These are the Lady Hardcastle Mysteries. I had purchased a Quiet Life in the Country a while ago (April 2017) and hadn't read it. I jumped in this month. I enjoyed the stories and the characters. Lady Hardcastle is a funny and brilliant. Her sidekick and lady's maid, Florence. After many years in the service of British Intelligence, they are now retiring to the country. Mayhem ensures. Lady Hardcastle is a decent detective. Flo is hilarious. The mysteries are unique and intricately involved. There are lots of fun supporting characters. The characters value good cheer, friendship, reading good books, and adventure. In a time of such chaos and upheaval, they are refreshing.
Abby Cooper, Psychic Eye, Victoria Laurie (February)
This book is a cross between a cozy mystery and a chick lit book. The story is about a psychic intuitive who gets involved in solving murders. The story is interesting but Abby is kind of an idiot. She over trusts her intuition which puts her friends and others in danger. I was looking for a fun, easy book. It's a fun, easy story. Part of the problem with this book was that I read Maisie Dobbs right after it -- and so loved Maisie Dobbs that everything else paled in comparison.
All Soul's Trilogy , Deborah Harkness (January)
This book series was suggested to me by a reader of my work. She'd commented that she felt that Ms. Harkness's books were similar to mine in that she used historical fact in her work. Ms. Harkness is known by the Salem Witch Trial author community as someone who gets her facts right. I don't often get a chance to read other people's fiction. I had time after my most recent spine surgery and was excited to have a chance to read her work. I enjoyed the first book and looked forward to the second. I found myself frustrated at the lack of consistent voice in the second book. It was as if Shadow of Light was written by five separate people (a romance writer, a historian, an action adventure author, a relationship author, and a sci fi author) as there were at least five separate writing styles that were pushed together into one awkward book. I found the the third book unreadable.
I've never had that experience before with a book series. I wanted to know what happened to these characters, but couldn't get past the writing style. There is so much promise in this series. I know that it's beloved to a lot of people. It's my opinion that the book series flaws are due to the crumbling of publishing -- the large layoffs in editors and book developers, and the thinning of assistance to new writers for starters. As an author, it was fantastic for me to have this experience. I feel like I owe my readers, and the story itself, more than this. I hope to not have this issue.
An American Marriage, Tayari Jones
When I was a therapist, I worked with a lot of felony offenders in a drug and alcohol program. I specifically ran a research project to study felony offenders. I tell you this because this book involves an African-American man who is falsely charged with a crime. The focus of the book is the marriage between the man and his wife. While I found the book interesting and certainly well written, it seemed unrealistic to me. I read it for my book club. I was the only person in the book club who found it unrealistic. I am also the only person who has or had personal experience in this type of situation. I certainly have written a lot of fiction -- some realistic, some not so much. Some of the fiction I've written was true to fact, but seemed unrealistic to some readers. It happens. Everyone in my book club enjoyed the book.
In the Land of Milk and Honey, Jane Jensen (February)
This is the sequel to Kingdom Come, which I'd read last year. The series follows a young police detective, Elizabeth Harris, who leaves New York City after the brutal murder of her husband. She moves to a small rural police department in rural Pennsylvania. In the first book, she runs head long into a murder involving an Amish girl and her "English" friend. Detective Harris falls for an Amish man who she is living with in the second book. The mystery in this book revolves around tainted cow milk. The cow milk kills entire families in a brutal fashion. Detective Harris's boyfriend serves as our guide to the Amish as he explains Amish families dependence on cow's milk. The book is well written and interesting, even if the killer is fairy obvious in a last man standing kind of way.
Maisie Dobbs, Jacqueline Winspear (February)
This is the best book I've read in a long time. The story begins right after World War I. We meet Maisie when she's setting up her private investigation and psychologist office. We learn almost right away that she is smart, asks great questions, and really cares about helping people. After the first part of the mystery is resolved, we float back to Maisie's early life where we learn about her rise from a downstairs maid to an upper class family to taking her studies at Oxford. Maisie is a lovely, good hearted person who is a good friend and daughter. The mystery picks back up and Maisie unravels a strategy to bilk war veterans from their money. The book touches on serious issues of post traumatic life specific to World War I. I learned a tremendous amount about the experience of living at this time. I'm looking forward to listening to more of these books.
These books are simply fun. The books revolve around a young woman, Siobhán O’Sullivan, who is bravely raising her younger siblings after their parents were killed in a car accident. Siobhán is as plunky as it comes. I grew up in an American-Irish family where my Aunts said "igh-ut" instead of "idiot," practiced lent, and made "brown bread." I often thought of my aunts as I laughed out loud to some of the things that happened. The mysteries are solid and interesting. The setting, Kilbane, County Cork, is lovely. (My paternal grandmother was from Cork.) These books are great escape. If you're like me and grew up in an Irish family, you'll love these books.
The Legacy of the Bones, Dolores Redondo
This is the second book in the Baztan Trilogy. These books are originally written in Spanish. They are about the Baztan Valley which is near the border of Spain. I read the Invisible Guardian last year after watching the movie (with the same title) on Netflix. These are complex, excellent books. The books follow Inspector Amaia Salazar. There are two main story lines in the book. One is the actual mysteries -- who is killing whom? Why? How do they get prosecuted? The other story line is about Amaia's family. She is the youngest of three. Her mother tried to kill her when she was about ten years old. Her family dynamic is so similar to my family dynamic that I found it both shocking and refreshing to see it outside of my own memory. (My mother tried to kill me a number of times starting when I was six months old. My siblings act as accomplices rather than actual siblings.) These books look at some very dark history as well as ancient myth. I am both drawn to them and repulsed by them. This was probably not the greatest choice to read while I was sick, but hey -- they are compelling mysteries and I do love a mystery.
Parable of Talents, Octavia Butler (February)
The Parable of Talents should have been called Claudia's Deepest and Worst Fears Come to Life. Page after page, I found myself marching into my own personal book of horrors. I could have written this book myself -- that is if I were capable of writing about my deepest fears. The basic story is that the United States have deteriorated into a chaotic country with roving bands of armed bruts and thugs who rape, torture, murder, and steal at will. The main character, Lauren Olimina, is 18 when her family is killed in front of her. Somehow, she manages to escape and make her way to Northern California where she sets up a camp. Over the time, she develops her own religion which she puts down into books. When we meet her, she is living in a peaceful community based in her religion, Earthseed. I found the book deeply disturbing and upsetting particularly given the rise of white supremacy and hate crimes. I have no idea how Ms. Butler was able to develop a world that so closely mimics my fears. It was shocking to read them laid out on the page.
Dan Blank, Be the Gateway (January)
I worked with Dan Blank for a quarter a few years ago. I found his practical, kind advice to be inspiring and helpful in leading an artistic life. Be the Gateway is equal to working with the man. The book is easy to read and practical. The key thesis is that people are fascinated with process that writers/artists go through to create their art. Writers can connect with readers by sharing their process. This connection with readers is our key way to create a positive career. As the publishing world crumbles around us, it's refreshing to read a book filled with optimism and practical advice for building a career. If you are a writer, I'm confident that you will enjoy this book.
Evan Carmichael, Your One Word: The Powerful Secret to Creating a Business and Life that Matters (January)
I'm a fan of Evan Carmichael's YouTube channel. While I wish that he interviewed more successful women, there is a tremendous amount of an inspiration there. Carmichael's premise is that we are all have a life purpose, and that we can be more effective by defining one word that focuses our attention on that life purpose. The book is easy to read and practical. Rather than weighty ideas and exercises, the book efficiently goes through how to find your "one word" and what to do when you find it. I'd recommend it to anyone who wants to clarify their mission and life.
Gary John Bishop, Unfuck Yourself
I love this book, full stop. I read it for the first time last year. It helped me shake off the post-illness blues and make efforts to move on in my life. The book is an odd juxtaposition with Hillbilly Elegy as Bishop says that it doesn't matter who made the mess. If you're in a mess, you need to clean it up. Full stop. We now own this book in audio, eBook, and hardback. It's just around the house making it easy to pick up and read a page or two for another kick in the pants. If you need to kick the blues and get the fuck on with your life, this is a great book for that. I have read thousands of self help books for the Open Grove. This is one of the few books that is actually helpful.
J.D. Vance, Hillbilly Elegy,
This book was recommended to me by my primary care physician, Tim. He and I both have a lot of Irish in our genetic make up. He suggested that I would find it fascinating. The New York Times says: "Now, along comes Mr. Vance, offering a compassionate, discerning sociological analysis of the white underclass that has helped drive the politics of rebellion, particularly the ascent of Donald J. Trump. Combining thoughtful inquiry with firsthand experience, Mr. Vance has inadvertently provided a civilized reference guide for an uncivilized election, and he’s done so in a vocabulary intelligible to both Democrats and Republicans." The book is compelling. It's dense with every paragraph a hot poker poking holes in the narrative fabric of the usual American story. In places, I thought he was writing about my father's sisters or possibly my maternal grandmother. In other spots, I was sure he was talking about the husband's relatives. He speaks of the dynamic between expectation of great thing and desperate rage for not getting them without every adding the driving engine of actual work to move expectation into reality. Read this book. No really. READ THIS BOOK! It explains a lot.
Blinkist: Blinkist takes non-fiction books and distills them down to their main points which they share via audio and text. Because of the large proliferation of non-fiction books, I found myself reading the same thing over and over again or finding books that had nothing in them. Blinkest distills books down so that I can get the main points. If I find a book interesting at Blinkist, I often read the entire book. (I've subscribed to Blinkist since 1/2106.)
Notes: January 2018 -- the application was down for nearly three weeks for me in January. Their support wasn't able to determine what was happening. I only received help after tweeting about it. I usually try to read or listen to at least two Blinked books a week.
4 Pillar Plan, Rangan Chaterjee. This book is packed full of actionable advice. Stop eating sugar. Take 15 minute breaks when sitting for a long time. Practice breathing exercises. Fast for at least 12 hours a day. Through a variety of disconnected circumstances, we are actually following most of his advice. I find that I have better days when I move around after working for 90 minutes. I've been fasting 12 hours a day. This not because of the book, but the book confirmed what I thought. (March)
Age of Anger, Pankaj Mishra, is about (of all things) the Enlightenment and what the author perceives as the "failure of liberal capitalism." The author makes an oddly fascinating argument that globalism and liberal capitalism has set up the world for our current conflict. I'm not sure that agree with this idea. (February)
The Anatomy of Peace, Arbinger Institute, is probably the best book I blinked this month. It has real tools to help you create peace in your life. I purchased the audio book to listen to the book in depth. (February)
Anything You Want, Derek Sivers, was the usual mix of "make a plan, stick to the plan" and "you can do anything." It didn't mention the rising inequity in the current economy or give strategies to work your way out of your fixed social setting. In that way, the book is a tome to the patriarchy and the lie of the "American Dream." (February)
Brief , Joseph McCormack is a practical book about how to keep what you say brief. The main premise is what every middle child the world over knows -- those who speak the briefest hold the power in the room. There are practical suggestions on how to keep meeting short and free up your clogged thinking. (January)
Don't Sweat the Small Stuff, Richard Carlson (January)
This is a book I'd read many times. With the crazy politics, it was great to review these ideas.
Find Your Way, Simon Sinek, David Meadows, is about finding your WHY. The idea is that when you know your personal "why" you will know what to spend your life doing. While there is a lot of good stuff here, it continues to press the tired ideas that anyone can have anything without addressing the larger global issues of inequity.(February)
Invisible Influence, Jonah Berger, is a book straight out of the Middle Child Manual. I have tweeted the author to find out how he got permission to share from this secretive tome. He hasn't gotten back with me. Yet. I'll let you know. UPDATE: He thought I was joking. (February)
The Looming Tower, Lawrence Wright. I'm not sure what I expected when I read this book -- not this. The book reviews the history of al Queda including the West's political, social, and cultural humiliation which led to the attacks on 9/11. There were a few things left out -- the rise of suicide bombers and their connection to the Ayatollah's in Iran, for example. Otherwise, I found it to be a great review of what happened.(February)
Love What Is, Byron Katie, I am very familiar with Byron Katie's "The Work." It's an excellent way to separate our own emotional reaction to life with life itself. It's very effect. (January)
Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harir. I wanted to like this book, but found that I already knew much of the information and some of what he relates has already been proven wrong. I love this kind of information so I tend to keep right on the edge of discovery. (February)
Search Inside Yourself, Chade-Meng Tan, has actionable advice on how to improve yourself by taking the time to listen to your mind and body. The book relates how to do body scans as a way of uncovering what's going on with you. Interesting primer on the topic.(February)
Unplug, Suze Yalof Schwartz. This is a book about the benefits of meditation. While practical, it only really talks about meditation. So I'm not sure why the book isn't called "Meditation". Shrugging Meditation is awesome - truly. (March)
Why the West Rules -- For Now, Ian Morris. I didn't like the snotty tone of this book. I also don't agree with the idea that anyone rules anyone. Cultures get assimilated. That's just how things work. (February)
Writing that Works, Kenneth Roman and Joel Raphaelson. This was an interesting refresher into business writing. It's fairly basic -- use neutral gender pronouns, be brief, make a point, etc. It's always good to review. (March)
You are not your brain, Jeffrey Schwartz, MD This book's main premise is that your brain is fighting against your desire to change. It teaches mental hacks to avoid procrastination. I don't tend to procrastinate so it wasn't dynamically important to my life. Interesting though. (March)