Archive for December, 2015

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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