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Another year has gone by with another list of books to review. This tradition started last year with the post called My Bookshelf — Year 2014 Reflections. Here are the books that I’ve read in 2015 and my thoughts on them shortly after I’ve read them.

Cat in a Kiwi Con by Carole Nelson Douglas
I actually read this book in 2014, but it was after I had published my 2014 reflections, so I decided to add it here. I decided to start my Christmas vacation reading a book from one of my favorite mystery series. Although I gave this book the same number of stars as Cat in a Jeweled Jumpsuit (see the Reading List tab above), this book, in my opinion, is better. At times the language was a bit strange (forced?), that’s the reason for the 4 stars and not 5, but this book kept my attention and at times it was hard to put down. I found the underlying story that runs through more than one book in this series a bit hard to follow, but that may be because I don’t read these books one after the other and forget some details as a result. Although there is some background given, I would not recommend picking up this book if one is new to this series.

Cat in a Leopard Spot by Carole Nelson Douglas
This book is what began my love of Midnight Louis cozy mysteries. I read it years ago, so this was a re-read for me. But, because it was so long ago since I read it the first time, I had forgotten the story line. If one does pick up the series in the middle, this is a good book to start with before going back and reading the previous ones. In my opinion, this was a much more enjoyable read than the previous two books in the series.

Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
I found this book for free on iTunes. I wanted to read the book in anticipation of seeing the movie. I still haven’t seen the movie at the time I’m typing this, and after reading the book I’m not sure I really want to pay good money to see it in the theater. The book was slow to get through, but that was probably because I have a hard time with non-modern English. There wasn’t much to the story, really, and I couldn’t get into the characters. If the main character is supposed to be a strong, smart woman (although Hardy seems to disparage women in some of the writing), she sure doesn’t act like it at times, especially when it comes to the men in her life and that was just a turn-off to me.

Cat in a Midnight Choir by Carole Nelson Douglas
Another enjoyable read in the Midnight Louis series, however I felt saddened at ending. I was hoping that Matt wouldn’t have to do what I thought that Matt had done.

Cat in a Neon Nightmare by Carole Nelson Douglas
What saddened me at the end of the last book, had me relieved once I found out what I thought happened did not. However, not totally relieved since a dead body turned up. Things are heating up between Matt and Temple (yea!), but Max is still in the picture although being his usually elusive self. What stayed with me about this book was Matt’s take on confession (and what should be confessed) from both a priest’s standpoint (he’s an ex-priest) and now from a parishioner’s point of view (although on this day of reflection, he deliberately missed Mass). His summation of it pretty much summed up my views on the subject. Here, he’s not debating confessing missing Mass, he’s debating confessing what did or did not happen Saturday night (see the end of last book).

“Was he a lamb of God or a leper? Did he need confession, and if so, exactly what sins should he confess? For the first time, Matt understood the constant internal agonies of overscrupulous Catholics caught up in an obsessive-compulsive round of self-doubt….
… Now that his mind was splitting hairs, too, he began to see the torturous thumbtacks of self-incrimination that pinned these overanxious souls to a rack of worry and insecurity.” (p. 179-80)

In my mind, self-reflection is good. Confessing your sins is good (even if the confession is just between you and God), but I don’t think Jesus meant for us to get overanxious about every little thing (venial sins) as long as we acknowledge our error, correct any damage caused because of it if necessary, and strive to not sin again. But, that’s my opinion only, and I respect the Catholic Church’s viewpoint on the subject. And, in some cases, depending on the priest, a confession, even for what one might think something minor, can be a cathartic experience. But, in my experience, those times are few and far between.

Cat in an Orange Twist by Carole Nelson Douglas
In my opinion, this is not one of the better books in the series. Several pieces of information gets repeated too much. I think even for someone who just picked up the book at this stage, it’s too much of a repeat. In a way I understand some of the repeating information because the story is told from several of the characters’ points of view, but maybe it could’ve been done some other way to make it less tedious. Some parts of the story line also turned me off, but over all, I still looked forward to picking up the book and reading it.

How to Talk to Anyone: 62 Little Tricks for Big Success in Relationships by Leil Lowndes
I listened to the audiobook version. I found the reading to be annoying. I don’t know if the tips are accurate or not since I haven’t really tried most of them. I did try the “premature we” technique once. That met with total failure. Maybe I was too premature with the “premature we”. I’ll never know. When listening to many of the tips, however, I kept thinking to myself that it’s so disingenuous to act that way. Is this really how extroverts act in social or business settings? I don’t want to be someone I’m not just so I can talk to anyone, for others to like me, or to get ahead in a business or personal setting.

Cat in a Hot Pink Pursuit by Carole Nelson Douglas
Another fun read in the Midnight Louis series of books. SPOILER ALERT: An old crime impacts the characters in this book. I particularly like how Midnight Louis discovered one of the murderers, while Temple stood by wondering why Louis was pretending to be a bloodhound. The one inconsistency that I noticed was when Matt and Temple were together out in the desert and Matt seemed surprised when Temple told him she’s on the pill. I know Matt is naive in some ways, but I never pegged him as that naive. Temple did tell him that modern girls like to sample the goods before settling down to marriage and he does know that Temple and Max have/had been together for quite some time. He couldn’t put two and two together? Hard to believe. It’ll be interesting to see what comes of Matt’s “free trial offer” and how the ouroboros ring that was “mistakenly” dropped in Temple’s bag in the previous book will play a role in future stories.

A Stranger at Wynnedower by Grace Greene
I decided to take a bit of a break from the Midnight Louis series of books and read a Kindle book I downloaded a while back. I had a book on hold at the library and wanted something I could read without getting too into it so that I could break away once my held book was ready for pick up. This book had a bit of suspense, a bit of mystery, and a bit of romance. I was hooked. I didn’t want the book to end. If I’m ever looking for something to read again, I want to read Ms. Greene’s other Virginia Country Road novels.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo
As of the time of me writing this review, I haven’t yet used most of the techniques in this book, save one. The one most criticized by reviewers. Many reviewers criticize her technique of thanking inanimate objects for their service. But this helped me quite a bit when it was time to get rid of an old, tattered sweater of mine. It took me a while to find a replacement for this sweater, and still when I did replace it, I found it difficult to get rid of the tattered one. I thought: “well, maybe I’ll save it and put in in with my painting clothes.” That’s just what I did, but not being able to throw it away nagged at me. Once I read Ms. Kondo’s suggestion about thanking your clothes, I tried the technique, and it worked. I could now get rid of that sweater. It served me well but now was no longer useful, so having that attitude, I could now part with it. I think this oft criticized technique of thanking all that you own is the key to Ms. Kondo’s decluttering/tidying technique. It’s only in appreciating what we have and what we want out of life that we can begin to sort out what our stuff means to us, and how that stuff fits into our vision of what we want out of life. Does it serve us to keep it? Would it be happier serving someone else (i.e. donate)? Or has it outlived its usefulness for anyone (i.e. put in the trash or recycling)? By asking these questions of everything we own, I think Ms. Kondo is correct in that it’s a good way to put not only our stuff, but also our lives, in order.

The Great Typo Hunt by Jeff Deck and Benjamin D. Herson
This book was recommended to me by my boss years ago, but I only got around to getting the book this year. I was buying some stuff from Amazon, but did not have enough in my cart to get free shipping, so I decided to buy this book. I’m glad I did. Jeff Deck stated: “I’d been shy growing up, not prone to speaking out of turn or, well, speaking much at all. Once I started going around the country trying to correct typos, I’d inevitably have to talk to other people…. How far did I honestly estimate that I had come from the meek days of yore?” (p. 6-7). This had me hooked. I too was shy (still am) growing up and never talked much. But, in my current volunteer position I too had to go out and talk to strangers. Totally out of my comfort zone. So, I wondered how he was going to overcome this. This had me hooked. (Unfortunately, his solution would not work in my case.) I loved the style of writing, the humor, the philosophical musings, and the Field Guide to Typo Avoidance. I found the part about Direct Instruction interesting, especially since, in a long-term study (started in the Johnson era) of multiple teaching methods, it was found to be the most effective not only in teaching subject matter, but also in teaching higher-order thinking and boosting self-esteem. And, yet, there was so much backlash against it, including by teachers, that now it’s only taught in a handful of schools. Seems to me that if the welfare of the students were the top priority, and the method of instruction has proven to be most effective out of multiple methods, over multiple years, then schools and teachers should at least give it a try. Then maybe there would not be so many people in the United States who can’t read — 32 million in 2003, the last year for which data are available. (See: The Huffington Post)

The Inn at Rose Harbor by Debbie Macomber
I downloaded a free version of this book as a promotion tied in with the start of the third season of Cedar Cove on The Hallmark Channel. I haven’t read too many books by Debbie Maoomber, but the ones I did read I liked alot. And, I like the Cedar Cove TV show very much so I thought I’d give this book a try (especially since it was free). Well, I didn’t like it as much as other books Mrs. Macomber has written, but in the end I give it 4 stars out of 5. I just wasn’t able to sympathize with some of the characters (the guests at the inn) and feel that I was a part of their lives so I ended up not caring too much how things ended (but knowing Mrs. Macomber’s work, I knew how things would mostly end). I learned that the Cedar Cove TV series is somewhat like a prequel to these books, although Jo Marie is not in the TV series (at least not yet), but many of the people mentioned briefly are. This particular version of the book had a sneak peek of the next book in the series, Rose Harbor in Bloom. I have to say, I was hooked. I happened to be in the bookstore the day after reading this and found a used copy and bought it. Perhaps I’ll read it when I’m on vacation up north this year. I’m looking forward to seeing what’s in store for Jo Marie, Mark, and Rover.

Cat in a Quicksilver Caper by Carole Nelson Douglas
WARNING SPOILERS! This was another fun read in the Midnight Louis series of books even if the ending was a bit of a cliché if you’re a fan of soap operas. Although I’m 100% for Matt and Temple getting together I am disappointed in the author choosing to have Matt compromise his principles (his Catholic beliefs) in order to be with Temple, a non-Catholic. I understand that this isn’t a Christian novel, so I’m willing to give it a pass because I know that the author has to write to a secular audience, and waiting until after marriage to have sex is not something most people do nowadays, so she figures it’s not realistic for her characters (or in this case, just Matt) to do that. But, I can say from personal experience that there’s nothing wrong with waiting until after marriage. I was in my mid-30s when I married a non-Catholic. We’ve been happily married for more than 10 years as I type this. Personally, I’m glad I waited and I’m glad that my husband is truly my one and only.

To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
This is one of the books that has been sitting on my bookshelf probably since college days. Reading a book written in the stream of consciousness style is interesting. I can’t say that I understood everything that I read though. In fact, throughout reading it, I kept thinking that I wish I had the CliffsNotes version of it. But, it definitely paints a picture and sets a mood. Unfortunately, that mood is one of deep depression.

Rose Harbor in Bloom by Debbie Macomber
I decided to take a break from reading the Gut book (see below) for my birthday. It was my birthday and I figured I should read something enjoyable. This book was definitely an enjoyable read. I enjoyed it much more than the first book in this series (see above). I’m not sure I’ll read more in the series. This book didn’t have a preview chapter at the end so I don’t know what the next book is about, but maybe if I’m looking for a light read in the future and I don’t know what to read next, then I’ll pick up the 3rd book in this series.

Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body’s Most Underrated Organ by Giulia Enders and Jill Enders
This book was a birthday gift from my mother-in-law. It’s somewhat interesting, and less icky than the book Gulp!, but the first part of the book still has quite a bit of ick.

The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe
I bought this book nearly 20 years ago after I saw the movie “Moll Flanders” in 1996, but I never read it until now. The book, written from Moll Flanders’ perspective in the 1600s, is basically a lesson in how not to live your life and a lesson in how not to get conned by pickpockets and thieves:

…every branch of my story, if duly considered, may be useful to honest people and afford a due caution to people of some sort or other to guard against the like surprises and to have their eyes about them when they have to do with strangers of any kind, for ’tis very seldom that some snare or other is not in their way…. (p. 203)

The problem I had with this book was two-fold (SPOILERS!). First, what happens with all her children? Yes, some died, but not all of them. In the end, only one son is mentioned. Second, it seems as though she gets away with her crimes. She does end up in jail at one point, nearly on her way to getting executed, but she gets a reprieve and then goes to America, turns her life around and goes on to live a good life with her husband and her son. Although in the end she does say that she and her husband did go back to England “to spend the remainder of [their] years in sincere penitence for the wicked lives [they] have lived,” I still thought that they should have done more restitution for their crimes.

A Bend in the Road by Nicholas Sparks
I bought this book so that I’d have some light reading material to take up north on vacation. Nicholas Sparks is one of my go-to authors when I want to read something light. This book is far from light. The writing style was different in a good way. Troubling events lead to troubled lives lead eventually to forgiveness and happily ever after. This book is part romance and part mystery. Not what I was expecting, but a book I’m glad I read.

Come Rain or Come Shine by Jan Karon
I love all the Mitford books up to this point, especially the last one Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good, so I was eagerly anticipating this book’s release. Unfortunately, I don’t know if I pinned my expectations too high or what, but I ended up being only lukewarm to this book. There seemed to be something missing that the other books had. The writing style probably contributed to this lukewarm feeling too. The use of pronouns to refer to people distracted me quite a bit from the story. One had to infer who the characters were talking about. A more direct approach would’ve helped the flow of the story better. Having to stop and think, or in some cases re-read a paragraph or two to figure out who a character was talking to or who the paragraph was about was not good.

In books past there was a cast of characters (and I mean characters!) that one fell in love with. People one can totally see as living in a small town. People with their quirkiness but lovable at the same time, even when in some cases they were doing things that weren’t so lovable. There was little of that here. The story revolved around preparations for and the wedding of Lace and Dooley, Father Tim’s adopted son. For some reason, I just couldn’t warm up to either Lace or Dooley. To be fair, I enjoyed the story better as the wedding day got closer and the description of the wedding day itself. The ending was so cute in my opinion, and, I believe, totally in character. I had to chuckle. So, while I couldn’t give it 5 stars, I did give it 4. Still a worthy read in the series.

Cat in a Red Hot Rage by Carole Nelson Douglas
Another fun read, if you can call a murder mystery a fun read, in the Midnight Louis series of mysteries. However, this book seemed to be missing something. Can’t put my finger on it. Perhaps it was because one of the main characters was missing from the book, and presumed dead. (Spoiler alert: he’s not. We find out where he is in the next book.) Whenever an author takes out a main character in a book series, the dynamics of the story/relationships/banter changes. I think that’s why I didn’t like this book as much as some of the others in the series. Seemed dull in some respects.

Then there was this line that got me steamed. Matt is talking to Busek, his former confessor when they were both priests. Matt is asking advice about his relations with his fiance. Unfortunately, Matt is having mixed thoughts about sleeping with his fiance. Matt is still Catholic and knows that sex outside of marriage is a sin according to the Church, but at the same time, he doesn’t regret sleeping with her. Busek says “I’m not the one who’s going to call love a sin for you. Yeah, I know the Church has confused love with sex, for centuries, but I’m out of it now, and you are too.” Uh, no. In my opinion, society has confused love with sex (or I should say sex with love). Society has it wrong, not the Catholic Church, and Matt is not out of it if he wants to stay a part of the Church. How can he be part of the church if he disobeys its tenets? Ugh. Then, of course, I had to take my being steamed down a notch. Tell myself this is not a Christian novel. This is aimed at a secular audience who believes that sleeping with whoever they seem to love at the moment is OK…. But, then again, I’m sure 90+% of people who call themselves Catholic don’t obey the tenets of the church, especially on this account. As I said before, I personally am so thankful that I did follow Church teaching on this issue and not society’s. I have to keep telling myself, this is just a novel, this is just a novel…. and, judging from the way this author treats the teachings of the Catholic Church, I’m sure there will be more moments in later books that will steam me up just as much.

Cat in a Sapphire Slipper by Carole Nelson Douglas
Another good Midnight Louis mystery. This one, however, ended on a cliffhanger. Did this book also steam me up because of a comment from one of the characters about the beliefs of the Catholic Church? Yes. But, I’m slowly accepting that this is going to be the case. Who knows, maybe the author intends for the characters to be misinformed? The problem with that scenario is that most people reading these novels are not Catholic, but will, perhaps, be reading this as if these are the true beliefs. In which case, the Catholic Church and its beliefs come out looking ridiculous. This point aside, I’d give this book 4 stars. It kept me engaged. I loved that we’re getting more of a glimpse into Midnight Louis’s past, and, that all the cats in the Midnight family (well, except for Midnight Louis’s father) helped solve the case. There were some raw moments in the parallel story having to do with Max that I could’ve done without, but it didn’t detract too much from the enjoyment of the book overall.

Harnessing Your Emotions by Andrew Wommack
A while back my mother-in-law and I got in a discussion about my anxiety. She said that I needed to see a psychiatrist in order to overcome it so that I could have some peace. She’s convinced that cognitive behavior therapy is what’s best. The problem with going to see a psychiatrist is manyfold. First, I’d have to take off work. If I take off work, I’d have to make up that time some time, and that time would have to be when I could be spending time with my husband. I barely have time to do that now, considering I’m also quite busy with my volunteer job (although that will be ending in a couple of months). And, frankly, I miss spending time with my husband and am looking forward to doing more of that in the near future. Also, in my mind, what is seeing a psychiatrist going to accomplish. I have to do the work. I have to work through my feelings of anxiety. Logically, I know all the arguments of why being anxious in various situations is irrational. I don’t need a psychiatrist to tell me that. I can even say to myself that in such and such situation things have turned out OK in the past, so they will again turn out OK again. Logically, I know this, but that hasn’t translated in lessened anxiety. And, as I told my mother-in-law, any psychiatrist I would want to end up seeing, if I ever decided to go that route, would have to counsel from a Catholic perspective. My mother-in-law rolled her eyes at that (she doesn’t believe in God), but there are psychiatrists who do just that. And, there are several in the area where I used to live, but there doesn’t seem to be any in the area I live now.

Shortly after this conversation, it might have even been the next morning, I turned on the television and there was Andrew Wommack talking about solving problems like depression and anxiety from a God-centered perspective. Although he’s not Catholic, this seemed like exactly what I was looking for. When I got a chance, I looked up his books on Amazon. I couldn’t find exactly the book he was talking about on his show, but after reading the reviews, it seemed as though Harnessing Your Emotions was a book that might help me. Reading the book, it seems as though he’s mostly talking to people who are depressed, rather than those suffering from anxiety, but then again, I did highlight quite a few paragraphs that might help me.

At this point, I can’t say that this book has helped me with my anxiety. But, what he does say, the perspective he brings, does make sense. I’ll want to re-read what I highlighted and put his suggestions into practice. Dealing with anxiety, after all, is an ongoing process.

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George
I had high hopes for this book up until Chapter 5. Then the story and the characters bored me. There were occasional profound moments along the way, but the whole adventure was still boring to me. Then the story got interesting around Chapter 35, but then waned again. The most interesting part of the book was the ending called “Jean Perdu’s Emergency Literary Pharmacy” where the author lists books, what they are prescribed for and their side effects. I believe that if the book concentrated more on the little Paris bookshop called the Literary Apothecary, Jean Perdu as the bookseller, and his customers and neighbors it would’ve been a more interesting book. As it was, I would only give it three out of five stars. I’m glad this was a library book and that I didn’t spend my money on it.

I’m currently reading a book called On The Map by Simon Garfield. I bought this book for my husband a while back. I read Simon Garfield’s book Just My Type and enjoyed it, so I thought I’d like to read this book by him too. I thought it would be an interesting topic to explore. As of this writing, I’ve finished 140 pages and I’m realizing that, for me anyway, maps are not that interesting a subject. The book has its interesting moments, but overall, honestly, at this point, I can’t wait until I can go on to read another book. After reading that last statement, you’re probably wondering why I don’t just stop reading the book and go on to something else now. I’m the type of person that tends to read a book all the way through even if I don’t like it that well because I figure (a) it could get better the more I get into it or (b) the information contained within might be interesting. Since this book already had some interesting tidbits, I’m hoping that even if I have to wade through some boring stuff, it’ll continue to contain more interesting tidbits. The only thing that will make me truly stop reading a book is if the book is offensive in some way, and this book is not that.

UPDATE: I finished the book on December 29th. I still found most of the rest of the book boring, but the chapters about Mars and the mapping of the human brain were most interesting. I think what would’ve made this book better is if the maps were in color instead of grayscale, especially in the cases where the text itself mentions color. Color also would’ve helped in the case of the brain map. It was difficult for me to distinguish between a few of the different grays.

Wishing my readers a Happy Holiday season and a New Year filled with health, happiness, and many blessings!

Society’s Downfall

Anyone who knows me knows that I am obsessed with the TV show Scorpion. I like to talk about it, and could talk about it, the characters, and the plot for hours if given the chance (which I never am). Somehow the topic came up at dinner with my in-laws yesterday and my mother-in-law commented that it’s shows like that, that show geniuses in such a totally unrealistic way, that are basically leading to the downfall of society. According to her, shows like this cause people to think that all geniuses/academically-minded people are inept socially, not “normal”, whatever. My guess is she’s hinting that if people see academically-minded people in such a negative light, most people would not want to be educated. A mass of non-educated people in a democratic society will lead to its downfall. I agree that a section of our population sees education as a non-necessity. I don’t have the exact numbers, but I did read in a local paper a few years back that a huge majority of people in the area I grew up in believed that a college education was not necessary to getting ahead in life. People skills are seen as more important. This trend has been decades in the making, long before Scorpion or even The Big Bang Theory appeared on TV sets. I’m not here to debate that.

I’m writing to say that when one delves into the characters themselves, the geniuses of Scorpion are not portrayed negatively or unrealistically in my opinion. They are portrayed as human. Yes, they have extraordinary abilities and they think more logically than “normals” (this even my mother-in-law concedes), but I’d argue that their emotional well-being, or lack thereof, is because of the circumstances that they’ve grown up in and not because they are geniuses/academically-minded. I’d argue that if “normals” were put in the same circumstances, their emotional well-being would be influenced negatively too. Perhaps the “normals” would also have the same problems.

Take Walter’s life. He never had a good relationship with his father. His father didn’t understand him. He was bullied in school, including by his teachers (or at least one teacher as shown in one flashback episode). Thank goodness for his sister, but she’s currently dying. When he was 10 years old he met Cabe Gallo, a government agent. Throughout his pre-teen and early- to mid-teen years Cabe was like a father to him. He was someone Walter trusted. Cabe would have Walter work on projects for the government. Cabe understood that Walter wanted to do good things and needed something to keep his mind occupied, to keep learning new things. Then, Walter hears on the news that the software he created to drop aid packages was actually used to drop bombs, killing 2,000 innocent people. Trust was completely broken and Walter now has to live with that on his conscience. He hasn’t been able to sleep well for the past 16 years, having nightmares. Is it any wonder he has closed himself off to the world emotionally? Shunned by his parents, his peers. Opens himself up emotionally to someone who he thought would be like a father to him only to have his heart broken in a major way. What “normal” person could go through that in life and still come away unscathed?

Then there’s Happy.  First, her mother dies in childbirth. As someone who personally experienced losing a mother at a young age (3 years old), I can tell you, you never really get over the abandonment issues totally. Then when she was 3 years old her father got her a doll house. She wired it for electricity (she’s a mechanical genius). I’m sure she was very proud of herself. But, rather than being proud of his daughter and her abilities (or teaching his daughter the right way to do things if she did it wrong), her father ripped all her wiring out of the doll house. She rewired it. Her dad took away the doll house. Happy then became less talkative and more quiet. Is it any wonder why she can’t stand to be judged? As for a fear of getting close to someone that also probably goes back to her father putting her into foster care. Being moved from foster home to foster home, while always looking out the window to see if her dad is coming back, didn’t help her abandonment issues. Logically, there would be no point in getting close to someone when that person is just going to hurt you and leave. In these circumstances, what “normal” person would be fine emotionally?

I could say more about Sylvester and Toby, but essentially, they’re the way they are emotionally because of their experiences early in life too. Personally, I admire Sylvester. Despite his anxiety and fears, he has the courage to do what needs to be done to help those he loves and the greater good. Quite an inspiration for me.

Then there’s Ralph. A 10-year old genius, but someone who’s learning to come into his own living in a world of non-geniuses. Walter and the other geniuses teach him to understand his mind and his abilities, give him a safe place to realize his potential. But, at the same time, Ralph wants to know how to interact with is peers, how to make “normal” friends, be as “normal” as possible. And, with the support of Walter and Ralph’s mother, especially, but also Happy, Toby, Sylvester, and now Ray, he feels comfortable enough to do just that. What if Walter, Sylvester, Happy, and Toby had that type of support growing up?

What I’ve learned in my 45 years on this planet is that “normal” doesn’t exist. Everyone has some quirks. Sure, society dictates what is and what is not normal, and many know how to play the game of appearing normal in society, but most, if not all, have their obsessions, fears, opinions, points of view, ways of dealing with life that perhaps may seem out of the mainstream.

What if society would create a safe haven for those of all abilities and talents, without judgement and ridicule? I bet most of the troubles experienced in this world would disappear and we’d get closer to what God intended for our world and His children. As Pope Francis said in his address to Congress earlier this year:

Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated. Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves. Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves. In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities.

 

 

Sunset Over Lake Winyah September 16 2015

The highlights, in my opinion, of our latest trip up north were the sunsets over Lake Winyah. This year, instead of staying with relatives, we rented a little cabin in the woods. Click here to view my latest travelogue installment. Enjoy!

To everyone who enjoys my travelogue entries, changes are coming. I received an email last week from Comcast letting me know that as of October 8, 2015, Comcast will no longer host web pages. My travelogue entries are on my Comcast website, so that meant I had to investigate free web hosting sites to see which met my needs.

Ideally, I’d like to be able to upload my photos and currently built HTML pages, but looks like none of the sites I investigated allow me to do that. These sites want to make things easy by providing web-based builder tools and a “no coding needed” way of doing things. Problem. I don’t mind coding. I am a programmer. I like the control I have with coding. Oh well, it’s not like I’m a paying customer, so I can’t complain too much.

After a bit of investigation of another site, which seemed to meet my needs, except that their web page editor was incredibly frustrating to use, I settled (for now) with weebly.com. As a tester, I rebuilt my most recent travelogue post, “Presque Isle, MI 2014”, on this platform. Check it out here.

Why do we have the books that we do? How did we acquire them? Why did we acquire them? What thoughts do they provoke? In this post I’ll be going through the books that I read in 2014 and attempt to answer these questions.

Cat in a Golden Garland by Carole Nelson Douglas
Back when my husband and I were dating, lo about 10 years ago or more, one weekend we visited his local library. I don’t remember why we were there, if we even had a specific purpose. But I do know that they had an ongoing book sale. Now, I’m not the type to pass by a book sale and not look. Ok. I look, then end up buying two or more books. This day I bought Cat on a Leopard Spot by Carole Nelson Douglas and a Cat Who… series book. Somehow shortly after this my now husband and I got in the habit of reading the entire Cat Who … series of books to each other. After reading Cat on a Leopard Spot, I decided to buy a couple of more in the series because I enjoyed them so much. Then after a while I was on a decluttering kick and decided to give those books to the local library. A few years ago, I regretted my decision. I was missing my “friend” Midnight Louis and wanted to read those books again. Unfortunately, by then, many of the early books were out of print. I ended up tracking down used copies of the first half of the series in various used book outlets online (many at Better World Books). Cat in a Golden Garland was one of them. Using a gift card, I have since acquired the rest in the series that have been published in paperback. So, was it worth it? Yes. I still enjoy reading the adventures of Temple Barr and Midnight Louis. I’m looking forward to reading the rest in the series.

Tarzan and “The Foreign Legion” by Edgar Rice Burroughs
I decided to take a break from the Midnight Louis series for a while to read some other books on my bookshelf. The reason for this? I have to make room on my bookshelf for all of the newly acquired Midnight Louis books. So, I decided to start reading some of the books that I’m least likely to hang on to once they’ve been read. This is one of them. I know what you’re probably thinking “Really!!? Tarzan!!? How did this end up on her bookshelf?” There is a story behind this. When I was growing up my father mentioned that he used to read Tarzan books when he was younger. One time when I was in the local library I noticed that someone donated a nearly complete set of Tarzan books to the ongoing book sale. Since they were only 10 cents per book, I bought every one they had. I brought them home to show my Dad. He then told me that he used to read the Tarzan COMIC books, not the novels. And, he had no interest in reading the novels at all. So, I was stuck with a near complete set of Tarzan books. Ok, I could’ve donated them back to the library book sale, but I didn’t. Over the years I’ve tried to read at least one a year or one every couple of years (there were about 20 of them) then pass them on to the local library for their book sale. I still had 2 to go if you include this one. Although these books are not exactly something I’d normally pick up for myself at the library or bookstore, I still enjoy reading them, if only for the fact that they bring back cherished memories of my Dad and I watching old Tarzan movies with Johnny Weissmuller as Tarzan (the best Tarzan ever in my opinion!) on Saturday mornings. If you too have memories like this, this particular book is worth reading if just for Chapter 7 alone. The story is riveting and at times gives one philosophical questions to ponder, especially about war and what it does to a person. A warning though. The language is definitely NOT politically correct. I think this particular book is worse than many of the others. But, if you can put it into perspective (it was written during World War II and published shortly thereafter), I would recommend reading it.

Tarzan and the Madman by Edgar Rice Burroughs
The last of the Tarzan books that I have. See note above on how and why I acquired these books. This story, written in 1941 but not published until 1964 (a forgotten manuscript found by Edgar Rice Burroughs’ son), is more of a traditional Tarzan story than the previous book that I read. Although the book was hard to put down, for me the story and characters were bland in comparison to those of the previously read title. All in all, though, I’m glad that I got a chance to read these books.

Cat in a Crimson Haze by Carole Nelson Douglas
This is actually a re-read. I had read the first four books in the Midnight Louis series some time ago. Then, as I said above, a couple of years ago I decided to pick up where I left off. Unfortunately, I had forgotten some of the background to some of the characters. Matt Devine in particular. Although I had told myself that I would go back and re-read this book to reacquaint myself, I never did until now. After I read Cat in a Golden Garland, the eighth book in the series. That book also dealt quite a bit with Matt Devine’s life — coming to terms with the past and looking forward to the future. Cat in a Crimson Haze reaquainted me with his past so that I can understand his character better as the series goes forward.

The Life and Legacy of Pope John Paul II by Wyatt North
Because it was Lent, I decided I was going to read one or more of the religious books that I had not yet read that were sitting on my bookshelf (virtual or otherwise). Earlier in the year, I downloaded this as a free e-book from Amazon because I’m interested in the life of Pope John Paul II. I still remember when he became Pope. There was much rejoicing in my family because he was the first Polish Pope. (I’m half Polish and half German, but I grew up with the Polish side of my family and I identify myself more with the Polish side.) So, from the beginning I had an interest in finding out more about him. I also like to read biographies. And, what with him becoming a saint on April 27th, that spurred me even more to read about him this Lent. This book presented snippets of his life. I learned a few things about him. Good and not so good. I would’ve liked a more in-depth treatment of some of the topics, but I can’t complain too much, since this book was free.

Crossing the Threshold of Hope by Pope John Paul II
I bought this book shortly after it came out in the mid-90s because my Aunt Frances recommended it to me. Clearly her reading level was at a much higher level than mine because when I first sat down to read it I got about 10 pages in and put it back on my bookshelf. It was just too difficult to understand. Too esoteric. So, it sat on my bookshelf for nearly 20 years before I again picked it up this Lent. Since I first bought this book I have gone through RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) and become a full member of the Catholic Church. I’ve been going to church weekly for the past 18 years or so, listening to the readings and the homilies that explain them. Has my perspective changed? Do I understand a bit more? Yes. But, this was still a very difficult read for me. And, much of it, I still don’t understand. The reading becomes easier after page 76 or so. Less esoteric and more practical. But throughout reading it I felt as though there should be a list in front of the book of all the writers, philosophers, theologians, etc. that one needs to be familiar with in order to fully understand what John Paul II is saying, because, frankly, I am not familiar with any one of them except, for some, in name only.

Cat on a Hyacinth Hunt by Carole Nelson Douglas
Back to reading the Midnight Louis series of books. After reading Crossing the Threshold of Hope I wanted to read something light. It was nice to get back to reading this series. This particular book, however, is more romance than mystery. But, only in a good way. It was sorely needed as a way to advance the character development. When I first picked up this book, I thought I was reading it for the first time, but as I got near the end, I started to remember some of the scenes in the book. So, this was a re-read for me. But, one that I’m glad I re-read. I enjoyed it very much.

Cat in an Indigo Mood by Carole Nelson Douglas
Another excellent book by Carole Nelson Douglas in the Midnight Louis series. This book dealt more with mystery than romance. It also dealt with some hefty real-life issues, but not in a way that burdens the reader.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Have you ever finished a book and then just sat there, staring into space, while saying “Wow!”? This is that sort of book for me. I’d also recommend having a tissue handy for the ending, but not for the obvious reasons. A week after finishing the book, I went to see the movie. Although the movie is excellent and stands on its own, I recommend reading the book first. It fills in some of the gaps, depth-wise, of the characters and situations.

The Ox-Bow Incident by Walter Van Tilburg Clark
This is a re-read for me. I read this book in college. It has been on my bookshelf ever since. It’s one of those “ought to” books. Westerns are not my thing (unless it’s the old TV show The Young Riders. Thanks to Hulu for making all episodes available online!), so the only reason I think I kept it this long is because it’s a classic. “If I want to be intelligent (or seem intelligent) I should read/keep classics in my personal library” sort of thing. I’m trying to get out of this mindset and only keep the books on my bookshelf that I enjoy or books that speak to me in some way. So, in an effort to finally clear it out, I decided to read it once more and then donate it. I had forgotten that it has writing in it, so I may not be able to donate it. It may have to go to our bi-annual city-wide book recycling. The book itself ought to be read. It deals with some hefty moral issues. And, although it is set in 1885, there is some relevance to today too. Winder, the stagecoach driver talking about how the railroad took his (and many others’) job away. The railroad was progress, a technological breakthrough. Today other technological breakthroughs (progress!) also take people’s livelihoods away.

Cat in a Jeweled Jumpsuit by Carole Nelson Douglas
Another good book in the Midnight Louis series. This one, though, I read in short bursts rather than sitting for hours not wanting to put the book down. Why? Elvis overload! On the plus side, I was totally surprised by the ending.

If I Stay by Gayle Forman
This was a library e-book download. I saw a preview of the movie that was coming out in August and wanted to read the book. I was not, however, interested in seeing the movie. This book reads somewhat like The Fault in Our Stars in terms of voice. But, I guess that’s to be expected since in both cases the main character/narrator is a teenager. Although I liked The Fault in Our Stars better, I still found myself not being able to put this book down. But, the ending had me saying “What? That’s it?” rather than “Wow!”. The story itself is compelling, but I found the characters quite two-dimensional. Just names, really. Maybe that’s why I didn’t go through the emotional roller coaster like some readers did (judging from comments in various reviews). I don’t understand what all the hoopla is over this book. Guess it’s just not my type of book. I’m glad I chose to download it from the library rather than buy it.

A Shot in the Bark by C.A. Newsome
This was a free e-book that I got from Amazon.com. It started out promising, but the crude language turned me off. I also didn’t like that the story itself didn’t wrap itself up, especially since I will not be reading the next book in the series, if there is one.

Factory Man: How One Furniture Maker Battled Offshoring, Stayed Local and Helped Save an American Town by Beth Macy
While I was working on doing research for my job I came across an interview about this book and was intrigued, so I checked out a copy at the library. It is a fascinating book, but depressing too as it chronicles the downfall of American manufacturing and the consequences. One has to give John Bassett III alot of credit for being tenacious and doing all he could do to save his factory, the jobs of his employees, and his community. Although much of it, in general, I knew, I also learned some things along the way. In my opinion, it’s a must-read for everyone in America; especially for those who think nothing of choosing (when there is a choice!) imported goods over American-made goods.

Starry Night by Debbie Macomber
A woman from the church I used to go to turned me on to Debbie Macomber books. She recommended Mrs. Miracle to me and let me borrow her copy of the book. After I read that, I immediately went to the library and checked out another of Mrs. Macomber’s books. One in the Blossom Street series. A few years back I also bought another of her books at a library book sale (which I later passed on). And, I’m a big fan of the Cedar Cove TV series on the Hallmark Channel (I rearrange my Saturday schedule so I don’t miss it each week), even though I’ve never read any of the books in the Cedar Cove series. Although I normally don’t like romances, I do like these romances because they’re romances with morals. A striking contrast to the romance that was a part of A Shot in the Bark mentioned above. Starry Night will move you and melt your heart!

Somewhere Safe with Someone Good by Jan Karon
I’ve been a fan of the Mitford Series of books for many years. I picked up a copy of one of the books at a local bookstore and I was hooked. Since that was a book in the middle of the series, I went out and bought all the preceding books to catch up with the cast of characters. I was so disappointed that Ms. Karon decided to end the series years ago. I bought both books in the Father Tim series, which was a sort of replacement/continuation of the Mitford series, but I didn’t like them as well. I was eagerly anticipating this book, the 10th in the Mitford Series, ever since it was announced. I bought it on the first day that it came out. And, to tell you the truth, reading this book felt like coming home after a long trip away. “That was his favorite thing about books—they took you off to other people’s lives an’ places, but you could still set in your own chair by th’ oil heater, warm as a mouse in a churn.” This is my favorite quote in the book. I highly recommend setting in your favorite chair by the heater, opening your heart and getting reaquainted (or acquainted) with the people of Mitford. Although it’s not absolutely necessary to read the first 9 books in the Mitford Series and the two Father Tim books first, I think it’s a much more enjoyable read if you do. In fact, I wish I had re-read all those previous books before reading this one to fill in some of the details that I had forgotten over the years.

The Complete Peanuts 1991 to 1992 by Charles Schulz
The Complete Peanuts 1993 to 1994 by Charles Schulz
Bought as a gift box set to add to my collection. There’s not much to say, except that I thoroughly enjoyed these books as much as the previous editions in this series. An interesting observation: as much as Charlie Brown (and us fans) lament his unrequited love of the little red-haired girl, it’s not like he doesn’t have other girls who do love him. Three in fact, in these volumes. But, as in life, the heart wants what the heart wants. Even if it can’t have it. Personally, I think he should give Peppermint Patty or Marcie a chance…

The Origin of the Species by Charles Darwin
I bought this book years ago because what with the still-controversial topic of evolution vs. creationism coming up now and again, I thought I should actually read the book that everyone refers to in the conversation to get a feel for what Darwin actually said, rather than go on hearsay and what people think he said to either support or refute evolution. It took me about four months to plod through this book. Trying to read through this confirmed one thing: I’m not scientifically-minded. Most of what I read, I don’t understand. When I did understand something, I thought: “This book could’ve been condensed to one or two chapters.” On the other hand, I would’ve liked more concrete examples of what he was talking about. Maybe then I would’ve understood more. But, then again, this is just an abstract… albeit a 400 page abstract…. Did I waste my time reading this? That, I don’t know. I’m passing this along to my husband. Perhaps after he reads it, he could translate it for me. He understands more about such things than I do.

One thing for sure. The next book I read will be something light and enjoyable.

The Dalai Lama’s Cat by David Michie
This book was a birthday gift from my mother-in-law. Basically, it’s a lesson in practical Buddhism as seen through the eyes of the Dalai Lama’s cat; a cat who met with some unfortunate circumstances early in life, but who was saved thanks to the Dalai Lama. This was definitely light reading. At times, it seemed kind of childish in its language; something more suited to a children’s book. However, that doesn’t discount the teachings in the book. Chapter 7 is one that speaks to me in particular. Chapter 10 reminded me of a segment of my life 14 years ago. Perhaps, dear reader (as Snow Lion likes to say), you will find this book helpful in your life as well. Although I didn’t think it was all that well written and as a result didn’t like it as much as other books I’ve read, I still think it’s worth a read.

This wraps up the books I’ve read in 2014. I may pick up another book between now and January 1st, but I probably won’t finish it before the new year so my comments about it will be reserved for my Year 2015 Reflections post, if I publish one.

My resolution for next year is to rid myself of all of the “ought to” books (see comments above), keeping only those books that I enjoyed reading and would read again and those that spoke to me in some way. Gifts are another story. I still believe that, in deference to the giver, I should keep them even if otherwise I would’ve passed those along to the library book sale in other circumstances.

Wishing all my readers a happy holiday season and a new year filled with health, happiness and many blessings!

Bay View Park, Alpena
The latest installment of my Travelogue is up, for those of my readers who are fans. Please click the link on my Travelogue page. The picture here is my favorite of the bunch. It was taken at Bay View Park in Alpena. Enjoy!

Resolutions Revisited

Another new year is fast approaching and like many of you my thoughts turn to resolutions for that new year. Except my resolution for the new year is to continue with the resolutions I set back in 2012. Back in 2012 I made four resolutions:

1. Relearn to crochet
2. Start and finish sewing projects
3. Read all the unread books on my bookshelf
4. Start writing again

So, two years later, how am I doing with my resolutions?

1. Relearn to crochet. As you saw from my post, “One Down”, back in July of this year I completed my first new crochet project in years: a lap blanket. It “only” took me a year and a half to complete!

The next two crochet projects on my “To Do” list include a cover for my Kindle and kitchen towel toppers. Thanks to my cousin Nancy for passing along a crochet pattern book that includes the pattern for those towel toppers!

2. Start and finish sewing projects. Technically, this cross-stitch project (below) was lumped in as a sewing project, even though it’s not what one normally thinks of as sewing. Although… it does use a needle and thread!

Old Presque Isle Lighthouse Cross-stitch
This has since been framed and is waiting to be hung in our downstairs bathroom once the renovations are complete. If you’d like to see pictures of the real Old Presque Isle Lighthouse, visit my 2009 travelogue post here.

My future sewing project list includes slipcovers for the cushions on my rocking chair in the living room, a pillow for when I do yoga (if I lie on the ground without my head raised, I get very dizzy), and a book cover (yes, even though I have a Kindle, I love to read paper books too!).

3. Read all the unread books on my bookshelf. Hmm… Well… 2013 didn’t seem to be a good year for this. Judging from my reading list here, I seem to have read more newly-acquired books than books that were already on my bookshelf. I’ll try to do better in 2014.

4. Start writing again. As any of my regular readers know, this one slipped right through the cracks in 2013. My last post was in July 2013 (and even before that, my posts were sporadic). In mid-July 2013 I was appointed to Chair the Welcome Committee for our homeowners association. I assumed the role after the previous Chair could no longer fulfill her term due to personal issues. I had no idea that, even with a volunteer helping sometimes, I would spend so much time on this endeavor. As a result, my spare time has been greatly reduced and so has the time I have to spend reading, contemplating, and writing about my thoughts. Although I am happy that the Board had the confidence in me to do this job and I am pleased that I was able to organize and bring up to date some aspects of the administrative end of this job in such a short period of time, I do miss having the time to write. Perhaps when my term expires in 2016, that pull to have the time to read, contemplate, and write will be stronger and I will pass the baton on to the next Welcome Chair knowing that I have hopefully made a positive difference in the neighborhood during my tenure and that I have left my successor with more efficient systems to do his or her job going forward.

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