Friday, June 30, 2017

What I Read In June

Truly, Madly, Guilty by Liane Moriarty

In Truly Madly Guilty, Liane Moriarty turns her unique, razor-sharp eye towards three seemingly happy families.

Sam and Clementine have a wonderful, albeit, busy life: they have two little girls, Sam has just started a new dream job, and Clementine, a cellist, is busy preparing for the audition of a lifetime. If there’s anything they can count on, it’s each other.

Clementine and Erika are each other’s oldest friends. A single look between them can convey an entire conversation. But theirs is a complicated relationship, so when Erika mentions a last minute invitation to a barbecue with her neighbors, Tiffany and Vid, Clementine and Sam don’t hesitate. Having Tiffany and Vid’s larger than life personalities there will be a welcome respite.

Two months later, it won’t stop raining, and Clementine and Sam can’t stop asking themselves the question: What if we hadn’t gone?

In Truly Madly Guilty, Liane Moriarty takes on the foundations of our lives: marriage, sex, parenthood, and friendship. She shows how guilt can expose the fault lines in the most seemingly strong relationships, how what we don’t say can be more powerful than what we do, and how sometimes it is the most innocent of moments that can do the greatest harm.

Y'all will never guess where I picked up this jewel.

The Library!  That's right.  For the first time in over 20 years I have a library card!

We've been in Waller County for ten years this August and I found the Waller library earlier this year.  Last week I had to pick up something from the post office, make a run by the pharmacy and the bank so I stopped in and got myself a library card!  I haven't checked out a library book since we lived on Corona Lane and were right by one of the Houston libraries.  Even then, we only used it a few times each summer. 

The lady who was filling in for the librarian had to show me how to use this new fancy check out system as I only remember the stamped and signed cards that were in the back of the books once upon a long time ago! 

Like other books by Liane Moriarty, it takes me from a few days to a week to think them through.  I can't tell you how I feel about it until I've had some time to ponder. This one deals with how guilt affects every part of our lives, whether it stems from something we have done (or not done) or even when we only perceive ourselves to be guilty in something that really had nothing to do with us. 

In this story guilt affects friendships, marriages, family dynamics, neighborhoods and even the perception of oneself.  It also deals with how guilt reveals itself in so many different forms...from the subtle to the outrageous.  I kept waiting for some big reveal, and though it never came, the twists and turns as the story was fully told kept me riveted to the very end. 

My favorite part of the novel was the subplot regarding a minor character who came to be the one whose story best illustrated my takeaway from the book.  Don't let guilt take away your life.  Or as a Pinterest quote so eloquently says:

When thinking about life remember this: no amount of guilt can solve the past and no amount of anxiety can change the future.

Rating: 3.5/5

The Turquoise Table: Finding Community and Connection in Your Own Front Yard by Kristin Schell

Are you consumed with a busy life but unsure how to slow down? Do you desire connection within your community and think, “Absolutely, but I don’t have time for that” or “I can’t create that”?

What if there was another way through it all, a way to find those moments of peace and to create a time for honest, comfortable connection? What if meeting neighbors and connecting with friends was as simple as showing up and being available?

Desperate for a way to slow down and connect, Kristin Schell put an ordinary picnic table in her front yard, painted it turquoise, and began inviting friends and neighbors to join her. Life changed in her community and it can change in yours, too. Alongside personal and heartwarming stories, Kristin gives you:

  • Stress-free ideas for kick-starting your own Turquoise Table
  • Simple recipes to take outside and share with others
  • Stories from people using Turquoise Tables in their neighborhoods
  • Encouragement to overcome barriers that keep you from connecting
  • New ways to view hospitality

Today, Turquoise Tables are inviting individuals to connect with each other in nearly all fifty states and seven countries. Ordinary people like you wanting to make a difference right where they live.

Community and friendship are waiting just outside your front door.

I first heard of this book on the podcast The Happy Hour with Jamie Ivey.  It was their first book of the summer book club.  (Yes, I listen to a lot of podcasts!  I have an hour plus drive every morning and evening.  That's a lot of time to listen to the radio.)

Jim and I moved to our new neighborhood in November of 2014.  Though it is less than two miles from our last home, it is located on a private road and is pretty secluded.  We have spent the last two years trying to get to know some of our neighbors.  Everyone lives on acreage and most behind a gate.  So, even though we have met nice people, it is not easy to connect with each other. There are about 20 families on Strathmore Road. He and I keep talking about hosting some sort of get together at the barn and inviting the neighborhood...but talking is as far as we have ever gotten.

That was my motivation for reading this book.  Kristin writes from a faith perspective, but it is not so  overwhelming that a person from a different belief system couldn't pick up good ideas from this book.  It is a beautiful book (if you normally read on a device, splurge a little and pick up the real thing) and it was a short read.  (I think it took me two evenings.) 

I too am a person of faith trying to connect with my neighbors and to be a light in the place that God has planted me.  I mostly appreciated her encouragement to just do it.  Just put yourself out there.  Don't try to plan big Pinterest-perfect events.  Just invite your neighbor over for a cup of coffee and serve store bought cookies if that is what you have.  Again I heard the call to hospitality, not entertaining.  She has made it easier by putting the Turquoise Table in her front yard so that she doesn't even have to worry with cleaning the house before guests arrive.

While some of what has worked for her would not work for me because our neighborhoods and our seasons of life are so different, I was encouraged to seek the Lord's face on how He would use me in this place and at this time.

This was a perfectly timed read for me.

Rating: 4/5

The Dry: A Novel by Jane Harper

A small town hides big secrets in The Dry, an atmospheric, page-turning debut mystery by award-winning author Jane Harper.

After getting a note demanding his presence, Federal Agent Aaron Falk arrives in his hometown for the first time in decades to attend the funeral of his best friend, Luke. Twenty years ago when Falk was accused of murder, Luke was his alibi. Falk and his father fled under a cloud of suspicion, saved from prosecution only because of Luke’s steadfast claim that the boys had been together at the time of the crime. But now more than one person knows they didn’t tell the truth back then, and Luke is dead.

Amid the worst drought in a century, Falk and the local detective question what really happened to Luke. As Falk reluctantly investigates to see if there’s more to Luke’s death than there seems to be, long-buried mysteries resurface, as do the lies that have haunted them. And Falk will find that small towns have always hidden big secrets.

This was the first book in the Modern Mrs. Darcy Summer Book Club.  And it had me from the very first paragraph!

It wasn't as though the farm hadn't seen death before, and the blowflies didn't discriminate.  To them there was little difference between a carcass and a corpse.
The setting is the Australian outback during a record drought.  And though their summer actually coincides with our winter (like South Africa), it made for a riveting summer read.  It brought back memories of our own drought in 2011, when we all prayed for rain and swore we would not complain about rainy EVER AGAIN. 

The small farming community of Kiewarra is suffering under the oppressive heat.  If the rains don't come soon, there will be nothing left of their herds or their crops.  From the pressure of this powder keg, three shots ring out and a family is found dead.  But was it really the murder/suicide that the whole town suspects...or is there something more sinister than El Nino in this sleepy little place?

If you like crime drama without all the graphic images, you will enjoy The Dry.  There are two intersecting story lines being sorted out:
  • The mysterious death of 17 year old Ellie Deacon 20 years earlier that was never proven to be a murder, as most townsfolk suspect, or a teenage suicide. 
  • The apparent murder/suicide of Luke Hadler, his wife and son that doesn't quite fit with either Falk or the local sheriff.
This really is a page turner with a satisfying conclusion that I think you will enjoy.

Rating: 4/5

Love Lives Here: Finding What You Need In A World Telling You What You Want by Maria Goff
(Non-Fiction/Christian Living)

This is a book about discovering what we really need.
There are a lot of second-best options, but we weren’t made to live a second-best life. Finding what we actually need is different than what we are often offered. There are many books full of opinions, steps and programs. This isn’t one of them. This is about craving the things that matter. Things that don’t just work, but last.
In a life that may seem to be all fun and games with an endless supply of balloons, author Maria Goff shows how this life is also lived with intentionality, passionate purpose, and a little planning—all of which make a life rich in legacy. But she had to figure out the help she needed first in order to live the beautiful life God wanted for her and wants for us.
Love Lives Here is a collection of stories that include the ways Maria and her husband, Bob, navigated family their way, without clear instructions or a road map. It’s about what they learned to make their lives meaningful and whimsical and how they created a space for their family to grow together while they reached outward.

This is going to be hard for me.  So, please bear with me.

First the positive.  I listened to a podcast that featured an interview with Maria Goff and I enjoyed it so much that I stopped THAT DAY and picked up a copy of this book.  I have yellow highlighter ALL throughout.  So many of the quotes got me to thinking or were recorded in my journal to revisit later.  I think Maria has a viewpoint that many of us can learn from and I love her casual style that is not filled with condemnation for those of us who have had to find our own footing in marriage and parenting.

I felt like this needed a bit more editing.  The reason I say this is, if I had not listened to that interview and gotten to know some of Maria's story through that podcast, I would not have finished this book.  I was frustrated that the first chapter jumps right into a story without really telling you the significance.  Thankfully I had background from the interview to know why it was important to her and what had happened to get her family to that point.  There were great nuggets of wisdom in EVERY chapter, but they didn't quite come full circle.  And then there was the introduction that talked about what Paul had to say to James about looking in a mirror.  Ummm? I think the book of James was written by James and had nothing to do with Paul.  I know that sounds really petty, and I don't mean for it to be, but it just makes me wonder how much attention was paid to the details when a Christian Living book begins that way. 

For these reasons, even though I had several 'aha' moments, I have to give this one:
Rating: 2/5

Who Thought This Was A Good Idea? And Other Questions You Should Have Answers to When You Work in the White House  by Alyssa Mastomonaco

If your funny older sister were the former deputy chief of staff to President Barack Obama, her behind-the-scenes political memoir would look something like this...Alyssa Mastromonaco worked for Barack Obama for almost a decade, and long before his run for president. From the then-senator's early days in Congress to his years in the Oval Office, she made Hope and Change happen through blood, sweat, tears, and lots of briefing binders.

But for every historic occasion-meeting the queen at Buckingham Palace, bursting in on secret climate talks, or nailing a campaign speech in a hailstorm-there were dozens of less-than-perfect moments when it was up to Alyssa to save the day. Like the time she learned the hard way that there aren't nearly enough bathrooms at the Vatican.

Full of hilarious, never-before-told stories, WHO THOUGHT THIS WAS A GOOD IDEA? is an intimate portrait of a president, a book about how to get stuff done, and the story of how one woman challenged, again and again, what a "White House official" is supposed to look like. Here Alyssa shares the strategies that made her successful in politics and beyond, including the importance of confidence, the value of not being a jerk, and why ultimately everything comes down to hard work (and always carrying a spare tampon).

Told in a smart, original voice and topped off with a couple of really good cat stories, WHO THOUGHT THIS WAS A GOOD IDEA? is a promising debut from a savvy political star.

I listened to this on Audible. 

I laughed out loud, more than once.

I realized once again that working in the political sphere and the White House in particular is a difficult, difficult task for anyone.

I also think I will be buying hard copies of this for several young women who have recently graduated college.

I enjoyed listening to the Audible, which was recorded by the author.  But there were times when I thought she was a bit monotone.

Rating: 3.5/5

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Week One of Summer Was a Success

We made it!

Jim and I actually managed to spend the first week of our summer at the Creek House! 

We met Meagan's and Bri's families down there for Memorial Day weekend.  Kelli and her kids came on Sunday to celebrate Dayton's 3rd birthday.  Everyone left on Monday, but Jim and I stayed until the following Monday, when we had to head back to Waller in order to prep for a trip to Branson to celebrate my mom's 70th birthday.

We made the 2 hour commute in to the office two days last week.  It was a great time to catch up with one another.  He drove in the mornings and I drove us back in the evenings.

We spent a wonderful, quiet week together for our 36th anniversary.  We found some great summer recipes that really hit the spot when you're on the water.  And we drove over to Matagorda to eat out one night when neither of us wanted to cook.

The Internet and cell phone service down there is 'spotty' at it's best and non-existent for the most part.  This means few texts, fewer phone calls and the probability of checking your email is pretty much 'nil' unless you drive down to the Dollar General. 

We got lots of rest.  Slept like logs.  Did a little fishing and crabbing from the dock.  Watched a few movies.  Fought a few (thousand) mosquitoes.  Took the boat out for a ride on the creek. And  I read two novels. (Woo Hoo!)  

So far, so good!  I am looking forward to a great summer and hoping that we are able to spend the rest of June's weekends down on Caney Creek (once we return from Branson, that is).  Even when the storms rolled in on Sunday, it was still beautiful!

I love my happy place!

I hope you are looking forward to something that renews your spirit this summer too!

Thursday, June 1, 2017

What I Read in May

A Rule Against Murder by Louise Penny

"What happened here last night isn't allowed," said Madame Dubois.
It was such an extraordinary thing to say it stopped the ravenous Inspector Beauvoir from taking another bite of his roast beef on baguette.
"You have a rule against murder?" he asked.
"I do. When my husband and I bought the Bellechasse we made a pact....Everything that stepped foot on this land would be safe."

It is the height of summer, and Armand and Reine-Marie Gamache are celebrating their wedding anniversary at Manoir Bellechasse, an isolated, luxurious inn not far from the village of Three Pines. But they're not alone. The Finney family―rich, cultured, and respectable―has also arrived for a celebration of their own.

The beautiful Manoir Bellechasse might be surrounded by nature, but there is something unnatural looming. As the heat rises and the humidity closes in, some surprising guests turn up at the family reunion, and a terrible summer storm leaves behind a dead body. It is up to Chief Inspector Gamache to unearth secrets long buried and hatreds hidden behind polite smiles. The chase takes him to Three Pines, into the dark corners of his own life, and finally to a harrowing climax.

I don't know why, but the books from this series make great 'mind clearing' reads for me.  They are thought provoking but fun; engaging but not obsessively so; and they help me to step back from the big feelings I have after books like Lincoln In The Bardo.

In the fourth installment of the Chief Inspector Gamache series we find him on holiday with his wife at a beautiful summer house away from civilization.  This sounds like the perfect summer getaway to me.  While vacationing they share the estate with a wealthy extended family who have some secrets which are about to be exposed...and murder ensues.

I have heard that this is the book where the series takes a turn toward less bizarre yet more personal murders...and this one did not disappoint.  I love the characters.  I love the settings.  And I love that the murders are not grotesquely described or committed in an extremely heinous fashion.  I enjoy a mystery novel, but am a sensitive reader so Louise Penny fills the bill on every level for me.  I have tried James Patterson's Women's Murder Club and Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series...and while the stories were fascinating and the writing was superb, there were scenes in each of those that disturbed me for days and I can still feel the 'sick in the pit of my stomach' when I think about them even though its been years since I read the books.

Next time I'm in the bookstore I will pick up the next installment of the series to have one hand when the mood strikes!

Entertaining With Betty by Betty Crocker

Rediscover classic recipes and entertaining advice from the 1950s with Betty Crocker!

The year was 1959. People watched Leave It to Beaver on TV and listened to Elvis on the radio. And when they entertained, they turned to this indispensable guide from Betty Crocker, which you may remember from your mom’s or grandma’s kitchen. Now you too can rediscover Betty Crocker’s secrets for great parties. Whether throwing an afternoon tea, a midnight dinner, or a pot-luck supper, Betty Crocker has you covered. This authentic reproduction of the classic 1959 book (Betty Crocker’s Guide to Easy Entertaining) gives you a nostalgic snapshot of an earlier era--and a mother lode of party tips, etiquette advice, and recipes that have stood the test of time. Inside you’ll find:

  • Great ideas for a wide range of get-togethers, from dinners and buffets to barbecues, brunches, and potlucks
  • 89 time-tested recipes, 208 charming illustrations, and 11 nostalgic color photographs
  • Tried-and-true party favorites like Vichyssoise, Parmesan Oven-Fried Chicken, Herb Batter Bread, and Brownie Peppermint Pie
I had to go Walmart to get my battery changed out late one day after work.  While I was waiting, I ran through to pick up a few miscellaneous items that I couldn't find at the grocery store and I ran across this little gem.

I rushed to the waiting room to crack it open and was pleasantly surprised as soon as I read the first paragraph.  Yes, it is a nostalgic look back at entertaining in 1959...but it's etiquette and ideas are timeless in many ways.  I love her definition of hospitality: being disposed to entertain with generous kindness.  And in this time of Facebook envy, Instagram comparison and Pinterest fails, this quote is needed now as much as ever before: “Hospitality isn’t a contest, it’s sharing the best you have without apology.”

This is my nighttime 'quick read' so it is still on my nightstand.  I'm about halfway through.  The recipes are not very tempting...but the look into entertaining has kept me quite interested and helped me to see why I feel so at home when certain people entertain.  Evidently our parents passed down some of the rules of entertaining without exactly telling us what the rules were or why they existed. 

The Baker's Wife by Erin Healy

Before Audrey was the baker's wife, she was the pastor's wife.

Then a scandalous lie cost her husband a pastoral career. Now the two work side-by-side running a bakery, serving coffee, and baking fresh bread. But the hurt still pulls at Audrey.

Driving early one morning to the bakery, Audrey's car strikes something—or someone—at a fog-shrouded intersection. She finds a motor scooter belonging to a local teacher. Blood is everywhere, but there's no trace of a body.

Both the scooter and the blood belong to detective Jack Mansfield's wife, and he's certain that Audrey is behind Julie's disappearance.

But the case dead-ends and the detective spirals into madness. When he takes her family and some patrons hostage at the bakery, Audrey is left with a soul-damaged ex-con and a cynical teen to solve the mystery. And she'll never manage that unless she taps into something she would rather leave behind—her excruciating ability to feel other's pain.

What can I say about this book? 
  1. I liked it a lot better than last month's book club read.
  2. I figured out most of the mystery pretty early on...but still felt invested in the characters, especially Audrey and Julie.
  3. I wanted to throttle Jack for misusing the Word of God and his self-righteousness. 
  4. That probably means that I have a bit of self-righteousness in myself...'cause 'if you spot it, you got it!'
  5. I realize that many people struggle as I do with the difference between God's forgiveness and the consequences of sin.
  6. I can hardly wait for June 5th to discuss the juicy subjects with my group.
  7. I know that I will have all kinds of thoughts about the book after hearing their takes on it.
  8. I now want to bake some bread!  That just sounds good to me during this rainy weather.

The morning after I finished the book I read this quote in a devotional:

One of the greatest forms of blindness is to be unaware of our own faults and weaknesses. But one of the greatest forms of power is moral power based on a life of integrity.

There was great blindness and great power in The Baker's Wife and it was interesting to see how both worked together to set the stage for this book. It is not always the ones who have had it bad that are weak...nor is it always the ones that society sees as upright that live with true integrity.

Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together by Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Known for her wisdom, warmth, and knowledge of Scripture, Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has encouraged millions through her books, radio programs, and conferences. Now she’s back with a legacy work on Titus 2 and its powerful vision for women:

Woman to woman. Older to younger. Day to day. Life to life.
This is God’s beautiful plan.

The Titus 2 model of older women living out the gospel alongside younger women is vital for us all to thrive. It is mutually strengthening, glorifies God, and makes His truth believable to our world.

Imagine older women investing themselves in the lives of younger women, blessing whole families and churches. Imagine young wives, moms, and singles gaining wisdom and encouragement from women who’ve been there and have found God’s ways to be true and good. Imagine all women—from older women to young girls—living out His transforming gospel together, growing the entire body of Christ to be more beautiful.

This is Christian community as God designed it. Read this book and take your relationships to new depths, that your life might find its fullest meaning as you adorn the gospel of Christ.

I'm slowly working my way through this one on Audible and in book form.  Lots to think about.  I just finished the chapter on slander...and 'OUCH!'

Exit West: A Novel by Mohsin Hamid

In a country teetering on the brink of civil war, two young people meet—sensual, fiercely independent Nadia and gentle, restrained Saeed. They embark on a furtive love affair, and are soon cloistered in a premature intimacy by the unrest roiling their city. When it explodes, turning familiar streets into a patchwork of checkpoints and bomb blasts, they begin to hear whispers about doors—doors that can whisk people far away, if perilously and for a price. As the violence escalates, Nadia and Saeed decide that they no longer have a choice. Leaving their homeland and their old lives behind, they find a door and step through. . . .

Exit West follows these remarkable characters as they emerge into an alien and uncertain future, struggling to hold on to each other, to their past, to the very sense of who they are. Profoundly intimate and powerfully inventive, it tells an unforgettable story of love, loyalty, and courage that is both completely of our time and for all time.

This book!  Oh my goodness, this book!

It is one of my Book of the Month selections.  I took it with me to Caney Creek this past weekend and finished it in two days.  I don't think it would have taken me that long if it had not been a family holiday.  It is a short read...about 230 pages long.

This is a love story.  But it is also a story about being a migrant...a refugee.  Why people leave their homes.  How their new 'home' receives them.  How they change as a result of the relocation. 

I cannot stop thinking about the story of Saeed and Nadia.  But neither can I stop thinking about the vignettes of other migrants or of the beautifully written prose in this book.  I found myself reading an especially meaningful paragraph multiple times and then just putting the book in my lap as I pondered it in my mind.

If you choose to read this thought-provoking, strongly narrated novel...have book darts or post-its on hand because there are so many passages that you will want to savor.  I am going to have to read it again because not only did I not pack anything, I didn't even have a pen with me at the time. 

And if you read it, please let me know because I really, really, REALLY need someone to discuss this book with.  It is just that good!