HALLELUJAH ANYWAY by Anne Lamott: A Review

Anne Lamott writes honest, often humorous, always witty essays. She is one author I intend to read more of.

This 2017 publication, subtitled “Rediscovering Mercy” is one of Lamott’s bests. She defines mercy as “the promise to receive relief and forgiveness,” something we all need after the years of pandemic and shutdown. She also defines it as ” the medicine, the light that shines in dark places” and “lets us soften ever so slightly.” The purpose in this book is to help us understand each other, but in so doing, we come to understand ourselves.

Overall, it is a joyful book, and it is also (as Lamott always is) an honest one. I think it is a good tool to help us navigate scary, unsettled times that we find ourselves in currently. It “reveals through truths a path home.” And, that is where we all desire to go. Her words of wisdom are tempered in humor, and Lamott makes us want to find the joy she has found and shout, ‘Hallelujah Anyway!’ “

Borrowed image from another blogging friend who also spreads joy.

NEVER HAVE I EVER by Joshilyn Jackson: A Review

Rarely do I read books described as “thrillers.” Either they don’t deliver or the thrill part is so good that it makes me anxious. Never Have I Ever falls into the latter category. This 2019 novel kept me on the edge of my chair and turning pages late into the night.

An excellent, suspenseful read

The story begins with a book club meeting (definitely a plus), and a strange woman who comes to the door wanting to join the group. This new-to-the-neighborhood woman, Roux, is as exotic as her name, especially to the mundane every-day housewives and mothers gathered at Amy’s house for book club. Time magazine calls this a novel with “dramatic reveals about [each] woman’s complex histories.” As the story progresses we meet up with blackmail. family secrets, relationships, second marriages, and step parenting issues.

It is a story of two women, both complex, compelling characters. Amy, the protagonist, the “good guy,” or is she? and Roux, the antagonist, the “bad guy, is she ever! plot against each other as they play out a dangerous game started that fateful night at the book club meeting.

Who knew what lurked in Roux’s past? Who knew the dark secret Amy was hiding? The women of the book club, although secondary characters are well-developed and integral to the progression of the twists and turns of the plot. And the ending–oh the ending –is both exciting and satisfactory.

This is a thriller I highly recommend. It was a “darned good read.”

DEVOTIONALS IN DECEMBER

I find this particular Holiday season more meaningful for many reasons. First, my health is good for the first time since July; we had the opportunity to help out a refugee family this year; we simplified the gift-giving and card sending this time around, and I am reading four devotionals during each day; yes, four, and it has given me a sense of contentment, no matter, what and peace.

First, I am going a second time through Simple Abundance, a book I refer to as my “secular devotional.” It often speaks directly to me just when I need to hear the words set out for that day.

I am passing this one to a friend and book buddy after Christmas this year.

Another is a beat-up small but powerful book reminding me of God’s promises and includes snippets from some of my favorite inspirational writers like Charles Standley and Max Lucado.

Short, sweet, and reassuring

In sync with the season, the week before Advent began, I started a book that was donated to my Little Free Library, A Child in Winter.

A Catholic publication, this book has guided my Baptist mind through the meaning of Advent and the celebration of it for the first time.

Finally, a friend gave me a book for my birthday in November with the admonition, “I haven’t read it yet, so I want it back when you’re finished.” Courtney, I finished it Monday and will bring it over soon.

This has been a lovely, meditative look at a tranquil life and how to achieve it. It has made a difference in my “season” that hopefully will carry on into the year.

DeMoss opens this 2000 publication with a discussion of what makes up the “Devotional Life.” Each chapter ends with thought questions under the title, “Making it Personal”. Also, at the end of each chapter is a selection from an inspirational writer titled “From the Heart of.” Some of my favorites appear: Elizabeth Elliott, Vonette Bright, Kay Arthur, etc.

This manual on how to create one’s own “devotional life” includes many questions or issues I have/had in trying to do just that. My favorite chapters were “The Purpose of a Devotional Life” and “The Problems of a Devotional Life.” Each had helpful thoughts, questions to think about, and practical “solutions” to try. An appendix at the end of the book offers a list of recommended Devotional Books, which may be very helpful.

Hmmmmmm, maybe my friend may not get her book back until I have copied copious pages. LOL

Thanks, Evin

FRONTERA STREET by Tanya Maria Barrientos: A Review

A very engaging novel of female friendships

This 2002 publication showed up in my Little Free Library, and I read it before putting it back in for neighbors to read. As a gringa, I learned a great deal about the Hispanic culture and even a few Spanish words. The buttons on the cover is what caught my attention, as well as the dark and light women pictured there. The novel shows how female friendship can transcend age, culture, and ethnicity. Dee, an Anglo woman visits a fabric shop in the Barrio, and after arriving, faints, causing the Hispanic women who own and work in the shop to go into a “tizzy.” Septima, the owner takes pity on this seemingly down-and-out woman and offers her a job, much to the displeasure of her employee, Alma.

The working environment is strained because of tension between Dee and Alma, and even becomes worse when Dee goes to “stay” with Alma and her ballerina daughter, Socorro. What the Hispanic mother and daughter don’t know is that Dee has a secret, a very unusual one. The longer Dee keeps her secret, the harder it is to “come clean” with the mother and daughter she comes to care for. Many contrasts pepper this story: the barrio vs the affluent neighborhood nearby, the Mexican vs Anglo culture, and all of the women involved must learn to set emotional boundaries. These are all strong women with strong ties of friendship, but are these ties strong enough to withstand the revelation of the secrets held between Dee and Alma, or Alma and Socorro? If nothing else, this novel ends on a note of hope and healing.

Celebrating Color Progress: DEAR MR. KNIGHTLY by Katherine Reay

Bright orange colored cover

Thanks to Carla at Carla Loves to Read for introducing me to this great author. I checked this one out from my local library in big print. Knightly was Reay’s debut novel, and perhaps the one I enjoyed most. It is epistolary in nature, told in the form of letters from Samantha, a “bookish” grad student who often quotes classics and sometimes hides behind the words of their characters, to an anonymous donor who pays for her school and gives her a monthly allowance. I guessed early on who the donor was, but instead of ruining the story for me, it just made it all the better.

As in most of Reay’s novels, there is a touch of romance, and Alex, a published author five years older than Samantha provides just that. Christian values and integrity are present as well, and instead of making the story “sappy,” it allows the “good guys” to win.

There are also additions at the back of the book: a reading group guide, a list of the books Samantha quotes or mentions with enough to make the reader say, “Aha, I see… ,” and questions and answers with the author. This would make a fine book club selection.

BOOKWORM: A MEMOIR OF CHILDHOOD READING by Lucy Mangan, THURSDAY REVIEW

This lovely, nostalgic memoir/reading list is written by a “born and unrepentant bookworm.” A book for all readers who love books and all things “bookish,” Bookworm deals with both British and American authors. It describes books Mangan loved from ages one to three when she was still being read to (Most were UK authors and unfamiliar to this American reviewer.) and books from the time she learned to read, to her choices during her “coming of age period,” both physically and intellectually, as a reader.

The books mentioned range from Barbar the Elephant (She did not like it.) to Bette Greene’s Summer of My German Soldier. (She describes herself, as a discriminating reader, thinking this one was “dense, beautiful, astonishing.”)

One of the best “to the reader” asides of the book, and there are many delightful ones, comes near the end where Mangan gives advice to parents of bookworms: “We are rare and we are weird…there is nothing you can do to change us…Really, don’t try. We are so happy, in our own way…Be glad of all the benefits it will bring, rather than lamenting all the fresh air avoided, the friendships not made, the exercise not taken, the body of rewarding and potentially lucrative activities, hobbies, and skills not developed. Leave us be. We’re fine. More than fine. Reading’s our thing.”

This was a most enjoyable Book about Books, a continuation of a challenge left from 2019. It was a gift from Deb Nance of Readerbuzz.

REVIEW: REDHEAD BY THE SIDE OF THE ROAD by Anne Tyler (2020)

Ann Tyler’s latest offering, Redhead by the Side of the Road, delivers what we have come to expect from Ann Tyler: excellent characterization, “ordinary” protagonists, and middle aged angst.

The opening lines, “Micha Mortimer is a creature of habit,” introduce us to the most neutral man in the United States, and our first impression of him, as well as our empathy for him is just that–neutral. Micha is a handyman and manager of an apartment building who also runs a computer fix-it business, “Tech Hermit.”

The storyline is described as being, “an intimate look into the heart and mind of a man who finds those around him just beyond reach.” We, as readers, are vaguely interested in Micha, this vague man who just “doesn’t seem to get it,” yet is satisfied with his mundane life. He goes about his scheduled routine, a specific day for each household chore, a specific daily round of activities, beginning with a morning run. It is on one of these runs that the reader sees the world through Micha’s myopic eyes, as he looks at a fire hydrant and sees it as a person, “a red head by the side of the road”–thus the title.

The book/narrative itself is not dull nor myopic, it is written in a witty, clever, detailed, pleasing style and never loses the reader from the first line to the last, a darned good read.

a darned good read

Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan (2012): A Review

Billed as a “literary adventure story,” Penumbra’s was a delightful read. Set during The Great Recession in the US, we find Clay Jannon, the protagonist and narrator up to his eyebrows in mystery thanks to his new night-shift bookstore job.

There are many strange things about the bookstore, first the fact that it’s open 24 hours, second that there are “customers” who come in during the overnight hours. The customers are strange themselves, hurried, older, “driven” and they do not buy many books, but instead hold cards that allow them to “check out” books from the “wayback” stacks. When he finally peeks into one of the massive tomes, these requested books, Clay finds out they are all written in some kind of code.

Who better at breaking a code than the attractive “computer-geek girl” who becomes more than a friend to Clay and his wealthy junior high geeky friend who finances and participates in the wacky adventure the three undertake to solve the 21st century mystery.

Even stranger than the bookstore is the its namesake, himself, Mr. Penumbra. A true “character” has been created here, a likable, peculiar, eccentric old man who reveals not only his respect for Clay and his computers but his “connections” with a medieval, possibly dangerous cult/sect.

This book has everything: things to make you laugh, things to make you sigh, as you travel all over the country to solve all things Penumbra. A great read!

BUT IS IT ART? by Cynthia Freeland: A Review

This cover shows the “Art Cow” phenomenon popular in Houston a few years ago. Many of the cows are located in Houston and the surrounding counties still.

I admit it was the cover and the memories of encountering the cows in various places that made me take this small art theory book out of the Little Free Library in my home town. Having audited a course in the history of Art and Graphic design at my university until the pandemic closed the university last semester, I was very interested to see what the author considered was art, and what was not. The book deals with contemporary art and art criticism, and is a very good introduction to art theory. Freeland, who has attachments to Houston, discusses the relationships of art with beauty, culture, money, sex, and new technology. She posits the question of what art is and what it means, a broad topic for a tiny book. She covers basic art theories and discusses why current exhibits and articles are considered art. She discusses definitions of art according to various art movements, including everything from Hume and Kant’s opinion to the opinion of the artist who created The Piss Christ.

There are photographs and musings from the author as she discusses the philosophy of art. Does she answer the question posed in her title? No, instead, she makes a fine argument that what is art is in the eye of the beholder.

2020, ALPHABET SOUP CHALLENGE, author version LETTER “M”

ALPHABET-SOUP-2020-AUTHOR-EDITION-BE-820  In attempting to whittle down my TBR shelves, an on-going goal, I checked there first for a book whose author’s  name began with an “M.” I was rewarded with The Song of the Jade Lily, a 2019, hefty 450 paged novel by Kirsty Manning. It took me a while to read it, but its mysteries and family secrets that were revealed kept me turning pages. The novel was formatted in one of my favorite ways: alternating chapters set between1939 Shanghai where Romy, a Chinese girl adopted by Jewish parents flees Germany and 2016 present-day Shanghai where her granddaughter Alexandria, visits seeking her grandmother’s story after being notified of her beloved grandfather’s impending death in Australia. What he says to her, telling her to seek out “Li” and the evasiveness of her grandmother, whose silence often suggests hidden secrets rather than the mere grief of losing a spouse, present the opportunity for mystery, war stories, romance, and the finding of identity.

Themes of friendship, love, family loyalty, heritage, and stories of what happened during the War abound as the true facts of Romy’s life and background are peeled away like the numerous skins of an onion by Alexandria. The difference this investigating makes in both their lives is not only significant but also life-direction changing.