Thursday, May 12, 2016

3 Things That Make Me Happy: Ice Cream, Flowers and Books!

It doesn’t take much to make me happy. Ice cream always works. So does gardening. Lovin’ the oriental poppies proudly showing off their colors in my tiny garden spot out front of my house. The bold orange ones next to a patch of white and purple African daisies are striking.

In my back yard between a blooming tall boganvillia and Jasmine vine are a few “sunflower” seedlings. They have sprouted and getting taller each day. They were planted after reading Mortimer’s First Garden for Story Time with the pre-schoolers. Wanting the boys and girls to grasp how a tiny seed becomes a flower I asked their teachers to plant a couple seeds in some soil then took them home to tend to, taking photographs of their progress. 

A month later the kids were wowed when they saw a photo of their sprouted seeds and the growth that took took place in a matter of days. Will be interesting to hear what they have to say in a couple months when they see and touch a huge sunflower loaded down by seeds.

Here are two other books the pre-schoolers thoroughly enjoyed at Story Time: The Grouchy Ladybug by Eric Carle and Hi!, Fly Guy, the first title in a series by Tedd Arnold. Both of these authors are gifted illustrators and storytellers. These definitely merit being on a young child's summer reading list.


My reading list is pages long and on my computer for two reasons: I have a lousy memory and like having a reference list handy. Whenever I spot a title that intrigues me or obtains positive reviews it gets entered on the list. Often a mini note about content or who recommended it gets added too. Now you know how I came to select the nine books below which I read this past month.  

Several had good potential but for various reasons none deserved a 5-star rating. I debated whether to include two I deemed unworthy of recommending, but opted to let them stay since reading tastes vary and what I dislike just might be something you’d enjoy. First up . . . 

The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester. 

This is a fascinating, true story involving a man with a mental illness who, while housed in a lunatic asylum for almost 40 years, spent his time doing research for the Oxford Dictionary project. Unfortunately, the author’s repeated references of the man's delusions, often sexual in nature, soiled this compelling story for me. Had I known this prior to purchasing the title I never would have considered listening to it. The book does have one redeeming bit of value: you leave with a great appreciation for this massive dictionary which took decades to compile and publish which is now recognized as a monumental piece of history. 242 pages or 17 audio hours; narrator is quite good.

Take This Cup: The Jerusalem Chronicles, Book 2 by Bodie Thoene. 

As a fan of Book 1 in this series I fully expected to like this sequel. In some ways I do, but definitely not as much as the initial title. Here’s why: the biblical characters seem forced into the story line. Why this experienced author took this approach baffles me. Her creative story is strong enough to stand on its own without all the manipulated scenes to incorporate many of the personalities found in the Gospels. Even so, the book gets my approval as the overall intent of the story is admirable and caused me to think beyond what is so familiar. 400 pages or 11 audio hours.

The Murder of Mary Russell by Laurie R. King. 

This was a jolly good read thanks to two British narrators and one solid mystery. Though a typical Sherlock Holmes' who-done-it, the story kept my interest from start to finish. Warning: contains a few spots of offensive language. 384 pages or 13+ audio hours

Some Wildflower in the Heart by Jamie Langston Turner. 

Fully expected to enjoy this story as it started out strong with a plot that was intriguing. Unfortunately the two primary characters derailed it from being a success. I tried to like the women and get beyond their personalities which were extreme opposites—one gushing with sweetness and the other oozing with bitterness—but could never embrace them. Another detriment was the author's excessive and manipulative mention of book titles. 372 pages or 14+ audio hours; narration good.

A Thousand Miles to Freedom: My Escape from North Korea by Eunsun Kim. 

The mediocre writing in this memoir did a disservice to the remarkable story covering the 8-year journey of a young woman intent on escaping North Korea. There were so many repetitious phrases and clich├ęs! Makes me wonder if anyone edited the manuscript. I don’t regret reading this inspirational story as the facts presented expanded my understanding about the culture and political landscape in North Korea, but her writing keeps me from recommending it. 240 pages or 5+ audio hours; narration acceptable.

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin. 

When this Oscar nominated film, based on the book with the same title, came to my attention my curiosity took over and I had to know more. After checking customer reviews on Amazon and noticing the movie’s Pg-13 rating, I opted to give the audio book a try. Sorry I did. It started out strong, with a decent storyline developing at a nice clip, but then lost its momentum, dragging on and on. And, of course, the author had to drop in some savory language and sex scenes which, thankfully, I could quickly mute or dismiss content while fast forwarding to the next chapter. Could not help but wonder by the books end, How did this book ever become a film? Definitely not recommending this title. 288 pages or 7+ audio hours; narration good.

The Memory Weaver by Jane Kirkpatrick. 

I’m a fan of historical fiction largely because of this skilled author. Like most of Kirkpatrick titles, this one too stems from a true account. The protagonist in this mid-1800’s saga is a young woman who, as a child, was taken hostage by the Indian tribe her missionary parents were serving. As she works hard to pioneer a new territory, marry, raise children, work through family conflicts, plus deal with memories and more, she is forced to face her past. In doing so, she discovers we do not always see correctly and adjustments in our thinking, along with a new view of others, are required if we are to move on. Now this book I highly recommend! 352 pages or 11 audio hours; narration good.

The Source by James A. Michener. 

Took me months to listen to all 54 hours of this novel about Israel’s history. At hour 40, when the story got bogged down with all the minutia of details, I took a long break (a good 4 months) before returning to complete the book. When I resumed listening the remaining chapters were much better, particularly when the focus went back to the characters at the archaeological dig which brought the story full circle. Doubt I’ll tackle another Michener tomb soon, nor do I recommend this book to anyone unless you are a history fanatic or heading off to Israel in the near future. 1104 pages or 54 audio hours; narration good.

Playing with Fire by Tess Gerritsen. 

This author may sound familiar as the TV show Rizzoli and Isles is based on her mystery novels. But Playing with Fire is a stand-alone mystery and one that gets my recommendation! If you have a bit of interest in music or Italy or the Holocaust then this novel might suit you perfectly. The author’s ability to intertwine two mysteries in one storyline was impressive as was the surprise towards the end. I don’t dare say anything more. 272 pages, 7 audio hours; narration fine and instrumental music between chapters a nice touch.


Praying with the Grain—How Your Personality Affects the Way You Pray by Pablo Martinez, M.D. 

This non-fiction title, by a psychiatrist and seminary professor who resides in Italy, surfaced while searching online about the topic of prayer. After evaluating the book’s table of contents, author's qualifications, and trying a sample chapter I was impressed so purchased the title. On my Kindle are numerous books on prayer, but none so far have answered my nagging questions or provided new information. Hopeful this author will address my inquiries. I’m only half way through his work but so far it's one of the better ones I’ve read on the subject. 176 pages on Kindle; no audio available.


What's next on my reading agenda? Not sure. If When Breath Becomes Air were available at my library that would be my pick. Instead, might go with a Holly Gerth or Brene Brown title, both about "perfectionism," but more than likely I'll choose something from as it has a two-for-one sale today! 

Plus book sales make me happy! 

P.S. Do you have a book you think I ought to read? Do let me know.