Saturday, December 30, 2017

My Year in Books

I've crunched numbers this morning, and here's what my 2017 reading habits were:
I read 62 books (Goodreads says 63, but it's counting one it shouldn't for reasons I can't quite figure out).
88.7% of them were works of fiction, and of those, 30.9% were mysteries/thrillers.

I read 43 books on Kindle (formerly referred to by me as Spawn of the Evil Empire); 9 hardcovers, 2 paperbacks, 4 paperback advance reader copies, and listened to 4 via audiobooks.
19.3% of these were checked out from from either the Montgomery City-County Public Library or the Autauga-Prattville Public Library, some in hardcover, some in eBook format on my Kindle.
8 books came to me like manna from the sky: 2 through Goodreads' Giveaway promotions, 5 from Netgalley, and 1 borrowed from my sister-in-law.
I ditched 5 books this year(not included in the above number), 3 of which I intend to put back in rotation for another time. (Sometimes a book doesn't grab you when you grab it).
The oldest book I read was published in 1911, and the "newest" was an advance copy of one that will be published in 2018.
My five star books aren't all created equal(ly) well; they just struck me as the best of their sort when I read them, or maybe they were just the right book at the right time, but I believe they are of special merit to most readers. If one isn't comparing genre to genre, there are plenty of four star books that are better (in a critical literary way) than some of those with five stars.

(The top 5 are linked to my reviews. Other five stars are listed in no particular order.)

Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and Peoples Temple -Jeff Guinn, read by George Newbern

Fierce Kingdom - Gin Phillips

Educated: A Memoir - Tara Westover

I Liked My Life - Abby Fabiaschi

Wonder  (R.J. Palacio)
Rage Against the Dying  (Becky Masterman)
Keepers of the House  (Shirley Ann Grau)
The Last Ballad  (Wiley Cash)
The Risen  (Ron Rash)
The Lewis Man (Peter May)
The Scarred Woman (Jussi Adler-Olsen)
Robert B. Parker's Little White Lies  (Ace Atkins)
Before the Fall (Noah Hawley)
The Grownup (Gillian Flynn)
Olive Kitteridge (Elizabeth Strout)

(The "nearly fives" are linked to reviews, listed in no particular order.)

Dodgers - Bill Beverly

A Chance in the World  - Steve Pemberton

The Book Thief  (Markus Zusak)
If I Forget You (Thomas Christopher Greene)
Number the Stars (Lois Lowry)
Major Pettigrew's Last Stand (Helen Simonson)
The Best Kind of People (Zoe Whittall)
I Will Send Rain (Rae Meadows)
A Morbid Taste for Bones (Ellis Peters)
The Rules of Magic (Alice Hoffman)
The Dry (Jane Harper)
The Time Traveler's Wife (Audrey Niffenegger)
Eveningland: Stories (Michael Knight)
Love and Other Consolation Prizes (Jamie Ford)
Fear the Darkness (Becky Masterman)
Because of Winn-Dixie (Kate DiCamillo)
Edgar & Lucy (Victor Lodato)


I'm currently reading this one, and hope it'll be a great kick off to my list of books read in 2018!

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Why I Stood Up

I take a walk most days, a habit that I hope keeps me at least a bit healthier as I continue to age than I might otherwise be. Research seems to be consistently on the side of this activity even regarding its ability to promote cognitive and emotional well-being. That's certainly been the case for me, I think. My husband can testify that if I take too long a break from my regular walks, I'm a little pricklier than usual. I know I don't cope with stress as well as I used to without my walks. I think it has a lot to do with time spent just letting events and perceptions and new information process correctly in the brain.

Most of my walks are uneventful, although over the last few years I've had some that stood out. There was the time I got forced off the road by an inattentive motorist and came away with an injury that you're tired of reading about, but which left me forever changed. There was a morning I got cornered by a vicious dog, and couldn't make a move without it lunging at me, and was finally rescued by a couple I know from church. The second (and, likely, last) half marathon I walked concluded with a phone conversation with my mother, which would be the last time I ever heard her voice.

I took another walk last week that will always stand out for me. It was a walk up Montgomery's historic Dexter Avenue, from the Court Square Fountain that exists in close proximity to what was once Montgomery's slave market, past the Winter building from whence the telegram instructing Gen. Beauregard to fire on Ft. Sumter on April 11, 1861 was sent, past the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church that houses the pulpit from which Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., preached a message of peaceful resistance, to the steps of the Alabama Capitol building. At the top of that staircase is a star marking the spot where Jefferson Davis was sworn in as president of the Confederate States of America. I didn't need the reminder, but it is very true that no matter where you stand in downtown Montgomery, you stand on ground that was part of this country's darkest moments in history, as well as some that shone so bright they changed the world.

Last Sunday, August 13, I woke after a night of literal tossing and turning in bed. I don't often let what's happened in the world invade my sleep, but I could not shake the vision of scores of angry fellow citizens who assembled in Charlottesville, Virginia, some dressed in Nazi attire and sporting an assortment of firearms and combat gear,  others waving the flag of the Confederacy, shouting that they intended to take back America. As horribly distressing as it was to hear about -- and then see footage of -- one of their sympathizers driving his car down a street crowded with people who were there to counter the protest with their own, striking and killing a woman and injuring scores of others, that's not what kept me awake. What kept me awake were the faces of raw hatred, no longer even concerned that they should hide those faces under sheets. What kept me awake was the tepid response of the President. What kept me awake was the support his response received from people I know. 

When I got out of bed Sunday morning, I opened Facebook and saw that there was a walk planned for that evening up Dexter Avenue. I checked the box saying I'd participate. After I had a cup of coffee and made plans to head to church I had begun to think maybe I wouldn't. I noticed that some groups whose agendas I can't really endorse were taking part, and began to worry that the focus of the walk would be lessened by a barrage of side issues (albeit issues that deserve attention).

I just wanted to walk because, as I went to bed Saturday night with the pictures of those Nazi flags in America in my head, I kept asking myself, "Where were the good Germans? Who were they? What did they do?"  Surely there were activists among them, but for the most part I think they probably did what I usually do:  they assumed that the movement they were witnessing was confined to a few loud people with an oddly charismatic leader. They assumed that the ideas they were hearing were so counter to human decency they'd not take hold. They allowed themselves not to wonder what might happen if they decided to just ignore it and hope it would die down on its own.

And then they were helpless to stop it, afraid to resist it, and became, by their silence, complicit in what is arguably the most wretched episode in the modern history of the Western world.

So, after a little more thought and prayer, and hearing my preacher's impassioned sermon calling us to "get out of the boat," I decided I would follow through. I was proud that my sons and my husband agreed to go, as well. So very, very proud.

The event was just as billed. There were folks from all walks of life, it seemed to me, about 150 of us (which is huge for what is ordinarily a pretty apathetic populace), mostly white. Some of the crowd wore shirts or buttons indicating their affiliation with various groups. My own "badge" was my t-shirt emblazoned with a quotation from 1 Corinthians ("Love never fails") and a cross around my neck, hoping to serve as witness for those who have come to believe otherwise, that there are still those of us for whom being a Christian means you'll know us by our love. When, at the terminus of the walk, people were invited to speak their minds, the messages never devolved into screed, never called for violence, never suggested anybody take up arms, never mentioned the president's name, never ridiculed people because of their political party or faith.

I am sure there were plenty of folks there whose causes I don't support, but that ultimately made no difference to me.  I took that walk in opposition to those who espouse cleansing of our nation until it fits their narrow, hateful vision of who is fit to be an American. I will walk abreast of anyone who feels the same way.

There was no singing, no "We Shall Overcome." Instead, we were encouraged to walk with people we didn't know. A young black man and I talked most of the way. He's not from here, and was surprised to know that I was born and raised here. He admitted to me that he came to Montgomery with a pretty firmly held idea that if you were a white person raised in the South, you were a racist, even if you were polite about it. I pointed out to him along the way the church my great-grandparents attended, which is across the street from Dr. King's church. My roots run deep here. I love my hometown. I want him to love my hometown.

I walked because I needed something to do with my outrage. After nearly a week's reflection, I'm left with nothing more articulate to say about why I took part than what a friend said about her experience.

"I don't show up thinking I will change the world by being there. I just hope somebody looks up and says "look at that nice old lady up there standing for what she believes. Maybe that's not such a bad idea!!"

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Best Stuff This Week

Spring showed up on the calendar this week, folks! Spring typically hangs around Montgomery for about 47 minutes, and then we just dive right on in to summer. But those 47 minutes are grand. 


One of the surest ways that we know it's spring in our household is when our new zoo membership cards arrive in the mail. I am not kidding you when I tell you that this is the best investment we make every year. If you have kids or grandkids -- even if your grandchildren only visit a couple times a year -- you won't find a better value anywhere. I mean it.  Our grandchildren have been utterly delighted by the new ringtail lemurs, and I am just holding my breath waiting for Stingray Bay to open!


I never, ever, ever win anything. Well, that's not exactly true, but I so seldom win anything that I can be forgiven for forgetting that it happened before it happens again. I'm using Goodreads to keep track of my reading these days, and especially to keep track of books I want to read. That's something I didn't really have to do much of all those years when my job including being the the same room with books every weekday. I mean, my TBR list was just there. One of the cool features of Goodreads is that once you've marked a book as something you want to read, you  begin to get notices of giveaways. It's really simple to enter, and of course the odds are usually pretty slim that you'll get one of, say, 10 copies of a book when 2,257 people have signed up for the same giveaway, but it does happen, and here's proof. 


I hope you can make out the hawk in this photograph. I had gone to feed my boss' dogs for her this morning, and on my way back saw this magnificent creature perched on the fence around the high school's parking lot that's near my home. I couldn't believe it was so still, and turned around to go back to find it still there. What I'd missed on the first pass was that the mate had just made a kill, to which it was attending on the ground.  I really do geek out over this stuff, y'all, but then I was raised on Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom and I still miss Marlin Perkins, who outgeeked every present day geek there is. If you'll click on that hyperlink, you'll see a particularly harrowing episode of that great show. But come back afterwards or I will just be crushed.


This was another sign of spring I discovered today. The tiller came out and this guy is getting around to do his planting. I'm not sure what's going in those beds this year, but I do hope I'll have some vote.  I need cucumbers. I really get to craving them this time of year, and I eat 'em whole. They are really good for you, and if you have any doubt about that at all, watch this.

 Note: When I posted this video, I couldn't help but notice that the screen shot is of Macka B. holding up some okra, which I also hope makes it into this year's garden. Just in case anybody's with a tiller is paying attention.....


I'm also out walking again, after a hiatus that has lasted too long. Part of that is down to having really zapped my ankle back in the fall and the impossibly long time it's taken to truly get it healed again, but it's at least 95%, and I expect that's as good as it's going to get. You work with what you have, and decide that it doesn't matter if you've gotten fat again (don't argue with me about that - I am owning it and naming it). Working with what I have, where I am means my walks aren't particularly challenging, and the best part of them is heading out to see what there is to see again. Yesterday I opted to head out to the Blount Cultural Park, where I used to get a fabulous cardio workout taking the "big hill" on the other side of the footbridge. I wasn't planning on doing that yesterday because I know I'm too out of shape, but when I saw that the footbridge was closed I was bummed! I hope it's a temporary thing, but the setting is still so pretty. 

After one short lap at Blount, I decided to check out Ida Belle Young Park again.  It provides a well-maintained flat walking track, and interesting glimpses at how nature gets along without us. In the streams that run through it, which serve as a filtration system and are therefore horribly littered, I spied several sets of nesting ducks and geese. The other thing I spied there were children on the playground with their parents -- all of whom were talking on their cellphones. Every single one of them. I can't go totally old-fogey on that, but I would very much wish those young parents could know how fast these days will be in the rearview mirror, with no way to go back. 


Before I go from preachin' to meddlin, it's time to stop and smell my own rose
delivered to me yesterday from my back yard by my gardener. 



And finally, this. This is the reason I write this blog, really. It's for the people I'll be part of who'll never know me, but who might find themselves curious about me somewhere down the road. 



Rage Against the Dying by Becky Masterman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Read on Kindle

Ex-FBI agent Brigid Quinn, in less talented hands than Becky Masterman, would have been the worst kind of caricature, but Masterman clearly figured out how to exercise the sort of restraint that would keep that from happening.

Rage Against the DyingQuinn has given up her career and married a gentle, widowed, retired priest, whose house"came with a set of Pugs, which are sort of a cross between Peter Lorre and a bratwurst." When, however, she is made aware that a man has confessed to being the serial killer suspected of being responsible for the disappearance of Quinn's protege years before, she gets caught up in the investigation.

This is not a novel for the squeamish, but if you've got marginally thicker skin there is so much here to really get excited about. Quinn is 58 (like me!) and she's kick-ass tough trying hard to soften her hard edges because she loves her husband so and wants this very different life to work out for herself.


1965 Pulitzer Prize Winner The Keepers of the House by Shirley Ann Grau
One final note. I have no idea why some of the text showed up blue. I've tried to fix it five times. 
Life's too short to go for number six.