Wandering with my eyes and heart open, searching for pieces to add to my own personal big picture.

Tag: novels Page 2 of 5

The Mayfair Bookshop: New Read

Four non-fiction books in a row means it’s high time for a novel, especially since I finished my previous read the night before a holiday. And this time it’s The Mayfair Bookshop by Eliza Knight! Why did I choose this book? Well…that’s a bit of a story.

My TBR shelf has turned into shelves, and you know that’s not allowed. Generally, I keep my TBR to one shelf, but with the windfall I accumulated a couple years ago due to a friend’s sudden move out of state (and she had to leave her books behind), I’ve allowed myself more than one shelf for a while now. I swore (a not so solemn oath) that I would read the books I had before I bought any more, but alas, here we are.

In my defense I have slowed down and this month promised I would refrain from purchasing the darlings and make an attempt at whittling down the pile, and then we went to Costco.

Like I’ve said before, I don’t usually buy any books there, but I do almost always peruse the stacks, just in case. There are sometimes fun novels there that beg to be taken home. Honest, they beg. I hear them.

This time as we moved toward the aisle where my precious coffee is located, my husband glanced down at the cart and looked back at me. “What’s this?” I smiled. “A moral imperative.” He laughed. “Why these ones?” I point to the words on the covers, “bookshop” and “library.” “Ah, I see.” I cannot resist a book about books and readers. They’re like friends coming to visit. He knows this.

At the checkout, I had to rescue them before he threw them on the conveyor belt right along with the meat and frozen vegetables. Seriously.

I posted on Instagram that I had begun a beautiful Easter Sunday (although I had forgotten it was Easter until I opened Facebook) with this fun book and several extra cups of coffee. That post led me to receive a comment from the author herself, which thrilled me to the bone.

I read for three hours yesterday morning, and my first thoughts were, “Charming.” and “I’m in love with these characters.” Last night, when I couldn’t fall asleep, I thought I’d get up and read a bit and see if that helped. I sat down, opened the book, “No, wait. I need a cup of tea.” Put the book aside to start the kettle, went back to get the book and read while my tea steeped.

I imagined the characters becoming exasperated with my indecision. “Is she going to read, or not?” I’m sure they are all in there waiting, their action paused, for me to pick the book back up. I wonder what they do while they wait.

This morning, I’m already halfway through this delicious book and I’ll probably read a bit more before I start the rest of my day. You know, the part of the day I spend off the couch, outside a book. The boring part!

I’m sorry Ms. Knight, but I do have one complaint. I feel compelled to add all the books you mention in your story to my TBR list. And call me ignorant, but I didn’t realize this was historical fiction when I picked it up, and that Nancy Mitford was a real author. So, thanks for that!

That’s sarcasm in case it didn’t come across that way. Almost every book I read adds two or three more books to my list. Reading is never-ending entertainment and information accumulation. And a TBR list is always one step forward and two steps back, or three, or four. It’s beautiful.

I have many Costco adventures. Click over to Shopping Cart Antics for more!

Want to read more of my thoughts on this gem of a book? Try Beautifully Relatable Characters.

The Lost Apothecary: New Read

I picked up The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner at Costco a few weeks ago while I was shopping with my mom. I almost always browse my way through the book pile at Costco, but I rarely buy anything. When I do, it’s fiction.

the lost apothecary
I don’t always buy books at Costco, but when I do, they are novels.

This novel is outside what I usually read, so why did I pick it up? What caught my eye?

Re-reading the back of the book, I see words that usually trigger my book hoarding instincts.

“Eighteenth century London,” “mysterious owner,” “poisons to use against the oppressive men in their lives.” That last one started to lose me. Is this going to be a book about how mean men are and how women have life so much harder? Hmm…

Then, “explosive history” and “transcends the barrier of time,” sucked me back in. I dropped it in my basket along with Erik Larson’s new book, The Splendid and The Vile.

I’m usually more interested in non-fiction and classic literature than modern novels, but every once in a while something new catches my eye and I can’t resist. Why don’t I do it more often? Because there’s a 50/50 chance that it will be disappointing and then I feel like I’ve wasted my precious time and money.

Older novels have been filtered through time and become classics. They are more reliable. Modern novels seem too easy to read, the plots are simple, and the themes irritate me. But not always. The ones I’ve loved are filled with highlights and notes, and they’re usually about magical libraries and rethinking a life’s direction or priorities.

After one day of reading, I’m already halfway through The Lost Apothecary. The cover says “surprises right up to the final paragraph” but I haven’t seen any surprises yet. I like the story. I’m curious how the chapters will connect, what Caroline will find, but so far, I don’t feel emotionally connected to how any of the characters feel. Maybe we’re just too different?

Gothic Fiction Turns Steam Punk in this Gem

You heard me right, my friends. I could not help but see this gothic fiction made into a movie with Will Smith as Rupert. I’m imagining a combination of Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Wild Wild West here, complete with flying machines and tunnels through mountains to bring all the riches of the kingdom to port.

gothic fiction

This blog typically isn’t about the story as much as what it brings to mind. Life skills, relationships, parenting, politics, history, philosophy, all come into play as I write from quotes that catch my attention. In a fiction read, things run a bit little different, especially with my final thoughts on the book. I try not to give too much away. I don’t want to ruin it for you, so read with caution. If you’re one that doesn’t want to hear anything about the story other than what’s given in the title and inside cover, maybe this is the post to skip.

Short version: I loved this book. It was surprisingly easy to read for a book written over 100 years ago. And the story…oh my heart…beautiful. If you love Dracula and/or H.G. Wells’ style sci-fi, this is a great read. Now…stop reading right here if you don’t want to know more. You’ve been warned!

It’s been a while since I zoomed through a book this quickly; eleven hours of reading in five days. The old cliché comes to mind, “I couldn’t put it down!”

What I thought, based on the author, the title, and the cover art, would be gothic fiction, turned into an H.G. Wells style sci-fi novel about halfway through and I was thrilled to death with the effect. It was beautiful.

Back to that cover art for a moment. I don’t really think it does the book justice. Who decides these things?

The first half was exactly what I expected to be reading in gothic fiction. Who was this mysterious shrouded woman that came only in the night? Why is she sleeping in a clear crypt in the church during the day? Why did his uncle send him there? Did he know about this? What’s going on?

I won’t tell you. You’ll have to read to find out.

But about halfway through the book changes, you find out the reasons and then it goes into the founding and building of a nation, political alliances, and the creation of an air force (yes, in 1909, a few years after the Wright Brother’s got off the ground).

The setting of this gothic fiction is the Balkans and there’s much talk about keeping the Turks out and alliances with Britain, Austria being upset by her neighbors, etc. It was written just before the start of the first World War, so the influence of the political climate is definitely there. It would have made the book even better if I knew more details about that era. I’m not very well-versed in it, but I have far more knowledge than I did coming out of college when I believed that World War II and the Nazi’s just popped out of nowhere.

One complaint, though. I think he could have ended the story one hundred pages earlier. I don’t think we really needed to get into the details of the new kingdom. It got tedious. But maybe if you read it back when it was published you wouldn’t have thought so. It reflected much of what was going on in Europe at the time. I’d like to read some commentary on this book, if I can find it, to know more.

This is another book that I’m glad I stumbled across. And it wouldn’t have been found if I hadn’t been browsing physical books. The organic way to find books (and movies) just doesn’t happen for me via the internet. THIS is something that needs be fixed before I can embrace a hermitage fully!

A side note before I go: I’ve made one big change in my reading habits this year, I’ve started taking far more notes while I read. In the past I’ve found myself devouring a book only to discover that I can’t remember much of the story once I finish reading. To fix that, my reading notebook is filled with quick summaries of what I read the past hour, story notes.

This is my fourth book doing this, and it’s really helping. Once I finish reading, I tally up how long it took me to read it, and then scan over my notes. It feels much more cemented in my mind and it’s much easier to write my final thoughts to you. The real test will be to see how long the details of the story will stay in my mind. When someone asks me, “Hey, this looks interesting. What’s it about?” Maybe I’ll be able to say more than, “I loved it!”

Hop back to “Stoker’s The Lady of the Shroud” for more posts inspired by this book.

Little Bee by Chris Cleave

I didn’t do a “new read” post about Little Bee by Chris Cleave because I started it on Christmas Eve and was too busy that day to sit and write. There was so much to do and so much fun to be had. Let’s not talk about how many cookies there were to eat…which I did. I’m not proud of it, but let’s just say it was worth every calorie.

Little Bee by Chris Cleave
Christmas Chaos

Little Bee came to me by last year’s book windfall. I knew nothing about it when I pulled it out of one of the boxes, but the cover drew my attention and the quote from The New York Time Book Review, “Immensely readable and moving…and affecting story of human triumph,” made it sound promising.

And it was. With most modern novels it takes time before I being to enjoy the story. With this one, I immediately fell in love with the characters by the end of chapter two. And then they began to break my heart by chapter three. How did he do that? The man revealed things, bit by bit, in such a subtle way…exquisite.

From the back cover, “Once you read it, you’ll want to tell your friends about it. When you do, please don’t tell them what happens. The magic is in how the story unfolds.”

They were right. I looked up from the book each time I put it down thinking, you need to read this…and so do you. It’s…wow…

But how does one beseech another to read a beautifully painful story that will change you, without telling you what it’s about? I guess the same way I decided to pick it up and read it, by showing it to you and hoping you choose wisely, letting the universe bring it to you like it was brought to me.

The book changed me. I set it down when I finished it and sighed. All those people, so many story lines, so much to learn, so much depth. What would I do if I were in their shoes? The whole thing knocked me off my stride that day and the next.

Last night, my husband and I sat in front of the fireplace with a drink and talked about it. He’s not a reader of novels, so I can give it all away as much as I please. I’m ruining nothing for him. It was a beautiful conversation.

This is what a good book does. It touches you and leaves you scarred in the most amazing ways. That’s all I have to tell you about my last novel of 2021.

What are you doing this week? Did you have to go back to work? Or are you spending the week on vacation? The seven days between Christmas and New Year’s always feels like a non-week, it doesn’t seem to exist, not really. Anything can happen.

I’m excited for the new year to come, but it’s not for the typical reasons. I’ve never been much of a party person. Even when I was younger, the only time I was out on New Year’s Eve was to work. So, my anticipation doesn’t hang on the evening’s festivities. What I’m looking forward to is going through my books and tallying up what I read this year. I know…nerd.

As I have the last several years, I’ll spend New Year’s Day going through old journals, notes, and posts and writing myself a review. This year I think I’ll write a few headlines and summaries, practice writing some brilliant leads into the story that was my 2021.

Side note: When can we stop writing and saying “20-something” and go back to ’21 like we did way back in the 1900’s? I think it’s this year, right now. Stand by to welcome the birth of ’22 world! I can see the conversation thirty years from now. “Back in ’22. That’s when it all started.” Or “Let’s see…when was it that my life changed? Hmm… oh, yes! ’22! Pour me a shot of whiskey and I’ll tell you the story.”

Would you like to read more posts inspired by this book? Check out
Little Bee: Scars
Little Bee: Ordered and Antiseptic
Little Bee: No Innocent Bystanders

Little Bee: No Innocent Bystanders

“Honestly, Batman? I think I’m one of those innocent bystanders you see in the comics. I’m just a man from a crowd scene.” From Little Bee by Chris Cleaver

innocent bystanders

There are no innocent bystanders in the world, not really. Other human beings aren’t the background characters in your life. No one is an NPC.

Imagine this scene: I’m at the grocery store and a robbery is taking place. In a movie or a book (comic or otherwise), I’m not robbing the store and I’m not being robbed, so I’m a background character. I have no purpose other than to be there filling in the scene. My presence makes the story more exciting because the threat is to a larger group, the gun is swung around a crowd and everyone cowers, a person screams, a mother shields her child behind her. Unless the writer decides to pull one of those crowd members into the action, they just stand there making things visually interesting.

In reality, that isn’t the case. There is no writer. I have free will, a mind of my own, and the ability to take action in any scene I find myself in. In the grocery store robbery, I could have a gun of my own, special skills to talk the robber out of it. Maybe by some strange coincidence, I know the person robbing the store and when they see me, their heart changes in that moment. Or the robbery continues and I’m the one that throws myself in front of a child to protect them, or a take special care to get a close look at the person and I’m able to make a better report of who it was that caused the problem. The possibilities are endless.

Every day, we find ourselves in situations where we can make a difference. Every day we make the choice to act or sit by and watch. No, we can’t change the whole world. Most things are far out of our circle of influence. But we can’t sit and cry over what we can’t do. We must look for what we can. Where can I make a difference right now?

Years ago, I decided that my own family was my priority. Second in my life were the people that I see every day, friends, coworkers, and people around town. Third are the projects, people, and causes outside my immediate reach. This is how I have made choices and lived my life. It has served me well.

There are times when I feel like maybe I should do more. There are times when I wish to hell I could do more. If I only had more money, more energy, more power, I could fix this for someone. When I go back to my principles, I know that I cannot and if I try, I end up making things worse for everyone involved.

But if I’m there, I’m not an innocent bystander. If something is wrong, I say so. If someone needs help, I do my best to provide what I can. That does not include the internet and social media exchanges most times. Those inventions, while doing a world of good at increasing our awareness of the world and our circle of influence, are torturing our consciousness at the same time. A human only has so many resources and we each need to focus our efforts.

Read the previous post inspired by this book, “Little Bee: Ordered and Antiseptic”

Little Bee: Ordered and Antiseptic

“In our small garden I have made a wild place to remind me of chaos, Andrew once wrote in his column. Our modern lives are too ordered, too antiseptic.” From Little Bee by Chris Cleaver

ordered and antiseptic

I agree…and then I don’t. Our “ordered and antiseptic” ways allow humans to live a longer and less stressful life. We know when and where our food and water will come next. We know what to expect in life and can plan our lives and become more prosperous. We know where to go for help and when to work things out for ourselves. We have more power over our lives.

If each day, I woke up with no order to things, I’d spend most of my day finding food, water, and shelter, and keeping that from everyone else doing the same. Without our antiseptic ideas, we’d continue to eat lower quality dirty food and water, and our wounds would fester and kill us. That’s the old way of living. Lives were harder, shorter, and rough. Pastoral life was not pleasant.

But the whole world is not ordered and antiseptic. There are wild places near our gardens that remind us of chaos. Whole regions, countries, and continents. People there spend their lives trying to stay alive as long as they can in very rough ways. They make terrifying attempts to get to places that are more ordered and antiseptic. And many times, we throw those weeds back into the wild place.

I’ve spent my morning wondering…

What can we do to help the rest of the world find more order, become more antiseptic? How do we, who have found ourselves in the middle of a garden, help that garden spread so that the rest of the world can prosper and thrive with us?

Read the previous post inspired by this book, “Little Bee: Scars”

Little Bee: Scars

My comments on quotes from any book are typically not about the story, they are about myself, so I’m not worried about spoilers. Don’t get me wrong, I have many thoughts about how the story plays out and how it is told, but my blog isn’t a book review. It’s a journey through what I am reading, how it relates to me, and what I learn about the world and myself through the story and characters.

This one here is something we all need to remember.

“We must see all scars as beauty. Okay? This will be our secret. Because take it from me, a scar does not form on the dying. A scar means, I survived.” From Little Bee by Chris Cleaver


Scars are only wounds that have healed over. Life leaves scars and all of them are beautiful because they remind us that there is hope. We are alive and there will be more story to tell because we survived the previous one and have learned something. This book is leaving scars on my heart in a beautiful way.

Some of my scars I can hide easily, and some are glaringly obvious to everyone that passes by.

Each time I lose my mind or throw a fit about something that seems insignificant, my scars are clearly showing. I’ve not let that wound heal properly. I’ve not learned from it yet, so it stands open and at risk to infection, spreading through my life and those around me.

The ones I hide easily are the everyday worries. The pictures I share on social media hide the anxiety about the future, the stress of wondering what the future holds, if they love me, will they leave, will I get through this event, that built up in my mind until that moment. It may look easy, like I have it all together, but you’re only seeing what I want to share, those happy moments when I overcame the anxiety and let things roll on by and into a beautiful day. I know I’m not alone.

We all carry our past into our future. I think we’re supposed to. I’d like to think at some point in our lives we should be able to open those cases and pull out our past to examine it without the pain, like running a finger over a physical scar.

It’s our past, the life we have lived, and everything leaves a mark of some kind.

I’m opening my suitcase right now, each day, pulling out that struggling relationship, that wonderous day, that event I thought would kill me, that book that broke my heart, and seeing how I grew with each one in ways I couldn’t see at the time. I run my finger over the scar and know that I’m still alive. There is work to do.

We can’t sit and hide our heads in shame because of our scars. We can’t pity those who have them, as if they are incapable of healing themselves. Instead, we smile and know they are growing wiser in this world just as we are. We can offer a bit of love and support while they do the work, because that’s what we would want.

If there was no hope, there would be no scars because we would be dead.

Read the next post inspired by this book, Little Bee: Ordered and Antiseptic

The Midnight Library #4

Have you ever wondered if what you call the color red is actually the same as what someone else calls red? I mean I point and say red, you agree, but are we really seeing the same color?

And when I say I’m excited to be there, do you get the same feeling? Is what you call excited, what I call excited?

We all speak our own language based on our own culture, experience, personality, and myriad of other reasons. We see what we want to see, what is close enough to our own current reality.

Communication between worlds is so complicated.

The Midnight Library #3

“You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.”  – Albert Camus

Happiness just happens when you accept yourself right where you are. The meaning of life is what you’re doing right now. To look beyond this moment is to reject reality and create unhappiness.

The Midnight Library #2

Have your ever been so focused on some task that you lost time?

I recently chose to do that while waiting for my son to get home. IG reels lift my spirit and make me smile. I had some time to kill and I was too tired to read, so I dove in for some laughs.

I love that sense of losing myself in a project of any kind, but it’s very hard for me. There’s almost always a running dialog in the back of my mind while I do anything that keeps me from real focus.

Other things I need to do. Guilt about spending time. Wondering if this is the best use. Ego about whether or not it looks good or will come out right. And on and on.

Moments like these: reading this in The Midnight Library, creating the graphic, posting it here, and the process of this comment, are growth instances for me.

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