The Ninth Daughter Saturday, Jan 9 2010 

Over the Christmas holiday, I read a new mystery that features Abigail Adams as the protagonist. Sometimes these types of mysteries (the ones that take historical figures and reshape them as “detectives”) can be less than satisfying, but I found The Ninth Daughter by Barbara Hamilton to be an enjoyable read on several levels.

The book was a good mystery, and I think that the author created a believable “mystery-solver” out of Abigail Adams. I think it helps that she is not the sole character investigating the mystery. She works closely with a British officer assigned to the case, and her work in seeking answers is believable for a woman of her times (and independent spirit).

I also felt that the author did a good job of blending historical events with the mystery plot. The story takes place as tensions are growing in Boston over the tea-tax and the Boston Tea Party is the culminating historical event of the novel, but overall the history functions as background to the mystery. I think the author successfully sets the reader inside the limited perspective of the characters, who, of course, have no idea how these momentous events will pan out.

Finally, I think that the author portrayed the daily life, work, and mindset of a colonial woman in a believable and fascinating way. While Abigail Adams pursues answers about a gruesome murder as well as about the disappearance of a dear friend, her work as a colonial wife and mother must go on. I found the description of laundry day in particular to be interesting and sobering — it made me thankful for washing machines, which truly do function as our modern-day servants! Abigail has a servant who works alongside her and also is able to care for her children while she seeks after a murderer (her habit of doing this is connected to the title of the novel), but Abigail certainly carries her fair share of the work in a colonial household, descriptions of which made me feel exhausted and fascinated at the same time! I also found Abigail to be a character of her times — her view of herself, her husband, and her faith are realistic to a woman living in the 18th century. By historical accounts, Adams was a forward-thinking woman, yet I never felt that the author was imposing modern values and thoughts on her.

If you enjoy mysteries and history, I would recommend The Ninth Daughter by Barbara Hamilton. I’ll be keeping an eye out for forthcoming mysteries in this new series.

Perseverance Monday, Oct 26 2009 

“The central reality for Christians is the personal, unalterable, persevering commitment God makes to us. Perseverance is not the result of our determination, it is the result of God’s faithfulness. We survive in the way of faith not because we have extraordinary stamina but because God is righteous, because God sticks with us. Christian discipleship is a process of paying more and more attention to God’s righteousness and less and less attention to our own; finding the meaning of our lives not by probing our moods and motives and morals but by believing in God’s will and purposes; making a map of the faithfulness of God, not charting the rise and fall of our enthusiasms. It is out of such a reality that we acquire perseverance.”

~ Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction

Recent Reading Friday, Jul 31 2009 

On our beach vacation this month, I took along two books, one that I’d been working my way through for two months, and another that I knew would be a lighter read.

Crime & PunishmentI’ve been reading Crime & Punishment for my book club (the selection for June and July), and though I have an English degree and love to read, I must admit that I found this book to be one that I had to push myself to read. It’s the story of man who commits a murder (motivated by a theory he has of great men being excused from the morals that govern the rest of mankind), and who is then tormented by his own mind and yet also redeemed through his suffering as he experiences the consequences of his actions. I felt that it was one of those situations where I needed a great professor to open the brilliance of the novel to me. I’ve had that happen before (the book that stands out is Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises), and I wished as I was reading that I could have had that happen with this one. While I thought that Dostoevsky had insights into human nature, I felt that I remained detached while reading this book. I fully admit that this is my deficiency rather than the book’s. So I’m glad I read it (I haven’t read much of the Russians), but I don’t know that this one will take a treasured spot on my bookcase.

The Importance of Being KennedyThe other book I read was The Importance of Being Kennedy by Laurie Graham. I had come across this one in a bookstore, and since I had read a short biography of the Kennedys this past year as part of the 8th grade curriculum, I was more intrigued by this novel than I might otherwise have been. The novel is narrated by a fictional nanny who works for the Kennedys for many years, entering their lives soon after the birth of the oldest son and remaining connected with them through the second World War and the deaths of two of the grown children. While I found the end to be a bit unsatisfying (it felt like it just puttered to a stop), I really enjoyed this book overall and found it to be perfect beach reading. I felt that the author did a great job with the narrator’s character — she feels like a rounded character, yet mostly remains of secondary interest in the novel as she tells the story of this driven family.

“The Drinking of Tea” Wednesday, Feb 18 2009 

cup-of-tea1

“In the kitchen at the back of the house there was a packet of green beans that needed to be washed and chopped. There was a pumpkin that was not going to cook itself. There were onions to be put in a pan of boiling water and cooked until soft. That was part of being a woman, she thought; one never reached the end. Even if one could sit down and drink a cup of bush tea, or even two cups, one always knew that at the end of the tea somebody was waiting for something. Children or men were waiting to be fed; a dirty floor cried out to be washed; a crumpled shirt called for the iron. And so it would continue. Tea was just a temporary solution to the cares of the world, although it certainly helped. . . . Most problems could be diminished by the drinking of tea and the thinking through of things that could be done while tea was being drunk. And even if that did not solve problems, at least it could put them off for a little while, which we sometimes needed to do, we really did.”

~ Mma. Precious Ramotswe (Blue Shoes and Happiness by Alexander McCall Smith)

Recommended Reading Thursday, Jul 31 2008 

Here are a few of the good books I’ve been reading this year. I read several of them for the book club that I’m part of.

Peace Like a River (Leif Enger) ~ This book now ranks as one of my favorites. And yet I don’t think I would have ever picked it up without its being suggested as a book club selection. It’s set in the Midwest, and the narrator is an asthmatic 11-year-old boy (who reminds me somewhat of Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird). After his older brother is accused of murder, Reuben and his father and sister set out to search for him. This book has a great storyline and also has strong themes of love and belief and miracles seamlessly woven in. The author credits his years writing for NPR for his honed writing skills; his faith also comes through in an authentic way.

Unaccustomed Earth (Jhumpa Lahiri) ~ Jhumpa Lahiri is my favorite modern-day author; this is Lahiri’s third book and her second collection of short stories. While her first set of stories (Interpreter of Maladies) dealt mostly with Indian-Americans attempting to adjust to new cultures, this book focuses more on the children of immigrants as they struggle with imposed expectations (from family, friends, etc.) and their own preferences. I loved the Nathaniel Hawthorne quote that Lahiri included at the beginning: Human nature will not flourish, any more than a potato, if it be planted and replanted, for too long a series of generations, in the same worn-out soil. My children have had other birthplaces, and, so far as their fortunes may be within my control, shall strike their roots into unaccustomed earth. Whenever I read Jhumpa Lahiri, I feel that I’m reading a master of the short story.

Dearest Friend (Lynne Withey) ~ I read this biography while Jeff and I were watching the HBO miniseries “John Adams.” I don’t read many biographies, but I found this one to be readable and fascinating. I was most struck by how different life was several hundred years ago. I think the author did a great job of capturing a woman who was independent, forward-thinking, and very traditional. I also highly recommend the miniseries.

More Love to Thee (Sharon James) ~ When I was a teenager, I read Stepping Heavenward, a novel by the subject of this biography, Elizabeth Prentiss (who also wrote the hymn “More Love to Thee”). I found this biography to be a good complement to that book (which is somewhat autobiographical). Like the Abigail Adams biography, I was again struck by the many difficulties of life in previous centuries. A friend passed this book on to me, and after reading it I agree with her observation that this book is a good portrait of a Christian woman who lives out her faith in the context of her family and local church (Prentiss’s husband was a pastor). Many biographies of Christian women are about missionaries, which is great, but it’s nice to find a biography about a woman whose life was not necessarily adventurous but faithful nonetheless.

I Capture the Castle (Dodie Smith) ~ How can you resist a book that opens with the line, “I write this sitting in the kitchen sink”? 🙂 I reread this book (for the third time?) this summer for book club. This book remains one of my favorite “whimsical” novels. It’s a coming-of-age story set in the 1930s. Cassandra, who is attempting to learn to be a writer, lives with her wacky family in a run-down English castle. An American family moves in nearby, setting in motion the plot of this story. This book has laugh-out-loud moments and charming quotes (Noble deeds and hot baths are the only cures for depression. ; The idea of herbs is so much more exciting than the look of them.)

Are there books you’ve read this year that you’d recommend?

Reading Group Saturday, Feb 9 2008 

The first time I belonged to a reading group was in grad school, and I loved it. After I left school and moved home to Virginia, I never settled into new one for any solid length of time, and I missed being part of one. But now, here in Louisville, a friend and I have started a new reading group that’s off to a great start. Granted, we’re only three months in, but I have a good expectation that this group will continue to flourish. We consist of about 10 women so far, and we meet for a few hours once a month on Saturday mornings. We read mostly fiction, with perhaps a few other genres to be thrown in on occasion. So far our choices have been The Kite Runner (December), The Namesake (January), and, for this month, Peace Like a River by Leif Enger, a wonderful book that I’m halfway through and which has echoes of To Kill a Mockingbird.