Saturday, October 29, 2016

Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane

Strong Poison (Lord Peter Wimsey, #6)Strong Poison by Dorothy L. Sayers
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This review will actually cover the following books: Strong Poison, Have His Carcase, Gaudy Night, Busman's Honeymoon and Thrones, Dominations.

I am late to the stories of Lord Peter Wimsey and his love interest, Harriet Vane. I'm going to confess right now that I did not read them in the correct order at all.

I started with Gaudy Night. I'm not sure how I had this book on my kindle. I suspect that it was because I was interested in Dorothy Sayers, and was able to purchase the novel for $2 or less. What particularly intrigued me about this book was the underlying feminist theme. Harriet, in her own words, is
Scholar; Master of Arts; Domina; Senior Member of this University.
She, and her counterparts at the university, professors all, are women, exceeding at a profession that was long denied to them. Most of them are single. There is an underlying tension between their thoughts of marriage, being successful women, and whether or not you can be both. This theme captured my attention and interest over and above the mystery theme of the book. Harriet herself, struggles with her feelings for a man (Lord Peter), and her independence, career (mystery writer) and her womanhood. The book was written in 1935, so these issues would have been prominent at that time. Harriet and Peter met when Harriet was accused of murdering her former lover--this is mentioned in Gaudy Night. Harriet and Peter's relationships grows, and so I was curious to find out what happened next.

So, on to the next book in the series, which was Busman's Honeymoon. Here, there is, of course, another murder to investigate. Again, I am a bit more intrigued by the relationship between Harriet and Peter and how Harriet is struggling with being a wife, and being a writer. Interestingly enough, Peter encourages her in her writing, and it is she herself who is trying to reconcile those roles.

Now, of course, I am beginning to wonder about the back story. I begin Strong Poison. Strong Poison was written in 1930. Here we learn of Harriet in prison for murdering her lover by poisoning him. I'm thinking that in 1930 it was pretty fast of a young woman to live with a man, so here again we have an underlying theme of feminism, womanhood, woman's independence and belief in herself at a time when it was not the norm. Lord Peter instantly believes in her innocence, and is instantly attracted to her intellect, instinctively knowing this is a woman who could be his equal in a relationship. Harriet though, is having none of it.

Well, now I've read everything except for Have His Carcase, so I might as well read that too, right? Harriet and Lord Peter collaborate on another mysterious murder, and their interactions with each other become more complex.

The last book in the series is Thrones, Dominations. This book was actually finished by another author, and shows us a glimpse of Harriet and Peter as a married couple.

So, although I read these all helter skelter, I did enjoy the series. As you can probably tell, I enjoyed them more for the story of Lord Peter and Harriet, than for the actual mysteries. Overall, the series charmed me. One other thing I noticed about these books - the language in them is higher than the language that authors use in writing now. We had a higher expectation of our readers than we do in our present time.

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Friday, August 26, 2016

What Does Your Sunday Look Like?

Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the ChurchSearching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church by Rachel Held Evans
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was so excellent. Rachel is very honest in her questions and struggles with the church, fellow christians and her faith walk. I felt she was respectful but passionate about the areas where she didn't agree with the party line of mainline churches. I think she was honest about her questions and feelings, and that we could all benefit from being more honest with each other, as long as we temper it with grace. She starts the book with this thought:
Even when I don't believe in church, I believe in resurrection. I believe in the hope of Sunday morning.
So, she begins with hope. She goes on to say:
The truth is, we think church is for people living in the "after" picture. We think church is for taking spiritual Instagrams and putting on our best performances. We think church is for the healthy, even though Jesus told us time and again he came to minister to the sick. We think church is for good people, not resurrected people.
I think that is so true. We expect perfection of ourselves and fellow christians, when the truth is we are all just one hot mess. One of of my favorite quotes from this book from the chapter titled "With God's Help". Rachel takes this story from a Lauren Winner book. A 12 year old girl is going to be confirmed. She tells her father, a pastor, she's not sure she can do it--she's not sure she believes everything enough to make a promise to believe these things forever. Her father tells her
What you promise when you are confirmed is not that you will believe this forever. What you promise when you are confirmed is that this is the story you will wrestle with forever.
Frederick Beuchner says much the same thing when he says
Doubt is the ants in the pants of faith."
Life with God is not an absolute, it's a relationship, a journey.

What always amazes me about these types of reflective, memoirish (if that's a word) books, is how vulnerable the authors are about sharing their thoughts and struggles. I really appreciated that Rachel showed us her heart. A really good book to share and talk about with others.

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Saturday, May 21, 2016

The Excellent LombardsThe Excellent Lombards by Jane Hamilton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A very good read, one that I really hope will end up as one of our book club picks. It needs to be talked about!

I love the main character, Frankie, affectionately nicknamed Marlene by her father (no one knows why) and Imp by her brother. Frankie lives in her head a lot, and has a wild imagination. Their family shares ownership of an apple orchard with Frankie's uncle, a self styled, but not very successful inventor. This is Frankie's world, and she loves every inch of it. Because she lives in her head a lot, she makes a lot of situations in her life more dramatic than they really are.

We get to meet Frankie at an early age (4 or 5 years old) and follow her story through her high school years. I especially liked her moody, dramatic teen years. Who doesn't remember the angst of being a teenager and how you choose to be obstinate just for the sake of disagreeeing with your parents? Our world revolves around our ownselves in those years (at least they did for me), and we are woefully misunderstood and forced to do things we don't want to do. We don't even understand our obstinacy but we insist on being contrary anyway.

There are so many characters to love in this story. I love how the marriage relationship between Jim and Nellie (Frannie's parents) is portrayed. I like the scary Aunt who Frankie dislikes. I like Gloria, who is many ways was another mom to Frankie and her brother. I like how Frankie tries to understand these relationships as they relate to her.

I could really relate to how Frankie's love for her home and family was almost an obstinate love, and one that she could not let go of. A love that she selfishly wanted to keep for herself. She was hanging on to it so tightly because she was afraid of what change would do to her family and her place in it.

Ultimately this book is about just that. How do we love so passionately and get to that understanding that at some point, your love will change. To understand that your love can expand and that we don't have to be afraid to let other people in.

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Saturday, May 14, 2016

Ove is a Decent (Albeit Grumpy) Man

A Man Called OveA Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There is something about this book that was really endearing. Parts are amusing, parts are touching, and the book is full of characters that form unexpected connections.

I was reminded to appreciate and celebrate the decent and good people among us.

Everyday we are bombarded with news stories about the evil, ignorant and mean people that choose to treat people badly. One would think we have no decent people anywhere in the world. But we can choose to be decent.

I think that's what I liked most about this story. Do people make mistakes? Yes. Do people judge others? Yes. But, if we as a people dig a little deeper, will we find a connection with people instead of following our prejudices? Yes, if we choose to.

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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Girl Scientists are the Best!

The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate (Calpurnia Tate, #2)The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I truly enjoyed getting to know Calpurnia Tate! She was a girl ahead of her time. A girl with a scientific bent in a world that did not credit woman with brains or skill. Other than her grandpa, who encouraged her to learn everything she could, there was no-one who appreciated her smartness. Indeed, when she asked about going to college, her father said she should save her money for her trousseau.
My what? Bridal linens? Clothes? Was he kidding? I searched his face for signs of joshing but there were none. I couldn't believe it. How had this happened? How could I be so misunderstood by my own father? I was a foreigner in my own home, a citizen of some other tribe, a member of some other genus.
Poor Calpurnia, she who could learn and do anything, was treated as a second class citizen just because she was a girl.

Calpurnia and her brother Travis were partners of a sort. Travis loved animals, trying to adopt armadillos, raccoons, and a certain coyote dog who wormed his way into Travis's heart. Calpurnia tried to be the voice of reason. As a girl scientist, she knew these animals were better off in the wild, but Travis just wanted to love them all.

I loved Calpurnia's voice. She was smart, with a sort of wry humor and way of looking at her life. Her grandpa is the love of her life, he who says
" was full of opportunities to learn something new about the world, and one should glean all one could from an expert in his field, no matter what that field may be."
Calpurnia realized that she was an anomaly in her world, but she was determined to overcome it. I was really sad to have to say good-bye to her.

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Friday, January 15, 2016

Passing Through All Right

Heading Out to WonderfulHeading Out to Wonderful by Robert Goolrick
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a compelling story! From the moment you meet Charlie you realize that this is not going to be a simple story. Each time I turned the page, I was wondering, is it this chapter where the shoe is going to fall?

The author's opening line is "The thing is, all memory is fiction. You have to remember that." He goes on to say
This story actually happened, and it happened pretty much the way I'm going to tell it to you. It's a true story, as much as six decades of remembering and telling can allow it to be true. Time changes things, and you don't always get everything right."
Charlie walks into town a stranger--he's pretty much adopted by a family, then by the town. But Charlie has an obsession--her name is Sylvan. Heading Out to Wonderful is primarily their story, although you will meet many other people along the way.

I love how the book was written, in fact, the writing reminds me a little bit of My Ántonia. That too, was a story of ordinary people living ordinary lives, told in a respectful way.

I would say this story will also make you think of forgiveness, or, perhaps, the lack of forgiveness. We have so much to give each other, yet, so often we withhold ourselves, holding onto judgment instead.

Some favorite quotes:
When you're young, and you head out to wonderful, everything is fresh and bright as a brand-new penny, but before you get to wonderful, you're going to have to pass through all right.
Childhood is the most dangerous place of all and no one gets past it unscarred.
She could only think, there are no fires of hell, there is only mercy
This book may not be for everyone, it's written in a very reflective manner, but I thought it was excellent, and will be checking out other books by this author.

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Saturday, January 2, 2016

A Magical Evening with the Book of Speculation

The Book of SpeculationThe Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was absolutely pulled into this book from the first page. For me, this book helped me to reach that zone of living in an alternate universe, which is what all the best books do. I did not want to come up for air!

First, the main character, Simon, the librarian, who naturally, loves books (I really liked Simon). Right there, I'm hooked. Then, he receives a beautiful, old, mysterious volume in the mail from a bookseller he doesn't even know. And thus the mystery begins. It is a fantastic mystery--by that I mean that the events recorded in the book, and the events surrounding his ancestors are rather fantastic and out of the realm of belief. But, you believe them, they are part of the story of Simon's life.

You will weave in and out of Simon's life as he digs into the book's mystery. Sometimes you will be in present time (Simon's time), and sometimes you will be in his ancestor's times. I know this can be annoying to some people, but it really worked well in The Book of Speculation.

I love when debut novels are so good, but feel bad for the author, because now I will expect her next book to be just as enthralling.

As always, it's not just the story, but the language used that draws me in. Here are some tidbits for you to consider:
"at night the lights from Connecticut shine across the harbor like they're crying."
"We carry our families like anchors, rooting us in storms, making sure we never drift from where and who we are."
          "Perhaps the book opened a door; books have a way of causing ripples." (love this!)

I borrowed this book from my local library, read it in an evening, and am now re-reading bits of it. It pulled me in like The Thirteenth Tale did years ago. I highly recommend it.

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