Friday Book Whimsy: Was the Ending the Same?

First posted on March 28, 2014

I often say life is too short to read a bad book. And of course, by “bad book” I mean a book I’m not enjoying. There are simply too many books out there that I want to read to spend any time reading something I don’t like. That philosophy has probably caused me to miss out on a lot of books that get better after the first 100 pages. Oh well.

Having said that, it is probably inconsistent to say that I will, however, reread a book. Using the same logic, it would appear life is too short to spend time on a book when you know how it ends. For some reason, that fact doesn’t trouble me at all.

So here is a list of 5 books that not only WOULD I reread, but frequently HAVE….

manhattanbridge01b1. I was between books one evening recently. I finished what I was reading and didn’t want to get up out of bed to download the ebook that the Mesa Public Library had notified me was available. So I went on my Nook’s library and saw with great delight that I had purchased A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith some time ago, a fact I had totally forgotten. It was like running into an old friend, right there in my own bed!

The book is about the Nolan family who lives in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn. At the beginning of the book, Francie Nolan is 11 and the story is told primarily through her eyes. The Nolans are poor and struggling, but survive despite obstacle after obstacle, much like the tree that somehow survives in the desolate empty lot Francie sees from her bedroom window. A metaphor. Get it? I probably first read the book when I was 12 or 13, and loved it so much. I have read it many times since, but there’s nothing like the first time you read a good book, is there?

2. I was probably only 8 or 9 when I first read Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. Oh my heavens, did I love that book. I probably read it three or four times just during my adolescence. The first time I read the book, I can’t even begin to tell you how I cried and cried at one particular sad event. I was heartbroken.Annex - Leigh, Janet (Little Women)_01

Little Women is the story of the four March girls, who live quiet lives in New England as their father serves as a chaplain during the Civil War. They are guided lovingly by Marmee – their mother. (I seriously wanted to begin calling my mom Marmee, but knew that wouldn’t fly, even as an 8-year-old.) Each of the girls is very different. I think every girl who reads the book identifies with one of them. I identified with Meg. I wasn’t quite adventurous enough to connect in the same way with Jo. By the way, the story has been made into a movie three times – 1933, 1949, and 1994. The movie made in 1949 is far-and-away the best. The 1994 movie? Susan Sarandon as Marmee? Nooooooooooo!

3. One book that I have read, oh, I don’t know, ten or twelve thousand times is Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte. From the get-go, my heart absolutely broke as I read about poor Jane’s childhood, both as the abused ward of her aunt and then as a

Comb your hair for heaven's sake! What are you, blind?

Comb your hair for heaven’s sake! What are you, blind?

student at the Lowood School. The child couldn’t get a break. Even her beloved friend Helen dies – in Jane’s arms no less. She becomes the governess for little Adele, and – yada yada yada – she and Mr. Rochester live happily ever after (despite the fact that he’s scarred from the fire, bitter, and permanently blinded.

I remember thinking that the book was the most romantic story I had ever read. After all, it isn’t like Jane was some gorgeous woman; she was just a Plain – well – Jane. Still, Mr. Rochester loved her from the very beginning. And oh, the back story! Does it get any better than that?

great plains4. I think that My Antonia was required reading when I was in high school, and I loved it immediately. It helped that the story took place in Nebraska (where my high school was located), and in fact, not even too terribly far from my home town. Willa Cather’s writing is glorious, and I frankly love all of her books. But there was something about Antonia herself that makes it my favorite.

Antonia comes with her family from Bohemia to settle in the Nebraska prairie. The Shimerda family had not been farmers in Bohemia, and have a hard time surviving in this new and terribly hard life in Nebraska. She is befriended by Jim Burton, and their friendship is a critical element of the book. I love the descriptions of the Nebraska prairie, and the development of Antonia through the years. She might be my most beloved character of all books I’ve ever read. Might be. Not committing. For a review I did of this book, click here.

5. There is actually a book I read once a year. At Home in Mitford, by Jan Karon, is the story of an Episcopalian priest who lives in the North Carolina village of Mitford. It’s not exactly accurate to say the story is about Father Tim, though he is the main character. mitfordThe story is about the entangled lives of all of the quirky people who make up this town. They are caricatures, no doubt about it. Still, I love them all and I never get tired of them. But mostly I embrace Father Tim’s absolute love of God and trust in him. I love the way he turns to the Lord in all things. I read the book every year to help me learn to pray. By the way, I read the Karon’s Mitford Christmas book Shepherds Abiding every December as well.

There you have it. There are more, but these five were top of mind.  I didn’t include the Bible, because it goes without saying that it is a part of my life.

Nana’s Note: All these years later, I still agree with my list; however, I would add Plainsong, by Kent Haruf, which is perhaps my favorite book ever.

Friday Book Whimsy: Shepherds Abiding.

My favorite Christmas book – one I read every year – is Shepherds Shepherds AbidingAbiding, a Mitford novel by Jan Karon.

The theme is familiar – what is really important about Christmas? Our favorite priest, Father Tim, brings about Christmas joy to all of those he meets throughout the season in the delightful town of Mitford. As for himself, he – who always considers himself a man of thought and not a man who works with his hands, takes on the challenge of bringing back to life a terribly neglected and badly damaged Nativity set to give to his wife for Christmas. There is a delightful “Gift of the Magi” twist to the story that I won’t give away. Shepherds Abiding gives dedicated readers a deeper look at some of the Mitford family. It also gives the reader a sense of what Christmas is like in a small town.

I read this novel every Christmas as part of my effort to remember what the holiday season is really all about.

Friday Book Whimsy: To Be Where You Are

I read Jan Karon’s novel To Be Where You Are earlier this fall shortly after it was released, and it happened to be a particularly difficult time in my life. The latest in her Mitford series featuring our favorite Episcopalian priest Father Tim was an ointment for my heart soul, just as I knew it would be.

The entire series – now a total of 14 books – takes place in the fictional town of Mitford, North Carolina, a small village in the Blue Ridge Mountains near Asheville. While Father Tim and his wife Cynthia are the stars of the show, the surrounding players – his son Dooley and various beloved family and friends – are really what make these stories so lovely. Karon manages to make the townspeople lovable and quirky, but not caricatures of small-town hillbillies.

In her latest novel, Dooley and Lace, now married, are preparing for formal adoption of their foster son Jack, while trying to get Dooley’s vet practice going. Lace has her own distractions, as she has been commissioned to do a painting for a well-known Hollywood actress. All of this takes place as Father Tim struggles to help out several friends in unexpected ways. While a town like Mitford likely doesn’t exist anywhere, Karon’s books always have a realistic way about them. In To Be Where You Are, faithful readers say goodbye to a beloved friend, as we have had to do in the past, but hello to others.

The story is punctuated by the characters’ strong faith in God and belief that they are all part of a bigger plan. I took the prayers uttered by the characters to my heart and prayed them along with them. Much highlighting. Very much highlighting.

To Be Where You Are reminded this reader that at the end of the day, it isn’t the amount of money you earn or the fancy house in which you live, but instead it’s the number of people you can call friends and the blessings that are in you life.

Karon is in her 80s now, and I don’t know how many more Mitford stories she has in her. I hope a few more. While To Be Where You Are left us with a perfect segue to the next book, it also ends with Father Tim and Cynthia driving off in an RV for an adventure. A perfect way to end a series.

Fingers crossed it’s the former. I loved this book.

Here is a link to the book.

Blue Mountains

There in the highlands, clear weather held for much of the time. The air lacked its usual haze, and the view stretched on and on across rows of blue mountains, each paler than the last until the final ranks were indistinguishable from the sky. It was as if all the world might be composed of nothing but valley and ridge. ― Charles Frazier, Cold Mountain

I live in the mountains, and have for over 40 years. Well, maybe I don’t exactly live IN the mountains, but all I have to do is look out my window and I see the mountains. Well, I don’t actually SEE the mountains if I look out my window, but I do if I walk down to the end of my street. You get the picture. Denver is at the foot of the Rocky Mountains. What’s more, our Arizona house also has a beautiful view (at least from the front yard of our house) of Superstition Mountain.

All this is to say that I am familiar with mountains, and I can tell you that they are all very different. My grandmother, who grew up in Switzerland, was content with the Rocky Mountains; still, she always said that it was the Grand Teton Mountains in northwestern Wyoming that most reminded her of the Alps. Go figure…..

Grand Teton Mountains

Give a big sigh of relief, because I’m finally getting to my point. While visiting Bill’s brother in Winston-Salem this past week, we drove one day to the Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina, and they are like no mountains with which I’m familiar. We took a day trip to Blowing Rock, North Carolina, and it made my Mitford-loving heart happy……

For those of you who don’t know, Mitford is the fictitious town about which author Jan Karon writes in her lovely series featuring Father Tim, a retired Episcopalian priest. The books are just about my favorite book series ever, and Mitford is where I want to live. It’s where everyone who reads these books wants to live. And it’s based on Blowing Rock, North Carolina…..

The town of Blowing Rock admittedly didn’t remind me much of Mitford. There is probably no town on earth that would remind me of Mitford, because towns like Mitford only exist in literary fiction. There is no town like Mayberry. There is no Stars Hollow apart from Gilmore Girls. Still, the drive through the Blue Ridge Mountains was amazingly beautiful. Almost heaven. The weather was perfect; the town bustled with activity; lunch was al fresco. What more could a person ask?

I had quietly cogitated about the idea of going to Blowing Rock during our visit, but said nothing. Why would two men who have never read a Mitford novel care one iota about driving an hour-and-a-half to see this town? But the topic of reading came up at a business lunch (yes, Bill and I did have one business-related activity while in NC), and I was asked what I was reading. I told them honestly that I had just started the most recent Mitford novel called To Be Where You Are, and explained that the book took place in a fictitious town based on Blowing Rock.

Squeals from one of the women with whom we were meeting. Well, since it was a business lunch, maybe squeals isn’t entirely accurate. Nevertheless, it seems that she had recently visited the community with her husband, and gave it a thumbs up.

Would you like to go, Bruce asked me. Why, I hadn’t given it a minute of thought, but now that you mention it….., I lied. And so we found ourselves a couple of days later driving through the Blue Ridge Mountains and into Blowing Rock…..

I spent the entire day looking for Jan Karon. I looked in stores. I peered around the restaurant in which we had our lunch. I didn’t see her and didn’t actually expect that I would. I have subsequently found out that she now lives in Virginia. Apparently Father Tim didn’t go along with her.

It was a very fun day, and one I won’t soon forget.

Friday Book Whimsy-Thursday Edition: Favorite Books of 2015

I am often astounded at how many books some book bloggers read each year. Some post a book review almost every day. Of course, their blogs are devoted to book reviews, so it is incumbent upon them to read, read, read. I think that I read a lot, and yet I never seem to break the 100-books-in-a-year mark. This year my total was 93 books.

Oh well, I’m telling myself. I do have a life beyond books. Say, friends and family. Oh, and now crocheting.

I post a book review every Friday, but I read many more books than those for which I post a review. For example, I generally don’t post books (almost always mysteries) that are part of a series unless I found the book particularly compelling or I’m begging you to read the series. And since I’ve already admitted that my reading motto is Life is too short to read a bad book, I start many books that I set aside because I simply didn’t like them. That is why most of my book reviews are positive. So, sue me.

Having said all of the meaningless babble above, here are my five favorite books I read in 2015 for which I posted a review.

5. The House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell
An unexpectedly upbeat and pleasing read about a quirky family with an unhappy past joined together simply because they love one another. An interesting element of this book is that the mother is a hoarder, which definitely defines the family members and impacts the plot of the book. It isn’t, however, what defines this interesting story. I was surprised at how much I loved this book, which I wouldn’t have picked up if someone hadn’t so highly recommended it to me.

4. Come Rain or Come Shine by Jan Karon
Karon’s Mitford stories are like eating dessert first. They are simply delicious and not to be missed. The characters, the setting, the stories — all mix together to make for a wonderful read. Her latest novel involves the marriage of two favorite characters, and allows readers the opportunity to get to know better some who previously were only marginally present. Pour a cup of coffee or tea and settle down for a pleasant experience.

3. The Rent Collector by Camron Wright
Talk about a book I can’t believe I liked so much! This story takes place in Cambodia, which is the only reason I read the book (a daughter-in-law is from Cambodia). Based on a true story, the family — mom, dad, and little boy — lives in a municipal waste dump in Cambodia and they survive on what they make from scavenging the dump each day and selling the wares. That’s the setting, but the story is about friendship and loyalty and what it means to love someone. It was a truly beautiful story that I highly recommend.

2. Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf
My heart broke year before last when one of my favorite authors — Kent Haruf — passed away. Our Souls at Night was his final gift to those of us who love his writing. The book is once again set in the fictional Colorado town of Holt. Septuagenarian Addie Moore, a widow for many years, marches over to her equally-aged neighbor Louis Waters’ house and suggests they, well, hook up. Sleep together. Just see how it works out. The result is a surprisingly beautiful story about love and friendship. I enjoyed Haruf’s stories for his characters, and while not as good as his first novel Plainsong (nothing could be), it was a wonderful book.

And my favorite book of 2015…..

1. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
Dang, I hate being predictable. The Girl on the Train is likely to be the favorite read of 2015 of many book reviewers, but it’s for a good reason. I couldn’t put down this book. The author doled out the pieces of the mystery little by little, keeping the readers in constant suspense. The final pages were delicious. The characters were interesting, imperfect, multifaceted, and realistic. I can’t wait for Hawkins’ next effort. This one will be hard to beat.

I’m looking forward to many more good books in 2016. Maybe that will be the year that I finally beat that 100-book challenge.

This post linked to the GRAND Social 

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Friday Book Whimsy: Come Rain or Come Shine

searchPotentially, this could be the shortest book review ever. All I REALLY would have to say is that there is a new Mitford book by author Jan Karon entitled Come Rain or Come Shine. Boom. Everyone can correctly assume that I loved the book.

The fictional town of Mitford, North Carolina, makes me happy. I am fully aware that such a wonderful community where everyone gets along and loves one another doesn’t exist. Still, isn’t it so nice to read about something like the friendly folks of Mitford instead of about pain, and murder, and bickering, and poverty, and the horrors of the real world, especially during this time of the year?

In Come Rain or Come Shine, Dooley – who we met in Karon’s first Mitford novel At Home in Mitford – has graduated from veterinarian’s school, set up a practice and is finally getting married to his long-time girlfriend Lace (who we also met in the first novel). Typical for the young couple, they want to make their wedding simple and inexpensive, and to include all of the people they love. They decide, then, to make it a pot luck affair to be held at the ranch where they will reside after they are married.

Since nothing ever goes entirely as planned in Mitford (or in real life), the novel offers a series of surprises and unexpected joys. While Dooley and Lace have to be flexible with their plans and the wedding doesn’t go as smoothly as one would hope, Karon’s story gives us a full picture of love – the love of friends and the love for and of God. The amazing and vivid trust that the people of this town have in God’s provides for a joyful read.

And let’s not forget the wonderful food that is always a part of Mitford – and Karon’s wonderful stories.

Come Rain or Come Shine was written a bit differently than Karon’s previous novels. The point of view changed with each chapter. Being an avid Mitford fan, I was able to recognize whose point of view was being presented in each chapter. However, I would think that if someone picked up the novel without having read Karon’s previous works, it might have taken some time to recognize the point of view. If I have any criticism, that is it.

One of the best parts of the novel, I felt, was getting to know Lace a bit better. While she has been part of the Mitford series from the beginning, she has never played a major role. I enjoyed learning more about who she is and how she thinks.

This is a grand book for someone wanting to read a happy story during this time of year. I strongly recommend it.

Here is a link to the book.

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