Wednesday, August 5, 2020

An Open Book: Beach Reads for August 2020

It's been ages since I linked up here with Carolyn et. al. for An Open Book.  But I've been doing a good bit of reading lately, so I thought I'd chime in.

Beach reads are always fun, and I'm spending the summer on the shore of Lake Champlain with my hubby, so you could say that all the books I read these days could fit into that category--even the ones that are more literary than the usual pop fiction "chick lit" that you think of when you hear that term.  I've read some good ones and some not-so-good ones.

First, one of the not-so-good.

I thought I would absolutely adore a novel with that title (after all, that's the name I gave to the title character of my own humble first novel); but I did NOT!  (I actually blogged about my disappointment in this book in this previous blog post, which you can read if you're interested.)  It was going to be just my cup of tea, I thought, as I began reading The Grace Kelly Dress: a multi-generational tale involving a wedding dress copied from the iconic gown worn by Grace Kelly when she married Prince Rainier.  But alas, I found it somewhat underwhelming.  I had trouble caring much about the characters, and when that happens, a book loses me.  It doesn't matter if the setting is spectacular and the plot intriguing; I need a character-driven story, and if I can't connect with the main players, I lose interest.  So I give this one 3 stars at most.

This next one, on the other hand, was a 5-star winner in my book (if you'll pardon the pun).

I had high hopes that The Yellow House would be just my cup of tea as well, and this time I was right: it WAS!  This absolutely beautifully written book (from page one, I was enthralled with the achingly lovely prose) is set in Ireland during "the Troubles," with a large cast of fleshed-out, engaging, believable characters.  There is a great love story included (always a key element in any novel I read), but thankfully, very little in the way of blush-worthy scenes of intimacy. There are plot twists that will shock you and keep you turning the pages.  And the Irish setting--'tis a complete delight for a Hibernophile like meself.  Many of the characters that populate this gem are practicing Catholics, and it was refreshing to have this be central to the book without being used to trash the Faith (as many modern secular works are apt to do).  Going to Mass is mentioned in passing, as if it's just the thing you do, of course; and that was a balm to this reader's soul.  I can give this book my highest form of praise by saying that I will most definitely be re-reading it sometime in the future.  It's that good--IMHO, as they say.

This next one was also simply wonderful. (Sorry, I forgot to take a picture of my copy with the lake in the background!)

See the source image

The Winemaker's Wife is another book that I will probably re-read at some point.  It's a WWII historical novel (and if you've come to this blog before, you know that I can almost never resist a good WWII novel), set in the Champagne region of France during the German occupation.  The story weaves a number of well-drawn characters' lives together.  There are Jews who live in constant fear of deportation and death; there are brave French Resistance heroes and despicable Nazi villains; and there are both witting and unwitting Nazi collaborators.  And throughout, there is the making of wine--which, if you know nothing about that (which I didn't) is very interesting in and of itself.  Again, there are touching love stories involved.  And Harmel exposes how wartime brings out the very best and the very worst in human beings, with life-altering--often heartbreaking
--consequences.  But ultimately, this is a story of courage and hope.  I highly recommend this one. (In fact, I liked it so much that I've just gotten another novel by this author called The Room on Rue Amelie, set in WWII Paris.)

I am so in awe of the way some of these authors write!  What a gift it is to have the ability to use language so beautifully while at the same time crafting a complicated and meaningful story that stays with readers long after they've finished the last chapter.

The last one I want to mention would earn more than 5 stars, if that was allowed.  It's non-fiction (yes, I read that, too, sometimes).

You guys.  Humility Rules.  This one is so amazing.  I have devoured it in two sittings, and though it's a very quick read, it is anything but lightweight.  There is so much wisdom packed into this slim volume.  I think it's going to become part of my daily inspirational reading.  It outlines St. Benedict's Rules--in modern language that anyone can understand, with down-to-earth anecdotes and plenty of humor.  Even the illustrations are comical, yet they illustrate profound truths that followed faithfully can lead even the most humble sinner to sainthood.  I have been guilty of sometimes having feelings of worthlessness, of being far too self-deprecating; but that is not true humility, and it is not holy.  As J. Augustine Wetta writes, "Genuine self-esteem is a form of holiness, and holiness, in St. Benedict's eyes, is not about self-love but self-abandonment...To discover God's power in our lives, we need to climb the Ladder of Humility."  He goes on to describe and explain the 12 rungs of this ladder and how climbing it can lead to sainthood.  Incidentally, I became aware of this book via an Instagram post by one of the Catholic influencers I follow there...which makes me realize that all social media is not bad.  I need to curb my desire to scroll endlessly and waste too much time staring at my iPhone screen; but sometimes, I do come across information that could change my life for the better.  This book is proof of that.

My husband and I are spending the summer at his childhood home in Upstate NY--by the lake, as I already mentioned--tending to our Oyster Haven VRBO rental property just down the road.  We have framed pictures of the covers of my two novels hanging in that house.  I have been historically terrible at promoting and marketing my own works, and they had a relatively short run before they went out of print; but I thought advertising them at our rental might be a way to keep them alive.  Recently, my husband got this text from a guest, after he had spent a week at Oyster Haven with his wife and their grown kids and spouses (and also their toddler grandchild):

Well, you never know...He was probably just trying to be kind.  But I do hope that there will still be readers for these books.  In that vein, I published a post at my other blog (a blog that I set up to dedicate specifically to the topic of writing) today as well, if you want to pop on over.  It's "book club" day there (here, too, I guess!).

Enjoy the beach!  Enjoy books!  Or best of all, enjoy them together!  And don't forget to check out Carolyn's link-up for more book recommendations.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

August 2020 Resolutions

I have decided to drastically scale back on other forms of social media for the month of August, which should make it so that I have more time to devote to this poor old neglected blog of mine.

More time to read, too--not just Tweets and IG captions, but actual BOOKS. (Some of the ones I’ve finished recently and am currently reading will most assuredly make it into a future blog post.)

More time to get in shape, because the past month of too-little working out has not been very good for my stamina (or my waistline!).

July was an extremely busy month for us here at my husband's childhood home by Lake Champlain.  There were get-togethers with many members of our extended Pearl family, including nieces and nephews and great-nieces and nephews.  And best of all, we were able to spend a week at our Oyster Haven Vrbo house early in the month, with most of our own family (three of our boys and their wives, and 11 of our 16 grandkids).  When we get to use Oyster Haven to make family memories of our own, it makes all the work of running it as a rental property for others to enjoy worth it!

We also made a short trip back to VA late in July to reconnect with our kids and grandkids, with whom I got to enjoy some belated birthday celebrations.  (If turning 62 can be considered cause for celebration--ha ha!)  Missing our family--our gang down in VA, and our married son in OK--is the only downside to our summer life up here in Upstate NY.  Because other than that, things are pretty near perfect. Lake Champlain is literally in our back yard, and this is what we wake up to every morning.

I need the tranquility this lake provides, I really do.

We are living in terrifying times, and watching YouTube videos of the chaos and rioting in our cities (which I don't believe always show up on the mainstream media, but I see posted on Twitter) fills me with a feeling of despair.  Will we ever be okay again?  Will people who disagree politically ever be able to treat each other with respect?  With such drastic differences of opinion regarding vitally important issues (many on which we can’t really compromise), issues regarding faith, freedom, morality, and the right to life, can the Left and the Right ever truly live in harmony?   And even this: will the Catholic Church eventually have to go underground--literally underground--so that the faithful will not have to endure physical persecution?  (Because let's face it, emotional/psychological/media-driven ideological persecution already exists, and it's getting worse all the time.)

This blog has never been nor will it ever be a political platform.  But many of the issues some call "political" (such as abortion) are merely a matter of good v. evil, right v. wrong, and I don't even know how they end up being topics for heated discussion.  And I can't help but think that this Covid-19 crisis, like almost every aspect of life on planet earth these days, has been politicized.  I'm not nearly eloquent enough to explain how much I worry about the way this virus has changed the face of human interactions (do you see what I did there?--our faces are all changed via the masks); but I read this post by Melody Lyons at The Essential Mother Blog, and she expressed some of my innermost feelings better than I ever could.  If you have a few minutes, please read it.  She writes so beautifully, and as an individual who would be considered one of those particularly at risk from this virus, her words are exceptionally powerful.

That's it for today.  Just trying to scrape the rust off this blog site and get it back up and running again.  My husband and I are off to Mass now, at the church where we got married (it'll be 40 years ago this December!).  Some of the pews are roped off, and we have to wear masks as we walk in and out of the church and when we are in line to receive Communion; but at least, for now, we have an infinitely better option than watching the Mass live-streamed on TV.

Bye for now!  Happy Sunday!