Welcome to my blog where I share my book reviews
and life along the winding road

Friday, August 16, 2019

MyAntonia by Willa Cather

My Antonia by Willa Cather was a book club read and one I might not otherwise have picked up. While I was not overly enamored with the story line, I was intrigued by the way of life and struggles of early immigrants to Nebraska from Scandinavia, Bohemia, Czechoslovakia and Russia. The fictional town of Black Hawk is based on Red Cloud, Nebraska (where Willa Cather lived) and set in the late 1800s.

Jimmy, age 10, is the novel's narrator who is sent to Nebraska from Virginia as an orphan to live with his paternal grandparents. There he meets an immigrant family from Bohemia and helps Antonia to learn English.

Life was harsh in Nebraska with people often living in mud houses, but many had escaped even harsher conditions.  The Scandinavians and eastern Europeans were eventually successful because they sent their eldest daughters to live and work in the town which brought in an income for the family while the other family members worked on the land. 

Friday, August 9, 2019

Ordinary Grace by William Kent Kruger

Ordinary Grace by William Kent Kruger is set in 1961 in a small Minnesota town and told from the point of view of, Frank, a teenage boy.

Frank begins the season preoccupied with the concerns of any teenage boy, but when tragedy unexpectedly strikes his family which includes his Methodist minister father; his passionate, artistic mother; Julliard-bound older sister and wise-beyond his years kid brother, he finds himself thrust into an adult world full of secrets, lies, adultery, and betrayal.

I always enjoy stories from a child's point of view, which is usually uncluttered and this is no exception. It is well written and has many different characters who cross paths frequently as in any small town. This was a book club read and will offer a lot for discussion.

Friday, August 2, 2019

Holy Envy by Barbara Brown Taylor

Holy Envy - Finding God in the Faith of Others by Barbara Brown Taylor delves into world religions and the author shares with us her experiences of teaching and researching world religions.

She states that her research is not to prove her (Christianity) is right, but to understand religion from a different point of view. Faith is not a competitive sport with only one team winning for eternity. What she has heard over and over again, when in another country, is that evangelists are not good listeners. I'm going to throw in a little Christianese here - evangelism and witnessing are not the same thing. Evangelism is preaching the gospel of Jesus, witnessing is simply sharing your Christian experiences with others, hopefully in a dialog where they can tell you their experiences.

Finding out about other people and their cultures/religions is something I've been learning more about the past few years. Instead of trying to convince others they are wrong, we should look for commonality and learn where they are coming from. This doesn't mean trying to "translate" their views into your own religious views but to understand theirs from a different frame of reference. For example a Buddhist in front of a statue may not be worshiping "idols" but honoring Buddha's example (there are no divine mediators in the Buddhist religion).

What I also didn't realize is that Christians aren't the only ones who have a "Golden Rule" Judaism, Islam and Hinduism (and I'm sure others) have a version of  the Golden Rule. If we all treated others as we would like to be treated wouldn't the world be a better place?

Another point she brought up is that if you meet a Hindu, or Muslim or someone from any religion you have met exactly one person. Even in the same religion we have different views so don't judge the whole by the thoughts or actions of one person.

Barbara Taylor Brown writes that after listening to an Imam she was taken by his words "Be the best person you can be in your religion." She vowed to speak from the heart of her faith wishing others well at the heart of theirs.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Comedy Club by Peter Bartram

As most of you know I'm a long time follower of Colin Crampton's exploits written by Peter Bartram. Of course, for me, it brings a touch of nostalgia from my childhood living in London and taking day trips to Brighton. But even if you've never walked along England's coast you will be quickly entertained by the Colin Crampton mysteries with his off-the-cuff sarcasm and witty zingers. The Comedy Club Mystery is another sixties mystery when cell phones and internet are only spoken of in science fiction movies. So dip in your toes and get your feet wet with Colin Crampton on Brighton's sea shore. These are great summer reads.

Peter Bartram kindly sent me a little blurb about his latest mystery:

The Comedy Club Mystery: A Crampton of the Chronicle adventure (Deadline Murder Series Book 3)

Murder has never been such fun…

When theatrical agent Daniel Bernstein sues the Evening Chronicle for libel, crime reporter Colin Crampton is called in to sort out the problem.

But trouble escalates when Bernstein turns up murdered. Colin discovers that any of five comedians competing for the chance to appear on a top TV show could be behind the killing.

As Colin and his feisty girlfriend Shirley Goldsmith investigate, they encounter a cast of colourful characters – identical twin gangsters, an Irishman who lives underground, and a failed magician’s assistant.

And it’s not long before their own lives are in peril as they battle to crack a code that will lead to a fortune. Join Colin and Shirley for a rollercoaster of an adventure in Swinging Sixties England – where the laughs are never far from the action.

What reviewers say about Crampton of the Chronicle mysteries…

"A fun read with humour throughout…" Crime Thriller Hound

"An excellent novel, full of twists and turns, plenty of action scenes, crackling dialogue - and a great sense of fun." Fully Booked

"A good page-turning murder mystery, with a likeable protagonist and great setting." The Bookworm Chronicles

"An amiable romp through the shady back streets of 1960s Brighton." Simon Brett, Crime Writers' Association Diamond Dagger winner

"A highly entertaining, involving mystery, narrated in a charming voice, with winning characters. Highly recommended." - In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel

"A romp of a read! Very funny and very British." The Book Trail

"Superbly crafted and breezy as a stroll along the pier, this Brighton-based murder mystery is a delight." Peter Lovesey, Crime Writers' Association Diamond Dagger winner

"By the end of page one, I knew I liked Colin Crampton and author Peter Bartram's breezy writing style." Over My Dead Body

Friday, July 19, 2019

Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown

Braving the Wilderness The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone by Brene Brown talks about how to combat feeling alone even when in the midst of a crowd. Let's face it we all have a sense of belonging, of becoming part of a tribe, and Brene Brown suggests getting out there and braving the wilderness because you have to be bold and take a chance.

She talks about how the pain of loneliness, anxiety and uncertainty can undermine efforts to be with a group and be engaged.

But we shouldn't lose ourselves in order to fit in, and we also need to understand where other people are. Even those we have been taught to hate as a group. It is hard to hate someone close up one on one.

True belonging is the practice of believing in and belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in standing alone . . . it doesn't require you to change who you are. . .  stop looking for confirmation that you don't belong and believe that you do.

True belonging, real connection and real empathy require meeting real people in real space in real time. In-person interactions have been proven to bolster our immune system.

8th graders define belonging as being accepted for you - fitting in is being accepted for being like everyone else.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Falling in Love by Donna Leon

In Falling in Love by Donna Leon, the opera singer, Flavia, returns to Venice (this is her third presence in the mystery series). Among the every day life of Commissario Guido Brunetti, he tries to discover why Flavia is being stalked. Is it just an admirer or something more sinister?
This is the 24th book in the Commissario Guido Brunetti series and the characters are tired - many of them tell you so throughout the book. But the story was a little tired too. Even Patta's secretary, the usually entertaining Elettra, is on strike. The mystery ended abruptly without (in my opinion) adequately explaining the stalker's actions. This has been a great series and I hope the subsequent mysteries are more entertaining.

Friday, July 5, 2019

The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekka

The Wife Between Us
by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekka has many twists and turns in the story. At the beginning it seems that the main character is a jealous ex-wife which storyline continues until half way through the novel where I found myself turning back to previous pages, trying to figure out where I had missed the actual story. But that isn't the only twist, there are many throughout the novel. Vanessa has many demons she is dealing with, claustrophobia, a bad relationship during college, the death of a young girl in her care, a mother with mental problems and all of these her husband, Richard, uses to his advantage to manipulate her.
Richard is a typical sociopath with no empathy and as most sociopaths do, has learned to be charismatic and charming. He successfully moves her away from her support group both physically and emotionally, buying a house in the wealthy suburb of New York, encouraging her to give up her two jobs and acting with jealousy when she spends time with friends. When violence toward her begins he gives her expensive gifts. From an outsider point of view, it is difficult to understand how someone could be charmed into such a relationship, but without a support group the victim doubts her own thoughts, is confused whether things had actually happened, especially when the person hurting her acts like her protector. And it happens slowly, enticing the woman into thinking she is getting a lifestyle she wants - a home, family, love. Apart from being a novel you won't want to put down it should be a lesson to all women, that if a man is charming and seems to good to be true, he probably is. . .

The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout is an informative read about sociopaths who often seem innocent and needy and will make a relationship all about you, until one day it becomes all about them!

Reading group questions here