WAKE UP GRATEFUL by Kristi Nelson: A Review

At the beginning of the new year, I began an informal “study” of gratefulness. My experience with illness and recuperation this past summer has left me with extreme gratefulness for life and living. Each morning, I wake up and say, “Good morning, Lord; thank you for another day.” The mug for my first cup of coffee says, “Renew/Restore/Refresh,” so I repeat the little mantra I’ve made up: ” ‘Create in me a clean heart, O Lord, and renew a right spirit within me;’ Restore me to health, please; and refresh my mind to where it can handle anything that might come my way today.” Then, I am ready to start my day. I believe I read in something by Brene Brown that Happiness does not cause gratitude, but gratitude causes happiness.

Deb Nance, a blogging friend at Readerbuzz, sent me a whole list of books about gratitude available at our local library that she discovered in her recent study of happiness. Here is the first book from that list that I have read in 2022.

A serious and very helpful book

Nelson does not allow her reader to wistfully think, “I’ll be grateful when…,” but encourages her to be in the moment and grateful for what she already has. It is a “touching, powerful, real” read because she shares her own story as a survivor of Stage IV cancer. During her search for recovery, she met a Benedictine monk, Brother David Steindl-Rast who helped found the Network for Grateful Living. This book articulates his teachings, which the author has put into practice in her daily life. Subtitled “The Transforming Practice of Taking Nothing for Granted, this book is full of inspiring quotes, which I often copied into my Quotes Notebook. I also began a gratitude journal during the time I read Wake Up.

Nelson tells the reader, “Grateful living offers a path and a promise” and explains both. The book is full of practical guidelines and specific practices for the reader to carry out. These practices are: Stop. Look. Go, and each is given for every section of the book. I was spurred to put these practices into action and to continue doing so for some time now.

To call Wake Up a self-help or self-improvement book is an understatement. it is a narrative by Nelson of her journey to a more positive, happy life, plus ways the reader can obtain this for herself.

I highly recommend this book.

Thanks to the Story Reading Ape blog for the use of this meme.

THIRSDAY THOUGHTS

I know I overuse the word “lovely,” but Wintering:The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times is a lovely book. Even the cover gives the reader a sense of peace and serenity.

One of the most helpful, most inspiring books I read in 2021

Published in 2020, May’s book fills a need in the human psyche. I for one suffer from SAD, seasonal affective disorder in the winter. The bleakness of the clouded skies and leafless trees depress me. Just looking out the kitchen window can immobilize me into standing there motionless, doing nothing for fifteen minutes or more. This cannot be a healthy mental state.

Wintering takes us through the seasons of the year, starting in September with the prologue, and continuing through late March with an epilogue. This beautiful, healing book looks at the winter season as a time of rest and healing. “…wintering cannot be avoided, but need not be feared.” Winter season is compared to “a warm blanket on a cold day.” We are instructed to use this time to “care for and repair our selves when life knocks us down.” The author gives personal examples from her life in a memoir-like musing on the winter season. We find that she underwent adversity and discover how she (not avoided it, but) worked through it.

This simple, little book leads us to understand that the “transformative power of rest and retreat” convinces us that “life is cyclical, not linear.”I am in the winter season of the cycle now; this year I will not “rush” the coming of spring, but prepare myself and heal myself from life’s blows in preparation for it.

I highly recommend this book.

This was one of the last books I finished in 2021.

ARISTOTLE AND DANTE DIVE INTO THE WATERS OF THE WORLD by Benjamin Alire Saenz: A Review

a sequel to Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
First book featuring these two appealing young men

Dive, the sequel to Discover, (reviewed some time ago here on PWR) takes up literally where the first book left off, as the boys leave the desert in Ari’s truck after sharing their first kiss. In the second book, Ari drops Dante off at his house and begins to ponder all the “hard questions” the second book explores. Aristotle and Dante Dive Into the Waters of the World has been described as “sincerely insightful ” and “achingly romantic” as we see the boys experience their new relationship through the eyes of their friends and society. What they find is a hostile world. As Ari begins his senior year in public school, he learns to reach out to friends and even one old enemy, something he’s never done before. In the first book, Ari and Dante fall in love, in the second, they learn what it means to stay in love as they “forge a path for themselves in a world that doesn’t understand them.”

In Diving , there is a shocking loss I didn’t see coming, which forces Ari to become a man. Dante and Ari will be separated at the end of their graduation year as Dante gets a summer internship in Paris (sooner than the expected separation when they matriculate at different colleges). It seemed to me that the second book focused on Ari as it chronicled his relationships with his father, with his mother, with Dante, and with the world.

There is a germ of hope at the end that a sequel to the sequel, transforming this love story into a trilogy, might be forthcoming.

I finished this second novel about Ari and Dante before the end of the year, but I am just getting around to writing a review.

MY FAVORITE BOOK OF 2021

It was not hard choosing this year. This book is a masterpiece, a life’s accomplishment.

By far the best book I read in 2021

I have put off writing this review of my favorite book of 2021, not because it was so hard to choose (This novel is a hands-down winner for me.), but because I feel I can’t give this amazing book its due. It is hard to describe, but I’ll do my best.

Doerr’s third novel, Cloud Cuckoo Land, is the answer to critics who asked, “What in the world will you follow All the Light We Cannot See” with? Doerr has created many characters and many plots in this big, challenging novel and has connected them all masterfully in the end. Cloud has been described as “joyous,” “uplifting,” and “a triumph of imagination and compassion.” “Original” is definitely a word I would use to describe this novel. Like some of Shakespeare’s plays within a play, the novel is a book within a book. It deals with five protagonists, five plots, and five settings, all reading a fictional novel written by a real author of the ancient world, Diogenes. Reading Cloud is a challenge because it skips between Constantinople during the 15th century, a small town in present day Idaho, and a intergalaxtic space ship decades into the future when the earth is ruined. The characters: Anne, Omeir, Zeno, Seymore, and Konstance are not only formed well and develop into real personalities during their time on the novel’s pages, but ones you care about and will remember long after finishing Doerr’s book.

As I approached the ending, turning pages rapidly, hurtling towards the end–the ending of the novel was magnificent drawing together the different characters and different settings in a speedy way. It was enough of a “ride” to make the reader hold his/her breath. The conclusion did not seem rushed , but a methodical, logical, natural convergence similar to the ending of All the Light We Could Not See. Overall, one is left with the sense of the power and possibilities of reading and books. This book will surely become a modern classic that will “stand the test of time.”

It is a “full” book; full of troubles and blessings; full of sorrows and griefs, full of happiness and hope. Doerr’s novel has been declared a finalist for the 2021 National Book Award and several other honors. It definitely has won a place in my heart and the title of “Best Book I read in 2021.”

This novel is a definite challenge to read, but one that is definitely worth the effort.
Thanks, Evin.

TITANS by Lelia Meachan: A Review

This stunning novel set in Texas is a Wonderful read.

Titans is set in the late 1800s, early 1900s Texas, on the cusp of the industrial revolution. It deals with “long-hidden secrets, enduring bonds, and redemption.” Samantha Gordon, heiress to Las Tres Lomas cattle ranch is as modern as any young lady of the age; it is her father who must adjust to such new contraptions as the telephone or fall by the wayside as progress advances.

Nathan Holloway, a sweet-natured farm boy in far North Texas discovers a startling fact about his birth and his heritage; his father regrets keeping secrets from his son and is afraid he will lose him.

The two families are connected, unbeknownst to the two central characters.

It is a “heart-felt, big-canvas story,” reminiscent of Giant and other “classic” Texas tales involving cattle ranching and Big Oil. Plenty of twists and turns keep the reader turning pages as the story unfolds. It is a darned good read.

(Titans is the sequel to Roses, but I read Titans as a stand alone and was perfectly fine with it.)

I have not read this first book yet, but may choose it in the future to learn the backstory of the characters I met in Titans.

FOR A NOVEL AS BIG AS THE STATE OF TEXAS, I HIGHLY RECOMMEND TITANS.

THANKS EVIN

PRESENT OVER PERFECT by Shauna Niequest: “Leaving Behind Frantic for a Simpler, More Soulful Way of Living”

This book includes a foreword by Brene Brown, and quite frankly, I am sure the author has read some of Brown’s books, for their philosophies are similar. This book encourages one to :”Live a life of meaning and connection instead of pushing for perfection.”

Niequist describes her journey and invites the reader to join her on it.

The author begins with these words, “A few years ago I found myself exhausted and isolated, my soul and body sick. I was tired of being tired, burned out, and busy.”

Ever been there? I have. Like the author, I have longed for “connection, meaning and depth,” only to settle for “busy.” Sometimes I have even chosen “busy” as a distraction to keep myself from thinking, from introspective thoughts and from searching deep within. Niequist explains a new way to live, incorporating grace, love, rest and play, which “changed everything.” Her challenge, first to herself, then to the reader is to find her “essential self.” She teaches us to embrace silence and stillness in her collection of essays. Her technique allows us “to be present in the middle of the mess and ordinariness of life.”

This author brought home the peace and gracefulness of her Lake Vacation home with her and has never lost it since. My favorite essays were “Learning to Play” and “The Spring of the Basketball Hoop.” Both describe the value of play, family, and friends. I would rate this 5 on a scale of 1-5 and would describe it as a “darned good read.”

RAE

DOCTOROW: COLLLECTED STORIES: A Review

No wonder Doctorow is known as a Master of Stories; his stories are amazing.

I have seldom read a collection of short stories when I wasn’t tempted to skip or skim some stories. This group of short stories are simply amazing. The prose is almost poetic and each story is a little golden nugget of power.

The stories I liked best were “Heist” and “Walter John Harmon,” both stories dealing with “religion.”

“Heist” is charactered by a priest and a rabbi. Thieves break into a small, poor Catholic church and steal the only thing of value, the large crucifix at the head of the altar. As the priest frets and fumes, he receives a call from a rabbi in another neighborhood, asking the priest to come to his apartment. When the priest arrives, the rabbi takes him up to the roof where the men find the discarded crucifix. The priest, while glad to get the crucifix is more interested in the rabbi and his family. The two men talk philosophically about this man named “Jesus,” and become friends. They decide to investigate and solve the mystery of who stole the crucifix. At the end of the story, the case remains unsolved, as do the many questions the two men hold about the differences in their respective religions. The philosophical discussions by the two men make for good reading and many thought-provoking questions for the reader to consider.

My second favorite story, “Walter John Harmon,” is set in a cult. Jim and Betty, newlyweds, have joined this cult founded by John Harmon, a Christ-figure, who takes the sins of his followers on himself so they might be freed and cleansed. Part of this cleansing is the rite of “purification” which most of the men’s wives and daughters undergo at the hands of John Harmon. Followers have lost count of the number of women and girls Harmon has slept with. At first when Betty is “purified,” Jim is “honored” his wife has been chosen, and the act only strengthens their marriage and bond. It only makes him love her more. However, as the years go by, and Jim works as a lawyer on behalf of the cullt’s many lawsuits and legal battles, his profession before entering the cult, and Betty teaches pre-schoolers, Jim becomes disenchanted by the number of times Betty requires “purification.” When John Harmon leaves unexpectedly and takes Betty with him, Jim takes things all in stride and becomes a figure of respect to the followers. How he takes over as leader and changes the cult makes for an interesting ending to the strange story.

Both stories are not your usual norm of short story, and interspersed with the interesting plots are philosophical questions and thoughts that make the reader think. Although this sounds “deep,” the stories are written in such an engaging way that the reader is caught up in them and literally can’t put this collection down except between stories so he/she can ruminate on the thoughts they present. This 2016 publication is reading at its very best.

Another book started at Dewey’s finished

RAE

THE LAST LIST OF MISS JUDITH KRATT by Andrea Bobotis : Review

A book I was tempted to read by another blogger’s review

(2019)

Inventory: of possessions and through the possessions of our memories, our life. Inventories are lists of “what matters.”

Judith Kratt’s life is defined by the fact she is “Daddy Kratt’s” daughter. The eldest of the Kratt children, she has a love-hate relationship with her siblings, brother Quincy, a snoop who makes it his business to know everyone’s dirty secrets; and sister Rosemarie, her “wayward younger sister” who fled their town of Bound “that fateful evening in 1929.” Olva, companion to Judith rounds out the cast of this character-driven story.

As with many Southern stories, Last List deals with family secrets, race issues, and interpersonal relationships. The plot unravels bit by bit through flashbacks until the reader has the whole truth. Filled with subplots and the metaphor of an inventory list of the family’s possessions, the novel is a darned good read.

I finished this some time ago, but never reviewed it. I wanted to recommend it to my readers as a story that will keep you turning pages and being fully engaged.

RAE

ONE W WEDNESDAY

Usually blogging friends do WWW Wednesdays, answering What have you finished? What are you currently reading? and What will you read next? Instead, I’m only going to answer one “W,” What have you finished?

Since I read more than one book at a time, I finish more than one at the same time.
Outstanding essays from “one of the most beloved authors of her generation”

Zadie Smith is an established writer whom I’ve read in The New Yorker and in more than one novel. These essays showcase her literary journalism skills. It is the author “thinking aloud.” (from the Foreward). Smith includes thoughts on recent events, politics, and current culture.

“Why Do We Love Libraries?” is an essay that appeals to bibliophiles everywhere. “Elegy for a Country’s Seasons” deals with climate change in a timely manner, as the author discusses the “new normal.” She points out our responsibility as we will be held accountable by our grandchildren either for our part in it or for doing nothing. Many of the essays “spoke” directly to me, and all were very readable.

An excellent novel from the author of one of my favorites, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Frey

This novel employs alternating chapters that come together with a twist at the end, one of my favorite techniques to follow. I was literally unable to put it down. Joyce, as usual, has “bewitching characters” the reader comes to care about. Anyone who does not have empathy for Byron and Jim has a heart of stone. Love, forgiveness and redemption are all themes dealt with by Joyce as she spins two tales that seem totally unrelated to each other–until the very end.

The opening would make a good Tuesday Teaser:

“In 1972, two seconds were added to time. Britain agreed to join the Common Market, and ‘Beg, Steal, or Borrow’ by the New Seekers was the entry for Eurovision. Two seconds were added because it was leap year and time was out of joint with the measurement of the Earth.”

Writing like the above makes this novel a page-turner and a “darned good read.”

I love books set in libraries.

I also love debut novels. My theory goes along with the old adage that, Everyone has a novel in them. In other words, that novel fighting to get out at the very beginning is often the best novel an author ever writes. Themes of love, grief, and the connectedness of community are present from the very beginning. In the story, the small-town library is the heart of the community, and when it is threatened with closure, the eccentric library patrons vow not to take it lightly.

June Jones, the assistant librarian and the protagonist, is as plain and shy as her name connotes. Alex, an old school friend, plays the love interest. June overhears what she believes is a plot by self-interested businessmen, one of whom is on the city council, to sell the library to a coffee franchise, netting themselves a tidy profit if the council closes the library. June, always too shy to speak up, and threatened with losing her job, must gather the courage to take a stand on something for the first time in her twenty-eight years.

The book has been described by critics as “delightful, uplifting, and sublime”. It is totally irresistible to readers who love books, librarians and libraries. Last Chance Library is “an inspiring call to muster our courage and fight for the things that matter.”

The power and influence of reading
Thanks, Evin

MRS. LORIMER’S QUIET SUMMER, A calming, soothing read

When turning on the news became too bad to bear–Covid, Haiti, Afghanistan, hurricane headed our way–I turned to this quiet book on a quiet topic to calm down.

This book helped me through a stressful end of summer.

Molly Clavering writes charming books. This 1953 novel is her most autobiographical of all she has written because it features a middle age writer (based on a friend of hers, Mrs. Lorimer, whom she described once as “that quiet woman”) and her best friend, also a middle age writer (based on herself, Miss Gray Douglas). The characters go about the ” happenings of everyday life…offering one another advice and support in a lively border village in England.”The story opens shortly before “The Show,” a village fair where Mr. Lorimer will exhibit his prize vegetables. Mrs. Lorimer is wrapped up in the lives of her grown children and their “entanglements,” and Miss Douglas is wrapped up in being a good friend and confidant. Clavering’s books were popular in England, where they are set, and in America , especially during the 50s and 60s. The story begins with these words, “It was generally considered that Mrs. Lorimer, that quiet woman, was not a sentimental person.”

This calm, quiet way of writing pervades throughout the novel, and no matter how exciting or alarming the happenings that occur are, they are accepted with calm and serenity. Examples: Guy, Mrs. Lorimer’s son falling for “That Smellie Girl (that is the girl’s last name) or her daughter wrecking her husband’s “other love interest,” his lovingly refurbished antique roadster on purpose–these things are accepted and “righted” with aplomb. It is a family story about family life.

When life became too much for me, I read a chapter or two of Mrs. Lorimer, and immediately felt better and was able to uphold the English tradition to “Carry on…”

Thanks, Evin