It's that time again to share what I have been reading lately. Summer reading is in full swing. I've spent hours out on the front porch, so far, this season, even in the heat and humidity of the southeast, and I'm thrilled I am making the time to go outside and enjoy my front porch.
After reading the first two Maisie Dobbs mysteries by Jacqueline Winspear, the second book just this month, I expect my remaining summer to be filled with mystery - and delight. My plan is to make my way through all of the Maisie Dobbs mysteries before the end of summer. Sounds like fun!
Of course, there are several 'new' books coming out that I cannot wait to get my hands on. One of them is Louise Penny's Chief Inspector Armand Garmache mystery series and I am anxiously waiting the release after coming late to the party and reading her latest book, Kingdom of the Blind, just this month. After a mis-step or two - in my opinion - Kingdom of the Blind redeemed the fledgling series and I'm so looking forward to her new release in August.
I read so many good books this month, several will be strong contenders for my favorite books of the year. Pearl in the Sand by Tessa Afshar, Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum (this one will, at least, be a YA favorite), and Hannah Coulter by Wendall Berry - which may be my favorite of the month. And, of course, Birds of a Feather by Jacqueline Winspear - delightful. But, it is so very hard to choose from some amazing reads.
Per usual, I digitally created traveler's notebook-size (4 x 8 - size), to record what I've been reading this month. Once these are printed by Persnickety Prints, an online photo lab that offers a plethora of sizes and amazing quality, I will tuck them into my teal-colored leather traveler's notebook.
Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness by Ingrid Fetell Lee. First, it was not, in the least, what I expected. This is first a book for designers and maybe somewhere down the list of whom this book might be for would be the average reader. I wasn't so much disappointed as - confused. The extraordinary happiness being attributed to things, because it is things like color and shapes, that Lee is handing out like candy as to what makes us happy. I get that different colors and shapes are more pleasing to the eye than others, but extraordinary happiness...the content fell flat against the dramatic title. Would I recommend it for designers and, yes, memory keepers who record through scrapbooking, especially. I had significant aha moments regarding my love of certain colors, plants, and circles. You don't have to run out and buy the book but, a leisurely walk - and check it out from the library, first. 50/120
Redemption by David Balducci. The Amos Decker series is my favorite Balducci series and Redemption is his latest in the series, although I am behind in reading it. The Amos Decker character grows with each novel and, while I love the clever character he began as, with his particular medical challenges, time should grow someone and I'm pleased with the avenue Decker is going and becoming. The story had a few significant sharp turns that seemed to come out of nowhere and that made me go - huh! - but, he tied up the story, nicely. 51/120
Kingdom of the Blind by Louise Penny. The excitement flowed in waves. Just when I couldn't stand waiting for more it would crash over and build and build. Then, gently flow out again to sea. Before the next wave of excitement. I breathed easier through this latest Penny novel in the Armande Gamache (now, the former head of the Sûreté du Québec) series, yet, still sat on the edge of my seat waiting for the coming detour. Once again, it was a full-blown story within a murder mystery and the beloved characters of Three Pines, the fictional quiet, picturesque, quaint town where those characters have come alive. 52/120
Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum. I am generally not a favorite of YA, except for utopian YA. Mostly utopian YA because those are so other worldly and young adults almost always have to become adults sooner in those atmospheres. But, this book, Tell Me Three Things, remains true to age and covers a large range of topics that a high school student might face these days. I was grabbed early on by the epistolary messaging between the protagonist and an unknown mentor who is simply somebody, nobody in the tag line. The story may center around their online conversations but Tell Me Three Things is filled to the brim with handling bullying, death, grief, loss (any type of loss), and the unknown. I would recommend this book to every high school student, although some of the topics, such as grief and loss, are applicable to adults - totally, for sure. Love the book. Will definitely be on my top numbered list of the year. 53/120
The Next Right Thing by Emily P. Freeman. Up to this book, of all her books, it was Simply Tuesday only, her first book, that I loved, connected with best, and placed on my growing stack of all-time favorite books. So, when The Next Right Thing was published - I hesitated, stammered, talked myself out of, placed it in my Amazon cart, moved it to my wait list. I rarely listen to podcasts, what I believe the book is 'based on', the concept, anyway. And, it isn't that I don't appreciate all of Freeman's writing. Because I do. She writes beautifully. But, I am a firm believer that not every book is for everyone. And, not every book is for everyone at the time they read the book. The Next Right Thing is for such a time as this - for me. Doing the next right thing. It is a concept that has a broad sweep of important...leading up to doing the next right thing...and there are even - steps, if you will, once you make the decision to do the next right thing. All of which are just as important as doing the next right thing. Freeman guides us through every step. A truly applicable book. And, another book going on my ever-growing stack of favorites. 54/120
Pearl in the Sand by Tessa Afshar. If you are familiar with the Bible then you are probably familiar with the story of Rahab, the prostitute, and surprisingly she is one of three women mentioned in the geneology of Jesus. Pearl in the Sand is the historical yet fictional account, the thought-provoking story behind the life of Rahab. This was excellent Biblical fiction. Afshar remains true to the Word where the Word and historical context speaks regarding Rahab and the Hebrew nation and truly brought her story to life. I was able to visualize what it must have been like to have heard about the nation of Israel and the God of Israel before they ever came to the gates of Jericho. And what it might have been like to be inside the walls when the Israelites marched around the Jerichoin's impenetrable city day after day. And for Rahab to trust that the God of the Hebrews would not harm her or her family simply because the spies said so. Because we are told in Scripture that we can see God even in His Creation, I had no trouble agreeing upon Afshar's re-telling of how Rahab could have found God, or once saved from destruction what it must have been like to be a Canaanite harlot in the midst of the nation of Israel. Or the struggles and questions Rahab had even as she grew in her relationship with the Lord, just as every single Christian struggles and questions. Afshar brought the scriptures to life and spoke the character of God throughout. The book was filled with themes of grace, forgiveness, and especially mercy, timely and poignant even for today. Threads of hope are woven through the pages and offer us a taste - and see. 55/120
The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis. I went completely outside of normal when selecting The Screwtape Letters to read aloud to Jeff each morning during our book and Bible reading time. I partly chose it because of the cleverness of the letters written by the brilliant C.S. Lewis and I knew Jeff's analytical mind could grasp the depth of Lewis' words (while I sometimes struggle with them) and thus would make for good conversation. We finished up this short satirical epistolary book, reading two letters each morning; letters written by a senior demon Screwtape in the role of a mentor to his nephew, Wormwood, a junior tempter and just how he should go about securing the soul of Wormwood's patient. Published in 1942, it is so interesting how our society, even still, struggles with the same sorts of 'sins' that give the devil a foothold. Thus far, since September 2018, we have read aloud together, The End of Me, Battlefield of the Mind, Love Does, Cherish, Everybody, Always, and now The Screwtape Letters. 56/120
Birds of a Feather by Jacqueline Winspear. My second Maisie Dobbs mystery and this series (there are many more) is quickly becoming another murder mystery favorite following Louise Penny and Deborah Crombie. Introduced to Maisie Dobbs in her first book of the same title, Birds of a Feather picks up with another investigation. This one a missing person that turns into a dual investigation into murder, as well. I love how Winspear entwines historical references and facts into her story with ease. Such as a slight history of Pilates and physical therapies at their beginnings. Or actual events that occurred in history that are relatable to her story line. Very clever. Birds of a Feather was, for me, un-put-down-able. Every couple of minutes I had amidst my day I was reading because I could not wait for more of the story. Maisie Dobbs is admirable and real. She is not perfect as we see in this book but once she identifies her failures she seeks redemption. After WWII is a backdrop to the story and I imagine it will for several more books because of the aftershocks of the war into so many lives. "In learning about the myths and legends of old, we learn something of ourselves. Stories, Maisie, are never just stories. They contain fundamental truths about the human condition." "Never judge a journey by the distance, Billy. Your journey, from the time you went over to France has demanded bravery of a different kind..." 57/120
Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry. My first Wendell Berry novel. I have only heard his works are worth the time, otherwise I didn't know what to expect. At the first page, I read on bated breath. I was mesmerized, captivated by the voice of Hannah Coulter's love of her family and her community and her rural farming life; evocatively told and beautifully written - nostalgic. Sparse in dialogue, yet thoroughly provocative, I wondered at the life of Wendell Berry, the author, to so write as if he was writing from experiencing life in the same way as the people of the fictional town of Port William. "Compared to nearly everybody else, the Branches have led a sort of futureless life. They have planned and provided as much as they needed to, but they take little thought for the morrow. They aren't going any place, they aren't getting ready to become anything but what they are, and so their lives are not fretful and hankering...They survive and go on because they like where they are and what they are doing, they aren't trying to get up in the world, and they produce more than they consume...they trade and contrive and make do, getting by and prospering both at once. It doesn't seem to bother them that while they are making crops and meat and timber, other people are making only money that they sometimes don't even work for." - on living for today, not worrying for tomorrow, being content, and the nature of ambition and Berry fills the story with similar provocative and philosophical narratives. "I began to trust the world again, not to give me what I wanted, for I saw that it could not be trusted to do that, but to give unforeseen goods and pleasures that I had not thought to want.” And, "Living without expectations is hard but, when you can do it, good. Living without hope is harder, and that is bad. You have got to have hope, and you mustn’t shirk it. Love, after all, “hopeth all things.” But maybe you must learn, and it is hard learning, not to hope out loud, especially for other people. You must not let your hope turn into expectation." Enthralled, exquisite, intriguing, and breathtaking! 58/120
Remember God by Annie F. Downs. Overall, depressing. I realize it received some great reviews and she writes well, but I found the book unresolved. Her Looking for Lovely is on my favorite books stack, but this one fell so far short, and for a Christian book to end without believing God, because that is what I read up to the last chapter, thus, I am truly not sure of the point of the book. Ever chapter was her disappointment in God not doing this for her, God not coming through in that. I realize everyone goes through those periods of disappointment, unbelief, and discontent, but I never felt Downs made it out of the pit she is in, so again, what is the point of this book. May I suggest, Miss Downs, that you take Beth Moore's Bible study, Believing God. 59/120
Magnolia Table by Joanna Gaines. I love a good cookbook. If they're really good they will read like a good book of stories you can curl up with. And, Magnolia Table is so good! As I subscribe to Magnolia Journal I was familiar with Joanna Gaines' easy, heart-warming style of writing. I always feel like she is talking with me as a friend and kindred spirit - and her cookbook is no different. It was truly a delight to read. While I haven't as yet made any of the recipes, I have dog-eared many, many pages for future endeavors in the kitchen. She makes every recipe look easy to make and sound mouth-watering yummy. 60/120