"Outside a dog a book is man's best friend, inside a dog it is too dark to read!" -Groucho Marx========="The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." -Jane Austen========="I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book."-JK Rowling========"I spend a lot of time reading." -Bill Gates=========“Ahhh. Bed, book, kitten, sandwich. All one needed in life, really.” -Jacqueline Kelly=========

Monday, March 28, 2022

TTT: Modern Classics

Top Ten Tuesday: 21st Century Books Likely to Become Classics

Classics are books which continue to have something important to say years after they are published. When re-reading a classic one has just as much a sense of discovery as the first time.

*Hyperlinked titles available for reviews of those books which I read before I began blogging. Books are listed in random order.


1. Life of Pi by Yann Martel (2001)
"A wonderfully original novel, which recounts the remarkable life of Pi Patel. Martel skillfully blends Pi's adventures of the mind and spirit with an unforgettable physical journey, making this a magical coming-of-age narrative." 

2. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (2004)
"The Shadow of the Wind is a coming-of-age tale of a young boy who, through the magic of a single book, finds a purpose greater than himself and a hero in a man he’s never met. With the passion of García Márquez, the irony of Dickens, and the necromancy of Poe, Carlos Ruiz Zafón spins a web of intrigue so thick that it ensnares the reader from the very first line. The Shadow of the Wind is an ode to the art of reading, but it is also the perfect example of the all-encompassing power of a well-told story."

3. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (2003)
"The Kite Runner is a beautifully crafted novel set in a country that is in the process of being destroyed. It is about the power of reading, the price of betrayal, and the possibility of redemption; and an exploration of the power of fathers over sons—their love, their sacrifices, their lies."

4. Station Eleven by Emily St. James Mandel (2014)
"Station Eleven is at once a gripping post-apocalyptic page turner and a hopeful, elegiac masterpiece that explores the connections that bind humanity."

5. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (2013)
"The Goldfinch is a haunted odyssey through present-day America and a drama of enthralling power. Combining unforgettably vivid characters and thrilling suspense, it is a beautiful, addictive triumph - a sweeping story of loss and obsession, of survival and self-invention, of the deepest mysteries of love, identity and fate."

6. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (2014)
"In this WWII-centered novel follows the lives of two children as they grow up among all the turmoil. Through his stunning use of metaphor and an unpredictable timeline, Doerr explores kindness and how people perceive the world."

7. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (2002)
"Eugenides packs so much richness into this classical saga-cum-bildungsroman-cum–paean to the American Dream that Dickens would be proud. Starting with the burning of Smyrna and winding its way through Prohibition to the 1967 Detroit race riots, Middlesex does what any viable candidate for the Great American Novel should; it broadens the definition of 'American.'"

8. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (2016)
"Like the protagonist of Gulliver’s Travels, Cora encounters different worlds at each stage of her journey—hers is an odyssey through time as well as space. As Whitehead brilliantly re-creates the unique terrors for black people in the pre–Civil War era, his narrative seamlessly weaves the saga of America from the brutal importation of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day. The Underground Railroad is at once a kinetic adventure tale of one woman’s ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage and a shattering, powerful meditation on the history we all share."

9. Atonement by Ian McEwan (2001)
"Ian McEwan’s symphonic novel of love and war, childhood and class, guilt and forgiveness provides all the satisfaction of a brilliant narrative and the provocation we have come to expect from this master of English prose."

10. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz (2007)
"Diaz immerses us in the tumultuous life of Oscar and the history of the family at large, rendering with genuine warmth and dazzling energy, humor, and insight the Dominican-American experience, and, ultimately, the endless human capacity to persevere in the face of heartbreak and loss. A true literary triumph."

11. Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr (2021)
"Cloud Cuckoo Land is, among other things, a paean to the nameless people who have played a role in the transmission of ancient texts and preserved the tales they tell. But it’s also about the consolations of stories and the balm they have provided for millenniums. It’s a wildly inventive novel that teems with life, straddles an enormous range of experience and learning, and embodies the storytelling gifts that it celebrates" (NYT).

As I think about all these books I started to wonder if they are made into a movie or a miniseries if it increases or decreases in its likelihood of becoming a classic book read by generations to come. Hmm.  I don't know the answer.


Sunday, March 27, 2022

Sunday Salon: Life interrupts grief

Flowering plums line our neighborhood streets

Weather: Beautiful spring day. The street trees are blooming.

The little sign on the table says: "Shirley is 93!!!"

The family gathers:
My mother, all my siblings and their spouses, several of my nieces, and one nephew joined us a day ahead of the Celebration of Life for Dom Calata. During our time together we shared several meals including one to celebrate my mother's 93rd birthday. Unfortunately we forgot to take a photo to commemorate the event so you will have to be satisfied with a photo of Muffy and Hoppy dressed up for the day.


Memorial Service for Deputy Dom Calata: It's been a rough but often surprisingly uplifting week as the family grappled with their grief before and during the memorial service for a beloved family member.

                                              The procession before the memorial service

As family members we were transported to the memorial service on the buses provided for us ahead of the procession. I wanted to see what the procession was like and found this hour long newscast about the procession of Deputy Calata's casket, family, and over 500 police vehicles. If you want to watch just a bit here are some highlights: At the 13 min. mark the procession starts; at 17 minutes the newscasters talk about Dom's church, which is our church; around 35 minutes the procession reaches the garrison flag held aloft by two ladder trucks (here they start to talk about traditions like the riderless horse, the bagpipe band); at 49 minutes the camera pans over the crowd and you can see three of my family members (sister Grace, Mom, and my husband); the last few minutes of the hour is a short of news highlight of Deputy Dom Calata from 2018 when he was a fairly new deputy officer. Is is so hard to get my mind around the fact that this guy, the best of the best, is gone.

Our church has been a huge support for not only us but for our community: Being around other people who not only love Dom and his wife and son but also love us has been soothing. It has been a tremendous solace spending time with them.

Memorials outside the church where people can leave prayers and offer supportive thoughts.
Here I Am Lord: The hymn we sang at Dom's service. The message of this hymn exemplifies Dom's life of service.

Good news worth our attention even in the midst of grief:

1. A Black man defends a Black woman and it is a thing of beauty. Here are the highlights from what Sen. Cory Booker had to say to Hon. Ketanji Brown Jackson, Supreme Court nominee. (3 minutes.)

2. Evidence grows that vaccines lower the risk of getting long-COVID (NPR)

3. Dolly Parton's new cakes mixes gets one reporter out of a funk. Fun article. (WaPo)

4. New enzyme discovery is another leap toward finding a way to dissolve plastic. (GoodNews Network)

After the service, 20 people, all family members, came over to our house to just spend time together. Some of the time was spent in tears, digesting the service and our feelings about Dom's death, but a lot of the time was spent in happiness at just being together. My sister, Grace, took this cute picture of me and my grandson. He is clearly goofing around.

Books: For obvious reasons I didn't get a lot of reading done this week, but I did manage to blog about two books. Both had symbolism which helped me out.

I am working away on:
  • Bright Wings: An Illustrated Anthology of Bird Poems edited by Billy Collins. A not-very-good batch of poems. Illustrations are delightful, though. 40%, print.
  • O's Little Book of Happiness edited by the Oprah Magazine. Some of the essays are very sweet, and a few are funny. 50%, print.
  • The Woman They Could Not Silence by Kate Moore. 10%, audiobook.

Book Club: We met this week to discuss The Lincoln Highway. It got 8 for 8 high marks. A fabulous, not-to-be-missed book. 

Book club selection with yummy Ukrainian dessert


One funny this week for all your grammarians out there:


Grief was interrupted this week by pink flowering trees, family members, grandsons, a birthday party, books and a book club meeting, and some good news.  Have a good week!


Thursday, March 24, 2022


Illustration of the Voyage of the Dawn Treader by Pauline Baynes

Whew. I made it. I completed the third installment, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, for Narniathan before the end of March. I got lost somewhere along the journey, wandering around in between all those lost islands, but I made it to the end of the book and enjoyed the glimpse of Aslan's Country in the far east.

This is my fourth or fifth time reading The Voyage of the Dawn Treader so I wasn't expecting any surprises. I've always enjoyed this book immensely, often citing it as my favorite in the seven book Chronicles of Narnia series. The surprise, however, was my reaction this time. I just didn't find the delight I remember experiencing on previous readings. However, personal circumstances have imposed on my moods so I will lay the blame there. Enough said.

I will start by answering the questions proposed by Calmgrove for Narniathon and then I'll see if I want to say anything more:

1. A picture as a portal didn’t originate with Lewis, for he may have taken the idea from an episode in John Masfield’s The Box of Delights (1935) in which Cole Hawlings passes into a painting called The Dents du Midi from the North in order to escape from wolves. Here however it’s a painting of a sailing ship on the high seas that the children enter. The question therefore is, Assuming you would like to enter a picture, what subject would you choose or even, if you have one in mind, what specific image would you opt for?

In case you aren't familiar with this book or the series, the Pevensie children always enter Narnia in some unexpected way. In the first book, they enter through an old wardrobe. In the second book, Prince Caspian, they enter when a train whistles or a horn is blown. In Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Lucy and Edmund, and their horrid cousin Eustace, enter Narnia through a painting hanging on a bedroom wall. They even get wet before they are pulled all the way into a new land.

I've never really wondered at the possibility of entering a world through a paintin g before but I have been inspired by an author, Marcus Sedgwick, who wrote a remarkable novel, Midwinterblood, in a backward-telling series of stories, which was inspired by a painting called Midvinterblot by Carl Larrson displayed in the Swedish National Museum. After I looked at the painting of a naked king in some sort of ceremony, I became all the more vested in the strange story Sedwick told which he imagined led up to that moment. I like the idea that art inspires art. 

So since I've never thought of it before and haven't given it much thought, I've always liked the action in Renoir's paintings. His famous Luncheon of the Boating Party (1882) looks like a fun and congenial event. I'd like to experience such a meal with so much wine and camaraderie.

2. There are many characters, old and new, that appear in this instalment, from Reepicheep to Eustace, Caspian to Coriakin, Aslan to the Duffers. What character (or characters) made the strongest impression on you in this book, and why?

As per usual, the character that interests me the most in this book is Eustace. My interest starts with one of the best opening lines in all of literature:

There once was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it (1).

I laugh or smile every single time I read that line. Eustace was a brat, a bully, and a bore (boar?) He is magically transported, via a painting, onto a Narnian ship en route to discover the whereabouts of seven lost Telmarian lords who traveled to the far East. He isn't caught up in the magic at all. He is just mad about being wet, or the food, or the lack of the British Consulate. That is until he is magically turned into a dragon and he discovers, almost too late, the negative aspects of his personality and is saved by Aslan after he repents of his past ways. I love the part of the story where he is clawing at his skin causing it to shed like a snake, but is unable to get his dragon scales off by himself.

"Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off -- just as I thought I'd done it myself the other three times, only they didn't hurt...Then he caught hold of me... and threw me in the water. It smarted like anything, but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I'd turned into a boy again" (89-90).

As a Christian I've always appreciated Eustace's troubles. He thought he was smart and could handle things himself. But when it came to saving himself, he couldn't do it. He needed Aslan, just like I need Jesus. I can never be good enough, smart enough, holy enough to deserve his help either. I just have to be humble enough to accept his help

3. Stories of voyages and expeditions have always intrigued listeners and readers, whether to the north, west, south or — as here — east. Lewis uses The Voyage of the Dawn Treader to further explore the world made by Aslan — we will travel north, south and west in later installments — so, What do you think is the significance, if any, of this sea voyage towards the rising sun?

The sun rises in the East.  The Chronicles of Narnia are thought to be a Christian allegory and the scriptures often refer to the sun and to God's light as a metaphor for God's divine nature, and to Christ's return coming from the East (Matthew 24:27.) I think Lewis was relying on these types of scriptures as symbols Christians might recognize. This is the first of the Narnia books where Aslan alluded to his presence on earth, not as a lion but as a savior nonetheless. Lucy is pacified by this declaration. 

In the book Planet Narnia author Michael Ward proposes that Lewis intentionally designed each of the seven books in the Narnia series to be ruled/dominated by characteristics of the different planets. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is therefore dominated by characteristics of the sun or Sol. This interesting article about Sol (Planet Narnia) talks about the characteristics of Sol (Apollo) which seem relevant to the book:

  • "His sphere was the heaven of theologians and philosophers and produced the noblest metal, gold." -- See chapter VIII, Two Narrow Escapes.
  • "Sol burns away base considerations of greed and profit." -- See chapter VI, The Adventures of Eustace.
  • "Sol brought about fortunate events." -- See chapter IX, The Dufflepuds Made Happy, et al.

Well, what do you know? Just spending a little more time answering the questions and analyzing the text has brought me back around. This was and remains an awfully good story. And after the death of a dear relative this past week, it does my heart good to think of Dom bathed in Aslan's (God's) bright light in His Kingdom. 

Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Rose City ReaderShare the opening quote from current book.
e Friday56 is hosted at Freda's VoiceFind a quote from page 56 to share. 

Visit these two websites to participate. Click on links to read quotes from books other people are reading. It is a great way to make blog friends and to get suggestions for new reading material.  



Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Super Past Due Review: ORDINARY GRACE (with a discussion question)

Back in 2017 my book club read Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger. Since that time whenever we reminisce about book club choices which we all thoroughly enjoyed, this book comes up at, or near the top of the list. For some unknown reason, I never wrote a review for it and decided to rectify that problem now.

As I was preparing to write the review I realized that I had forgotten many of the details of Ordinary Grace. All I could remember was the barest outline. Therefore, a re-read seemed in order and, boy, was that a good choice.

As you know if you are a reader of this blog, we had a tragic death in our family this past week. My cousin's son-in-law, Dom, whom we considered a nephew, was killed in the line of duty as a SWAT officer for the Sheriff's department. His wife, my 2nd cousin, is the choir director at our church. Everyone in that community, as well as in my family, has been plunged into deep inconsolable grief. All of us have been grappling for purchase as we try to right ourselves emotionally. In the midst of this tremendous grief I found myself reading (actually listening to the audiobook) Ordinary Grace about a family who is also grappling with their own grief after the death of their daughter/sister. 

The story is set in 1961 in a small town in Minnesota. The Drum family is made up of Nathan Drum, the pastor of a Methodist Church which is located across the street from their home; the mother, Ruth, is the choir director and a talented musician; the daughter, Ariel, is also a talented musician, on her way to Julliard in the Fall; Frank, a thirteen-year old boy is the narrator of the story; and Jake, the youngest boy with a severe stuttering problem. The story opens after the death of young boy in town. He was killed by a train as he sat on the railway trestle. His death was the first of several deaths, murders, suicides that the small town experienced that summer. But it was Ariel's death that brought such turmoil and finally grace to the Drum family.

And as grace arrived for the Drums, or at least made its entrance into the story line, it also did for me in my present situation.

The Biblical definition of 'grace' is understood by Christians to be a spontaneous gift from God to people – "generous, free and totally unexpected and undeserved" – that takes the form of divine favor, love, clemency, and a share in the divine life of God. The Drum family found grace in a series of small miracles after Ariel's death.

Just days after Ariel is discovered, the father insists on preaching a sermon the following Sunday. What he said in that sermon felt like it was written for me, just me, grieving Dom's death.

The sermon begins with Pastor Nathan Drum talking about the Easter Story. Not the resurrection part, but the abandonment part, where Jesus was left alone on the cross to die and he called out, "Father, why have you forsaken me?" Pastor Drum confessed he felt the same way, wondering why God had abandoned him. Yet, he said, when we get to that point what we want to do is blame God for our misery. But instead there needs to be a change in focus.

 “I will tell you what’s left, three profound blessings. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Saint Paul tells us exactly what they are: faith, hope, and love. These gifts, which are the foundation of eternity, God has given to us and he’s given us complete control over them. Even in the darkest night it’s still within our power to hold to faith. We can still embrace hope. And although we may ourselves feel unloved we can still stand steadfast in our love for others and for God. All this is in our control. God gave us these gifts and he does not take them back. It is we who choose to discard them.”

“In your dark night, I urge you to hold to your faith, to embrace hope, and to bear your love before you like a burning candle, for I promise that it will light your way.”

Our church congregation gathered for a prayer vigil just hours after we learned of the shooting. At the time I prayed fervently for a miracle, which I pictured as a return to health.

The next night our church congregation again returned for another prayer vigil, this time armed with the knowledge that his injuries were not compatible with life. This time I prayed that the miracle I sought in my earlier prayers would still happen but this time in the lives of those touched by Dom's life. Because of my prayers for miracles these words from the sermon really jumped out at me--

 “And whether you believe in miracles or not, I can guarantee that you will experience one. It may not be the miracle you’ve prayed for. God probably won’t undo what’s been done. The miracle is this: that you will rise in the morning and be able to see again the startling beauty of the day.” 

Eventually the fragmented, grieving, almost torn-apart Drum family found their miracles. They were not huge, monumental, bringing-Lazurus-back-from-the-dead miracles, but small, quiet, yet quite profound moments that helped make the family whole again. Here the word grace is a play on the word, this time literally meaning a grace or blessing of a meal--

“That was it. That was all of it. A grace so ordinary there was no reason at all to remember it. Yet I have never across the forty years since it was spoken forgotten a single word.” 

At the end of the book when Frank, our narrator with the perspective of forty years, looks back on that life-changing summer of 1961 he realized a statement made to him by an old Native American man he met that summer was true:

The dead are never far from us. They're in our hearts and on our minds and in the end all that separates us from them is a single breath, one final puff of air.”

It is a comfort knowing that our dearly departed ones are but a single breath away from us. This truth brings great comfort to me right now and I pray it will do the same for Dom's widow, too.

What books have you read that seemed to come along at the exact right moment for you and your life circumstances? How did the book help you?


Monday, March 21, 2022

TTT: Books with adjectives in their titles

Top Ten Tuesday: Books with adjectives in their titles.

Adjectives are words that are used to describe or modify nouns or pronouns. For example, red, quick, happy, and obnoxious are adjectives because they can describe things—a red hat, the quick rabbit, a happy duck, an obnoxious person. This is the simple definition. But adjectives take many forms. Some common adjectives are formed when we add a suffix to a noun or verb. For example, when we add the suffix -ful to the noun beauty, makes the adjective beautiful, and adding the suffix -able to the verb read makes the adjective readable. I guess I shouldn't have any trouble finding examples in my recent reading selections.


1. The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich

2. Under a White Sky by Elizabeth Kolbert

3. The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

4. The Other Talk by Brendan Kiely

5. Black Birds in the Sky by Brandy Colbert

6. The Cold Millions by Jess Walter

7. The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah

8. The Midnight Library by Matthew Haig

9. Anxious People by Fredrik Backman

10. The Next President by Kate Messner



It's Monday. What Are You Reading?

Well, I'm not actually reading all these books, but the library thinks I can finish all these books in three weeks. I picked them up on Saturday and just laughed when I looked at my pile.

I'm actually finishing up two books:

  • Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis for Narniathon.
  • Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger for Super Late Reviews Challenge


Saturday, March 19, 2022

Sunday Salon: GRIEF

I've been thinking a lot about eternal life lately.

And miracles.

And about God and his promises.

I've also been swamped by grief.


When death comes calling it is hard not to think about these big, unknowable topics.

This week death knocked on our door when my cousin's husband, Dom Calata, whom we thought of as our nephew, a Deputy Sheriff, was killed in the line of duty. He was shot performing a heroic act to save his partner.

Our church congregation gathered for a prayer vigil just hours after we learned of the shooting. At the time I prayed fervently for a miracle, which I pictured as a return to health.

The next night our church congregation again returned for another prayer vigil, this time armed with the knowledge that his injuries were not compatible with life. This time I prayed that the miracle I sought in my earlier prayers would still happen but this time in the lives of those touched by Dom's life, and as I learned later, by the organs he was donating so that many other people could go on living. His final act of sacrifice.

A memorial for Dom in front of our church, Shep. of the Hill Presbyterian, Puyallup, WA. Prayers for Dom are said as the blue flags are placed on the cross.

Dom was one of the best men I've ever known -- the best of the best. Everyone we talked to felt the same thing. He just had that something special about him. He always made you feel like you were special when he was with you. And he was so loved. Tributes have been coming in from all over the country as his friends and colleagues have learned about his death.

Wracked with grief and full of worry for Dom's wife and young son, I still managed to attend Bible Study via Zoom the next day. I honestly remember very little of our discussion but at the end Bev, our instructor, prayed a prayer written by Ann Voscamp. This prayer was written concerning the war in Ukraine but I glommed onto a few words about prayer itself. I even made the words into a little poster so I could share the words with my friends on Facebook. The words soothed me, knowing that I was doing something, even though it seemed so trite, to be praying for Dom, his family, our congregation, and all his colleagues and friends.

Click this link to read the whole prayer by Voscamp

Right now I am rereading a book I read many years ago for book club, Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger. I decided to reread it several months ago as part of my personal challenge to write overdue reviews for books I love but never reviewed. As I sat down to the task of writing that long overdue review, I realized that I had forgotten important details in the book and so decided to reread it. Yesterday I got to the section of the book where the father, a Methodist minister, delivers a beautiful sermon just days after his eldest daughter is found dead. The whole sermon, which is only about a page in length, just broke my heart but these words leapt off the page as I read them:

“In your dark night, I urge you to hold to your faith, to embrace hope, and to bear your love before you like a burning candle, for I promise that it will light your way.

 “And whether you believe in miracles or not, I can guarantee that you will experience one. It may not be the miracle you’ve prayed for. God probably won’t undo what’s been done. The miracle is this: that you will rise in the morning and be able to see again the startling beauty of the day.” -Wm. Kent Krueger

So we go forward, fumbling around in the dark, clinging to our faith, hoping that God's promises are true, holding hands with those we love, waiting together for the miracles that await us.

The City of Edgewood, where Dom Calata was assigned as an officer, has made a memorial with his squad car at city hall. The flags were lowered to half staff. As we drove up other community members were leaving flowers and all were crying, as were we.

A happy memory. Dom and Erin on their wedding day.