Monday, July 13, 2020

Book Review: Winter Solstice by Rosamunde Pilcher

Winter Solstice
Winter Solstice
Author:  Rosamunde Pilcher
Publisher:  St. Martin's Press (2000)
504 pages
Genre:  Fiction

First Lines:  "Before Elfrida Phipps left London for good and moved to the country, she made a trip to the Battersea Dogs' Home, and returned with a canine companion.  It took a good -- and heart-rending -- half-hour of searching, but as soon as she saw him, sitting very close to the bars of his kennel and gazing up at her with dark and melting eyes, she knew that he was the one."

Summary:  Elfrida Phipps, a retired actress, has left London and moved into a cottage in the village of Dibton, Hampshire.  At first she is rather lonely, but Gloria Blundell welcomes her into her family and invites her for dinner regularly.  Elfrida begins to enjoy the rhythm of her life and her little cottage.  When tragedy strikes, Oscar Blundell asks for Elfrida's companionship as he must decide on a new course for his life.  She accompanies him to a home that he is part owner of in Scotland.  They have decided there will be no Christmas this year as it would be too painful.  Over the course of the next few weeks, the house becomes a home to three other people who have recently suffered personal tragedy.

My thoughts:  Years ago I read The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher and loved it.  I may have read another of her books, but somehow never got to reading anything more by her.  Recently I saw Winter Solstice recommended and thought I really must pick it up.  I am so glad I did.

Ms. Pilcher writes in a way that draws you into the story.  Each of the characters are imperfect people who have made their share of mistakes.  Each has been through personal tragedy.  The story illustrates the power of love and kindness in healing hearts.  Elfrida is a free-spirit, but she also knows the power of having a place to call home.  She is loving and kind, even if her homemaking skills are a little lacking.  She loves people and is quick to welcome someone into her home.

Home and family are major themes in the story.  The idea that a house is special because of the home and family life that was created there is important. Also, the lack of home and family life is deeply felt and longed for in those who don't have it.

"He found himself remembering Radley Hill, because the atmosphere of this ordinary London house, where Neil and Janey were raising their children, brought back secure and comforting memories of the place where Sam had spent his boyhood.  Always the welcome, the lighted fire, the scent from the kitchen of delicious and robust food.  Boots on the porch, tennis rackets littering the hall, the voices of youngsters who were his friends, the sound of their footsteps clattering down the stairs.  He wondered if he would ever achieve such a haven of family life."

While this is not Christian fiction, there is a beautiful faith thread woven through the story.  It ends with each character's story coming to a satisfying place.  I enjoyed reading this so much and look forward to reading more Rosamunde Pilcher.

Other quotes:

"Lucy had kept up the diary since the day she had received it.  It wasn't so much a diary as a notebook, because there were no dates, just lovely clean pages, which meant that you wrote the date yourself, and then the day's doings underneath.  Sometimes, there was little to record, but other days, if she had been to the cinema or to a concert with the rest of her class, there was quite a lot to remember, and she could use up two or three pages."

"In a way, Elfrida found this lack of decoration and clutter quite therapeutic.  Without pictures, knick-knacks, small bits of silver, and sets of decorative porcelain to divert the eye, it was possible to appreciate the lovely proportions of the room, the ornate cornice and the plaster rose in the centre of the ceiling, from which depended a charming Victorian chandelier."

"I'm fourteen now, and sometimes I feel I've done nothing except go to school.  It wouldn't be so bad if I had a brother or a sister.  'Specially a brother.  Because just being with women all the time can be dreadfully lowering.  They talk about such unimportant things.  Like clothes, or restaurants, or other people..."




Friday, July 10, 2020

Book Review: The Full Cupboard of Life by Alexander McCall Smith

The Full Cupboard of Life (No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency #5)
The Full Cupboard of Life (No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency #5)
Author:  Alexander McCall Smith
Publisher: Anchor (2005)
198 pages
Genre:  Mystery

Mma. Ramotswe has been thinking about her engagement to Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni.  She fears that she will forever be known as "that engaged woman".  However, she understands that a man cannot be pressured into marriage.  Especially when he has many things on his mind.  It seems this is the case with Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni.

Mma. Potokwani has summoned Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni to the Orphan Farm once again.  She knows that he is always willing to help out the orphans.  This time, however, she has an outrageous request.  Even so, Mr. J.LB. Matekoni can't seem to say no.  Along with this, he has let his love of vehicles get him into a sticky situation.  

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency has been hired to choose a husband for a wealthy owner of hair-braiding salons.  The woman has narrowed the selection to four candidates.  But which of them is only after her money?  Mma. Ramotswe is on the case and will soon discover who is sincere.

I always enjoy time spent with Mma. Ramotswe and the other characters that make up her world.  Their lives continue to unfold in this story which focuses mostly on Mma. Ramotswe and Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni.  I love the simplicity of their lives and the beauty and richness of their surrounding land.  The virtues of men and woman are explored and traditional values are highlighted.  My favorite thing about Mma. Ramotswe is her common sense and her ability to point out bad behavior when she sees it.  

One of the themes in this story is accepting human nature and knowing when to keep your mouth shut.  But also understanding how to encourage someone else with your words.  As usual, everything is resolved by the end of the story, but this one ends with a surprise!  

Monday, July 6, 2020

Book Review: Murder Lo Mein (Noodle Shop Mystery #3) by Vivien Chien

Murder Lo Mein (A Noodle Shop Mystery, #3)
Murder Lo Mein ( Noodle Shop Mystery #3)
Author:  Vivien Chien
Publisher:  St. Martin's Press (2019)
304 pages
Genre:  Cozy Mystery

First Lines:  "There I was, staring at my doom ... surely; this was a fate worse than death.  'I am in so much trouble.  This is a complete and total nightmare!'"

Summary:  Lana Lee has settled into managing her parents' Chinese restaurant, Ho-Lee Noodle House.  A new shop has moved in next door, Shanghai Donuts.  This could be a problem, because next to noodles, donuts are Lana's favorite thing to eat.

Asia Village is preparing to host the annual noodle contest.  Peter Huang, the head chef at Ho-Lee Noodle House, has been preparing for weeks.  He intends to win the contest.  

"In the five years that the contest had been in existence, we had always placed in the top five, but never made first.  This was going to be our year.  I could feel it."

Peter wins the first round.  During the break, the participants, judges and special guests gathered at Bamboo Lounge for some light refreshments.  One of the judges, Norman Pan, a local food critic with a bad reputation, has had far too much to drink.  He gestures to Lana to come talk to him.  When she does, he gives her unwanted advice regarding her hair.  Not wanting to be disrespectful, she says nothing and he dismisses her.  Lana goes into another room and finds her friends.  Within minutes a scream is heard.  Mr. Pan was found with his face in a plate of noodles, dead.  What happened?  Was it murder?

My thoughts:  I always enjoy time spent with Lana Lee and her friends and family.  Her parents and sister have minor roles in this story.  Her grandmother has now moved in with her parents and it was fun to see the dynamic she creates.  Once again, Megan and Lana set about gathering clues.  This time Lana was really going to stay out of it, but Megan assumes they will be investigating and talks Lana into asking questions.  Megan pulls out her trusty notebook to record her thoughts.  As is often the case, her snooping is not welcome.

Mr. Pan has more enemies than friends, so there are several suspects.  There are red herrings along the way, but based on one minor clue, I was able to guess the culprit.  That didn't take away my enjoyment of the story though, because it was more of a suspicion and there were plenty of twists and turns before the conclusion.  

Lana continues to date Detective Trudeau, but their relationship is on rocky ground for much of this story.  I continue to enjoy Lana's family and the regulars in this series.  A few new characters were added that I hope to see more of in future books.  



Wednesday, July 1, 2020

June Read Wrap-Up



Well, summer is finally here!  We are experiencing temperatures in the low 90's and it is not expected to change for the next week.  In Wisconsin, we don't usually have long stretches of weather in the 90's.  I'm going to enjoy it while it's here!  

In the month of June, I read 9 books.  The genre breakdown looks like this:

Cozy Mystery: 2
Inspirational Fiction:  1
Historical Fiction:  1
Amish Fiction:  1
Short Stories:  1
Classic:  1
Non-fiction:  2

Cozy Mystery:

Lana's parents go to visit her grandmother and leave her in charge of the restaurant.  Another murder is committed in Asia Village.  

Murder Lo Mein (A Noodle Shop Mystery #3) by Vivien Chien (review coming soon)
The annual noodle contest is being held at Asia Village.  Peter Huang, head chef of Ho-Lee Noodle House, has worked hard to prepare for the contest.  He is determined to win this year.  One of the judges is found dead, the contest must be put on hold.

I enjoyed both of these and am looking forward to reading the next book in the series.

Inspirational Fiction: 

This was an interesting story with a diverse cast of characters.  It is about second chances and having a place to belong.  There is a bit of a mystery element as well.

Historical Fiction:

Depression era, small town in Pennsylvania.  Julie's father moves the family in order to take over a small newspaper.  There is an amazing account of a flood based on the Jonestown Flood of 1889.

Amish Fiction:

This is the third and final book in the Amish Secrets series.  Charlotte's mother has passed away.  She discovers a new family member and must decide whether or not to be baptized into the Amish church.

Short Stories:

Beautifully written stories about various members of a small Kentucky town.

Classic:

Anne Elliot regrets breaking off her engagement to Captain Wentworth eight years ago.  Will she get a second chance?

Non-fiction:

Letters written between the author and a book seller in London.  Delightful read.

Taming your wardrobe by dressing with 33 items or less for 3 months.

My two favorites this month were Fidelity and 84, Charing Cross Road.  











Monday, June 29, 2020

Book Review: Persuasion by Jane Austen

Persuasion
Persuasion
Author:  Jane Austen
Publisher:  Sweet Water Press (2018) (first  published 1818)
260 pages
Genre:  Classic

First Line:  "Sir Walter Elliot, of Kellynch Hall, in Somersetshire, was a man who, for his own amusement, never took up any book but the Baronetage:  there he found occupation for an idle hour and consolation in a distressed one; there his faculties were roused into admiration and respect, by contemplating the limited remnant of the earliest patents;  there any unwelcome sensations, arising from domestic affairs, changed naturally into pity and contempt."

Anne Elliot is the daughter of Sir Walter Elliot.  She is the middle of three daughters.  Only the youngest daughter, Mary, has married and made a home away from Kellynch Hall.  

Eight years ago, Anne was betrothed to Captain Frederick Wentworth.  However, she was persuaded by Lady Russell, her friend and mother figure, that such a match was not in her best interest and broke off the engagement.  Soon afterward Captain Wentworth left the country.  Anne regretted the break up immediately.  She has never stopped loving him.  

Anne's father can no longer afford to pay for Kellynch Hall and decides to move the family to Bath.  It is decided that Kellynch Hall will be let to Admiral Croft and his wife, who happens to be the sister of Captain Wentworth.  Will Anne cross paths with Captain Wentworth?  Will he still have feelings for her?

My thoughts:  This is a short novel, but very well done.  I often find it takes several chapters before I can get into a Jane Austen novel.  The first few chapters often leave me feeling lost.  This one did as well, but once I got the hang of who all the characters were I found the chapters to be succinct and well paced.

I really like the character of Anne Elliot.  She stands in stark contrast to the other members of her family.  She is sensible, kind and often serving others. While her father and Elizabeth are quite vain and Mary is silly and excitable.  

Captain Wentworth is portrayed as a good, honest, caring man.  However, his behavior is confusing at times.  There is that tension often found in romance stories of neither party being able to tell the other how they feel.  But when he and Anne finally talk, Captain Wentworth explains his confusing behavior, which was satisfying.

Quotes:

"Captain Harville was no reader; but he had contrived excellent accommodations, and fashioned very pretty shelves, for a tolerable collection of well-bound volumes, the property of Captain Benwick."

"He was evidently a young man of considerable taste in reading, though principally in poetry; and besides the persuasion of having given him at least an evening's indulgence in the discussion of subjects, which his usual companions had probably no concern in, she had the hope of being of real use to him in some suggestions as to the duty and benefit of struggling against affliction, which had naturally grown out of their conversation."

"One man's ways may be as good as another's, but we all like our own best; and so you must judge for yourself, whether it would be better for you to go about the house or not."

"Everybody has their taste in noises as well as in other matters; and sounds are quite innoxious or most distressing, by their sort rather than their quantity."

"A submissive spirit might be patient, a strong understanding would supply resolution, but here was something more; here was that elasticity of mind, that disposition to be comforted, that power of turning readily from evil to good, and of finding employment which carried her out of herself, which was from nature alone."

"Here and there, human nature may be great in times of trial; but, generally speaking, it is its weakness and not its strength that appears in a sick-chamber:  it is selfishness and impatience, rather than generosity and fortitude, that one hears of."

"'They come on the Admiral's account.  He is thought to be gouty.'
'Gout and decrepitude!' said Sir Walter.  'Poor old gentleman!'"

"If I was wrong in yielding to persuasion once, remember that it was to persuasion exerted on the side of safety, not of risk."


Thursday, June 25, 2020

Book Review: Project 333 by Courtney Carver

Project 333: The Minimalist Fashion Challenge That Proves Less Really Is So Much More
Project 333:  The Minimalist Fashion Challenge That Proves Less Really Is So Much More
Author:  Courtney Carver
Publisher:  Tarcherparigee (2020)
224 pages
Genre:  Non-fiction

Project 333 is a minimalist fashion challenge created by Courtney Carver as a way to remove excess clutter from her wardrobe.  She had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and determined that she needed to remove stress from her life.  One area that caused stress was her closet.  She had too many clothes and nothing to wear.  She created this challenge for herself and started a blog to document her journey.  That was ten years ago.  Courtney still dresses with 33 items of clothing for three months and always has enough to wear.

To take the Project 333 challenge you agree to dress with 33 items or less for three months.  The rules for the challenge can be found here:  https://bemorewithless.com/therules/.

I discovered Courtney's blog about six years ago.  At the time I was looking for direction with my wardrobe.  I have never had an overstuffed closet, but I still had too much and didn't really like much of what I had.  This project helped me discover what I liked and what I needed.  When I began the project, I didn't follow the rules exactly.  I live in Wisconsin where we have 4 definite seasons.  Some months have temperatures from below zero to 80 degrees.  I was afraid I wouldn't have what I needed if I followed the rules by adhering to the seasons as Courtney separated them.  So I would just rotate things in when I wanted to wear them.  A couple of years ago, I decided to follow the seasons exactly and see what happened.  That was really helpful because I noticed what I really needed and realized that I always had enough.  I have created a Project 333 wardrobe each season since and I continue to learn more about what I like and need.  Much of the information in this book has been published on her blog over the years.  

The things I found most interesting in the book were the chapters that gave examples of others' Project 333 lists and the chapter called "Questions".  This chapter had lists of questions to ask yourself before starting the project, during the project and after the project.  Some of the other chapters cover why you should do the project, some of the reasons you might think this project is not for you, what benefits you will discover and how minimizing your wardrobe can lead to other changes in your life.

One of the chapters does explain the project and give the rules, but that was chapter 11.  I found this frustrating and disorderly.  If I was not already familiar with Project 333, I would probably have stopped reading.  I would have felt like I was missing something.  She says in the chapter that she put this later in the book because the "why to" is just as important as the "how to".  She assumed that readers who needed to see this first would flip ahead to that chapter.  I am not one of those readers.  I prefer to begin at the beginning and be led through chapter by chapter.  

The book does a great job of collecting all the information in one spot.  If you are interested in a minimalist lifestyle or are curious about Project 333, this is a great place to start.





Monday, June 22, 2020

Book Review: 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

84, Charing Cross Road
84, Charing Cross Road
Author:  Helene Hanff
Publisher:  Penguin (1970)
97 pages
Genre:  Non-fiction, Memoir

84, Charing Cross Road is a book written in letters that were sent between Helene Hanff and Marks & Co., an antiquarian bookseller in London.  Miss Hanff has an "antiquarian taste" in books and has difficulty finding the books she wants in New York at a reasonable price. She sees an ad for Marks & Co. in the Saturday Review of Literature and decides to write and ask if they could supply her with any of the books on her list.  

She receives a letter in return letting her know that some of the books on her list are on their way to her.  The letter is signed FPD.  So begins a relationship between Miss Hanff and Marks & Co., Booksellers.  Most of the correspondence is written by FPD, Frank Doel, on behalf of Marks & Co.  However, after Miss Hanff sends gifts to the shop, some of the other employees secretly write to her sending their thanks.  The correspondence begins in 1949 and continues through 1969.  

My thoughts:  This book has been on my TBR list for a long time.  I am so glad I finally got around to reading it!  It was an enjoyable read that left me wanting to know more about the people writing the letters.  We are given a glimpse into the personalities and lifestyles of the writers, as well as little pieces of history that affect their lives.  Miss Hanff likes to send gifts to the shop for them all to share.  She thoughtfully chooses things that might be difficult to find in London at the time such as meat and eggs.  

The book talk is fascinating as well.  Miss Hanff loves old English books and especially secondhand copies.

"I do love secondhand books that open to the page some previous owner read oftenest."

Her reading preferences:

"Wasn't anything else that intrigued me much, it's just stories, I don't like stories.  Now if Geoffrey had kept a diary and told me what it was like to be a little clerk in the palace of richard III - THAT I'd learn Olde English for."

"You'll be fascinated to learn (from me that hates novels) that I finally got round to Jane Austen and went out of my mind over Pride & Prejudice which I can't bring myself to take back to the library till you find me a copy of my own."

And this was my favorite bit about housecleaning her books:

"I houseclean my books every spring and throw out those I'm never going to read again like I throw out clothes I am never going to wear again.  It shocks everybody.  My friends are peculiar about books.  They read all the best sellers, they get through them as fast as possible, I think they skip a lot.  And they NEVER read anything a second time so they don't remember a word of it a year later.  But they are profoundly shocked to see me drop a book in the wastebasket or give it away.  The way they look at it, you buy a book, you read it, you put it on the shelf, you never open it again for the rest of your life but YOU DON'T THROW IT OUT!"

I'm not sure that I could bring myself to throw out a book either, but I will definitely give books away.  I enjoyed this short book and am glad I finally read it.