I like how January ushers in a new year and kicks off the countdown to spring. The snow is slowly starting to melt, but days are still short and the skies mostly gray. Books are still the main diversion to get through gloomy afternoons and dark evenings. Lately I start more books than finish them, but I did manage to find a couple of five star reads:
Summer of Light by W. Dale Cramer ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
A refreshing entry into the Christian fiction category in how the author presents church and faith. By placing a self-admitted redneck construction worker into the sudden situation of being the prime caretaker of their three children, readers see how faith takes on different meanings.
The story has no single great conflict. Instead, like life, there are many little fires that need to be put out: Mick learning to have one eye at all times on their sensory-sensitive son, managing the animals, learning how to be with his children instead of just taking care of them, and not washing his wife’s laundry.
If there is one main issue it’s Mick realizing that while he may not be a stay-at-home mother he does pretty well as a father. The smaller issues of importance are his acceptance that he has talent as an amateur photographer.
The author’s viewpoint of church is a thoughtful point of reference as he shows the importance of the family attending together, yet shows how service to others is also an aspect of consideration.
Secrets of the Realm by Bev Stout ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
Annie, an orphan girl mistreated by her aunt, runs off to London and disguises herself as a boy. She is taken on as a cabin boy upon the merchant ship The Realm. As Andre she has more than a few adventures as a young sailor, but when her secret is discovered by her shipmates she must make the hard decision of going to live on land once again.
Though recently written, the author has captured the essence of an old-fashioned tale similar to Stevenson or Dickens.
The Bodies in the Library by Marty Wingate ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
It’s difficult to resist the cheery cover, especially with the title being a nod to Agatha Christie’s well-known mystery story. And there is a cat of distinction.
The set up is fun. Hayley is hired to be a curator of Mrs. Fowling’s collection of first edition mystery writer books and she is having difficulty finding her way, especially since she is lacking in mystery book knowledge. Then there is the kerfuffle with the Wednesday night writing group being deemed as interlopers by the ever faithful Mrs. Woolgar, secretary and keeper of Mrs. Fowling’s reputation.
The dead body that is found in the library one morning does not help matters at all, but the murder does help Hayley prove she can become a curator of note and channel her developing Miss Marple skills to solve the crime.
A fairly engaging story that sometimes focuses more on Hayley’s personal life than on solving the murder; however, Wingate has a knack for keeping the plot interesting.
For readers who like amateur sleuthing stories enfolded in light human drama such as The Thursday Murder Club series.
Looking for more fives and more blue skies in February. Any fives from your January reads?
Today’s audiences talk about seeing a movie. And we are very much a visually oriented culture. Yet, in Shakespeare’s day audiences would say they were going to hear a play because language was such an integral aspect of their culture.
Shakespeare knew this, of course, which is why he wrote his plays with rhyme, rhythm, homonyms, laced with ambiguity. He wanted his audience to hear the auditory beauty of language.
Modern audiences are more accustomed (or have grown more accustomed to) sound bites—quick bits of communication. No wonder eye rolls and twitches are commonalities when someone mentions Shakespeare—we are no longer used to the longer, more developed portents of language. We want quick and easy auditory digestion instead of the languid delight of a language banquet. ‘Tis a shame, yet supping upon a Shakespeare play is possible with a bit of effort.
Shakespearean plays are written to be heard and the Stratford-Upon-Avon wordsmith created the means to better enjoy his words by employing the following:
1. Read the lines with deliberation and emphasis. For example, Macbeth’s “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” does better with a slow pronounced repetition to emulate the tedious monotony of life.
2. Use punctuation as a guide by reading to the end stop rather to the end of the line it gives more meaning to the lines. This is known as enjambment, where the line overflows into the next line, much like a waterfall cascades flow smoothly creating movement. For example, in Romeo and Juliet, Juliet pours out her emotions for Romeo in one rolling, passionate wave:
When he shall die, Take him and cut him out in little stars, And he will make the face of heaven so fine That all the world will be in love with night And pay no worship to the garish sun.
Reading this passage out loud, carrying one line over into the next enhances Juliet’s feelings for her Romeo.
3. Be aware of accented words, pronouncing them with an extra syllable. For example “perfume’d would be three syllables, not two. Shakespeare would have done this to enhance the meter or rhythm of the line. Plus, it has the bonus of sounding fancier.
4. Know that Shakespeare presented his words with intention to paint pictures (no access to CGI) with verbal cues to ignite his audience’s imagination. He needed his words to create imagery since scenery and props were minimal on the Elizabethan stage. For example, when Juliet says, “It was the nightingale, and not the lark,/ That pierced the fearful hollow of thine ear,” she is in her wedding bed with Romeo—she is no doubt as close to him as her heartbeat.
Reading Shakespeare can be an enriching, delightful experience when his words are read out loud with considerate digestion.
On to some clichés that may have you saying “Oh, Gee!”
To get a handle on something: to succeed in dealing with a difficult problem or situation. Handle can also mean the name or title of something or someone. The current use is figure out a solution.
To get a kick out of something: getting pleasure from. A twentieth century expression made popular in Cole Porter’s 1934 song “I Get a Kick Out of You.”
To get into hot water: to get into trouble. The reference is to be in water hot enough to burn or cause harm. In 1840 Richard Dana wrote in his Two Years Before the Mast “He was always getting in hot water.”
To get under one’s skin: to annoy someone. This probably refers to insects that bite and cause irritation. However, Cole Porter’s 1936 song “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” which describes a romantic inclination that could become irritating.
Gift of the gab: ability to speak well. the Gaelic word for mouth is gob. The word changed to gab by 1794.
Glutton for punishment: someone who takes on more than needed, as in unpleasant tasks. Rudyard Kipling used the expression in his 1895 story, “A Day’s Work” when he wrote “He’s honest, and a glutton for work.”
To go hog wild: to go crazy. An American expression thought to refer to how animals go crazy when thought to be in danger or is construed for excessive enthusiasm. As for the attachment to hogs? Hogs tend to make a lot of noise whether in pain or being happy.
The gory details: unpleasant aspects. Old English and German words have “gore” meaning related to “blood.” Gory details can refer to “bloody details.” Although blood is violent enough it can also extend to other unpleasant aspects such as extra emotional details.
To got scot-free: let go without penalty. The phrase has nothing to do with Scotland but with the meaning of “scot” as pertaining to tax assessment. To go scott-free to to go without having to pay tax, with a later meaning having to avoid any type of payment.
Got up on the wrong side of the bed: being grumpy. In ancient times using the left hand or foot was considered unlucky, so if someone got out of their bed using their left foot they were starting out the day badly. Caesar was known for this superstition.
To grasp at straws: making a hopeless effort to save oneself. A drowning person is said to grab at anything available to avoid going down, such as reeds. Reeds are also referred to as straws, but neither do much in giving support in keeping a person from going under.
Green around the gills: looking sick. Since the 1300s a green complexion signifies being ill while being rosy cheeked meant good health. “White” and “yellow” were also used to indicate illness, but green won out as the the designated sick color.
To grit one’s teeth: bearing up under pain. This comes from the ancient Greeks and Romans where setting one’s teeth to endure came from 300 B.C. Later, Thomas Jefferson wrote about Adams as “gritting his teeth.”
Which phrase surprised you the most? Any “Oh, G” phrases to contribute?
December is not my best month. Yes, there is Christmas, but it is also the real start of winter. Unlike the false winter snows in November, December snow falls and stays around through March. The transition from outside activity to inside (not a skier) means LOTS of book time. A warm fire, cocoa, a comfy recliner—maybe there are a couple of positives to winter after all.
Top reads: ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
The Last List of Miss Judith Kratt by Andrea Bobotis
Set in South Carolina in two time periods, 1929 and 1989, the narrator is older woman who faces the reckoning of family secrets when her estranged sister finally returns home.
A family saga told with subtlety, The Last List of Miss Judith Kratt, reveals how secrets, no matter how deeply buried have the tendency to rise and change the landscape of life.
The Hiding Game by Gwen Strauss
The Hiding Game is a biographical picture book story of how Aube and her family, along with other refugees his from Nazis in occupied France. Based on the true story of her great uncle Danny, the author relates with the naïveté of a child the circumstances of the situation. While the hardships are present it is the moments of joy and community that comes across so deftly through the blend of text and illustrations.
Janey’s Girl by Gayle Friesen
Claire and her mother Jane are finally making the journey to Smallwood, where Jane grew up. A small town holds no secrets, and Jane could not live there easily as a teen with a child born out of wedlock.
This is an opposite coming of age story in that it is the mother who needs to grow up. Claire’s journey is discovering family connections her mother wouldn’t allow her to have as a means of protecting her daughter. Claire has tough decisions to make that change the dynamics with her mother and in the process her mother learns that letting go doesn’t have to involve loss.
The Man Who Died Twice (The Thursday Murder Club #2) by Richard Osman
Osman’s second foray into the cozy mystery genre is a double thumbs up. The Thursday Murder Club has upped its stakes and is now dealing with the Mafia, MI5 and MI6, with a dash of drug dealers. The usual side plots are installed for interest sake, such as Chris’s romance progress and whether Joyce with get a dog. The tangled plot of who shot who and where are the diamonds all comes together neatly in the last couple chapters. The journey there is quite delightful.
Osman thankfully spares readers of spinning out the previous plot and simply plunges it, making this a standalone but it is strongly suggested to start with the first book to relish the character growth, especially how Joyce comes into her own.
Written tongue in cheek concerning geriatrics being crime solvers, along the lines of Miss Marple, Mrs Pollifax, and Reds.
December proved to have its share of good reads and as winter continues I am looking forward to more good reads to pass the loonngg winter evenings. I am open to suggestions, so do, please do, suggest some titles for me to check out.
I’m ever so glad I found Goodreads. Not only does it help in discovering books to read, it more importantly keeps track of the books I have read. Lately I am reading books I have read previously. Goodreads confirms this. I’m contemplating the implications of this reading overlap.
Never mind deep contemplations on my reading habits. Here are the brass facts: according to Goodreads I read 155 books by December 30th. I don’t log books that are DNF (did not finish), which are more than I want to acknowledge this year. Apparently I am becoming more discerning in my book selections.
Instead of the usual how many pages, most popular, least popular factums I thought I would give 746 books activity a try. Using this year’s book list I answered posed suppositions:
In high school I was Here and Now and Then (Mike Chen)
People might be surprised by The Ethan I Was Before (Ali Standish)
I will never be Maisie Dobbs (Jacqueline Winspear)
My life post-lockdown was Little Broken Things (Nicole Baart)
My fantasy job is The Finder of Forgotten Things (Sarah Loudin Thomas)
At the end of a long day I need The Maid (Nita Prose)
I hate being The Accused (John Grisham)
Wish Ihad The Cat Who Saved Books (Sosuke Natsukawa)
My family reunions areTo Disguise the Truth (Jen Turano)
At a party you’d find me with Birds of a Feather (Jacqueline Winspear)
I’ve never been toThe Last Bookshop in London (Madeline Martin)
A happy day includes The Ingredients of Love (Nicolas Barresu)
Motto I live by: The Art of Holding On and Letting Go (Kristin Lenz)
On my bucket list is The Island (Gary Paulsen)
Next year I want to have What the Fireflies Knew (Kai Harris)
That was fun and enlightening. Maybe my book choices reveal more about myself than I am aware of. Hope your year of books was enjoyable and here is to next year!
As stated earlier, the travel bug has not bit us. We hunker down in winter and practice wishful thinking for warmer climates.
All in all, winter is for the birds. Really. That’s what we are doing for entertainment. We have enticed juncos, nuthatches, chickadees, sparrows, finches, a part time dove, and an infrequent flicker to our front yard with seed and such and sit back and enjoy the show.
We have a very basic feeder and try to keep it filled; however when it’s 19 degrees, with a brisky wind, finding alternative methods of feeding our feathered friends, like tossing food out the window for them onto the snow is the solution.
The seed buffet has garnered the attention of other critters: squirrels and deer. The squirrels are comical in how they try to avoid going through the snow to get to the food. They traverse on the branches above and tail twitch in frustration that they can’t quite reach the feeder. We spent a good hour observing how one squirrel finally took the plunge and dove into the snow, tunneling a track to feeder’s base to glean dropped seeds.
The deer easily amble over to the feeder and lick seeds off the tray. They are not perturbed by our presence at the window.
The most entertaining morning session was when the squirrel and deer arrived at the same time. The deer held their ground and would not acknowledge the squirrel’s attempts to mosey up to the seed feed. Old Rocket would inch up, tail twitching in anxiety and then Burrito would level a look that translated as “Excuse me?” and Rocket would hightail up the tree and pace the limb waiting, waiting, waiting for his turn.
As for the birds—their territorial flutterings are reminiscent of playground squabbling. There is one white-crowned sparrow who is pro at fluffing up his feathers and chasing off the smaller birds from the seed buffet.
For most, the chosen winter sport is skiing, for us staying warm, while we watch from our chair side seats the front yard antics, suffices. Although, truthfully, after the third snow dump (and it’s still early December) I might just look into those Costco travel brochures that we pass by when we load up on birdseed. I imagine there are birds I can watch from a beachside balcony.
“Not on my immediate checklist.” This was the answer I gave when people started the conversation with “Are you going to travel?” when they learned I was retiring.
Nope. I’m a homebody to the point where I wonder if I need to seek counseling. I spent most of my working adult life away from home why would I want to leave it?
The top checklist item, besides sleeping in, was joining the Friends of the Library. I’m a frequent flyer as it is, visiting the library 2-3 times a week. I have shelved books, pulled holds, hosted story hour, and I have served on the library board. I was ready to wear an apron and sort books.
I don’t think I could have gotten away with not becoming a Friend of the Library. The president is a former school librarian and she said she was waiting for me to retire. There is nothing like being wanted. Especially being wanted by a group that adores books.
I paid my lifetime membership and arrived the last Tuesday of the month as instructed. Note: the privilege of paying to volunteer has a sense of irony to it).
No instructions except to unload books from their boxes and setting them on the designated genre shelves. Later they would get shelved in the rolling bookcases for the monthly book sale.
How can I possibly describe the elation of sifting through hundreds of donated books? The next best happy would be volunteering at Willy Wonka’s seconds sale.
Before I could finish my question of “What if we can’t resist —“ “Just bring them back when you’re done.”
I have become a triple bag lady at our monthly sortees. One bag for my English teacher friends who keep a classroom library for their students. Another bag for the Christian school where I once worked as their librarian (the book budget is never big enough). The last bag is for moi. My “to read” bookshelf is ever growing. To be without a book is almost as despairing as a being bereft of chocolate.
After sorting is the board meeting; all members are welcome but it’s mainly the board members who stay. I stayed because that’s where decisions are made. I was voted in as a Member At Large. I think that means I get to vote and might be called in to buy cookies when needed.
I have an apron now. I am official.
People who know me aren’t surprised I am a Friend of the Library. They think it’s because I love the library so much. It’s true, I do. But, here’s s secret—I joined up because of all the free books I have access to. Umm, all the free books that my membership fee is allowing me to have. There is that irony again.
November had its share of hits and misses. I usually start reading a new book just before going to bed. I’ll get about 25 pages in before I decide if it’s a go on or not. My husband tosses out a comment of “another miss, huh?” Yup. There are simply too many books I have yet to read to be willing to work with one that doesn’t work for me. Here are the hits. The misses are long gone.
A riveting premise, one that mixes science with mythology with equal respect to both. Each character is well-developed and the separate plot threads are given full attention as well. The author’s flippant prose adds light, appropriate humor.
The driven selfishness of each character emphasizes the importance of finding balance in one’s pursuits. The ending was a bit rushed and somewhat ambiguous, yet had an appropriate finality to an engaging story.
The ambiguity of the novel’s beginning absolutely pulls the reader in and the build up to that moment is well worth the progressive tale of Shan, a plucky boy who overcomes great odds to achieve a well-deserved happy ending.
Impressive historical detail involving immigrants, cultural traditions, and prison life make this an engaging read. Shan is a character the reader definitely roots for throughout the story.
Hesse presents a different perspective of WWII by setting her story in Amsterdam. The Germans have established occupation and are beginning to round up the Jewish population. There are citizens who begin hiding Jews, but this is not the initial emphasis of the story. Instead, the author focuses on the independent Hanneke who supports her family as a receptionist and by delivering black market goods.
The story takes a turn when one of her clients asks her to find the girl she has been hiding, a Jewish girl who seemingly disappeared. From that point Hanneke becomes obsessed with finding the girl to the point of jeopardizing lives.
Well-written, carefully researched, the story illustrates the different ways people responded to the war effort. Although considered YA it could easily pass for an adult read.
Anyone needing a boost in the get happy department should seek out Mike Allegra’s story of how one delightful capybara interjected a welcome dose of floofy good cheer amidst the critters in his neighborhood. A smile is guaranteed with the uplifting text and winsome illustrations.
Getting lost in a good book. So satisfying. Anyone get lost recently?