At the beginning of September my husband and I took at trip to Duluth, Minnesota. Duluth is located in the northern part of Minnesota on the southern shore of Lake Superior. Not far away is Split Rock Lighthouse in Two Harbors, MN. It had been many years since we had toured the lighthouse and decided it was time to visit again. I was hoping to put together a post of the pictures I took, but didn't get around to it in September. Maybe in October.
As far as reading goes, I read 9 books in September. Here's the breakdown:
Peg and Rose Solve a Murder (Peg and Rose #1). Laurien Berenson. Kensington Publishing (2022). 304 pages. Genre: Cozy Mystery.
First Line:"Peg Turnbull was standing in the hot sun on a plot of hard-packed grass, staring at a row of Standard Poodles that was lined up along one side of her show ring."
Summary: Out of the blue, Peg's sister-in-law Rose shows up at a dog show Peg is judging. The two of them have a long history of avoiding one another, so Peg can't imagine what she is doing there. It turns out Rose wants to get to know Peg better and invites her to join a bridge club. Peg is suspicious of Rose's motives, but decides to join the club. Things do not go smoothly. It is hard to change habits that have been in place for many years. However, both Peg and Rose seem willing to make an effort. Further complicating matters, Peg has not played bridge for many years. During the first club meeting, Peg notices some of the players signaling one another under the table and witnesses a man discreetly hand money to another player. Peg and Rose try to play smarter and do a little better at the second meeting. But the next day, one of the club members is found shot to death in his home. Peg and Rose try to put the pieces together and figure out what happened.
My thoughts: I have to admit, I liked Peg from page one. She is a no-nonsense, practical woman who loves Poodles and knows a lot about them. While she is initially suspicious of Rose and her intentions, she quickly pushes her suspicion away and gives Rose the benefit of the doubt. There were times Peg was being unreasonable. While she may have taken some time to realize it herself, she eventually did and apologized. I appreciated this about her.
I also appreciated Rose and her willingness to try and repair their relationship. Rose was Peg's husband's sister. Peg's husband died about ten years ago and the two of them have had very little contact since then. Rose was a nun in her younger days, but after thirty years in a convent, she met a priest and fell in love. Rose and Peter have been married for ten years. Peter was a great character. He has a sense of humor and encourages Rose to do the right thing.
This book is full of information about dogs, especially Poodles. Peg is a show judge and we learn about what she looks for when judging. She also owns three Standard Poodles, one who competes in shows. I loved the descriptions of her house and the ways it had been planned to include the dogs and their care. There is also a story line dealing with a rescue dog that was really interesting.
As far as the mystery goes, there were many layers to uncover. At first, no one seems to know anything, but soon bits of information begin to surface that help Peg and Rose figure out what is going on. Peg and Rose did not work with the police - in fact they ignored the detective's request to stay out of the investigation. While that is a common trope in many cozy mysteries, this one really felt like Peg and Rose were completely investigating on their own. For me, that was a negative, but only a minor one.
Laurien Berenson has also written the long standing cozy mystery series about Melanie Travis. Peg is Melanie's aunt. I have not read that series, but Peg and Rose have both made appearances in it. Melanie and her family are mentioned in this series as well. I never felt like I was missing anything by not having read that series. In fact, I liked the writing so well in this series that I just might want to pick that one up while I wait for the next installment of Peg and Rose.
"Aware that she'd be on her feet for most of the day, she had dressed that morning with comfort in mind. A cotton shirtwaist dress swirled around her legs. A broad brimmed straw hat shaded her face and neck. Her feet wore rubber-soled sneakers, size ten."
"'You're telling me that those Poodles understand what you say?'
'Of course they do,' Peg replied. 'That part's not even up for debate. Otherwise what would be the point of talking to them?'"
"'You had a cookie yesterday.'
'That was different. It was oatmeal and had raisins.'
'I see,' said Peg. 'So almost like eating a salad then.'
'Precisely.' A smile played around Rose's lips."
"Melanie often called Peg nosy, but she was wrong about that. What Peg actually felt was a driving need to keep thinking, to keep moving. She wanted to be a busy person. She wanted to get up every morning with a sense of purpose and a long list of things to do."
Dearest Dorothy, Slow Down, You're Wearing Us Out! (Dearest Dorothy #2). Charlene Ann Baumbich. Penguin (2004). 266 pages. Genre: Fiction, Christian Fiction.
First Line:"Dorothy leaned against the doorframe, her keen, brown, eighty-seven-year-old eyes slowly casting back and forth across the horizon. "
Summary: Dorothy Jean Westra has finally decided it is time to move from the farm she has lived at her entire life. She will be moving into a smaller house in town. Katie Durbin and her teenaged son Josh will be buying the farm and have agreed to keep it just like it is. Before either of these moves take place, there is a lot of work to do. The annual Fall tag sale will be taking place at the farm, and there is work that needs to be done at the smaller house. On top of all of this, Dorothy has been having some health issues and her beloved car, The Tank, is gasping for air. But, never fear, the residents of Partonville will pull together and help Dorothy get settled in her new home.
My thoughts: Reading this series is like visiting old friends. The town of Partonville is people with interesting characters. In this installment we get to know a few of them better.
Katie is a single mother who works in real estate. She has had to work hard to provide for herself and her son. Coming from the big city, she is finding it difficult to imagine ever moving to a town as small as Partonville. But each time they visit, she feels more welcome. Katie's son, Josh, has formed a relationship with Dorothy. She is the grandma he doesn't have. As Katie watches their relationship grow, she realizes there is a lot she doesn't know about her son. There is a lot of growth that happens in Katie's life over the course of this story.
Dorothy is dealing with some major changes in her life. Moving from her beloved farm is daunting, but she feels it is the right time to do so. She is also dealing with a serious health issue that she really doesn't feel the need to share with anyone else until she is forced to. Dorothy gives such an inspiring example of how to deal with the difficulties of aging, while keeping your dignity and sense of humor.
And humor is abundant in this story. There were several times I laughed out loud while reading. The author strikes the right balance of dealing with serious themes, while infusing the story with some lightness. There is a lot to like about this series - an interesting storyline, well-developed characters and a deep sense of community. I look forward to catching up with Dorothy and her friends in book three.
"Jessie Landers stood on the pitcher's mound, arms down in front of her, hands clasped around the softball. She glanced at the first baseman, who was staring at the runner for the Palmer Pirates, who was acting as if he was going to try to steal second. What Jessie knew was that he couldn't run fast enough to make it to second by Tuesday, so she didn't give him another thought."
"Maggie was as vibrant and exotic in her decorating as she was in her clothes, her hair, her life. Currently sporting somewhat chestnut-colored locks pulled severely back into a knot, she'd wrapped a couple beaded, bangle bracelets around it and they clattered when she bobbed her head. She wore tight, denim slacks, a highly patterned, short-sleeved cotton top and was barefoot, every other toenail painted either blue or violet. Referring to herself as a bit of a gypsy at heart, at seventy-two, Maggie continued to be a real corker, as she'd always been."
"Even if they were no longer there, she would still enjoy the exploratory prowling, as she liked to call it. 'Feels like mining for gold when I dig through the piles in resale shops,' she once told Paul, who had, of course, just stared at her in amazement that she could be so easily entertained."
Hard Times. Charles Dickens. First Published 1854. 265 pages. Genre: Classic.
First Lines:"'Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children. Stick to Facts, sir!'"
Summary: Thomas Gradgrind, schoolmaster in Coketown, is passionate about Fact. In his opinion, nothing else is needed in life and he has brought his children up in an atmosphere full of Facts, but void of life and beauty. Tom and Louisa Gradgrind are unhappy and aimless. Louisa marries Josiah Bounderby, a vulgar banker 20 years her senior because she asks, "What does it matter?". She soon discovers she is miserable and cares nothing for her husband. Tom slithers into a life of drinking and deception. He ultimately allows an innocent man to take the blame for a crime he committed. As Thomas Gradgrind witnesses the despair and lack of morality in his children, he begins to realize that the beliefs he held so dear have led to the destruction of his children's lives.
My thoughts: Charles Dickens can really create some memorable characters. The cast of characters in this novel is wonderful. While they are not all deep, they are so well described that you find yourself recognizing them in your own life. Dickens seems to have a deep understanding of the types of human beings that exist.
Thomas Gradgrind has no room for anything but facts and forcing them down the throats of his students and his own children. No one is ever allowed to say, "I wonder..." because that would be dangerous. Mrs. Gradgrind has a small role in the story, but what we do see of her was so perfect. She seems to be a limp sort of woman who is gradually fading away.
Mr. Bounderby is a loud, pompous, vulgar man void of sentiment. He is forever reminding anyone he comes in contact with that he had a difficult upbringing being raised by his drunken grandmother. Dickens brilliantly described him as "the Bully of humility". He was a repellent man and I was sad when Louisa agreed to marry him.
Louisa Gradgrind describes herself as being tired. She is tired of nothing but facts and a life void of wonder, imagination, beauty, fun. But she is an obedient child doing what she is required to do and doing it well. She and her brother Tom are quite close and share a contempt for the life they are living. Louisa loves Tom most in all the world.
Tom Gradgrind is not a bad boy at heart. But he has no direction or encouragement towards morality. He loves his sister, but on his own terms. His descent into drinking and gambling was perfect and sad. He was often referred to by Dickens as "the whelp", which was a great description.
Sissy/Cecilia Jupe and her father belong to the circus. As such, they are looked down upon. Of all the characters she had the most imagination and, in her supposed ignorance, was not afraid to express some emotion. She loved her father most in all the world and was loved and cared for by the other people in the circus. She saw the good in people and stood up for them even when they couldn't stand up for themselves.
Mrs. Sparsit was a "highly connected" widow who kept house for Mr. Bounderby. She thought very highly of herself and Mr. Bounderby and looked down her nose at most other people, especially Louisa Gradgrind. Speaking of noses, Mrs. Sparsit's was her most prominent feature. She was manipulative, always looking for the downfall of others.
Stephen Blackpool was a "Hand" at one of the factories. He was honest, humble and kind. Many tried to make him a scapegoat.
James Harthouse becomes overly interested in Mrs. Bounderby (Louisa). He shows a real interest in her as a person and ultimately tries to get her to leave her unhappy marriage. He seemed to be the character that could bring out suppressed emotions in others.
This book was funny, but also sad. So many lives were hurt through a lack of love, kindness and beauty. Overall, this was a great read.
"'I can't talk to you so as to lighten your mind, for I never see any amusing sights or read any amusing books that it would be a pleasure or a relief to you to talk about, when you are tired.'"
"'I used to read to him to cheer his courage, and he was very fond of that. They were wrong books - I am never to speak of them here - but we didn't know there was any harm in them."
"An overcast September evening, just at nightfall, saw beneath its drooping eyelid Mrs. Sparsit glide out of her carriage, pass down the wooden steps of the little station into a stony road, cross it into a green lane, and become hidden in a summer growth of leaves and branches. One or two late birds sleepily chirping in their nests, and a bat heavily crossing and recrossing her, and the reek of her own tread in the thick dust that felt like velvet, were all Mrs. Sparsit heard or saw until she very softly closed a gate."
And Then There Were None. Agatha Christie. Harper Collins (2011) (First Published 1939). 247 pages. Genre: Mystery.
First Line: "In the corner of a first-class smoking carriage, Mr. Justice Wargrave, lately retired from the bench puffed at a cigar and ran an interested eye through the political news in The Times."
Summary: Ten people have received a letter inviting them to Soldier Island. Some have been offered jobs, others invited to visit a friend they haven't heard from in a while. As they arrive on the island and begin talking amongst themselves, they discover that no one has ever met their host. However, everything is arranged. Food and drinks have been brought in, a butler and a cook have been hired. While having drinks the first night, a mysterious recording accuses each of them of playing a part in a crime. By the end of the evening, one of them is dead. Within a few hours, another is dead and they discover there is no way off the island. If any of them are going to survive, they will need to work together. But who can be trusted?
My thoughts: If reading the summary of this one doesn't make your hair stand on end, reading the book definitely will. This is a fast-paced story that keeps you turning pages to find out who did it.
In most stories I need to have a connection to the characters. This book is the exception. It was definitely a plot driven story. That is not to say that the characters weren't interesting, they were. But, there wasn't a main character, they were all main characters as long as they were alive. Some of them were likeable, others not so much. But, it didn't really matter. All that mattered was moving forward in the story to find out what happened. It was interesting to see who decided to work together and why.
Agatha Christie is called the Queen of Mystery for a reason. I don't want to say much more than that. If you have already read this, you understand why. If you haven't read this, you should and it is best to go in with as little information as possible.
"The whole party had dined well. They were satisfied with themselves and with life. The hands of the clock pointed to twenty minutes past nine. There was a silence - a comfortable replete silence."
"'My dear lady, in my experience of ill-doing, Providence leaves the work of conviction and chastisement to us mortals - and the process is often fraught with difficulties. There are no short cuts.'"
Books Can Be Deceiving (Library Lover's Mystery #1). Jenn McKinlay. Berkley Books (2011). 282 pages. Genre: Cozy Mystery.
First Line:"'Oh, I just love that Maxim de Winter,' Violet La Rue said, her knitting needles clicking together as if to emphasize her words."
Summary: Lindsey Norris is settling in to her new job as library director. It helps that her best friend, Beth, is also a library employee. Beth has been working on a children's book for years, so when a New York editor visits town, Lindsey encourages Beth to approach her. When Beth and Lindsey meet with the editor, they find her to be rather cold and off-putting. They discover that Beth's boyfriend is the reason for the editor's lack of interest. When they go to his home to confront him, Beth finds him murdered. Because of the circumstances, Beth is the prime suspect. Lindsey is convinced her friend didn't murder her boyfriend, but will she be able to discover the real culprit before its too late?
My thoughts: This series has been on my TBR for quite some time. I am so glad I finally got around to reading it.
Lindsey is a likeable character that I could relate to. She never intended to work as a library director. She was working as an archivist at Yale, but the university had to make budget cuts and Lindsey was let go. Beth encouraged her to apply for the director position at Briar Creek Library. Lindsey is so glad she did. She has found that she thrives in the small town and with a work schedule that is very predictable. She is embracing the fact that she likes her slower paced life surrounded by familiar people. Lindsey has a way with people as well. She is able to manage the cantankerous Ms. Cole with ease, while diffusing arguments before they start amongst the library employees.
As children's librarian, Beth is not afraid to put on a silly costume and crawl around on the floor with the kids. She and Lindsey are the best of friends and look out for one another. There is a great cast of supporting characters as well that I hope to see more of in future books.
Briar Creek, Connecticut sounds like a lovely town. The book takes place in the fall and I got a real sense of the weather changing as well as the beauty of the surrounding countryside.
The mystery wasn't overly complicated, but there was a lot to sort through before getting to the killer.
And there were plenty of twists and turns along the way.
This was my first Jenn McKinlay book, but it won't be my last. I look forward to reading book two in the Library Lover's Mystery series.
"With its thick stone walls and welcoming glass front doors, she always felt as if she were going home when she walked into the Briar Creek Library. Instead of the smell of her mother's rosemary chicken, however, the library greeted her with the perfumed scent of old paper pressed between the hard covers of books on wooden shelves dusted faintly with lemon furniture polish."
"But then, having worked at the university most of her life and now with the public at large, she had discovered common sense wasn't as common as you'd think."
"Lydia was pushing seventy, had silver hair and reading glasses and dressed in what Lindsey thought of as Connecticut genteel; in other words, she looked like Kate Hepburn in her later years in tailored slacks and turtlenecks with a sweater tied over her shoulders."
The Magician's Nephew (Chronicles of Narnia #6). C. S. Lewis. Macmillan Publishing Company (1970) (First Published 1955). 186 pages. Genre: Classic.
First Line:"This is a story about something that happened long ago when your grandfather was a child."
Summary: When Uncle Andrew tricks Polly into putting on a magic ring, she is transported to another world. When Digory realizes what has happened, he follows her to the Wood Between the Worlds. Digory plans to find Polly and bring her back to our world. As is often the case, things don't go as planned.
My thoughts: C.S. Lewis creates such wonderful characters. I can just see Uncle Andrew in my mind's eye. He practically makes my skin crawl with his greed and selfishness and complete lack of thought about how a situation will affect someone else. He only cares about his own welfare.
I appreciate Digory's sense of duty. He knows what the right thing to do is even if he is sometimes tempted to take the easy route. It only takes a very gentle nudge to get him to admit what he has done. I also appreciate his ability to loathe Uncle Andrew, but also show him respect because that is what a boy must do to his elders.
Polly is such a sweet girl, but don't let that fool you. She does not stand for being treated poorly, no matter the excuse and she is not afraid to let you know when you have wronged her.
The Cabby is also a likeable character. He is a bit rough around the edges, but he treats his animals well. He also appreciates the simple things in life and is the first one to notice something beautiful.
I enjoyed the banter between Polly and Digory, between Uncle Andrew and Queen Jadis. It was really fun to see the people of our world interacting with Queen Jadis. She is definitely not from our world, but thinks she can still boss everyone around. Interestingly, she has the power to convince others that she is beautiful and amazing and that they should obey her. The adventure in this story involves traveling between worlds and trying to stop evil from spreading. This is one of my favorites in the series.
"'But there's one thing I jolly well mean to say first. I didn't believe in Magic till today. I see now it's real. Well if it is, I suppose all the old fairy tales are more or less true. And you're simply a wicked, cruel magician like the ones in the stories. Well, I've never read a story in which people of that sort weren't paid out in the end, and I bet you will be. And serve you right.'"
"Digory had never seen such a sun. The sun above the ruins of Charn had looked older than ours: this looked younger. You could imagine that it laughed for joy as it came up."
"When things go wrong, you'll find they usually go on getting worse for some time; but when things once start going right they often go on getting better and better."
Village School (Fairacre #1). Miss Read. Houghton Mifflin Books (2001) (First Published 1955). 239 pages. Genre: Fiction.
First Line:"The first day of term has a flavour that is all its own; a whiff of lazy days behind and a foretaste of the busy future."
Summary: Miss Read is schoolmistress of Fairacre school. She shares the task with Miss Clare, who is in charge of the youngest children. Village school introduces the reader to the village of Fairacre, the students, the families, the daily lives and the celebrations that make them who they are. By the end of the book we will have gone through an entire school year with this cast of characters.
My thoughts: While this is a work of fiction, it is heavily influenced by the author's experiences teaching in a school similar to the one in Fairacre. The book begins at the beginning by helping the reader understand the details and rhythms of a day in the life of the school. We get a glimpse into Miss Read's morning routine before the students arrive. She lives in the little house on the school property, so her commute is not long. Mrs. Pringle arrives at the school before Miss Read and to clean and tidy the school for the arrival of the children. However, she can never seem to get the fire going when it is really cold and always has some excuse, usually having to do with her "poor leg".
The first few chapters are full of domestic details and if you are not someone who enjoys that type of thing, you might find this part a bit tedious. I love domestic details and really enjoyed this part of the book. Once the reader is oriented to the school itself and the rhythm of the day, the book becomes a series of vignettes following the school year. There are misunderstandings and illnesses. There are tests and concerts to prepare for. There are outings and new students to welcome. But through it all, there is a sense of peace and coziness.
Miss Read is a wonderful character who loves her students and thinks of them as family. Miss Clare has been teaching for over 40 years. She is a little strict and efficient, but her students love her and feel secure in her room. Mrs. Pringle is a cantankerous woman, but is quite soft-hearted underneath it all. Miss Read has figured out how to manage her and does it expertly. Reverend Partridge is the vicar of Fairacre and is in charge of the school. He is gentle and sometimes vague, but he is always kind and enjoys teaching the children hymns.
I really enjoy Miss Read's writing style. I have read a few books in the Thrush Green series, but I think I enjoyed this one just a little more. I felt like I got a glimpse into what a day in the life of a village schoolteacher was like in midcentury England. Not only that, but the characters are well-developed and likeable. They are people I want to know more about. If you are looking for a cozy read full of domestic details you can't go wrong with Village School.
"On this first morning of term Miss Clare had already arrived when I walked over at a quarter to nine. Her bicycle, as upright and ancient as its owner, was propped just inside the lobby door."
"'You hear that man?' he whispered. 'He swored!'"
"Mrs. Roberts, with true farmhouse hospitality, threw open her great kitchen, and sizzling sausages and hard-boiled eggs and hot dripping toast were offered to the hungry skaters, with beer or cocoa to wash down the welcome food."
One August afternoon I was sitting on my back deck when I heard a ruckus overhead. I looked up and saw a large hawk sitting in the oak tree. When I first looked up, he looked much larger than he does in the above picture. He had puffed his feathers out. I soon discovered why. There was a squirrel approaching him, running along the branch he is sitting on. I was sure I was about to witness a hawk getting his lunch, but the squirrel approached him timidly and then turned around and ran back the way he had come. The hawk barely looked at him. He must have already had his lunch. This is a Red-tailed Hawk. They are 19 - 25 inches and have a wingspan up to 4 feet. It was amazing to sit on my deck and watch him.
As far as reading goes, I read 8 books in August. Here's the breakdown: