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Archive for the ‘books/magazines’ Category

Happy New Year to all my readers! In years past I’ve waited until the end of the year to post my thoughts about the books I’ve read in the past year. In 2018 I thought I’d do something different by posting my thoughts about the books I’ve read in individual blog posts throughout the year.

As regular readers of my year-end posts will recall, not all of my thoughts about a book warrant a full blog post. Sometimes I feel that there isn’t much to say about a book. In these cases, I may include the review as an addition to a longer blog post, post my thoughts on this website’s page titled “Reading List” above, or eliminate the review altogether. I’ll decide what I think is best on a case-by-case basis.

Now on to my thoughts about The Sketch-Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent., by Washington Irving.

My father died a bit more than 24 years ago. Among his personal effects were two books. One was a book of poetry and the other was a well-worn copy of The Sketch-Book of Geoffrey Crayon, by Washington Irving. Why did he keep these books? I will never know for sure since I didn’t find these books until after he died, therefore I couldn’t ask him. My father was not the poetry reading type as far as I know, so I can’t even speculate as to why he kept that book.

The well-worn copy of The Sketch-Book has scribblings in it along with my father’s name, one of his childhood nicknames, and the address of the house he lived in as a child, written in his own handwriting on the inside front cover. From this, I speculated that this was probably one of his school books. My father mentioned Rip Van Winkle several times when I was growing up so maybe that was one of his favorite stories. One of the stories in The Sketch-Book is “Rip Van Winkle,” so I thought that maybe he kept the book because it contained this story.

As I started reading the book, I wondered what grade my father was in when this would’ve been required reading, which would then give me insight into what sort of reader my father was in his childhood. I already knew he read very well as an adult. The date of the copyright would’ve given me a clue, except that the title page and copyright page is missing from this copy, as is the table of contents I would later learn. A colleague at work suggested that I do a Google image search to see if I can find out the copyright date that way. So, before Christmas 2017 I did just that and found this listing on eBay. This book on eBay looks like it’s in a much better condition than my copy, but judging from the cover and the first page of the book, the one with the picture of the author, I can say with confidence that it is identical to my copy. I was amazed to find out that the (presumed) copyright date is 1898!

My father was born in 1910, and judging from the reading level of these stories, my father would not be able to read this book with any understanding until he was at least 10 years old. So, I concluded that since the presumed copyright is at least 22 years before my father was likely to pick up this book and read it, there is the distinct possibility that this book was originally my grandfather’s (my grandmother did not speak or read English). If this was the case, my grandfather most likely passed this book down to my father when he was old enough to read it. And, if that’s the case, that’s probably the real reason my father kept the book all those years. Maybe my grandfather even read to his children from this book and that’s how my father first learned about Rip Van Winkle?

This is all speculation, of course. From the beginning, this book was special to me because it belonged to my father. Finding out that this book could’ve belonged to my grandfather, who may have then passed it down to my father makes it even more special to me.

The book itself is a two-volume travelogue and collection of essays from the time the author spent in England. The two most famous stories in the collection are “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” The most famous essay, in my opinion, is “John Bull,” the personification of England.

Most of the stories and essays I found interesting, except for “Little Britain,” a story about a neighborhood in the center of London, which bored me. “The Pride of the Village,” about lost love, appealed to my romantic side.

I found “The Art of Book-Making” interesting, appealing to my bookish nature. The author describes his experience of visiting the reading-room of the British Library. His imagination runs wild while watching authors research ancient works so that they can use that knowledge in their own creations. But, judging from the author’s choice of words, it seems as though he has contempt for those who do such a thing.

“The Mutability of Literature” is another story that intrigued me even more than “The Art of Book-Making”. In this case, the library he explores seems to be more of a “literary catacomb, where authors, like mummies, are piously entombed, and left to blacken and moulder in dusty oblivion.” (page 198, volume 1) The author then goes on to lament about all the work authors have put in to create these books. “And all for what? to occupy an inch of dusty shelf, —to have the title of their works read now and then in a future age…and in another age to be lost, even to remembrance.” (page 199, volume 1) In this story too, the author’s imagination runs wild and one of the books wakes up and begins to talk. The book and the author then debate the pros and cons of keeping books intact for display on shelves vs. having them circulate among the masses, having them eventually fall apart, and turn to dust. The book’s point of view (as is mine): “Books were written to give pleasure and to be enjoyed…” (page 200, volume 1)

Overall, I would give this book 4 out of 5 stars and I would recommend that anyone who loves books should read “The Mutability of Literature” if they get the chance.

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Although 2017 has not yet come to an end, due to scheduling conflicts (namely, no time to finish the book I am currently reading, Sketchbook by Washington Irving, before the year comes to an end) I decided to post my year-end book reflections a bit early. For those of you new to this blog, I am continuing with a tradition I started 4 years ago, below you’ll find my reviews of books that I have read in the past year, written shortly after I have read the books (or listened to them if they are audiobooks). The first two books I actually read while I was off on Christmas break in 2016, but I chose to include them here because I had already posted my Year 2016 Reflections before finishing them.

Cat in an Alphabet Endgame by Carole Nelson Douglas
This is the last book in the Midnight Louie Alphabet series of mysteries. I finished this book in less than three days, so that gives you some idea as to how interested I was in the story. While I did enjoy reading it, there were several things about this last installment in the series that I did not like.

First, the typos. The author addresses the typo situation in the acknowledgments, so at least she realizes they are there. I don’t remember so many typos in earlier books in the series so I’m not sure what happened this time around, but they do disrupt the flow of the story. Second, the solving of the cases seemed rushed to me. I understand that all the loose ends had to be wrapped up in this book, but it was difficult to follow how the characters arrived at the conclusions that they did in order to solve the cases. And third, the last chapter. What was that? I thought it would have made for a more meaningful/satisfying ending if the book would have ended with the second to last chapter and Louie’s adventure with his collar. I don’t understand why the author chose to end the series as she did, except that maybe that last chapter was an intro to a future Midnight Louie book. After all, the author did say that the alphabet series is ending, and not Midnight Louie’s adventures.

On the plus side, I was happy to read that Temple chose a modest wedding dress to wear. No strapless gown for her! I was also glad to read that Max, Sean, the Kinsellas, and the Kellys are one big happy family again thanks to the help of Temple and Matt.

Overall I would give this book 3 1/2 stars. I think that overall the positives outweigh the negatives, but it’s not one of my favorites in the series.

Simplify by Joshua Becker
This is the second book that I’ve read by Joshua Becker, that is if you can call listening to an audiobook reading. The first book (the audiobook) was actually a newer one called The More of Less (see my 2016 Reflections for my review). I was interested in reading Simplify for two reasons: (1) I’ve had an ongoing resolution for several years now to declutter and simplify my life and (2) I follow Joshua Becker’s blog Becoming Minimalist.

I would call this e-book more of a booklet. It’s quite short and can be read in a matter of hours, but this book is not meant to be read cover to cover in one sitting. It’s meant to be a manual about how to implement rational minimalism. Becker defines rational minimalism in terms of 5 attributes, but I would say that it really boils down to the first:

It is the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of anything that distracts us from it.– [Kindle, Location 141-46]

This principle extends beyond physical clutter into other “cluttered” areas of our lives too. Becker emphasizes that minimalism is not a one size fits all endeavor. He advocates finding “a style of minimalism that works for you. One that is not cumbersome, but freeing based on your values, desires, passions, and rational thinking.” [Kindle, Location 166-68] He also warns that your particular definition of minimalism that’s right for you will change as you go through the process and as life circumstances change.

In all, this book presents seven principles of how to achieve a minimalist lifestyle. He doesn’t go into too much depth on each principle/suggestion but does offer practical tips. I think because of the way Becker approaches minimalism, it’s easier for people to follow his advice and suggestions than it would be to follow the advice of someone who advocates living with 100 things or implementing Project 333. Also, because his approach extends beyond just the physical clutter and offers advice for simplifying your whole life I think his techniques offer a better chance for success on the road to rational minimalism.

Personally, most of the suggestions in the book are good reminders to keep me on track with my decluttering. Where I am now in my journey, I think I got more out of Becker’s book The More of Less than I did with Simplify, but for people contemplating decluttering or beginning their journey to a more simplified life, I think reading this book and following its advice is a good place to start.

April Morning by Howard Fast

We had made a mistake. We were stupid people. We were provincial people. But over and above everything, we were civilized people, which was the core of everything. We were going to argue with the British and talk them out of whatever they intended. We knew we could do that. We were the most reasonable, talkative people in all probabilities that the world had ever seen, and we knew we could win an argument with the British hands down. Why, no one on our side had even thought of firing a gun, because when you came right down to it, we didn’t like guns and did not believe in them. Yes, we drilled on the common and had all sorts of fine notions about defending our rights and our liberties, but that didn’t change our attitude about guns and killing. That British Major Pitcairn on his champing horse knew exactly what we were and how we thought. He knew it better than we knew it ourselves. — page 103, Adam Cooper reflecting after the British attacked his fellow citizens on the common.

This book is a re-read for me. For as long as I can remember April Morning has been on my bookshelf, not this particular edition I read this year, though. I don’t even know how the one I originally had, along with Howard Fast’s The Immigrants came to be on my bookshelf. They aren’t novels that little children would read. Perhaps my father brought them home from the store he used to work at thinking that they would be useful for my education someday. According to my aunt, he gave my cousin several books from there. So perhaps. When I moved out of my childhood home I donated my copy of April Morning but kept The Immigrants, probably because I had read the former but not the latter. Years later I bought the copy I currently have from a used book sale intending to read it again but it ended up being one that sat on my bookshelf for years before I did. Several years ago I finally got around to reading The Immigrants and liked it. Not enough to want to read the rest of the books in the series, but I liked it nonetheless. I liked how the characters seemed like real people. I also, especially, liked how Howard Fast paints a picture with his writing, how he tells a story. April Morning has these qualities also. The novel is a fictionalized account of April 18-19, 1775 and the Battle of Lexington in the Revolutionary War as told by a 15-year-old from Lexington, Adam Cooper. It’s a coming of age story in the midst of war. A warning to any readers: the author’s descriptions of the battles are graphic. While this book has been taught in middle and high schools, probably due to the age of the protagonist/narrator, I think it would appeal to adults also. Personally, I would give this book four out of five stars.

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (Bantam Classic edition, translated from the Russian by Constance Garnett)

Note: Contains some spoilers.

This was another of my books that had been sitting on my bookshelf since at least college (approximately 20 years or so). I bought the book figuring that any well-read person ought to read this book. Periodically this book is referenced in articles and sometimes even on TV. In fact, it was referenced on a rerun of The Joey Bishop Show I watched recently.

This book took me several months to plod through. That should give you some idea of how I felt about this book. The themes of redemption following suffering and intellectualism leading to psychological imprisonment seem to not be realized until the Epilogue. Does Raskolnikov suffer? Yes, throughout the book. We are made painfully aware of this throughout. But, redemption seems to only come at the very end and in a rushed way. No gradual build-up. No slow revelation. Just in the last 10 or so pages is all this revealed to the reader and to the character.

The entire book is dark, from the oppressive heat of St. Petersburg to the way the characters live, to the plot itself. There seems to be nothing but suffering in the lives of these characters. Attitudes towards suffering by some of the characters, which is revealed about half-way through, plays an integral role in the revelations at the end.

Somehow, even though the main character, Raskolnikov, committed two senseless murders, I still felt sorry for him, cared about him, which is a credit to the author. This most likely was because, despite the horrific crime, which we are at first led to believe he committed because of his life circumstances, Raskolnikov is not pure evil. He is constantly doing selfless acts of kindness. But, when we find out the true reason for his crime and that his views on the matter do not change when he is in prison, I just found him detestable. His redemption seemed out of place to me. In my mind, true redemption cannot take place until he admits what he did was wrong on all levels and admits that his thinking that led him to commit such a crime is misguided. I didn’t get the sense that he did that.

“Why does my action strike them as so horrible?” he said to himself. “Is it because it was a crime? What is meant by crime? My conscience is at rest. Of course it is a legal crime, of course the letter of the law was broken and blood was shed. Well, punish me for the letter of the law…and that’s enough. Of course, in that case many of the benefactors of mankind who snatched power for themselves instead of inheriting it ought to have been punished at their first steps. But those men succeeded and so they were right, and I didn’t, and so I had no right to have taken that step.”

It was only in that that he recognized his criminality, only in the fact that he had been unsuccessful and had confessed it. — page 467

I suppose that the delirious dreams he had while he was sick and feverish in prison were what finally made him realize the error of his ways, that intellectualism without moral considerations is a fallacy, and that’s what made his redemption possible. But the way that played out in the novel seemed so contrived to me, especially since this all happened in the last three pages of the book when finally there were warm, sunny Spring days and Raskolnikov’s rebirth of a sort coincided with Easter. I suppose this could be considered poetic and is partially why this novel is considered one of the best ever written, but I personally didn’t care for that ending.

As I said previously, it took me several months to read this novel. While the translation/language was not “heavy,” so to speak, at times I felt as though the translation changed the tone at various spots — from that of a classic novel to that of a gangster movie. Did Dostoyevsky really mean to use the Russian equivalent of that type of slang in this book? The change in tone startled me a bit when I read those passages. Overall, I found it better to read one chapter (at least) per sitting. Anything less didn’t allow me to get immersed in the plot and I found it more difficult to remember what I read. Am I glad I read this book? Yes. Would I voluntarily read it again? No. Frankly, I found the book to be boring overall although it did have its interesting moments, like the interactions between Porfiry and Raskolnikov. I’m passing this book on to the local library book sale.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon (audiobook)
I’ve been wanting to read this book since 2009, but I never got around to actually buying the book or checking it out of the library. A few months ago I was looking through a flyer from our local theater and saw that the National Theatre production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time was going to be in town in April. Since my wedding anniversary is also in April, I decided to get tickets for me and my husband. Although I would’ve still liked to have read the book before going to see the play, it wasn’t looking like that would be the case. I was busy reading another book (Crime and Punishment, see review above) and I don’t like to read more than one novel at a time. Then unexpectedly, I came across the audiobook version and decided to check it out. I was hooked from the very beginning. The audiobook is about 5 1/2 hours long, and if I didn’t have other responsibilities, I think I would’ve sat and listened to it in one sitting. It’s quite an inventive book, in my opinion, to tell the story from an autistic boy’s point of view. While I guessed early on who killed the dog, I was still drawn into the story because ultimately it’s not about the dog at all, but about Christopher’s journey uncovering the truth about his family, and what happens once that truth comes to light.

Cat to the Dogs by Shirley Rousseau Murphy
This is the 5th book in the Joe Grey series of cozy mysteries, and the 5th in the series that my husband and I read together. Not much I can say about this book. It’s an enjoyable cozy mystery. It’s the first book in which we’re introduced to a kitten who has the same mysterious quality of being able to talk as Joe Grey and Dulcie do. Perhaps that’s why she is shunned by the rest of the feral clowder because they can sense that she is not a cat like they are? The little kitten even helps to solve the murder and helps the police get the goods on the murderer. It took my husband and me quite a long time to finish this book, but if someone would read by themselves, I think it would be quite a quick read. I’d give this book 4 out of 5 stars.

Resisting Happiness by Matthew Kelley
Every Lent I try to pick out at least one religious or spiritual book to read. This year I was thinking of re-reading Rediscover Jesus by Matthew Kelly, the book that was used for Dynamic Catholic’s The Best Lent Ever program last year. Although the Best Lent Ever series this year used a different book, Resisting Happiness, to accompany its videos, I wasn’t sure I wanted to buy this year’s book. Then the Deacon at the church I go to announced that the parish would be giving each family a free copy of Resisting Happiness so I decided to again do Dynamic Catholic’s The Best Lent Ever program. Unlike the more in-depth questions at the end of each chapter of Rediscover Jesus, this book gave short, practical advice that a person can put into practice to help him or her overcome what Matthew Kelly calls Resistance, which is whatever keeps us from doing what we know we should be doing in order to become “the-best-version-of-ourselves,” the person that God knows we can be and wants us to be. Some of the advice involves inner reflection (reflect on your image of God). Some of the advice involves prayer (ask God for his advice). Some of the advice involves action (go to Reconciliation). Not all of this advice will work for everyone, and frankly, if one would follow all of his advice, there would be no time left for work, spending time with family, sleep, etc. which is not very practical. I think this book is meant to give people several ideas about how to help them overcome whatever is stopping them from opening their lives up to God’s will, overcome what’s making them resist happiness since true happiness comes only when we do God’s will. After all, God put us on this earth for a reason and it is only in doing what we are meant to be doing that we find true happiness. Not all of the advice will work for everyone, but I think there are enough practical tips and thought-provoking chapters that nearly everyone can find at least one thing that will work for them. One of the chapters that I found particularly thought-provoking was “Are You a Pilgrim or a Tourist?”

Tourists want everything to go exactly as they have planned and imagined it. They rush around from one place to another making sure they cram everything in. They are constantly buying souvenirs and knickknacks, many of which they look at when they get home and wonder, “What was I thinking?” Tourists get upset if there are delays. They demand prompt attention and service to their every need and desire. They focus on themselves, often shoving past others to get where they want to go. Tourists go sightseeing. Tourists count the cost.

Pilgrims are very different. They look for signs. If a flight gets delayed or canceled, they ask, “What is God trying to say to me?” Pilgrims are not concerned with seeing and doing everything, just the things they feel called to see and do. They are not obsessed with shopping. They are aware of the needs of others. Pilgrims go looking for meaning. Pilgrims count their blessings. — Kelly, Matthew, Resisting Happiness, pages 147-148.

I’m the type of person who tries to be in control, who tries to plan for every contingency, and who gets anxious when things don’t go as planned (or worries that things aren’t going to go as planned). When I think about approaching life as a pilgrim instead of as a tourist, I can see how much less stressful it must be. Will I be able to put that into practice in all aspects of my life? I don’t know. But I can certainly try…

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer
An inspirational true story about a teenager, William Kamkwamba, in Malawi who overcame obstacles in his life, including famine, to go on to build a windmill from spare parts in a junkyard with the intention of bettering the life in his family, his village, and eventually all of Malawi. What makes this even more remarkable to me is that this all would not be possible except for some donated books in the village library and Kamkwamba’s drive to keep up with his studies on his own (while he started secondary school twice, his parents could not afford the fees to keep him in school). All of Kamkwamba’s knowledge about windmills, electricity, and physics was self-taught. This story starts out with Kamkwamba in Primary School and follows him through the years of drought and hardship, through his building of the windmill and wiring of his family’s house for electricity, through his TED talk in Tanzania and the opportunities that followed and ending with him attending the African Leadership Academy in Johannesburg, South Africa.

“My fellow students and I talk about creating a new kind of Africa, a place of leaders instead of victims, a home of innovation rather than charity. I hope this story finds its way to our brothers and sisters out there who are trying to elevate themselves and their communities, but who may feel discouraged by their poor situation. I want them to know they’re not alone. By working together, we can help remove this burden of bad luck from their backs, just as I did, and use it to build a better future” — William Kamkwamba, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, Kindle edition, Locations 4144-4149

While this wasn’t my favorite book, I’m glad that I read it. Besides telling Kamkwamba’s story, he also paints a picture of life in Malawi, and specifically in his village and on the family farm. In retrospect, I wish I would’ve known more about electricity and physics before reading this book because Kamkwamba does go into some detail when he describes putting together the windmill and wiring the house. But overall, the lack of that knowledge did not hinder my interest in the story. Personally, I would give this book 3 1/2 to 4 stars.

Who Am I This Time? by Kurt Vonnegut
I heard about this story from a fellow commenter on YouTube. CBS posted a video from the TV show, Scorpion, in which Walter and Paige tell each other that they are in love with each other. One of the commenters mentioned that there is a precedent for a relationship like Walter and Paige’s in the Kurt Vonnegut short story Who Am I Now?. Since I am obsessed with Scorpion, a big fan of Walter and Paige and their relationship, and like to read, I checked it out. Thankfully Google Books had a pdf copy online to read, so I read it on my lunch hour. It’s a delightful love story about a shy, awkward hardware clerk who is a genius actor and his leading lady who without him can’t act at all. Together on stage, they give a spectacular performance and she falls in love (though I suspect he too fell in love but was too shy to show his feelings). Luckily, she had an idea to use plays and acting to get him past his shyness and awkwardness so they could spend time together and express their love for each other… and the rest is history.

Rome Sweet Home by Scott and Kimberly Hahn
In the Fall of 2016, my husband and I took the Alpha Course that was offered at the church we attend. My husband, being a non-Catholic, wanted to learn more about the Catholic faith. Unfortunately, the Alpha Course is more about generic Christianity rather than a course in Catholic theology. At the end of the course, each student was given a copy of this book. The book is about the conversion to Catholicism of the author, an anti-Catholic Presbyterian minister (Scott) and his wife (Kimberly). Scott is now a Catholic lay theologian, author, professor, and Christian apologist. Each chapter of the book is split between Scott’s perspective and Kimberly’s.

Several things stood out for me in this book (warning, spoilers):

1. The more Scott studied scripture, the more questions he had about his own religion and the more that he found that “the Roman Catholic Church that [he] opposed seemed to be coming up with the right answers on one thing after another, much to [his] shock and dismay. After a number of instances, it got to be chilling.” (page 46). At the same time, he found his own religion lacking: “…liturgy and the sacraments were not the things we studied. They weren’t in our background; they weren’t what we read in the text; they weren’t things we were open to. But going through the Letter to the Hebrews and the Gospel of John made me see that liturgy and the sacraments were an essential part of God’s family life.” (page 45).

2. Kimberly was not as open to the Catholic perspective as Scott was. The more Scott studied and came to believe what the Catholic Church taught, the more Kimberly feared for what all this meant for her family, what all this meant for her as a faithful Presbyterian. Although earlier she had come to believe in the Catholic view of birth control after much study, she, at first, wanted nothing to do with Scott’s new-found Catholic faith. Kimberley at this point went through a dark night of the soul. And, yet, she trusted in the Lord so much during this time. Despite a spiritual distance between them, despite feeling deeply betrayed and abandoned when Scott came to her to ask that he be released from his promise to wait five years before he converted, she still released him from that promise after praying about it. She knew that she should not stand in the way of his obedience to the Lord, even if that obedience meant there would be more distance between them. Kimberly wrote that at that point their marriage “was in the midst of the greatest challenge we had ever had.” (page 95).

3. “Lord, I’ll go wherever you want me to go, do whatever you want me to do, say whatever you want me to say, and give away whatever you want me to give away.” (page 115).

For thirty days I prayed every day, “God, give me the grace to pray that prayer.” I was so afraid that by praying that prayer, it would seal my fate—I would have to throw away my brain, forget my heart and follow Scott like a moron into the Catholic Church.

Finally, I was ready to pray that prayer, trusting God with the consequences. What I found was, I was the one who had made the cage, and, instead of locking it, the Lord opened the door to set me free. My heart leapt. Now I was free to begin to want to study and to probe, to begin to explore things with a measure of joy once again. Now I could say, Okay, God, it isn’t the way I planned my life, but your dreams are good enough for me. What do you want to do in my heart? in my marriage? in our family? I wanted to know. (page 116)

On a personal level, I wish I had as much enthusiasm for praying the Rosary as Scott does and I wish I had as much enthusiasm for the Catholic faith as the Hahn’s do. This book has inspired me to read the Bible more and study the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Scott also recommended reading The Documents of Vatican II. I don’t know if I’ll get around to doing that, but perhaps once I make reading the first two a habit some of that enthusiasm that I had back when I entered fully into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil 20 years ago will return.

Takedown Twenty by Janet Evanovich
I rescued this book from my in-laws’ book recycling pile when they were preparing to move. For a while now I had been wanting to read a Stephanie Plum novel to see what all the hype is about (#1 New York Times Bestseller), but I really didn’t want to buy one of the books in case I didn’t like it. Also, I hadn’t yet gotten around to checking one out of the library.

This book is silly, hilarious, and dirty. It’s that third part that turned me off. That and I just did not care about the characters, although they did kind of grow on me as the book progressed. Maybe if I would’ve started reading the series at book #1, instead of book #20, I would feel differently about the characters and Stephanie’s relationships with Morelli and Ranger. I didn’t like that at all, but maybe if I knew more about how they both ended up as Stephanie’s romantic interests I would feel differently about that too.

This book will be donated to the library book sale and unless I get another Stephanie Plum novel for free, I won’t be reading another in the series. And even then I might think twice.

Ordeal by Innocence by Agatha Christie
I bought this ebook on deep discount and I’m glad I did. On the one hand, I’m glad I was able to read another Agatha Christie novel; on the other hand, I didn’t enjoy reading it. The plot was somewhat interesting although also somewhat predictable at times. The characters themselves were not that interesting to me. It has been a long time since I read an Agatha Christie novel, so I can’t really compare this to others she has written, but after reading this novel, I thought to myself that this is certainly not up to the usual standards of a great author such as Christie. That being said, the belated search for justice and peace for a man’s family actually bringing just the opposite I found interesting.

The Riddles of Hillgate by Zoey and Claire Kane
This is book 1 in the Z&C Mystery series. It’s a quick read that, in my opinion, ends quite abruptly. The story kept me interested, however, I didn’t care for the mother and daughter duo who are the main characters in this book, and have the same name as the authors. I would give this book three stars. A cozy mystery that’s a fun, quick read.

Maple Syrup Murder by Grace Lemon
This is the third book in the Oh Fudge! Mystery series. I started out reading the third book because I was looking for a cozy mystery a while back and Amazon offered it with a deep discount at the time. Interestingly enough, at the end of this ebook, there is an offer to get the first book in the series for free, if you subscribe to the mailing list. I thought it a small price to pay for a free book in a series in which I liked one of the books, so I signed up. I don’t know if the offer is still available as of this writing though.

As I said, I enjoyed this mystery. It’s a fast-paced read that can be read in a few hours. I thought the part where the main character, Ida Noe, suddenly puts two and two together to solve the murder seemed a bit abrupt. The later scene at the library when she’s trying to find proof for her theory kept the reader in the dark until the end, but that was a good thing because it kept me interested to read until the end. I also thought it cute how the police found out what Ida knew. That was a nice touch. Another nice touch was to include several recipes at the end of the book, including Ida’s Maple Bacon Fudge, which is mentioned several times in the book. Ida owns the fudge shop in Cider Island, the city where this mystery takes place. Overall, I’d give this book 3 1/2 to 4 stars.

Blue Shoes and Happiness by Alexander McCall Smith
Many years ago a co-worker recommended the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series of books to me. Back in 2009, I Netflixed the TV show to see what it was all about. I fell in love with the characters’ lives and became interested in the plot lines. It’s too bad that a nice show like that lasted only one season.

After seeing the show, I checked out the audiobook version of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, the first book in the series, and enjoyed it. It was my intention to eventually read all the books in the series, and I still want to do that, so when I saw Blue Shoes and Happiness in our neighborhood’s Little Free Library I knew that was the book I wanted to check out.

[Warning: Spoilers]
I read through most of this book twice. The first time I read it only every few days and eventually I noticed that I was forgetting much of what I read. I was off from work for the 4th of July so I decided that I would spend much of the day reading out on the porch, starting back at the beginning of the book. This is the seventh book in the series. So much has happened in the lives of Mma Ramotswe and Mma Makutsi since the first book. Although I would recommend reading the series in order, this book can also stand on its own. That being said I don’t think a reader can get the full extent of how charming this series and its characters are by reading just this book, although as always Alexander McCall Smith does paint a wonderful picture of Botswana through the eyes of Mma Ramotswe. The cases the detectives have to solve in this book are not fully solved in my opinion — no one goes to jail, at least no one the readers see — so it’s a bit different than your typical crime/detective story I think. And for me, that’s a bit unsatisfying. Us readers are left to assume that the doctor is disciplined in some way. We know that the blackmailer will stop blackmailing Mma Tsau, but what about the other person (or people) she’s blackmailing? And as for Mma Tsau, is she still stealing food at the university to give to her husband? If so, shouldn’t something be done about it? Also, the case in Mokolodi, that came to a tragic end. I was surprised how hard I took the death, especially since it was of a fictional character in a work of fiction.

These books have several philosophical reflections by Mma Ramotswe. These are a few quotes from this book that particularly spoke to me:

“It was all very well sitting there on her verandah thinking about the problems of others, but it was getting late in the afternoon and there were things to do. In the kitchen, at the back of the house, there was a packet of green beans that needed to be washed and chopped. There was a pumpkin that was not going to cook itself. There were onions to be put in a pan of boiling water and cooked until soft. That was part of being a woman, she thought; one never reached the end. Even if one could sit down and drink a cup of bush tea, or even two cups, one always knew that at the end of the tea somebody was waiting for something.” (page 12-13)

“To use strong language, she thought, was a sign of bad temper and lack of concern for others. Such people were not clever or bold simply because they used such language; each time they opened their mouths they proclaimed I am a person who is poor in words.” (page 95)

“…it was always difficult for Mma Ramotswe not to feel sympathy for another, however objectionable his conduct might be, however flawed his character, simply because she understood, at the most intuitive, profound level what it was to be a human being, which is not easy. Everybody, she felt, could do evil, so easily; could be weak, so easily; could be selfish, so easily. This meant that she could understand–and did–which was not the same thing as condoning–which she did not–or taking the view–which she did not–that one should not judge others. Of course one could judge others, and Mma Ramotswe used the standards of the old Botswana morality to make these judgments. But there was nothing in the old Botswana morality which said that one could not forgive those who were weak; indeed, there was much in the old Botswana morality that was very specifically about forgiveness. One should not hold a grudge against another, it said, because to harbour grudges was to disturb the social peace, the bond between people.” (page 97)

“‘Well, that’s the important thing, isn’t it, Mma? To feel happiness, and then to remember it.’

‘I think you’re right,’ said Mma Makutsi. Happiness was an elusive thing. It had something to do with having beautiful shoes, sometimes; but it was about so much else. About a country. About a people. About having friends like this.” (page 217)

“Mma Ramotswe leaned back in her chair and closed her eyes. She knew that there were places where the world was always green and lush, where water had meant nothing because it was always there, where the cattle were never thin and listless; she knew that. But she did not want to live in such a place because it would not be Botswana, or at least not her part of Botswana… She had been happy for those people, because they had water all about them, but she had not felt that it was her place, which was in the south, in the dry south. No, she would never exchange what she had for something else. She would never want to be anything but Mma Ramotswe, of Gabarone, wife of Mr J.L.B. Matekoni of Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors, and daughter of the late Obed Ramotswe… God had given her gifts, she thought.” (pages 219-220)

“…’It is important just to be able to sit and think.’

Mma Potokwane agreed with that. ‘I often tell the orphans not to spend all their time working,’ she said. ‘It is quite unnatural to work like that. There should be some time for work and some for play.’

‘And some for sitting and watching the sun go up and down,’ said Mma Ramotswe. ‘And some time for listening to the cattle bells in the bush.'” (page 226)

I would recommend this book to readers who enjoy charming stories and charming characters. Although I would recommend readers read the series from the beginning, if an opportunity presents itself to read this book out of order, I would recommend the reader not pass up that opportunity to do so.

Grace Under Pressure by Julie Hyzy
I rescued this book from the book recycling pile when my in-laws were preparing to move. This is a charming cozy mystery, the first in the Manor House Mystery series, that left a smile on my face at the end. However, while this book does provide lots of background for the main character, Grace, it fails to provide a sense of place for the story itself (i.e. where in America? mid-west? east coast?) I’m not sure if I want to read more books in the Manor House Mystery series, but I am curious how the relationship between Jack and Grace develops. I’d give this book 4 out of 5 stars.

The Complete Peanuts: 1950 to 2000 by Charles Schulz
This book’s content is different than the others in the Complete Peanuts series. The other books contain, in order, the Sunday and daily comic strips that were published in newspapers from 1950 to 2000. This book contains cartoons, comics, and stories that show the Peanuts characters or precursors to them that were published in various formats: cartoons for the Saturday Evening Post, comic book stories that were drawn by Schulz himself (not collaborators as most of the comic books of the 1950s and 1960s were), advertisements, storybooks, and spot-drawings focusing on Snoopy.

I found this book quite interesting, seeing the Peanuts characters in other than a comic strip. Before reading this book I didn’t know that Schulz didn’t draw most of the strips for the comic books of the 1950s and 1960s. The afterword by Jean Schulz, Charles Schulz’s wife, was also an interesting read. She talks about what Charles Schulz was like personally. Reading that he used to like to ask people off-the-wall questions to make them think, or ask questions that might be considered by some too probing, or that he always turned the conversation toward others rather than himself made sense to me. He was a storyteller and so liked to hear about other people’s lives (their stories) and through his storytelling he liked to make people think of deeper questions often. My favorite sections of this book were the reprints of the 1984 book Things I’ve Had to Learn Over and Over and Over (Plus a Few Minor Discoveries)1 and the 1981 book Things I Learned After It Was Too Late (And Other Minor Truths).2 My favorite advice/words of wisdom/observations:

“A hug is better than all the theology in the world.”1 page 190
“You can’t discuss something with someone whose arguments are too narrow.”1 page 193
“Don’t worry about the world coming to an end today. It’s already tomorrow in Australia.”1 page 201
“Never neglect writing letters of appreciation to someone who has been good to you.”1 page 206
“To avoid getting sick while traveling, be careful what you eat, and stay home.”1 page 209
“Be thankful and drink a toast to the man who invented the roof.”1 page 211
I can think of one person who must’ve read this book and taken this quote to heart: “And when all else fails, blame it on the media.”1 page 211

“There’s a lot more to life than not watching TV.”2 page 215 (I’m a Scorpion and Murdoch Mysteries addict fan.)
“Feet are always mad about something.”2 page 220
“Never lie in bed at night asking yourself questions you can’t answer.”2 page 224
“Life is easier if you only dread one day at a time.”2 page 225
“It’s impossible to be gloomy when you’re sitting behind a marshmallow.”2 page 230

Billy Budd and Typee by Herman Melville (Introduction by Maxwell Geisman

[Warning: Spoilers]

This book was my cousin’s when he was in high school. When he moved out of his parents’ house, he left this book (and others) in his room. After my father died, I moved into his old room and when I moved out my aunt offered me the books he left, but I hadn’t gotten around to reading this particular book until nearly 17 years after I moved out.

The introduction to this volume is informative as an in-depth analysis of Billy Budd and explains why these two titles are compiled in this one book.

Reading Billy Budd is an exasperating endeavor. After about 40 pages, the story is written more like a story, but before that, the story is interrupted by digressions that are supposed to add background and a sense of the times the characters are living in. However, I found the digressions to be long-winded and distracting. The story is written to be like a narrative of a true event, as evidenced by the last 3 chapters, but there really isn’t much to the story itself and, in my opinion, it could’ve been told in half the amount of space. Also, Melville’s referencing what he had written previously in the text is annoying. On the plus side, there were quite a few footnotes in this volume to explain the now obscure historical and literary references.

Typee is the second story in this volume. This book is about the adventures of two sailors, Tom and Toby, whose ship is anchored near one of the Marquesas islands. They decide to take off and live on the island for a few days after they and several shipmates are given leave for the day. After some unexpected obstacles, they early on run into the Typees, one of three tribes on the island and the one rumored to be the most fierce. This book chronicles their adventures as captives, and later their separate escapes several months later. This is written as though Tom, after having returned home, is giving an account of what he has actually experienced during his time on the Marquesas islands.

Personally, I found this book boring. The descriptions were bland. I could not get a picture in my mind of the island or its inhabitants. The author does provide descriptions for some of the foods, but the more interesting descriptions would’ve been the practices of the islanders (savages the author calls them, but then goes on several times in the book to compare them to “civilized” people back home and the civilized do not always come out in a favorable light in these comparisons). However, the author does not explain why the savages do what they do, why their religious practices are the way they are, why some practices are taboo, etc. All through the book, I kept asking “why” and the author never answers, which made me less and less interested in the story. Also, the ending seemed totally out of the blue. There were two factions of Typees: one that wanted to keep Tom captive and another that wanted him to go back to the ship so he could go home. Throughout the earlier part of the book, all the Typees seemed to agree to keep him captive. Again, the author does not offer an explanation as to why either (a) some of the Typees had a change of heart or (b) if they always felt that way, what made them take a stand now against those that wanted to keep him captive. Again, more questions than answers.

After the main story is concluded, there is a sequel, “The Story of Toby,” that answers what happened to Toby after he left the Typee village in order to get help for an ailing Tom. At the end of this section, there is this: “He always thought of me as dead — and I had every reason to suppose that he too was no more; but a strange meeting was in store for us, one which made Toby’s heart all the lighter.” Yet, the next and last section, titled “Appendix,” speaks of the author’s time in Honolulu after escaping the Marquesas. This is written presumably to bring to light the truth to what the author describes as a gross misrepresentation of “events which occurred upon the arrival of Lord George Paulet at Oahu.” But, nowhere in this narrative is Toby spoken of. So again, more questions: what of this strange meeting between Tom and Toby? An account of that would’ve probably been more interesting to read than what is actually written in the Appendix.

Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albom
Mitch Albom is one of my favorite authors, but despite that I had not read this book, published in 1997, until this year. I saw this book in our neighborhood’s Little Free Library so I traded the book Grace Under Pressure for Tuesdays With Morrie.

This book is a conversation between Albom and a professor he had back in college, a professor he had grown close to, considering him a friend and mentor (he called him “coach”). Despite saying he’ll keep in touch after he graduated college, Albom never did and life went on. Then one night he was channel surfing and came across Nightline’s Ted Koppel interviewing Morrie Schwartz, Albom’s old professor, friend and mentor who now was suffering from ALS. That led to Albom reconnecting with Morrie and having a one-on-one conversation about the meaning of life, Albom flying out to visit every Tuesday for many weeks until Morrie’s death.

The reader may find this book sad as he or she reads about Morrie’s deteriorating health. But at the same time, the reader may also find hope and gratitude for Albom and Morrie spending this time together so that Morrie could impart his wisdom not only on Albom but on all who read this book.

“A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” — Henry James (page 79)

There are so many passages in this book that touched me. I’ve bookmarked so many pages so that I could go back and re-read them. Part of me wants to keep this book forever and part of me wants to put it back in the Little Free Library so that others will be able to learn from its wisdom. I do believe I will do the latter, but not before presenting here some of the passages that spoke to me in some way.

Albom wrote out a list of topics he wanted to discuss with Morrie, topics that confuse many people and topics that hundreds of self-help books still do not seem to offer adequate answers to. Albom was hoping that Morrie could provide clarity. The list included: Death, Fear, Aging, Greed, Marriage, Family, Society, Forgiveness, and A meaningful life.

None of the quotes below gives a complete picture of the conversation at hand. Despite what some reviewers I have read have written, this book cannot be whittled down to quick little sound bites. This book is more than pockets of wisdom; it shows a redeveloping close relationship between two people, even though one of the two is at the same time slipping away. I would recommend this book to everyone, even to those who think books like these are not “their thing.” I would guess that most people who read this book will be changed by it in some positive way.

The phone rang yet again and Morrie asked his helper, Connie, to get it. She had been jotting the callers’ names in Morrie’s small black appointment book. Friends. Meditation teachers. A discussion group. Someone who wanted to photograph him for a magazine. It was clear I was not the only one interested in visiting my old professor—the “Nightline” appearance had made him something of a celebrity—but I was impressed with, perhaps even a bit envious of, all the friends that Morrie seemed to have. I thought about the “buddies” that circled my orbit back in college. Where had they gone? (page 32)

I envied the quality of Morrie’s time even as I lamented its diminishing supply. Why did we bother with all the distractions we did? Back home, the O.J. Simpson trial was in full swing, and there were people who surrendered their entire lunch hours watching it, then taped the rest so they could watch more at night. They didn’t know O.J. Simpson. They didn’t know anyone involved in the case. Yet they gave up days and weeks of their lives, addicted to someone else’s drama.

Morrie…had developed his own culture—long before he got sick…He read books to find new ideas for his classes, visited with colleagues, kept up with old students, wrote letters to distant friends. He took more time eating and looking at nature and wasted no time in front of TV sitcoms or “Movies of the Week.” He had created a cocoon of human activities—conversation, interaction, affection—and it filled his life like an overflowing soup bowl. (pages 42-43)

[Note: although I think creating a “cocoon of human activities” is a worthwhile pursuit, and I sometimes think I want this in my life, I’m still not ready to give up watching the “Murdoch Mysteries” and “Scorpion” TV shows, and in the case of “Scorpion” blogging about it and carrying on online conversations about its characters and plotlines.]

“The most important thing in life is to learn how to give out love, and to let it come in.”

His voice dropped to a whisper. “Let it come in. We think we don’t deserve love, we think if we let it in we’ll become too soft. But a wise man named Levine said it right. He said, “Love is the only rational act.” (page 52)

…”even I don’t know what ‘spiritual development’ really means. But I do know we’re deficient in some way. We are too involved in materialistic things and they don’t satisfy us. The loving relationships we have, the universe around us, we take these things for granted.” (page 84)

“The fact is, there is no foundation, no secure ground, upon which people may stand today if it isn’t the family. It’s become quite clear to me as I’ve been sick. If you don’t have the support and love and caring and concern that you get from a family, you don’t have much at all. Love is so supremely important. As our great poet Auden said, ‘Love each other or perish.'”

“Say I was divorced, or living alone, or had no children. This disease—what I’m going through—would be so much harder. I’m not sure I could do it. Sure people would come visit, friends, associates, but it’s not the same as having someone who will not leave….” (pages 91-92)

“…If you hold back on the emotions—if you don’t allow yourself to go all the way through them—you can never get to being detached, you’re too busy being afraid. You’re afraid of the pain, you’re afraid of the grief. You’re afraid of the vulnerability that loving entails.

“But by throwing yourself into these emotions, by allowing yourself to dive in, all the way, over your head even, you experience them fully and completely. You know what pain is. You know what love is. You know what grief is. And only then can you say, ‘All right. I have experienced that emotion. I recognize that emotion. Now I need to detach from that emotion for a moment.'” (page 104)

[Note: I wonder if this experiencing and detachment works for anxiety?]

…if aging were so valuable, why do people always say, “Oh, if I were young again.”…

He smiled. “You know what that reflects? Unsatisfied lives. Unfulfilled lives. Lives that haven’t found meaning. Because if you’ve found meaning in your life, you don’t want to go back. You want to go forward. You want to see more, do more. (page 118)

“Remember what I said about finding a meaningful life? … Devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.” (page 127)

Upon reflection, while all of these tidbits of advice are wonderful, one thing that no one ever gives advice on is how to do these things. More specifically, how to make friendships that last. In the past, I’ve written letters and emails to reconnect with relatives and old friends. I’ve also gotten involved in my community in the past. But none of this has led to a “cocoon of human activity” or closer relationships with relatives or close friendships. I’m thankful for the friends that I do have, even if we’re not as close as we once were. I’m also thankful for my husband, who without him, I would have no close friend or family at all. Having a “cocoon of human activity” and friends and family around you are important, especially as you get closer to the end of your life. But, how can this happen when no one wants to reciprocate your attempts at friendship or any other type of relationship for that matter? A question that seems to not have any answers, unfortunately.

To Be Where You Are by Jan Karon
This latest, and alas final, book in the Mitford series takes place over several months and is split evenly over life in Mitford and life at Meadowgate. Although the book starts out with a death, overall, this last book in the series is about new beginnings, the most obvious one being Dooley, Lace, and Jack’s as a family.

Although I realize that Ms. Karon has to write about Dooley and Lace’s life, especially since their wedding was such a big part — OK, the whole part — of the last book, Come Rain or Come Shine, I will have to confess that I don’t like that storyline as much as any storyline with Father Tim, Cynthia, and the residents in the town of Mitford. That being said, Lace and Dooley’s surprise announcement at Jack’s name day celebration had me smiling from ear to ear.

It’s my belief that certain books come into our lives at the just right time, whether it be the story itself or a quote within that story that will impact our lives in some way if we let it. One morning I was reading this book before it was time for me to leave for a medical appointment. The appointment was routine; most people wouldn’t have given it a second thought, but I was anxious. Then at the last minute before I had to close the book and head off to my appointment I read this:

“He embraced her and decided to say what Peggy used to tell him all those years ago—when he had a skinned knee or another wound from his father, or when he was about to have three teeth yanked out at one go:

‘Everything’s going to be all right. Everything…is going to be all right.’ (page 223)

Coincidence? Divine intervention? Thank you Father Tim.

And thank you Ms. Karon for writing a series of books in which the characters seem like friends and the town of Mitford feels like home.

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[Note: Normally I wait to publish my thoughts about the books that I read in a certain year until my year-end “My Bookshelf…” post. But, as I finished writing this reflection I realized that I didn’t want this reflection to get lost among the multiple pages of that post.]

Mitch Albom is one of my favorite authors, but despite that, I had not read this book, published in 1997, until this year. I saw this book in our neighborhood’s Little Free Library so I traded the book Grace Under Pressure for Tuesdays With Morrie.

This book is a conversation between Albom and a professor he had back in college, a professor he had grown close to, considering him a friend and mentor (he called him “coach”). Despite saying he’ll keep in touch after he graduated college, Albom never did and life went on. Then one night he was channel surfing and came across Nightline’s Ted Koppel interviewing Morrie Schwartz, Albom’s old professor, friend and mentor who now was suffering from ALS. That led to Albom reconnecting with Morrie and having a one-on-one conversation about the meaning of life, Albom flying out to visit every Tuesday for many weeks until Morrie’s death.

The reader may find this book sad as he or she reads about Morrie’s deteriorating health. But at the same time, the reader may also find hope and gratitude for Albom and Morrie spending this time together so that Morrie could impart his wisdom not only on Albom but on all who read this book.

“A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” — Henry James (page 79)

There are so many passages in this book that touched me. I’ve bookmarked many pages so that I could go back and re-read them. Part of me wants to keep this book forever and part of me wants to put it back in the Little Free Library so that others will be able to learn from its wisdom. I do believe I will do the latter, but not before presenting here some of the passages that spoke to me in some way.

Albom wrote out a list of topics he wanted to discuss with Morrie, topics that confuse many people and topics that hundreds of self-help books still do not seem to offer adequate answers to. Albom was hoping that Morrie could provide clarity. The list included: Death, Fear, Aging, Greed, Marriage, Family, Society, Forgiveness, and A meaningful life.

None of the quotes below gives a complete picture of the conversation at hand. Despite what some reviewers I have read have written, this book cannot be whittled down to quick little sound bites. This book is more than pockets of wisdom; it shows a redeveloping close relationship between two people, even though one of the two is at the same time slipping away. I would recommend this book to everyone, even to those who think books like these are not “their thing.” I would guess that most people who read this book will be changed by it in some positive way.

The phone rang yet again and Morrie asked his helper, Connie, to get it. She had been jotting the callers’ names in Morrie’s small black appointment book. Friends. Meditation teachers. A discussion group. Someone who wanted to photograph him for a magazine. It was clear I was not the only one interested in visiting my old professor—the “Nightline” appearance had made him something of a celebrity—but I was impressed with, perhaps even a bit envious of, all the friends that Morrie seemed to have. I thought about the “buddies” that circled my orbit back in college. Where had they gone? (page 32)

I envied the quality of Morrie’s time even as I lamented its diminishing supply. Why did we bother with all the distractions we did? Back home, the O.J. Simpson trial was in full swing, and there were people who surrendered their entire lunch hours watching it, then taped the rest so they could watch more at night. They didn’t know O.J. Simpson. They didn’t know anyone involved in the case. Yet they gave up days and weeks of their lives, addicted to someone else’s drama.

Morrie…had developed his own culture—long before he got sick…He read books to find new ideas for his classes, visited with colleagues, kept up with old students, wrote letters to distant friends. He took more time eating and looking at nature and wasted no time in front of TV sitcoms or “Movies of the Week.” He had created a cocoon of human activities—conversation, interaction, affection—and it filled his life like an overflowing soup bowl. (pages 42-43)

Although I think creating a “cocoon of human activities” is a worthwhile pursuit, and I sometimes think I want this in my life, I’m still not ready to give up watching the “Murdoch Mysteries” and “Scorpion” TV shows, and in the case of “Scorpion” blogging about it and carrying on online conversations about its characters and plotlines.

“The most important thing in life is to learn how to give out love, and to let it come in.”

His voice dropped to a whisper. “Let it come in. We think we don’t deserve love, we think if we let it in we’ll become too soft. But a wise man named Levine said it right. He said, “Love is the only rational act.” (page 52)

…”even I don’t know what ‘spiritual development’ really means. But I do know we’re deficient in some way. We are too involved in materialistic things and they don’t satisfy us. The loving relationships we have, the universe around us, we take these things for granted.” (page 84)

“The fact is, there is no foundation, no secure ground, upon which people may stand today if it isn’t the family. It’s become quite clear to me as I’ve been sick. If you don’t have the support and love and caring and concern that you get from a family, you don’t have much at all. Love is so supremely important. As our great poet Auden said, ‘Love each other or perish.'”

“Say I was divorced, or living alone, or had no children. This disease—what I’m going through—would be so much harder. I’m not sure I could do it. Sure people would come visit, friends, associates, but it’s not the same as having someone who will not leave….” (pages 91-92)

“…If you hold back on the emotions—if you don’t allow yourself to go all the way through them—you can never get to being detached, you’re too busy being afraid. You’re afraid of the pain, you’re afraid of the grief. You’re afraid of the vulnerability that loving entails.

“But by throwing yourself into these emotions, by allowing yourself to dive in, all the way, over your head even, you experience them fully and completely. You know what pain is. You know what love is. You know what grief is. And only then can you say, ‘All right. I have experienced that emotion. I recognize that emotion. Now I need to detach from that emotion for a moment.'” (page 104)

I wonder if this experiencing and detachment work for anxiety?

…if aging were so valuable, why do people always say, “Oh, if I were young again.”…

He smiled. “You know what that reflects? Unsatisfied lives. Unfulfilled lives. Lives that haven’t found meaning. Because if you’ve found meaning in your life, you don’t want to go back. You want to go forward. You want to see more, do more. (page 118)

“Remember what I said about finding a meaningful life? … Devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.” (page 127)

Upon reflection, while all of these tidbits of advice are wonderful, one thing that no one ever gives advice on is how to do these things. More specifically, how to make friendships that last. In the past, I’ve written letters and emails to reconnect with relatives and old friends. I’ve also gotten involved in my community in the past. But none of this has led to a “cocoon of human activity” or closer relationships with relatives or close friendships. I’m thankful for the friends that I do have, even if we’re not as close as we once were. I’m also thankful for my husband, who without him, I would have no close friend or close family at all. Having a “cocoon of human activity” and friends and family around you are important, especially as you get closer to the end of your life. But, how can this happen when no one wants to reciprocate your attempts at friendship or any other type of relationship for that matter? A question that seems to not have any answers, unfortunately.

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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.

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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

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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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Why do we have the books that we do? How did we acquire them? Why did we acquire them? What thoughts do they provoke? In this post I’ll be going through the books that I read in 2014 and attempt to answer these questions.

Cat in a Golden Garland by Carole Nelson Douglas
Back when my husband and I were dating, lo about 10 years ago or more, one weekend we visited his local library. I don’t remember why we were there, if we even had a specific purpose. But I do know that they had an ongoing book sale. Now, I’m not the type to pass by a book sale and not look. Ok. I look, then end up buying two or more books. This day I bought Cat on a Leopard Spot by Carole Nelson Douglas and a Cat Who… series book. Somehow shortly after this my now husband and I got in the habit of reading the entire Cat Who … series of books to each other. After reading Cat on a Leopard Spot, I decided to buy a couple of more in the series because I enjoyed them so much. Then after a while I was on a decluttering kick and decided to give those books to the local library. A few years ago, I regretted my decision. I was missing my “friend” Midnight Louis and wanted to read those books again. Unfortunately, by then, many of the early books were out of print. I ended up tracking down used copies of the first half of the series in various used book outlets online (many at Better World Books). Cat in a Golden Garland was one of them. Using a gift card, I have since acquired the rest in the series that have been published in paperback. So, was it worth it? Yes. I still enjoy reading the adventures of Temple Barr and Midnight Louis. I’m looking forward to reading the rest in the series.

Tarzan and “The Foreign Legion” by Edgar Rice Burroughs
I decided to take a break from the Midnight Louis series for a while to read some other books on my bookshelf. The reason for this? I have to make room on my bookshelf for all of the newly acquired Midnight Louis books. So, I decided to start reading some of the books that I’m least likely to hang on to once they’ve been read. This is one of them. I know what you’re probably thinking “Really!!? Tarzan!!? How did this end up on her bookshelf?” There is a story behind this. When I was growing up my father mentioned that he used to read Tarzan books when he was younger. One time when I was in the local library I noticed that someone donated a nearly complete set of Tarzan books to the ongoing book sale. Since they were only 10 cents per book, I bought every one they had. I brought them home to show my Dad. He then told me that he used to read the Tarzan COMIC books, not the novels. And, he had no interest in reading the novels at all. So, I was stuck with a near complete set of Tarzan books. Ok, I could’ve donated them back to the library book sale, but I didn’t. Over the years I’ve tried to read at least one a year or one every couple of years (there were about 20 of them) then pass them on to the local library for their book sale. I still had 2 to go if you include this one. Although these books are not exactly something I’d normally pick up for myself at the library or bookstore, I still enjoy reading them, if only for the fact that they bring back cherished memories of my Dad and I watching old Tarzan movies with Johnny Weissmuller as Tarzan (the best Tarzan ever in my opinion!) on Saturday mornings. If you too have memories like this, this particular book is worth reading if just for Chapter 7 alone. The story is riveting and at times gives one philosophical questions to ponder, especially about war and what it does to a person. A warning though. The language is definitely NOT politically correct. I think this particular book is worse than many of the others. But, if you can put it into perspective (it was written during World War II and published shortly thereafter), I would recommend reading it.

Tarzan and the Madman by Edgar Rice Burroughs
The last of the Tarzan books that I have. See note above on how and why I acquired these books. This story, written in 1941 but not published until 1964 (a forgotten manuscript found by Edgar Rice Burroughs’ son), is more of a traditional Tarzan story than the previous book that I read. Although the book was hard to put down, for me the story and characters were bland in comparison to those of the previously read title. All in all, though, I’m glad that I got a chance to read these books.

Cat in a Crimson Haze by Carole Nelson Douglas
This is actually a re-read. I had read the first four books in the Midnight Louis series some time ago. Then, as I said above, a couple of years ago I decided to pick up where I left off. Unfortunately, I had forgotten some of the background to some of the characters. Matt Devine in particular. Although I had told myself that I would go back and re-read this book to reacquaint myself, I never did until now. After I read Cat in a Golden Garland, the eighth book in the series. That book also dealt quite a bit with Matt Devine’s life — coming to terms with the past and looking forward to the future. Cat in a Crimson Haze reaquainted me with his past so that I can understand his character better as the series goes forward.

The Life and Legacy of Pope John Paul II by Wyatt North
Because it was Lent, I decided I was going to read one or more of the religious books that I had not yet read that were sitting on my bookshelf (virtual or otherwise). Earlier in the year, I downloaded this as a free e-book from Amazon because I’m interested in the life of Pope John Paul II. I still remember when he became Pope. There was much rejoicing in my family because he was the first Polish Pope. (I’m half Polish and half German, but I grew up with the Polish side of my family and I identify myself more with the Polish side.) So, from the beginning I had an interest in finding out more about him. I also like to read biographies. And, what with him becoming a saint on April 27th, that spurred me even more to read about him this Lent. This book presented snippets of his life. I learned a few things about him. Good and not so good. I would’ve liked a more in-depth treatment of some of the topics, but I can’t complain too much, since this book was free.

Crossing the Threshold of Hope by Pope John Paul II
I bought this book shortly after it came out in the mid-90s because my Aunt Frances recommended it to me. Clearly her reading level was at a much higher level than mine because when I first sat down to read it I got about 10 pages in and put it back on my bookshelf. It was just too difficult to understand. Too esoteric. So, it sat on my bookshelf for nearly 20 years before I again picked it up this Lent. Since I first bought this book I have gone through RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) and become a full member of the Catholic Church. I’ve been going to church weekly for the past 18 years or so, listening to the readings and the homilies that explain them. Has my perspective changed? Do I understand a bit more? Yes. But, this was still a very difficult read for me. And, much of it, I still don’t understand. The reading becomes easier after page 76 or so. Less esoteric and more practical. But throughout reading it I felt as though there should be a list in front of the book of all the writers, philosophers, theologians, etc. that one needs to be familiar with in order to fully understand what John Paul II is saying, because, frankly, I am not familiar with any one of them except, for some, in name only.

Cat on a Hyacinth Hunt by Carole Nelson Douglas
Back to reading the Midnight Louis series of books. After reading Crossing the Threshold of Hope I wanted to read something light. It was nice to get back to reading this series. This particular book, however, is more romance than mystery. But, only in a good way. It was sorely needed as a way to advance the character development. When I first picked up this book, I thought I was reading it for the first time, but as I got near the end, I started to remember some of the scenes in the book. So, this was a re-read for me. But, one that I’m glad I re-read. I enjoyed it very much.

Cat in an Indigo Mood by Carole Nelson Douglas
Another excellent book by Carole Nelson Douglas in the Midnight Louis series. This book dealt more with mystery than romance. It also dealt with some hefty real-life issues, but not in a way that burdens the reader.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Have you ever finished a book and then just sat there, staring into space, while saying “Wow!”? This is that sort of book for me. I’d also recommend having a tissue handy for the ending, but not for the obvious reasons. A week after finishing the book, I went to see the movie. Although the movie is excellent and stands on its own, I recommend reading the book first. It fills in some of the gaps, depth-wise, of the characters and situations.

The Ox-Bow Incident by Walter Van Tilburg Clark
This is a re-read for me. I read this book in college. It has been on my bookshelf ever since. It’s one of those “ought to” books. Westerns are not my thing (unless it’s the old TV show The Young Riders. Thanks to Hulu for making all episodes available online!), so the only reason I think I kept it this long is because it’s a classic. “If I want to be intelligent (or seem intelligent) I should read/keep classics in my personal library” sort of thing. I’m trying to get out of this mindset and only keep the books on my bookshelf that I enjoy or books that speak to me in some way. So, in an effort to finally clear it out, I decided to read it once more and then donate it. I had forgotten that it has writing in it, so I may not be able to donate it. It may have to go to our bi-annual city-wide book recycling. The book itself ought to be read. It deals with some hefty moral issues. And, although it is set in 1885, there is some relevance to today too. Winder, the stagecoach driver talking about how the railroad took his (and many others’) job away. The railroad was progress, a technological breakthrough. Today other technological breakthroughs (progress!) also take people’s livelihoods away.

Cat in a Jeweled Jumpsuit by Carole Nelson Douglas
Another good book in the Midnight Louis series. This one, though, I read in short bursts rather than sitting for hours not wanting to put the book down. Why? Elvis overload! On the plus side, I was totally surprised by the ending.

If I Stay by Gayle Forman
This was a library e-book download. I saw a preview of the movie that was coming out in August and wanted to read the book. I was not, however, interested in seeing the movie. This book reads somewhat like The Fault in Our Stars in terms of voice. But, I guess that’s to be expected since in both cases the main character/narrator is a teenager. Although I liked The Fault in Our Stars better, I still found myself not being able to put this book down. But, the ending had me saying “What? That’s it?” rather than “Wow!”. The story itself is compelling, but I found the characters quite two-dimensional. Just names, really. Maybe that’s why I didn’t go through the emotional roller coaster like some readers did (judging from comments in various reviews). I don’t understand what all the hoopla is over this book. Guess it’s just not my type of book. I’m glad I chose to download it from the library rather than buy it.

A Shot in the Bark by C.A. Newsome
This was a free e-book that I got from Amazon.com. It started out promising, but the crude language turned me off. I also didn’t like that the story itself didn’t wrap itself up, especially since I will not be reading the next book in the series, if there is one.

Factory Man: How One Furniture Maker Battled Offshoring, Stayed Local and Helped Save an American Town by Beth Macy
While I was working on doing research for my job I came across an interview about this book and was intrigued, so I checked out a copy at the library. It is a fascinating book, but depressing too as it chronicles the downfall of American manufacturing and the consequences. One has to give John Bassett III alot of credit for being tenacious and doing all he could do to save his factory, the jobs of his employees, and his community. Although much of it, in general, I knew, I also learned some things along the way. In my opinion, it’s a must-read for everyone in America; especially for those who think nothing of choosing (when there is a choice!) imported goods over American-made goods.

Starry Night by Debbie Macomber
A woman from the church I used to go to turned me on to Debbie Macomber books. She recommended Mrs. Miracle to me and let me borrow her copy of the book. After I read that, I immediately went to the library and checked out another of Mrs. Macomber’s books. One in the Blossom Street series. A few years back I also bought another of her books at a library book sale (which I later passed on). And, I’m a big fan of the Cedar Cove TV series on the Hallmark Channel (I rearrange my Saturday schedule so I don’t miss it each week), even though I’ve never read any of the books in the Cedar Cove series. Although I normally don’t like romances, I do like these romances because they’re romances with morals. A striking contrast to the romance that was a part of A Shot in the Bark mentioned above. Starry Night will move you and melt your heart!

Somewhere Safe with Someone Good by Jan Karon
I’ve been a fan of the Mitford Series of books for many years. I picked up a copy of one of the books at a local bookstore and I was hooked. Since that was a book in the middle of the series, I went out and bought all the preceding books to catch up with the cast of characters. I was so disappointed that Ms. Karon decided to end the series years ago. I bought both books in the Father Tim series, which was a sort of replacement/continuation of the Mitford series, but I didn’t like them as well. I was eagerly anticipating this book, the 10th in the Mitford Series, ever since it was announced. I bought it on the first day that it came out. And, to tell you the truth, reading this book felt like coming home after a long trip away. “That was his favorite thing about books—they took you off to other people’s lives an’ places, but you could still set in your own chair by th’ oil heater, warm as a mouse in a churn.” This is my favorite quote in the book. I highly recommend setting in your favorite chair by the heater, opening your heart and getting reaquainted (or acquainted) with the people of Mitford. Although it’s not absolutely necessary to read the first 9 books in the Mitford Series and the two Father Tim books first, I think it’s a much more enjoyable read if you do. In fact, I wish I had re-read all those previous books before reading this one to fill in some of the details that I had forgotten over the years.

The Complete Peanuts 1991 to 1992 by Charles Schulz
The Complete Peanuts 1993 to 1994 by Charles Schulz
Bought as a gift box set to add to my collection. There’s not much to say, except that I thoroughly enjoyed these books as much as the previous editions in this series. An interesting observation: as much as Charlie Brown (and us fans) lament his unrequited love of the little red-haired girl, it’s not like he doesn’t have other girls who do love him. Three in fact, in these volumes. But, as in life, the heart wants what the heart wants. Even if it can’t have it. Personally, I think he should give Peppermint Patty or Marcie a chance…

The Origin of the Species by Charles Darwin
I bought this book years ago because what with the still-controversial topic of evolution vs. creationism coming up now and again, I thought I should actually read the book that everyone refers to in the conversation to get a feel for what Darwin actually said, rather than go on hearsay and what people think he said to either support or refute evolution. It took me about four months to plod through this book. Trying to read through this confirmed one thing: I’m not scientifically-minded. Most of what I read, I don’t understand. When I did understand something, I thought: “This book could’ve been condensed to one or two chapters.” On the other hand, I would’ve liked more concrete examples of what he was talking about. Maybe then I would’ve understood more. But, then again, this is just an abstract… albeit a 400 page abstract…. Did I waste my time reading this? That, I don’t know. I’m passing this along to my husband. Perhaps after he reads it, he could translate it for me. He understands more about such things than I do.

One thing for sure. The next book I read will be something light and enjoyable.

The Dalai Lama’s Cat by David Michie
This book was a birthday gift from my mother-in-law. Basically, it’s a lesson in practical Buddhism as seen through the eyes of the Dalai Lama’s cat; a cat who met with some unfortunate circumstances early in life, but who was saved thanks to the Dalai Lama. This was definitely light reading. At times, it seemed kind of childish in its language; something more suited to a children’s book. However, that doesn’t discount the teachings in the book. Chapter 7 is one that speaks to me in particular. Chapter 10 reminded me of a segment of my life 14 years ago. Perhaps, dear reader (as Snow Lion likes to say), you will find this book helpful in your life as well. Although I didn’t think it was all that well written and as a result didn’t like it as much as other books I’ve read, I still think it’s worth a read.

This wraps up the books I’ve read in 2014. I may pick up another book between now and January 1st, but I probably won’t finish it before the new year so my comments about it will be reserved for my Year 2015 Reflections post, if I publish one.

My resolution for next year is to rid myself of all of the “ought to” books (see comments above), keeping only those books that I enjoyed reading and would read again and those that spoke to me in some way. Gifts are another story. I still believe that, in deference to the giver, I should keep them even if otherwise I would’ve passed those along to the library book sale in other circumstances.

Wishing all my readers a happy holiday season and a new year filled with health, happiness and many blessings!

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