Tuesday, January 31, 2017

What I Read In January

"Many mystery buffs have credited Louise Penny with the revival of the type of traditional murder mystery made famous by Agatha Christie. . . . The book's title is a metaphor not only for the month of April but also for Gamache's personal and professional challenges---making this the series standout so far." --Sarah Weinman

Welcome to Three Pines, where the cruelest month is about to deliver on its threat.
It's spring in the tiny, forgotten village; buds are on the trees and the first flowers are struggling through the newly thawed earth. But not everything is meant to return to life. . .
When some villagers decide to celebrate Easter with a séance at the Old Hadley House, they are hoping to rid the town of its evil---until one of their party dies of fright. Was this a natural death, or was the victim somehow helped along?

Brilliant, compassionate Chief Inspector Ar
mand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec is called to investigate, in a case that will force him to face his own ghosts as well as those of a seemingly idyllic town where relationships are far more dangerous than they seem.

While the murder itself was a little on the strange side, it wasn't nearly as strange as the last book in the series, A Fatal Grace.  I loved getting reacquainted with characters from past books and visiting the little hamlet of Three Pines again.  It's a place I would love to live as the people in the community truly do life together -- the good, the bad and the ugly.

As I have said before, I tend to be a bit sensitive to gore and brutality, which is why I have loved these mysteries.  They truly do remind me of Agatha Christie and a grown up version of Nancy Drew without the gratuitous shock value that I find in other murder mystery series.  The Cruelest Month was a good story and I could relate to the murderer, as well as the grieving town that was trying to understand what had happened in their midst. 

A Story of Love That Won't Let Go - No Matter What!

California’s gold country, 1850. A time when men sold their souls for a bag of gold and women sold their bodies for a place to sleep.

Angel expects nothing from men but betrayal. Sold into prostitution as a child, she survives by keeping her hatred alive. And what she hates most are the men who use her, leaving her empty and dead inside.

Then she meets Michael Hosea, a man who seeks his Father’s heart in everything. Michael obeys God’s call to marry Angel and to love her unconditionally. Slowly, day by day, he defies Angel’s every bitter expectation, until despite her resistance, her frozen heart begins to thaw.

But with her unexpected softening comes overwhelming feelings of unworthiness and fear. And so Angel runs. Back to the darkness, away from her husband’s pursuing love, terrified of the truth she no longer can deny: Her final healing must come from the One who loves her even more than Michael does…the One who will never let her go.

A powerful retelling of the story of Gomer and Hosea, Redeeming Love is a life-changing story of God’s unconditional, redemptive, all-consuming love.

This book has been on my TBR list forever...and sitting on a shelf in my living room for years.  With the encouragement of an upcoming Book Club meeting, I finally read it.  So good!  I'm still thinking about this retelling of the book of Hosea in the setting of the California Gold Rush. 

I am not even sure that I can put into words the impact that this book is still having on me even though I closed the cover over a week ago.  The characters are still my companions.  I think of how they handled things -- well or poorly -- and wonder at my own reactions to life events.  I want to love my husband like Michael Hosea loves Angel...and as Angel comes to love Michael.  I want to miss the mistakes of being unforgiving (of myself and others) and of jumping to conclusions that do not match up with the character of a person I know.  I want to live in the same kind of real, personal and practical relationship with Jesus, the Lover of my soul, as Michael does... trusting Him with everything. 

So much to think on and to ponder.  I can hardly wait to discuss it with the ladies!

In Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, renowned Christian minister, professor, and author of The Cost of Discipleship recounts his unique fellowship in an underground seminary during the Nazi years in Germany. Giving practical advice on how life together in Christ can be sustained in families and groups, Life Together is bread for all who are hungry for the real life of Christian fellowship.

I picked this one up after hearing about it on a podcast about church membership.  (I can't even remember which podcast -- Marked, I think.) 

Anyway, I was in the middle of co-teaching a New Members Orientation and it sparked my interest.  It has me thinking of church membership in a whole new way.  Especially the 'please me' expectations that is so prevalent in our society (and in my own heart) these days.  The quote about choosing a church because of how they make you feel really spoke to me.  Church membership and it's resulting fellowship is a grace...not a right...and it is for us to use in serving others, not ourselves.

One of my favorite quotes:
Every human wish dream that is injected into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive. He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.

Still reading.  Still thinking.
“In my reckless and undiscouraged youth,” Lillian Boxfish writes, “I worked in a walnut-paneled office thirteen floors above West Thirty-Fifth Street…”

She took 1930s New York by storm, working her way up writing copy for R.H. Macy’s to become the highest paid advertising woman in the country. It was a job that, she says, “in some ways saved my life, and in other ways ruined it.”

Now it’s the last night of 1984 and Lillian, 85 years old but just as sharp and savvy as ever, is on her way to a party. It’s chilly enough out for her mink coat and Manhattan is grittier now—her son keeps warning her about a subway vigilante on the prowl—but the quick-tongued poetess has never been one to scare easily. On a walk that takes her over 10 miles around the city, she meets bartenders, bodega clerks, security guards, criminals, children, parents, and parents-to-be, while reviewing a life of excitement and adversity, passion and heartbreak, illuminating all the ways New York has changed—and has not.

A love letter to city life in all its guts and grandeur, Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney paints a portrait of a remarkable woman across the canvas of a changing America: from the Jazz Age to the onset of the AIDS epidemic; the Great Depression to the birth of hip-hop.

Lillian figures she might as well take her time. For now, after all, the night is still young.

I have about 100 pages to finish.  It took me a bit to get into his one, but I think that had more to do with the staying factor of Redeeming Love and waiting on the Book Club meeting to discuss it than with this story.  It is definitely a slower paced book, but I am anxiously awaiting what remains to be revealed as to why Ms Lillian Boxfish (now in her 80's) is all alone and wandering New York City streets on this particular New Year's Eve.

Addendum: Finished this book and logged on to the BOTM discussion board to see what other people thought of this book.  Many seemed to have as difficult of a time describing their thoughts as I do.  This was a slow paced book that made you feel like you were walking alongside Lillian on that New Year's Eve ten mile jaunt around Manhattan.  You learned more about her and her extraordinary life with each block.  And, as with most relationships, eventually you hear about the hard times and you better understand the person than you ever could have by just hearing their highlight reel.  Lillian's life, with its heartbreak and joy, made me feel wonder, sadness and just a bit of jealousy for how comfortable she was in her own skin.  I kept waiting for something to pick up or something terrible to happen.  Instead I had a nice long stroll with a new friend who showed me a different world than the one I had known.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Good Day On The Creek

Maddux, Jim, Weston and our 6 sand trout.
They made a delicious dinner for Jim, Brian, Deborah and I Sunday night!

On Saturday, Kelli needed some time alone at home to finish up some projects so that they could list their house with their Realtor and take pictures.  She had asked me earlier in the week to watch all four kids for her while Matt was at work.  However, due to a forgotten sleepover with Mommo for the girls, we ended up just picking up the boys.  Since we were already in Sugar Land, Jim and I decided to drive on down to Sargent to check on some work that had been done on the heater earlier that week.  (Good thing we went because it was not fixed! Wrong part.) 

Since we met Kelli at the Buc-ee's, I picked up picnic supplies because...well, you know boys and their appetites.  When we arrived, I went straight in to clean up mode.  I hadn't been down there since October and the last ones there were all men.  (Enough said.)  No, the true story is that on the repairman's first trip down there he had left the main breaker off and everything in our refrigerator had spoiled.  Jim began the process of cleaning it all up when he was down there the weekend before, but there was more deep cleaning that needed to happen. 

The boys followed me up and turned on the television, settling in to watch Teen Titans while eating their donuts and drinking their YooHoos.  (Yes, we are that kind of grandparents!)  Jim wrestled up some fishing poles and threw out a line while doing some work on his boat.  He caught a nice sized sand trout and brought it up in hopes of getting the boys outside for awhile.  They didn't bite...but I did.  So, I put aside the cleaning and grabbed my pole. 

It didn't take long before both boys were down at the water's edge and reeling in our catches.  We sat on that dock for HOURS and they had a blast.  Weston reeled in for me and Maddux reeled in Pappaw's fish.  The fish quit biting just before dark so we headed up to enjoy our picnic dinner, packed up and headed home.

It was an unexpected day of fun with the grandsons.  A memory that Jim and I will cherish for years to come.  Poor Weston crashed as soon as the truck started rolling and slept most of the way home.  After I went upstairs to finish working on the refrigerator, Maddux looked at Jim and said, "Pappaw, I thought this was going to be boring...but it was actually really fun!"  I wholeheartedly agree. 

Sunday, January 8, 2017

My Favorite Books of 2016

2016 turned out to be a pretty good year for reading.  I logged 30 books on my reading list and I usually miss recording a few due to my lack of regular posting these days.  As a matter of fact, I've added two while writing this post...because one of them was a favorite that was never recorded! One of the reasons for my having such a good a year was the gift I gave to myself of a Book of the Month membership. It has exposed me to books I may never have picked up on my own.

From my 30 known reads/listens this year, here are my favorites:

5.  The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin
I loved this one so much that I purchased both the hardback and the Audible version so I wouldn't have to wait so long to rejoin the Cafe Society lives of Truman Capote and his swans - socialites Babe, Slim, C. Z., Gloria and Pamela.  Based on real people and true events, this work of fiction so swept me up in 1950's New York City that I found myself looking up pictures of the places mentioned and remembering some of my own visits to these once glamorous places. It even sent me on to read Truman Capote's novel Breakfast at Tiffany's.  It was a fun read and yet I found myself both admiring and feeling sorry for most of the characters.

4. The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood
I heard about this one on the 'What Should I Read Next' [WSIRN] podcast and decided to download it from Audible.  BEAUTIFUL story!  Told so well that you can't help but care about everyone in it - including the crotchety old lady, the mostly absent, dream-chasing father and even the sometimes misguided and goofy scout leader.  I probably would never have picked this one up on my own because it's description says 'when the boy dies suddenly.' Not a spoiler, it is the premise of the book, yet the death of a child is hard for me to read about. This book, however, paints such a beautiful picture of how his short life touched others and how those he touched found their way through the grief together. It sounds horrible -- but it is 'oh so good.'  Try it!  It's short and easy to read -- or at least to listen to!

3.  The English Spy by Daniel Silva
Maybe it's because I have so much invested in this series (it's the 15th in the Gabriel Allon novels), maybe it's because I love the characters in this one (many of the same from the first book I read which got me hooked on the series The English Girl) or maybe it is because I decided to treat myself before this book was released and pre-order a hand signed copy from Barnes and Noble.  Whatever the reason I loved, loved, loved this one so much that I cherished every minute I spent reading and hated to see it end.  I've never seen myself as a spy novel kind of girl, but Israeli spy Gabriel Allon and his team capture my imagination and I feel very invested in their lives.  The Black Widow is the only one left that I haven't read, but I can't bring myself to start it until I know another one will be waiting in the wings!

2. The Mothers by Brit Bennett
This has been my absolute favorite from my Book of the Month selections. Again, I probably wouldn't have chosen this one if it hadn't been talked about so highly on the WSIRN podcast. I talked about my love for this book, it's beautiful prose and the quotes I can't stop thinking about in the post below...so I won't bore you with a repeat here.  But let me add that I could see myself in many of these characters -- the teenagers, the parents and in the church mothers.  For good and for bad.

And now for my #1 book of the year:
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful!  This one I bought on Audible but come Friday I could not imagine waiting until Monday morning's commute to rejoin the magic and intrigue, so I stopped at Half-priced Books and bought a hard copy. Again, this has beautiful prose and gorgeous imagery, with fantasy and magic on top.  It reminds me of a world much like J. K. Rowlings's created in the Harry Potter series but grown up a bit.  I have given this book to Deborah in hopes that I can have someone to talk it over with.  It's the story of a magical competition taking place in the setting of a black and white circus that travels about at whim and is only open at night.  It is beautiful and tragic and romantic and I really, really, really hope someone turns this into a movie because it has the potential to be a great one!

These were my favorites but I have to mention two others that were close contenders:

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley was a Book of the Month pick that kept me riveted until the very last page.  It is so well written that I could envision it all in my head like watching a movie. I guess that would make sense as the author is a screenwriter.  Great, fun thriller -- but not to be read on an airplane!

Still Life by Louise Penny was another one I kept hearing about on the WSIRN podcast.  I hear the books get better with time (#2 was mentioned in the post below and I just finished #3 while sick this weekend).  But the first one reminded me of how much I loved reading Nancy Drew as a girl and  Agatha Christie as a teenager.  I'm so glad to have found another series to enjoy!