someone I’m not just so I can talk to anyone, for others to like me, or to get ahead in a business or personal setting.

Cat in a Hot Pink Pursuit by Carole Nelson Douglas
Another fun read in the Midnight Louis series of books. SPOILER ALERT: An old crime impacts the characters in this book. I particularly like how Midnight Louis discovered one of the murderers, while Temple stood by wondering why Louis was pretending to be a bloodhound. The one inconsistency that I noticed was when Matt and Temple were together out in the desert and Matt seemed surprised when Temple told him she’s on the pill. I know Matt is naive in some ways, but I never pegged him as that naive. Temple did tell him that modern girls like to sample the goods before settling down to marriage and he does know that Temple and Max have/had been together for quite some time. He couldn’t put two and two together? Hard to believe. It’ll be interesting to see what comes of Matt’s “free trial offer” and how the ouroboros ring that was “mistakenly” dropped in Temple’s bag in the previous book will play a role in future stories.

A Stranger at Wynnedower by Grace Greene
I decided to take a bit of a break from the Midnight Louis series of books and read a Kindle book I downloaded a while back. I had a book on hold at the library and wanted something I could read without getting too into it so that I could break away once my held book was ready for pick up. This book had a bit of suspense, a bit of mystery, and a bit of romance. I was hooked. I didn’t want the book to end. If I’m ever looking for something to read again, I want to read Ms. Greene’s other Virginia Country Road novels.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo
As of the time of me writing this review, I haven’t yet used most of the techniques in this book, save one. The one most criticized by reviewers. Many reviewers criticize her technique of thanking inanimate objects for their service. But this helped me quite a bit when it was time to get rid of an old, tattered sweater of mine. It took me a while to find a replacement for this sweater, and still when I did replace it, I found it difficult to get rid of the tattered one. I thought: “well, maybe I’ll save it and put in in with my painting clothes.” That’s just what I did, but not being able to throw it away nagged at me. Once I read Ms. Kondo’s suggestion about thanking your clothes, I tried the technique, and it worked. I could now get rid of that sweater. It served me well but now was no longer useful, so having that attitude, I could now part with it. I think this oft criticized technique of thanking all that you own is the key to Ms. Kondo’s decluttering/tidying technique. It’s only in appreciating what we have and what we want out of life that we can begin to sort out what our stuff means to us, and how that stuff fits into our vision of what we want out of life. Does it serve us to keep it? Would it be happier serving someone else (i.e. donate)? Or has it outlived its usefulness for anyone (i.e. put in the trash or recycling)? By asking these questions of everything we own, I think Ms. Kondo is correct in that it’s a good way to put not only our stuff, but also our lives, in order.

The Great Typo Hunt by Jeff Deck and Benjamin D. Herson
This book was recommended to me by my boss years ago, but I only got around to getting the book this year. I was buying some stuff from Amazon, but did not have enough in my cart to get free shipping, so I decided to buy this book. I’m glad I did. Jeff Deck stated: “I’d been shy growing up, not prone to speaking out of turn or, well, speaking much at all. Once I started going around the country trying to correct typos, I’d inevitably have to talk to other people…. How far did I honestly estimate that I had come from the meek days of yore?” (p. 6-7). This had me hooked. I too was shy (still am) growing up and never talked much. But, in my current volunteer position I too had to go out and talk to strangers. Totally out of my comfort zone. So, I wondered how he was going to overcome this. This had me hooked. (Unfortunately, his solution would not work in my case.) I loved the style of writing, the humor, the philosophical musings, and the Field Guide to Typo Avoidance. I found the part about Direct Instruction interesting, especially since, in a long-term study (started in the Johnson era) of multiple teaching methods, it was found to be the most effective not only in teaching subject matter, but also in teaching higher-order thinking and boosting self-esteem. And, yet, there was so much backlash against it, including by teachers, that now it’s only taught in a handful of schools. Seems to me that if the welfare of the students were the top priority, and the method of instruction has proven to be most effective out of multiple methods, over multiple years, then schools and teachers should at least give it a try. Then maybe there would not be so many people in the United States who can’t read — 32 million in 2003, the last year for which data are available. (See: The Huffington Post)

The Inn at Rose Harbor by Debbie Macomber
I downloaded a free version of this book as a promotion tied in with the start of the third season of Cedar Cove on The Hallmark Channel. I haven’t read too many books by Debbie Maoomber, but the ones I did read I liked alot. And, I like the Cedar Cove TV show very much so I thought I’d give this book a try (especially since it was free). Well, I didn’t like it as much as other books Mrs. Macomber has written, but in the end I give it 4 stars out of 5. I just wasn’t able to sympathize with some of the characters (the guests at the inn) and feel that I was a part of their lives so I ended up not caring too much how things ended (but knowing Mrs. Macomber’s work, I knew how things would mostly end). I learned that the Cedar Cove TV series is somewhat like a prequel to these books, although Jo Marie is not in the TV series (at least not yet), but many of the people mentioned briefly are. This particular version of the book had a sneak peek of the next book in the series, Rose Harbor in Bloom. I have to say, I was hooked. I happened to be in the bookstore the day after reading this and found a used copy and bought it. Perhaps I’ll read it when I’m on vacation up north this year. I’m looking forward to seeing what’s in store for Jo Marie, Mark, and Rover.

Cat in a Quicksilver Caper by Carole Nelson Douglas
WARNING SPOILERS! This was another fun read in the Midnight Louis series of books even if the ending was a bit of a cliché if you’re a fan of soap operas. Although I’m 100% for Matt and Temple getting together I am disappointed in the author choosing to have Matt compromise his principles (his Catholic beliefs) in order to be with Temple, a non-Catholic. I understand that this isn’t a Christian novel, so I’m willing to give it a pass because I know that the author has to write to a secular audience, and waiting until after marriage to have sex is not something most people do nowadays, so she figures it’s not realistic for her characters (or in this case, just Matt) to do that. But, I can say from personal experience that there’s nothing wrong with waiting until after marriage. I was in my mid-30s when I married a non-Catholic. We’ve been happily married for more than 10 years as I type this. Personally, I’m glad I waited and I’m glad that my husband is truly my one and only.

To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
This is one of the books that has been sitting on my bookshelf probably since college days. Reading a book written in the stream of consciousness style is interesting. I can’t say that I understood everything that I read though. In fact, throughout reading it, I kept thinking that I wish I had the CliffsNotes version of it. But, it definitely paints a picture and sets a mood. Unfortunately, that mood is one of deep depression.

Rose Harbor in Bloom by Debbie Macomber
I decided to take a break from reading the Gut book (see below) for my birthday. It was my birthday and I figured I should read something enjoyable. This book was definitely an enjoyable read. I enjoyed it much more than the first book in this series (see above). I’m not sure I’ll read more in the series. This book didn’t have a preview chapter at the end so I don’t know what the next book is about, but maybe if I’m looking for a light read in the future and I don’t know what to read next, then I’ll pick up the 3rd book in this series.

Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body’s Most Underrated Organ by Giulia Enders and Jill Enders
This book was a birthday gift from my mother-in-law. It’s somewhat interesting, and less icky than the book Gulp!, but the first part of the book still has quite a bit of ick.

The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe
I bought this book nearly 20 years ago after I saw the movie “Moll Flanders” in 1996, but I never read it until now. The book, written from Moll Flanders’ perspective in the 1600s, is basically a lesson in how not to live your life and a lesson in how not to get conned by pickpockets and thieves:

…every branch of my story, if duly considered, may be useful to honest people and afford a due caution to people of some sort or other to guard against the like surprises and to have their eyes about them when they have to do with strangers of any kind, for ’tis very seldom that some snare or other is not in their way…. (p. 203)

The problem I had with this book was two-fold (SPOILERS!). First, what happens with all her children? Yes, some died, but not all of them. In the end, only one son is mentioned. Second, it seems as though she gets away with her crimes. She does end up in jail at one point, nearly on her way to getting executed, but she gets a reprieve and then goes to America, turns her life around and goes on to live a good life with her husband and her son. Although in the end she does say that she and her husband did go back to England “to spend the remainder of [their] years in sincere penitence for the wicked lives [they] have lived,” I still thought that they should have done more restitution for their crimes.

A Bend in the Road by Nicholas Sparks
I bought this book so that I’d have some light reading material to take up north on vacation. Nicholas Sparks is one of my go-to authors when I want to read something light. This book is far from light. The writing style was different in a good way. Troubling events lead to troubled lives lead eventually to forgiveness and happily ever after. This book is part romance and part mystery. Not what I was expecting, but a book I’m glad I read.

Come Rain or Come Shine by Jan Karon
I love all the Mitford books up to this point, especially the last one Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good, so I was eagerly anticipating this book’s release. Unfortunately, I don’t know if I pinned my expectations too high or what, but I ended up being only lukewarm to this book. There seemed to be something missing that the other books had. The writing style probably contributed to this lukewarm feeling too. The use of pronouns to refer to people distracted me quite a bit from the story. One had to infer who the characters were talking about. A more direct approach would’ve helped the flow of the story better. Having to stop and think, or in some cases re-read a paragraph or two to figure out who a character was talking to or who the paragraph was about was not good.

In books past there was a cast of characters (and I mean characters!) that one fell in love with. People one can totally see as living in a small town. People with their quirkiness but lovable at the same time, even when in some cases they were doing things that weren’t so lovable. There was little of that here. The story revolved around preparations for and the wedding of Lace and Dooley, Father Tim’s adopted son. For some reason, I just couldn’t warm up to either Lace or Dooley. To be fair, I enjoyed the story better as the wedding day got closer and the description of the wedding day itself. The ending was so cute in my opinion, and, I believe, totally in character. I had to chuckle. So, while I couldn’t give it 5 stars, I did give it 4. Still a worthy read in the series.

Cat in a Red Hot Rage by Carole Nelson Douglas
Another fun read, if you can call a murder mystery a fun read, in the Midnight Louis series of mysteries. However, this book seemed to be missing something. Can’t put my finger on it. Perhaps it was because one of the main characters was missing from the book, and presumed dead. (Spoiler alert: he’s not. We find out where he is in the next book.) Whenever an author takes out a main character in a book series, the dynamics of the story/relationships/banter changes. I think that’s why I didn’t like this book as much as some of the others in the series. Seemed dull in some respects.

Then there was this line that got me steamed. Matt is talking to Busek, his former confessor when they were both priests. Matt is asking advice about his relations with his fiance. Unfortunately, Matt is having mixed thoughts about sleeping with his fiance. Matt is still Catholic and knows that sex outside of marriage is a sin according to the Church, but at the same time, he doesn’t regret sleeping with her. Busek says “I’m not the one who’s going to call love a sin for you. Yeah, I know the Church has confused love with sex, for centuries, but I’m out of it now, and you are too.” Uh, no. In my opinion, society has confused love with sex (or I should say sex with love). Society has it wrong, not the Catholic Church, and Matt is not out of it if he wants to stay a part of the Church. How can he be part of the church if he disobeys its tenets? Ugh. Then, of course, I had to take my being steamed down a notch. Tell myself this is not a Christian novel. This is aimed at a secular audience who believes that sleeping with whoever they seem to love at the moment is OK…. But, then again, I’m sure 90+% of people who call themselves Catholic don’t obey the tenets of the church, especially on this account. As I said before, I personally am so thankful that I did follow Church teaching on this issue and not society’s. I have to keep telling myself, this is just a novel, this is just a novel…. and, judging from the way this author treats the teachings of the Catholic Church, I’m sure there will be more moments in later books that will steam me up just as much.

Cat in a Sapphire Slipper by Carole Nelson Douglas
Another good Midnight Louis mystery. This one, however, ended on a cliffhanger. Did this book also steam me up because of a comment from one of the characters about the beliefs of the Catholic Church? Yes. But, I’m slowly accepting that this is going to be the case. Who knows, maybe the author intends for the characters to be misinformed? The problem with that scenario is that most people reading these novels are not Catholic, but will, perhaps, be reading this as if these are the true beliefs. In which case, the Catholic Church and its beliefs come out looking ridiculous. This point aside, I’d give this book 4 stars. It kept me engaged. I loved that we’re getting more of a glimpse into Midnight Louis’s past, and, that all the cats in the Midnight family (well, except for Midnight Louis’s father) helped solve the case. There were some raw moments in the parallel story having to do with Max that I could’ve done without, but it didn’t detract too much from the enjoyment of the book overall.

Harnessing Your Emotions by Andrew Wommack
A while back my mother-in-law and I got in a discussion about my anxiety. She said that I needed to see a psychiatrist in order to overcome it so that I could have some peace. She’s convinced that cognitive behavior therapy is what’s best. The problem with going to see a psychiatrist is manyfold. First, I’d have to take off work. If I take off work, I’d have to make up that time some time, and that time would have to be when I could be spending time with my husband. I barely have time to do that now, considering I’m also quite busy with my volunteer job (although that will be ending in a couple of months). And, frankly, I miss spending time with my husband and am looking forward to doing more of that in the near future. Also, in my mind, what is seeing a psychiatrist going to accomplish. I have to do the work. I have to work through my feelings of anxiety. Logically, I know all the arguments of why being anxious in various situations is irrational. I don’t need a psychiatrist to tell me that. I can even say to myself that in such and such situation things have turned out OK in the past, so they will again turn out OK again. Logically, I know this, but that hasn’t translated in lessened anxiety. And, as I told my mother-in-law, any psychiatrist I would want to end up seeing, if I ever decided to go that route, would have to counsel from a Catholic perspective. My mother-in-law rolled her eyes at that (she doesn’t believe in God), but there are psychiatrists who do just that. And, there are several in the area where I used to live, but there doesn’t seem to be any in the area I live now.

Shortly after this conversation, it might have even been the next morning, I turned on the television and there was Andrew Wommack talking about solving problems like depression and anxiety from a God-centered perspective. Although he’s not Catholic, this seemed like exactly what I was looking for. When I got a chance, I looked up his books on Amazon. I couldn’t find exactly the book he was talking about on his show, but after reading the reviews, it seemed as though Harnessing Your Emotions was a book that might help me. Reading the book, it seems as though he’s mostly talking to people who are depressed, rather than those suffering from anxiety, but then again, I did highlight quite a few paragraphs that might help me.

At this point, I can’t say that this book has helped me with my anxiety. But, what he does say, the perspective he brings, does make sense. I’ll want to re-read what I highlighted and put his suggestions into practice. Dealing with anxiety, after all, is an ongoing process.

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George
I had high hopes for this book up until Chapter 5. Then the story and the characters bored me. There were occasional profound moments along the way, but the whole adventure was still boring to me. Then the story got interesting around Chapter 35, but then waned again. The most interesting part of the book was the ending called “Jean Perdu’s Emergency Literary Pharmacy” where the author lists books, what they are prescribed for and their side effects. I believe that if the book concentrated more on the little Paris bookshop called the Literary Apothecary, Jean Perdu as the bookseller, and his customers and neighbors it would’ve been a more interesting book. As it was, I would only give it three out of five stars. I’m glad this was a library book and that I didn’t spend my money on it.

I’m currently reading a book called On The Map by Simon Garfield. I bought this book for my husband a while back. I read Simon Garfield’s book Just My Type and enjoyed it, so I thought I’d like to read this book by him too. I thought it would be an interesting topic to explore. As of this writing, I’ve finished 140 pages and I’m realizing that, for me anyway, maps are not that interesting a subject. The book has its interesting moments, but overall, honestly, at this point, I can’t wait until I can go on to read another book. After reading that last statement, you’re probably wondering why I don’t just stop reading the book and go on to something else now. I’m the type of person that tends to read a book all the way through even if I don’t like it that well because I figure (a) it could get better the more I get into it or (b) the information contained within might be interesting. Since this book already had some interesting tidbits, I’m hoping that even if I have to wade through some boring stuff, it’ll continue to contain more interesting tidbits. The only thing that will make me truly stop reading a book is if the book is offensive in some way, and this book is not that.

UPDATE: I finished the book on December 29th. I still found most of the rest of the book boring, but the chapters about Mars and the mapping of the human brain were most interesting. I think what would’ve made this book better is if the maps were in color instead of grayscale, especially in the cases where the text itself mentions color. Color also would’ve helped in the case of the brain map. It was difficult for me to distinguish between a few of the different grays.

Wishing my readers a Happy Holiday season and a New Year filled with health, happiness, and many blessings!

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