Thursday, January 31, 2019

I Resolved Not to Make Resolutions

I have not made New Year's Resolutions for many years; however, this year on a whim and because my daughter did it first and showed me her list, I made a 20 Before 2020 List.

This is mine, not hers. We have a few in common if you adjust them slightly. She wants to read 26 books; for a second year in a row, I am attempting 52 books read in 52 weeks. She's going to take a new class and go to an art exhibit; I'm going to try and take an art class. I stole #4 from her: "12 Purges -- 1/month.

It is the last day of January, and I somewhat started a purge...sort of...kind of...okay, well, maybe not. Yet, the difference between a resolution and a (whatever this is...a to do list by a certain time...20 Actions Before 2020) makes itself most clear when I fail.

When I fail a resolution, I fail. End of story. End of resolution. Try again next year. When I fail at this list, I don't think of myself as failing. One, it was made up in fun and whimsy and a measure of reality. Two, when I failed at some of these, I actually succeeded at something better. That silly number 9 about using bookmarks? I learned not to use bills and checks, and I learned that old envelopes and library receipts (or coffee receipts) and napkins can be torn to mark special pages. Therefore, fancy bookmarks are not always the best choice for me to mark a page.

My 20 Before 2020 list is an opportunity to ask myself "What works?" and "What didn't work and why?" Or, "What didn't work, but worked out even better?" On one hand, I failed miserably on #12 -- tech free, utility free day / month. On the other hand, I succeeded because I kept trying each day to fulfill number 12 and, by the end of the month, I had more moments of turning out lights, of making decisions to not use technology or appliances. I became more aware and more conscious of my actions.

A third reason I don't feel like a failure: Many of these involve one action to be completed by the end of the year. One month has finished, but I have eleven more to go!

(P.S. For those wondering about "deeper" actions: I do have additions, but that's a whole other post, and who is to say that numbers 1-12 aren't deep?) 

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Transitioning ('The War Bride's Scrapbook' by Caroline Preston and 'Jane and Prudence' by Barbara Pym)

I started to use "Matchmaking" as a post title; however, the war was the "matchmaker" in the one book and matchmaking isn't such a draw anymore. On a whim I grabbed The War Bride's Scrapbook off of the new library books shelf. If I couldn't find something better, the cover would meet a reading book challenge of "book you chose for the cover" (Modern Mrs. Darcy Reading Challenge).

(I reviewed the middle book Proof in my previous post.)

The War Bride's Scrapbook was also my third book read in 2019 (3/52). I read it fairly quickly, four days, and not because it is a novel in pictures. While not a typical novel, author Preston does actually give us the story of Lila Jerome who elopes after a few weeks of knowing Perry Weld who is about to ship out to the European front. I found the clippings of vintage postcards, magazine articles (with advice that borders on hilarious to us nowadays), newspaper clippings (sad), and photographs to be enlightening -- an excellent way for an adult to learn more about WWII and life during that time. Not exactly high school textbook material (who would have thought grandma and great grandma -- and great, great grandma --  thought that way about sex in the 1940s). It was an enjoyable book and in that respect I would give it 4 stars, but I usually reserve 4 stars for something I would buy at least at thrift store prices. The more I think about it, I might buy this book as a gift, so I'll leave it at 4 stars. It's worth checking out from the library and if it was a bit more general audience content in the bedroom, I would definitely buy it for a high school history/government class. 

I intentionally ordered from the library Jane and Prudence by Barbara Pym (1953) because it was a book written before I was born; I saw it on a Goodreads list; and Pym is an author I did not know (with a book cover that looks Austen-ish). Interestingly, Shirley Hazzard (apparently an author I should know but I don't), is quoted on the cover as saying, "Her books will last." I had never heard of Pym before so she did not make the 50 years necessary to become a "classic." Although, who knows, maybe she's going to make a posthumous comeback. This novel reads so much like an Austen type of novel, but has modern qualities, that I was baffled by the time frame at first. It is indeed a modern (modern for Pym and 1953) novel. Other reviewers claim Pym's novel has the feel of Wodehouse, but I can't verify that as I have not read Wodehouse (I know, let the shaming begin); however, I can agree that it has the feel of Austen (Pym is a bit more gently edgy, a bit more thought provoking in not just relationships but also church hierarchy and social mores for men and women), and the feel of Trollope (but not so long and drawn out) and the feel of Gaskell (but not so short). Stars, oh yes, rating with stars. This is one of those books, I would encourage people to check out of the library and keep checking out of the library so that it doesn't get discarded. I don't think I really need to buy it (which means 3 stars: I like it, but I don't want to buy it); however, I think the book is worth keeping around. Maybe I could say that I would buy it as a gift, not necessarily for my children (so, my children, don't start groaning about mom's next Christmas gift to you), but my literary women friends, if I had unlimited book funds, yes, I would buy it for them. 

Book Discussion Group? -- Definitely for both of these books. 
Transitioning? -- For the first, transitioning through the war years and the aftermath, transitioning in married life, transitioning in the role of women in culture. For the second, transitioning into modern life and also transitioning in the role of women in culture. 

Monday, January 28, 2019

Racing (Proof by Dick Francis)

"Racing" in this title refers to the world of horse racing in the book, but it can also refer to me racing to catch up with posting about what I have been reading. I have never stopped reading (even if it meant reading cereal boxes during my childrearing years); however, writing (as I recently read) quickly turns into a long and boring practice (which...cough...often spills over into this blog). Therefore, let me race through this review.

My local library book group periodically mentions Dick Francis, yet I never picked up any of his books until this year when I was looking for a book written in 1984. Of course, I looked up the 1984 booklist on Goodreads and saw this one Proof by Dick Francis. Mysteries, detective work, etc. don't usually appeal to me -- too much blood and guts, and I'm horrible at solving the mystery.

I did not solve the mystery (before it was revealed) in Proof either; however, the story of whiskey and wine being stolen, the additional background of horse racing, and, more importantly, an actual mystery written with more character development than blood and guts, kept me much so that I was disappointed to find out that Francis had not continued writing books about these characters. They would be perfect for a television series (since I can't read more about them in books). This book was #2 in the 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge, and it was going to be my book outside my genre comfort zone on the 2019 Modern Mrs. Darcy Reading Challenge. Since then I have found another book farther outside my comfort zone. Proof is a mellow, enjoyable read. I give it 4 stars which equals "Really good. I am returning it to the library, but I did recommend it to someone who bought the ebook version (for cheap), and if I saw it (not ebook) at a thrift store price, I would buy it." Interesting side note: the pages in this hardbound copy are super thick. I like quality paper, but these were almost too thick.

💕💕💕 Family section: I can't reveal all without including a plot spoiler, but Proof includes the protagonist's struggle with living up to his father. The conclusion is much better (thought-provoking) than one expects in a mystery novel. We all tend to have someone we try to whom we try to measure up, and sometimes we discover that that person had those very same feelings.

--- Thought-provoking spiritual formation quote: "To err was human, to be easily forgiven was to be sentimentally set free to err again. To be repeatedly forgiven destroyed the soul" (158). 

Friday, January 04, 2019

Lying (Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty)

My first book read in 2019, Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty, fulfills both book 1 read in week 1 of the 52 Books Read in 52 Weeks Challenge and one of the challenges on the 2019 Modern Mrs. Darcy Reading Challenge list: "a book in the backlist of a favorite author".  I don't know that Liane Moriarty fully qualifies as a favorite author as I have only read one other book of hers, Nine Perfect StrangersFind that review here. However, one of the libraries in our county-wide system discarded their large print version of Big Little Lies so I snatched it up for a mere couple of dollars. Moriarty wrote it before Nine Perfect Strangers so I was set to meet the backlist challenge.

Note: I had to look up to see what a backlist is (it's a list of books an author has written before the one you are currently reading, and it is usually at the front of the current book). I thought maybe it was other book titles by other authors that the author one is reading mentions within his or her book, if that makes sense.

I was prepared for a well-written story as most reviewers of Nine Perfect Strangers felt it did not match the greatness of this book Big Little Lies. It was excellent, four stars excellent; however, I can't write that it was better than Nine Perfect Strangers. The books are different from one another.

I wasn't quite prepared for the seriousness of Big Little Lies. Moriarty's humor and satire come through but there are some deep issues dealing with abuse in Big Little Lies. CAVEAT: the situations could spark emotions in readers who have had to deal with these issues although I also hope that if someone is going through the same issues that this might encourage them to seek help.

I can imagine that someone who reads Big Little Lies first and then follows up with Moriarty's next book might have expected something just as serious as they read Nine Perfect Strangers, but Moriarty mixed it up a bit. Her satirical take on modern life is in both books, but is more prevalent in the later book. It will all boil down to a matter of taste. I liked both books. I gave away Nine Perfect Strangers to my son because I thought he would enjoy the health spa improvement satire in it, but I don't see me giving him Big Little Lies because Moriarty gets more into the heads of her female characters in this book. Not that males can't read a book heavy with female characters. Heavens! Females have read books heavy in male characters for years!

Big Little Lies would make a great book discussion group read (there's even a so-called book discussion group in the story although mostly they gossip). CAVEAT: Moriarty occasionally drops the "F" word and other like terms. When this happens I tend to remember something I read 20 or more years ago. An Australian writer (like Moriarty but not Moriarty) stated that Americans had such clean speech but horrible morals whereas research showed Australians with high morals and colorful speech.

I can't go into much more without revealing plot spoilers. Yes, there is a mystery to be solved and I enjoyed how Moriarty set up the book. For my friends who hate ambiguous endings, you will like this book because it is not ambiguous. In spite of some fairly shallow conversations, the people are complex. I read 675 pages in three days, but it was large print. Still it's not a small book and it is easy to stay interested in the story and read it quickly.

---My real life section of the blog as it relates to this book. The children. The children see and they do what mom and dad model. It can be cute, but it can also be horrible when it deals with these situations. Our family did not, but no one gets off free of missing the mark in this book. Gossip and pettiness is framed humorously, but those "big little lies" come back to haunt you. 

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

Wrap Up of 52 Books in 52 Weeks

As a first timer last year in the 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge, I did not realize that there was a end-of-the-year wrap up until I saw a friend's post. Now that I know, here is mine (complete with a picture of my many bookmarks and a gift mug from a friend)!

Did you reach your reading goal or did you decide to just meander about and follow  rabbit trails and end up getting lost in the enjoyment of reading?  

I didn't have any goal other than to reach 52 books in the year. It turns out that I easily read 52 books in less than 52 weeks; however, reviewing them and writing about them was more challenging. It was also disheartening when Google changed up their algorithms in October so that I had less folks reading the blog. Not that I write to gain lots of readers, but it helps to have some readers. I was encouraged and content to have 70-100 and did not need more. A change of algorithms meant less exposure, and I'm not interested in adding ads. So, there you have it: if you read my blog minus the ads, thank you!

Where did your armchair travels take you?  Which countries and time periods did you journey through? 

France, Burundi, South Africa (twice), UK (twice), Mexico, and Russia were the countries I "traveled" to outside of my own which made up the majority of the rest of the books when they were not non-fiction or fantasy.  

Which books stayed with you the longest?  Did you set any aside to read again at some point and savor the story all over again?

I'll be dipping back into a number of non-fiction books: Joyful Journey; the Barefoot/Shoes series by Sharon Garlough Brown (actually fiction involving non-fiction...hard to explain); The End of Alzheimer's; Braving the Wilderness; Becoming Dallas Willard; The Crossroads of Should and Must; Blue Zones Solution; The Plant Paradox; Spiritual Direction; 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do; The World According to Mr. Rogers; The Art of Listening in a Healing Way; Leadership and Self-Deception; Donald Hall's two books; maybe Soul Keeping. So, that looks like about all of my non-fiction books. 

This made me realize I read a LOT of non-fiction this past year, and I never used to read any non-fiction (except textbooks forced upon me by teachers). The one fiction book I would re-read would be The Gentleman in Moscow.  Surprisingly, a book that I only gave 3 stars to kept coming back to mind: Calypso (also non-fiction). I was mad at Sedaris over the turtles. I probably needed to give his book 4 stars if it was going to keep coming back to my mind like that (and not because of the turtles). The non-fiction books definitely made an impact and bits and pieces have stayed with me. Goodness, only 16 of my 54 books were true fiction. Add 6 more that were fictionalized true stories, and that is still less than half. 

Did you discover any new to you authors or genres? 

Let's look at this in a different way: the only author I was familiar with was Gary Moon who wrote Becoming Dallas Willard. Every single other author was new to me! Wow. 

Which books intrigued or entertained, made you laugh, cry, dance or sing?

Again, I need to look at that question in the opposite direction. Which book did NOT make me feel any of those things listed? I can't recall what Evensong was about, and the Shelf Life I recall as mostly feeling like authors being forced to write a story which included a book he or she had read and I didn't like any of the stories until a couple at the end. 

Share your favorite titles, covers, quotes and of course, your reading lists. 

Forgive me if I don't list all the books here. Scroll down through my blog list on the right and all the book titles are listed in the titles of each blog post reviewing each book.