Monday, March 4, 2019

The Summer Before the War

The Summer Before the WarThe Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

From the idyllic fields of Sussex to the trenches in France, Helen Simonson's poignant and gently humorous novel focuses on the people in a small town whose lives are upended by the Great War.

It's billed somewhat as a Downtown Abbey-esque story (Julian Fellowes meets E.M. Forster old chap), but it was more focused on middle- and working-class concerns. The gentry still think it's all about them, but what else is new? This story is a real gem!

"For the first time, as her tea grew cold in the cup and her porridge gelled in its bowl, she saw what it meant to be of limited income. It was a noble concept for the church sermon or the pages of an improving novel, but a chilling prospect on a sunny Sussex morning."

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Monday, December 31, 2018

Good (Bayberry) Luck

A bayberry candle burnt to the socket
Brings luck to the home
And gold to the pocket

Some other versions say it brings "health to the home" so I'll take that too.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

A Conspiracy in Belgravia

A Conspiracy in Belgravia (Lady Sherlock, #2)A Conspiracy in Belgravia by Sherry Thomas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Still waiting for Moriarty to take a bow. Nevertheless, an enjoyable mystery with ciphers and coded messages. Lord Bancroft (AKA Mycroft Holmes) presses his suit and manages to get Charlotte's attention with his garish taste in interior decoration (which Charlotte shares) and by acknowledging her intellectual abilities. He also lets her examine the bodies of murder victims, so he definitely knows the way to this lady's heart. Is it enough to tip the scales in his favor? Lord Ingram would have more time to be worried, if his wife wasn't causing some domestic disturbances of her own.

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Monday, December 3, 2018

What to Do When I'm Gone

What to Do When I'm Gone: A Mother's Wisdom to Her DaughterWhat to Do When I'm Gone: A Mother's Wisdom to Her Daughter by Suzy Hopkins
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow, just wow. This was funny and beautiful. I loved it. So, one more 5-star read for 2018.

It was my mom who indirectly led me to this book. She sent me a clipping from the newspaper with a "Duck-It List" cartoon (see Day 14,000 below) that had been taken from this book. In searching for the image online, I saw that there was a book by the artist and her mom.

Day 1: Make fajitas. After slicing the onions has made you cry, prepare the dish. When you are done, ask yourself, now, don't you feel better? Of course you don't. Pour yourself a stiff glass of whiskey.

Day 7: Bury me. Put a headstone on top so you can find me. Make the inscription just cryptic enough that it encourages wild speculation.

Day 26: Allow me to explain the stuff you found while cleaning out my house.

Day 144: Bake a pecan pie My own mom always made this pie at the holidays. I never understood why I liked it so much. After she died, I made it myself to carry on the tradition and then I understood: It contains massive amounts of sugar.

Day 285: Buy a great pair of shoes. Everybody should have at least one pair of really nice shoes. At least. Now that I'm not there to spoil you, it's time to start spoiling yourself.

Day 320: Stop doing things you hate. Make a list of things you hate to do. Immediately stop doing at least two of them.

Day 450: Look in the mirror and see yourself the way I saw you. Because someday you will be old, and you will look back at pictures of yourself and you will see..."I was beautiful."

Day 850: Talk to me. You'll see or do something and think, "Mom would have loved this." Tell me.

Day 1,900: Make amends. If you have a fight with someone, try to mend it. Accept responsibility. Extend a sincere apology. If you die angry, you've waited too long.

Day 2,500: Suffer. You're going to get hurt. It's part of life. Just know that your sorrow and pain is not unique and not unmatched.

Day 7,000: Prioritize. Hint: Caring for yourself should be near the top of the list.

Day 12,000: Watch a funny movie. Fear is useful when it causes you to avoid an oncoming train or motivates you to make positive changes. Otherwise, it's a life suck. When you're terrified, ask yourself: Is this helping? If not, laugh in fear's face.

Day 14,000: Make a duck-it list. (Things to avoid until you die) Better than a bucket list, because even if you accomplish everything on your bucket list, you are setting yourself up for failure. What do you do after? Is it time to die? Make another bucket list?

Duck-it List suggestions:
-bucket lists
-working with or for mean people
-being wishy-washy
-you get the picture...

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Friday, November 2, 2018

Five Star Reads for 2018

Most of my reviews on Goodreads are four stars. If I don't like I book, I tend to put it aside. But five stars books have to do more than satisfy. My inner book critic argues that it's one thing to give out four stars willy nilly, but five stars should mean something. Reflecting on the books I read this year, I was curious to see if there were any with five stars.

Turns out that there have been just two: a non-fiction tome detailing the battle in Congress over slavery, and a short and perfect gem ostensibly about an older couple but somehow about much more.

Arguing about Slavery: The Great Battle in the United States CongressArguing about Slavery: The Great Battle in the United States Congress by William Lee Miller
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Early in the narrative, the author made this point: "It is a revealing curiosity of American popular attitudes that a people so practical, so optimistic, so energetic, so direct, so quick to say that anything can be done by an effort of will--the impossible takes a little longer--on other topics, have regularly and abruptly turned to the opposite extreme on issues of slavery and race: nothing can be done. Leave it alone. Don't meddle. It cannot be fixed." p. 15

He emphasized that when we encounter something equally heinous and unjust in our current lives, we should take heart. Things can change. A much needed reminder in 2018.

On the lighter side, I learned the origins of a "Yankee nutmeg". The wrath that the South hurled at the North prior to physical hostilities breaking out in 1861 was impressive. Where'd they learn to insult people like that? A Yankee nutmeg was a nutmeg made out of wood that Yankee peddlers developed a reputation for selling: fake nutmegs made of carved wood. p. 294

This article at Mental Floss details the early American obsession with wooden nutmegs, if you'd like to learn more. I agree with the Northerner who reputedly said, "I would rather come from that part of the country where the people make wooden nutmegs than to come from that part of the country where the people are fools enough to buy them." I guess the North had a few verbal defenses of their own.

Our Souls at NightOur Souls at Night by Kent Haruf
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"She had arranged the funeral and told the minister about Ruth. He hadn't known her at all. She had stopped going to any church because of her feeling about orthodoxy and the childish ways in which churches talked and thought about God."

My mom recommended this author to me. She does not suggest duds. Ever.

"I do love this physical world. I love this physical life with you. And the air and the country. The backyard, the gravel in the back alley. The grass. The cool nights. Lying in bed talking with you in the dark."

"Who does ever get what they want? It doesn’t seem to happen to many of us if any at all. It’s always two people bumping against each other blindly, acting out old ideas and dreams and mistaken understandings."

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Thursday, April 26, 2018

Miss Buncle: Comfort Read Ahead!

Miss Buncle's Book (Miss Buncle, #1)Miss Buncle's Book by D.E. Stevenson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Miss Buncle MarriedMiss Buncle Married by D.E. Stevenson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Not since my mom recommended the Miss Read series almost twenty years ago have I found an author that fits the bill so well when I'm in need of a gentle and humorous look at life. Author D.E. Stevenson was unknown to me until I picked up Miss Buncle's Book at the library, solely because I liked the cover art. How could I resist a stylish flapper with a book tucked under her arm? And while it turns out that Barbara Buncle may never have looked as svelte and stylish the the woman on the cover, her transformation from a small-town dowd to a smartly-dressed and commercially-successful author, makes for a charming tale of a shy woman finding her voice and her place in the world.

When people in the Barbara's village start acting just like their fictitious counterparts in her book, trouble ensues and the residents of Silverstream undertake to unmask the mysterious author, "John Smith," who has created an uproar in their quiet English hamlet.

One of the few people not disturbed by Miss Buncle's book is her publisher, Mr. Abbott.

"Miss Buncle's book intrigued Mr. Abbott, and Miss Buncle herself intrigued him. She was such a queer mixture of simplicity and subtlety (at least he thought she was). She spoke bad grammar and wrote good English. She was meticulously truthful in all she said (it was almost as if she were on oath to speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth all day long and every day of the week). She lived her solitary life among all those people, with her tremendous secret locked up in her breast; going about among them looking as if butter wouldn't melt in her mouth, but taking careful note of all they said and did, and then going quietly home and writing it all down. They were after her now like a pack of hounds, but they didn't know that the fox was in the very midst of them, under their very noses, disguised as one of themselves—it was a piquant situation and Mr. Abbott fully appreciated it." (67)

Mr. Abbott moves from intrigue to romantic interest, and the rest you will have to read for yourself. I'm also getting a copy of this book for my mom, to return the favor of her recommending the Miss Read series.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill: A Brief Account of a Long LifeForty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill: A Brief Account of a Long Life by Gretchen Rubin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this book several years ago, and its theme frequently comes to mind when someone is being "discussed" in the media.

Many scenes have come and gone unwritten, since it is today the 4th of Sept, a cold grey blowy day, made memorable by the sight of a kingfisher, and by my sense, waking early, of being again visited by "the spirit of delight." "rarely rarely comest thou, spirit of delight." That was I singing this time last year; and sang so poignantly that I have never forgotten it, or my vision of a fin rising on a wide blank sea. No biographer could possibly guess this important fact about my life in the late summer of 1926: yet biographers pretend they know people. —Virginia Woolf, Diaries, September 4, 1927

Churchill biographers—like all biographers—decide their stories and include facts to support them. Someone portraying Churchill as the savior of his country chooses certain facts; someone debunking the Churchill myth chooses others. In deciding what facts to relate—where each detail must stand in for hundreds of omitted details—biographers act like novelists, using theme, irony, motif, metonymy, description, symbolism, morals, and the like to shape a particular image of their subject.

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