Best Bird Pictures July 22

wood ducks in hiding
female ruby-throated hummingbird
belted kingfisher

Mottled Duck
Mottled Duck

Red-shouldered Hawk
Hawk
belted kingfisher
Eastern Phoebe
Adult Red-headed Woodpecker and Juvenile
Juvenile Red-headed Woodpecker
female ruby-throated hummingbird
Male Red-bellied Woodpecker
Brown-headed Nuthatch

Favorite Books of 2022 (so far)

For the first half of 2022, I read 89 books (which I know is rather extreme, even for me). Instead of waiting until the end of the year to round up my favorites, I decided to put together a list from the first half of the year. I list all the books I read each month on one of my goodreads groups–the good, the bad, and, yeah, the ugly–but I will only list my favorites here. Two of the books I already reviewed in my posts on reading prize-winning books, so feel free to skip those two (unless I haven’t already convinced you to read them).

These are books that are new to me (no rereads), and I’m listing them in the order I read them.

First up, an audio book I started during the Christmas season but didn’t finish until January: Christmas Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella (narrator Nathalie Buscombe). Really enjoyed listening to the shenanigans of Becky Brandon nee Bloomwood. She is to host the family Christmas for the first time which is stressful enough, but everyone in her family (along with her best friend) has ideas from what to serve and how to make it to everything in between. Before long, hardly anyone is speaking to one another, but Becky is determined to make everyone happy and have the best Christmas ever.

Firekeeper’s Daughter Angeline Boulley YA; indigenous; mystery. (Since I read this book it has won several awards, including the Edgar for Best Young Adult Novel, 2022). Danuis Fontaine is an unenrolled tribe member (this is important) who has a hard time fitting in with either her hometown or the nearby Ojibwe reservation. She was a star hockey player on her high school team and now wants to study medicine, but decides to enroll at a community college, so she can stay home to help her mother and grandmother. When she witnesses a murder, she is forced to help the FBI with their investigation of drug dealing on the reservation.

The Broken Girls by Simone St. James St. James. St. James is a favorite author and I greatly enjoyed this one. A dual timeline in Vermont–one in 1950 & the other 2014. Idlewild Hall is a boarding school for unwanted girls in 1950. Amid rumors that it is haunted, one of the girls disappears and little attempt is made to find her.
In 2014, journalist Fiona cannot stop thinking about the murder of her sister though it has been 20 years. The murderer was found and is in prison, but she still feels there is more to the story. Good suspense with St. James’ usual air of creepiness.

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell; Winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2020. (Reviewed earlier in prize winning post). I’ve read two books by O’Farrell and loved them both, so plan to read more soon. This one is based on the life of William Shakespeare and his family. Shakespeare had twins, Judith and Hamnet. We know Hamnet died when he was 12 but little else. The rest of this story comes from O’Farrell’s vivid imagination.

Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr was a finalist for the National Book Award for Fiction in 2021. I’ve read plenty of books with a dual time-line but this was different in several ways. There are three stories told: one in Constantinople in the fifteenth century; one in present-day Idaho; and one on an interstellar ship decades in the future. The common links between these stories are books, stories, and libraries. I did write down the time-lines and main characters on an index card until I got them straight in my head. Once I got into the story though, I enjoyed the ride.

City of Brass S.A. Chakraborty. The first in a trilogy, Nahri doesn’t believe in magic in spite of the unusual powers she has and uses as a con woman in 18th century Cairo. When she accidentally summons a djinn warrior, she’s has no choice but to accept the fact that there is more to the world than she knows or believed.

Running for their lives, Nahri learns not only are their many creatures she had previously known nothing about, there are places as well, and one of them, Daevabad, the city of brass has a hold on her and the djinn is bringing her there; like it or not.



This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger. It’s the summer of 1932 in Minnesota where Native American children are forcibly taken from their parents and placed in the Lincoln Indian Training School. Albert and Odie, orphan brothers, are two white faces who are also there. Albert tries to live peacefully, but Odie stays in trouble, no matter what the punishment. As things grow worse for Odie, tragedy happens and the brothers, along with their mute friend, Mose, steal a canoe and head for the Mississippi, hoping to find a real home. To make their situation more complicated, they also bring Emmy, a small girl who has troubles of her own.

After taking a few weeks to read the first 200 pages, I flew through the last 250 in a few days. The book is not hard to get into–just such depressing subject matter, I had to put it down a few times. I didn’t think those kids would ever get a break! Overall, I really enjoyed it and appreciate the research Krueger did to give a good picture of the Depression years and the shame of the “schools” for indigenous children.

The Lost Man Jane Harper. Three brothers are working to make a living in the harsh Australian desert. One of them is found dead from the heat. What makes his death suspicious are two things: one, he knew the area and the dangers. Two, his car was nearby, fully stocked with food and water and started up with no problem. Intense family drama as everyone looks at each other with growing suspicion.

The Impossible Us Sarah Lotz Since I put this on hold with Libby, I’m sure I heard about it somewhere but had forgotten why by the time I got it. The good thing about that is, I didn’t really know what it was about and it took me by surprise in a good way. Nick, a failed writer and husband, sends off an angry email. Bee, a serial dater and dress maker, receives it. She’s not the intended recipient but she responds anyway. Some snarky banter ensues and soon Nick and Bee become friends. Eventually they discuss meeting in person, but both are concerned about messing up a good thing. Once they finally agree, it turns out they were right but in a way they could never have imagined. The only other thing I will say about this story (since some people avoid all things fantastical) is that it involves magical realism? Or something. I loved it, but if that’s not your thing, there’s the warning. Definitely not your typical romance.

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis. I reviewed this book in an earlier post about prize winning books, so this is a repeat for all you faithful readers. Feel free to skip to next book.This book won the Hugo Award for Best Novel 1993; Nebula Award for Best Novel; and Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel.
Doomsday Book was a bit of a slog at times, but overall, I enjoyed it. A book of time travel where a young woman, Kivrin, is sent to the Middle Ages, but, unfortunately, lands in 1348, the beginning of the Black Death. Meanwhile, back in London, an unknown virus breaks out and quarantine is placed around Oxford, making it impossible to find out what has happened to Kivrin, never mind bringing her back. I loved the characters and was amused at some of the predictions Willis made back in the 90’s (in her world, the only improvement on phones was a visual and this was supposed to be in the 2050’s), and the way a pandemic was handled in this futuristic England. The descriptions of the Black Death made me thankful the pandemic we are facing, as bad as it is, is hardly so grim.

The Night She Disappeared by Lisa Jewell. Dual time-line but only two years apart. In 2017, Tallulah goes out with her boyfriend and father of her baby, leaving the baby with her mother, Kim. They never come home. The next morning, Kim frantically begins to look for her daughter but all she learns is that she was last seen going to a party in the woods called Dark Place.
In 2019, Sophie has just moved to the area with her boyfriend who is the new head teacher at a boarding school. Going for a walk, she finds a sign with an arrow, saying, “Dig here.”
I listened to the audio which is excellent and narrated by Joanne Froggatt of Downton Abbey fame. Great suspense and family drama.

So, the first half of the year has brought me some fun, suspenseful, and entertaining reading. I’m looking forward to finding and finishing more great books for this year, and believe I might break my own personal reading record. I know I will hit 100 soon and that’s at least a month before last year.

How is your reading life shaping up in 2022?

My Best Bird Pictures in June 22

Great Blue Heron having a snack
Bank swallow
Eastern phoebe
Great Blue Heron
Blue Grosbeak
Red-winged Blackbird
Male Eastern Towhee
male goldfinch
Fledgling bluebird and dad

“And God said, ‘Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.'” Genesis 1:20

Reading Prize Winners: Part Two

I wrote in a previous post of the twelve prize-winning books I challenged myself to read this year and gave a quick review of the first three I read. Here are the next three.

Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2000. It also won the Puddly Award for Short Stories in 2001 and the PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Novel in 2000. This group of short stories portray the immigrant experience, specifically those from India to the U.S. Usually in a group of short stories, there are not only some I like more than others, there are a few I may not like it all. This book proved the exception as I found every story well-written and enjoyed them all.

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke won the Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2021. This is an odd little book (which, in fairness, I knew going in), but I can’t say I ever really warmed to it. I would have liked to have read this with a group, as I am sure it could generate some good conversation, but in spite of its short nature, I believe it would be a hard sell for the two groups I am currently in.

For most of the book, there are only two characters. Piranesi is the narrator of the story and he lives in a building which seems to be a never-ending maze. If that’s not enough, it is built on (in?) an ocean and knowing and understanding the tides is critical. Piranesi has lived there long enough to find his way around and to understand the tides.

The other character doesn’t live there but visits Piranesi twice a week to ask Piranesi to help him with some research. Piranesi only calls this man “The Other”. When Piranesi finds evidence of the existence of another person, things begin to change between P and The Other; and not in a good way.

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis won the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1993 as well as the Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel. It also won the Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1992.

I admit, Doomsday Book was a bit of a slog at times, but overall, I enjoyed it. A book of time travel where a young woman, Kivrin, is sent to the Middle Ages, but, unfortunately, lands in 1348, the beginning of the Black Death. Meanwhile, back in London, an unknown virus breaks out and quarantine is placed around Oxford, making it impossible to find out what has happened to Kivrin, never mind bringing her back. I loved the characters and was amused at some of the predictions Willis made back in the 90’s (in her world, the only improvement on phones was a visual and this was supposed to be in the 2050’s), and the way a pandemic was handled in this futuristic England. The descriptions of the Black Death made me thankful the pandemic we are facing (as bad as it is) is hardly so grim.
Interesting that there are so many extremely negative reviews on goodreads for this book that won so many awards. I think sometimes people try too hard to read books that just aren’t right for them. Or maybe they just enjoy writing negative reviews.
5 stars for me.

Reading Prize Winning Books: Part 1

One of my personal reading challenges for 2022 has been to read some books that have won different awards through the years. I chose twelve, rather randomly (but mostly based on books I already own). The prizes include Pulitzers, a couple of Hugos, and a Booker. At almost the halfway point of the year, I have read six. In this post, I will list the first three I read and give a brief synopsis and review. The whole list can be found on my goodreads annual reading challenge in the group “On the Same Page”.

In January, I read Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, an Orange Prize winner in 2007. The Orange Prize (now known as the Women’s Prize for Fiction) is awarded annually in the United Kingdom to a female author of any nationality for the best original full-length novel. Adichie’s historical fiction novel tells of the struggle in Nigeria in the 1960’s when Biafra tried to assert their independence. The characters make the story come to life though like any story concerning war, very sad and heart-breaking.

In February, I read Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell, winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2020. I throughly enjoyed O’Farrell’s take on Shakespeare’s family life. Known details of Shakespeare’s family are sparse, but the fact that he had twins and that one of them, Hamnet, died as a young boy is well-known. O’Farrell takes this family tragedy and brings the characters and the Elizabethean time period to life. Even knowing this would be a tough read (the death of a child), I found the writing beautiful and the characters and their relationships with each other skillfully drawn. I read my first book by O’Farrell last year & thought it was amazing, so I definitely plan on reading the rest of her backlist.

In March, I read Silver Birch, Blood Moon, a fantasy anthology edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling. This won the World Fantasy Award for Best Anthology in 2000. I would say these are “dark fairy tales” but I think unless they’ve been Disneyfied, all fairy tales are fairly dark. I enjoyed these stories, written mostly by familiar authors but several were new to me. Who knew there could be so many takes on The Frog Prince?

I’ll report on the next three I’ve read next week.

Wood Ducks

Finding and watching wood ducks has been a fun part of birding this season. These ducks travel together in pairs and small groups and live in wooded swamps or marshes. They don’t nest on the ground, but in holes in trees or in nest boxes put up for their convenience. Though this might seem strange, these ducks have strong claws that can grip bark and allows them to perch on branches (or boxes). I have seen them come in and out of these boxes, but I have yet to see any young ones. Since the wood duck is the only North American duck to have two broods in one year, I am still hopeful!

How do the ducklings get out of the box or tree when they hatch? The mother calls them and leads the way, but otherwise, they are on their own. At her call, they jump out of their nest–either directly into the water or they waddle their way there. The ducklings are able to jump from heights of over 50 feet. Those little legs don’t seem capable of that, but they’re stronger than they look.

Enjoy the pictures of these beautiful birds and, hopefully, I will post more before summer’s end.

“At Calvary” One Man’s Testimony

mockingbird

One of my favorite articles of the magazine, Christianity Today, is always at the end and titled simply “Testimony”. The testimonies display God’s amazing grace in how He saved a certain person in some kind of unique way. I know some people who were saved at a young age (such as myself) and spent most of their life in church feel slightly intimidated by powerful testimonies. They believe their testimonies are boring in comparison and feel they don’t have much to share concerning the grace and mercy of God. But we shouldn’t feel that way, and reading these miraculous stories always puts me in awe of God’s love and power and encourages me that He is always working, even in those we might think could never be saved and changed.

Years I spent in vanity and pride

Caring not my Lord was crucified,

Knowing not it was for me He died

On Calvary.

Listening to the words of this hymn made me wonder about the testimony of the person who wrote them. I learned that William Newell had been a young man whose pastor father despaired he would ever turn to Christ. His father wrote to R.A. Torrey, president of Moody Bible Institute, asking him to take his son as a student. He told Torrey that his son’s life was “really messed up” and hoped that going to the Bible Instiute would change his life. Though he sympathized, Torrey responded that Moody was not a reform school, and they couldn’t take his son. The father did not give up. After many letters, pleading his cause, Torrey finally relented and said he would take the boy, but he must agree to visit him every day and to abide by the rules of the institute.

By God’s Word at last my sin I learned

Then I trembled at the law I spurned

Till my guilty soul imploring turned to Calvary.

Newell did abide by the rules and God changed his life. Some years later after acquiring degrees from Wooster College and Princeton and Oberlin Theological Seminary, he became the assistant superintendent at Moody Bible Institute as well as the pastor of Bethesda Congregational Church.

Now I’ve given to Jesus everything

Now I gladly own Him as my king

Now my raptured soul can only sing of Calvary.

In 1895 while Newell was on his way to teach a class, the thoughts of his testimony and how God had saved him became so clear to him, he stopped in an empty classroom and began to jot down the words to this future hymn on the back of an envelope. As he continued on to his class, he ran into Daniel Brink Towner, the director of music at the institute. Newell gave him the words he had just written and asked him to come up with a tune for them. By the time Newell had finished his lecture, Towner had a tune and they sang the song together.

O the love that drew salvation’s plan!

O the grace that brought it down to man!

O the mighty gulf that God did span at Calvary.

(Refrain) Mercy there was great and grace was free

Pardon there was multiplied to me

There my burdened soul found liberty at Calvary.

What a beautiful, yet simple way to share a testimony! As all of us, at one time, he was unaware and did not care that God had died for him. Yet at some point, God’s Word penetrated his heart and brought him to repentance and faith. I hope you will take time to listen to this song again and worship along with the Collingsworth Family.

Birding at MacAlpine Creek Park January 2022

I bought a journal to keep track of some of the birds I’ve seen and places I’ve visited, but like most of my journals, my writing in it has been haphazard at best. Since I still would like to keep some kind of record, I decided to start recording some of my adventures in this blog.

Reading that various ducks winter at MacAlpine Creek Park (in Charlotte,NC), I have made several visits in the past few months, hoping to see new waterfowl. So far, I’ve only seen mallards and Canadian geese. As much as I like to see these birds, I’ve been disappointed not to see anything new.

On my most recent trip to MacAlpine, I saw several types of birds and most excitedly, several I hadn’t seen there before (though not the waterfowl I expected). I started on my usual route to the marshy area where I have seen a great blue heron and an egret on several visits. Much to my disappointment, there was nothing there. Some mallards soon flew in, but I kept looking for the egret and heron. Then I noticed a bird sitting on a metal cross in the pond (I have no idea why that cross is there. Maybe someone can enlighten me.) Using my binoculars, I realized it was a kingfisher. A first time sighting for me. I took a few pictures and decided to go to the other trail I usually walk and maybe I would come back before I left to look one more time.

Belted Kingfisher

Just as I was leaving that area, a heron flew over my head and landed in a tree. I had never seen this bird in a tree (though I have since learned they nest in trees) and took several pictures from different angles.

Great Blue Heron
Great Blue Heron

I made my way back to the front pond, hoping some ducks had shown up. I saw some white birds that looked like seagulls. And before anyone corrects me, I know gulls are not just “seagulls” but I confess that is still how I think of them. Anyway, I have never seen these birds at McAlpine before. They didn’t stay long. They were gone by the time I made my loop.

Ring-billed gull
Colony of Gulls

Walking along the other side of the marsh, I finally saw the egret. I guess the slightly warmer weather brought out the turtle.

Turtle and Great Egret

As I continued my walk, I saw something a bit strange up in a tree. I thought it might just be some trash (more than once I’ve trained my binoculars on a plastic bag), then thought maybe it was a nest of some sort.

Strange creature

You probably notice the beak, but I didn’t even see that at first. Once I saw the leg (that’s just one leg; the other is a branch), I realized it was a bird. Another heron. He was probably trying to take a nap, but I walked around him as close as I could and got quite a few shots even before he woke up and began his creaky cry.

Great Blue Heron

I usually see several downy woodpeckers at McAlpine but not this day. However, I did see two other types of woodpeckers. The first a red-bellied woodpecker who I always hear, even if I don’t see them. They are very noisy birds and that’s not counting their rat-a-tat-tatting on trees.

Red-bellied Woodpecker, male

While I was snapping pictures of this woodpecker, I heard another one drilling very loudly behind me. I’m always reluctant to turn from something I have discovered as I can quickly lose sight of them and a bird in a hand, etc. But, fortunately, I did turn around in time to see a pileated woodpecker. The first I’ve seen here.

Pileated Woodpecker

Last, but not least, I saw a couple of cardinals, a mockingbird, several eastern phoebes, a couple of tufted titmice, and, of course, a scurry of squirrels.

Male Northern Cardinal
Eastern Phoebe
Grey Squirrel

I saw a good variety that day and was pleased with what I saw, even though I still didn’t see any different ducks. I also talked to a couple of other birders who had seen a hawk at close range and was told by another birder of a barred owl that lives there. I’m still hoping to see that owl and get some good pictures of the hawks on future trips.

Tufted titmouse

My Favorite Books of 2021

It’s that time of the year when everyone is making lists of their favorites or what they consider the best of . . . My favorite reads from the past year are a bit all over the place since I read from many genres, but I suppose it’s no surprise that many of these are historical fiction. I’ve finished 142 books this year, but I didn’t try to pick out 21 of the best. (I came close though). These were not (necessarily) books published in 2021, but books I read in 2021. I will list them (in no particular order) along with a short review.

The Beacon of Alexandria by Gillian Bradshaw, first published in 1986.

Historical fiction taking place in the 4th century AD. A young woman wants to be a doctor, but women aren’t allowed to study medicine, so she disguises herself as a eunuch and leaves her home in Ephesus to go to Alexandria where she hopes to find someone who will take her on as an apprentice. She soon apprentices to a Jewish doctor, becomes caught up in church politics and has to flee again. This time she finds herself as an army doctor for the Romans, but life continues to be complicated. I have loved every book I have read by Bradshaw and this is no exception. Great characters and interesting historical background.

The Truest Pleasure by Robert Morgan (1995) takes place in North Carolina after the Civil War and into the 20th century. Ginny’s father has returned from the Civil War but keeping up their farm in the western North Carolina mountains is a huge task for the two of them. When she meets Tom (whose father didn’t return from the war), their attraction for each other and the land are enough for them to marry. Though Ginny wonders at times if Tom was really more attracted to her father’s land than her, they continue to work at their marriage. Their struggles come when Tom becomes obsessed with making money, and Ginny wants to spend time at Pentecostal tent meetings. Both see the other’s passion as foolishness.

The Night Watchman Louise Erdrich (2020; Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 2021). My first book by Lousie Erdrich. Erdrich based her story on her grandfather and his fight to stop a bill in Congress which wanted to terminate Native Americans in the name of freedom. It is 1953 and Thomas Wazhashk, a Chippewa Council member and a night watchman at a jewel bearing plant near the Turtle Mountain Reservation in North Dakota learns of a bill that threatens the rights of Native Americans to their land. He meets with others on the council to try and decide what they can do to stop this. Another main character, Pixie or Patrice, also works at the jewel bearing plant and desires to do something with her life besides get married and have kids. She has an older sister, Vera, who has disappeared in the city of Minneapolis, so Patrice decides to try to find her. What she finds is exploitation and soon needs to escape herself. Great characters and a fascinating story.

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O’Farrell (2013). I’ve heard a lot about O’Farrell (even before she won the Women’s Prize for Fiction last year), but this was my first book by her, and I couldn’t put it down.

While taking care of everyday business at her vintage clothing shop, Iris Lockhart receives a letter, then a phone call. Cauldstone Hospital is closing and they need to know what she wants to do with her great-aunt Esme. Iris is sure there is some mistake as she has never heard of this woman. She soon learns that her grandmother’s claims of being an only child were false and that her sister had been committed (and ignored) to this hospital over sixty years ago. Once she meets Esme and does some research, she is horrified to learn how little it took for a family to get rid of an unwanted and embarrassing relative. 

O’Farrell tells Esme’s story through flashbacks, some from Esme’s viewpoint and others through her sister’s whose mind is now clouded with dementia. I found her storytelling compelling and engaging, though, like Iris, I was also horrified to think of the many (mostly) women  who may have ended up in institutions such as this with no one to plead their cause. I will definitely be reading more from O’Farrell.

The White Woman on the Green Bicycle Monique Roffey (2009). This is the story of a marriage and also a snapshot of the history of Trinidad. I lived in Trinidad for a couple of years (the years portrayed at the end of the book) and I wish I had been able to read this then. I’m sure it would have given me a better understanding of the country’s history and politics.

Still, in spite of the unusual way it was told (the last years are told first), I found the story of George and Sabine compelling, sad, and relatable. From England, George is offered a job with his company in Trinidad and he promises his wife they will only be there for a couple of years. George immediately falls in love with the country, and Sabine–does not. She grits her teeth and determines to stick it out, but as the years go by, the strain is felt on their marriage. Fiction shortlist for Orange Prize in 2010.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January Alix E. Harrow (2019). Loved this stand alone fantasy. January is of mixed race and questionable origin being raised by a white man in London while her father travels the world finding unusual artifacts for this wealthy man. Is he a benefactor or a prison warden? January finds a door to another world early in her childhood but her guardian insists it is in her mind and when she goes back to find it, it has been destroyed. When January is 16, everything she knows is being questioned and her life and sanity become endangered. I could write more & more about this book, but if you want to read a good stand-alone fantasy, just read it!

Cutting for Stone Abraham Verghese (2009). Marion and Shiva Stone are twin brothers born in Ethiopia in 1954. Orphaned by their mother’s death and their father’s disappearance, they are raised by two doctors from the hospital where they were born, and not surprisingly, they both become interested in medicine though in different fields. Revolution and untold secrets cause Marion to have to flee to America where he learns more of his father’s history.
 

A fictionalized version of what might have happened when Agatha Christie first rode the Orient Express. Trying to escape the shame and hurt of her divorce, Christie rides incognito and soon meets two other women with secrets of their own. Together, they help each other out and even become involved in an archaeological dig when they reach Baghad.

I listened to several excellent audio books this year which was in no small part due to the excellent narrators. The first of my top five audio books: The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by Victoria Schwab (2020), narrated by Julia Whelan. In France, some 300 years ago, Addie is about to be married to a man not of her dreams. She runs into the forest and calls out for help though she has been warned never to call to the gods of the night. When a man in black offers to give her the life she wants in exchange for her soul, Addie gladly accepts, not understanding the consequences of such an agreement. She will have a (very) long life but will not be remembered by anyone who meets her.

Dark Tides by Philippa Gregory (2020), narrated by Louise Brealey. I reviewed the first in this two book series last year (Tidelands) which I also listened to on audio. Midsummer Eve 1670 at a warehouse on the River Thames, Alinor receives two unexpected visitors and neither are entirely welcome. James Avery is the lover who deserted her years earlier. The other is a Venetian woman who claims to be the widow of Alinor’s son, Rob. Alinor refuses to see the first and though outwardly she accepts the widow’s claims–inwardly, she does not believe her son is dead. Her daughter, however, is taken in by this glamourous Venetian, so Alinor must bide her time to learn what has truly happened to her son.

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah (2016). Though unfamiliar with Noah’s comedy routines, I had heard he read this memoir himself and did a great job. I totally agree that his reading was excellent and often humorous, but it is much deeper than just a comedy routine. Born to a black mother and a white father in apartheid South Africa, Noah’s birth was literally a crime. Noah tells what it was like growing up where his mother and grandmother often had to hide him to keep him from being taken away and themselves arrested. His mother plays a key role in his life and is a delightful character as well. Noah gets into many escapades, but his mother makes sure he gets an education and never wavers from making him learn and to always do his best.

When the Stars Go Dark by Paula McLain (2021), narrated by Marin Ireland (one of my favorite narrators). Anna is a missing persons detective. When a tragedy occurs in her life, she takes off and goes to a small town where she had felt comfortable and loved as a foster child in high school. One of the first things she sees there is a poster for a missing teen. Even though she is there to escape her own grief, she soon becomes involved in this case. She meets old friends and uncovers old secrets.

Honorable mentions: Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker (2018).

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (2012). Another that was excellent on audio. Narrated by Julia Wheland and Kirby Heyborne.

September by Rosamunde Pilcher (1990).

Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafron (2001).

Wintercombe by Pamela Belle (1988).

The last three were rereads, something I seemed to do more of this year. Happily, these three were still enjoyable and fun to read.

Happy New Year!

Looking on the Heart–A Book Review

Looking on the Heart is a commentary on 1 Samuel (a book in the Old Testament) by Dale Ralph Davis. I don’t think I’ve ever written a review on a commentary, but I’ve never read a commentary that so impressed and blessed me. Several reviews on goodreads mentioned how accessible and “easy to read” they found this commentary which is true but it is so much more.

1 Samuel is a book of history and prophecy, telling the stories of Samuel, a prophet and the last judge; of Israel’s first king, Saul; and the beginnings of their second king, David. Quite an important part of history for both Christians and Jews, but what does it have to do with us as Christians living in the 21st century?

From the beginning, Davis teaches that though we learn from all three main characters, we must be careful not to try and fit our own lives into what God was doing with them. What is important in reading any scripture is to learn what we can about God. “Once we see what scripture reveals about God we usually will see how it applies to us.” (p. 45) We are not prophets or kings, but in every story or happening, we can learn something about God in the way He interacted with His specially chosen people.

For example, in 1 Samuel 4 we read the story of the Israelites preparing to go to battle with the Philistines. Since the Philistines had just soundly beaten them (killing four thousand men), the Israelites decide to bring the Ark (a sacred artifact that represented God’s presence) into battle with them. The Israelites were not only beaten again, but they lost the Ark to the Philistines as well. So, what does this teach us about God? Mainly, that we can’t perform certain rituals or say the right words and expect God to perform for us. The Israelites didn’t seek God, and they demeaned the Ark by using it as a good-luck charm when going into battle.

“This is not faith but superstition. It is what I call rabbit-foot theology. When we, whether Israelites or Christians, operate this way, our concern is not to seek God but to control him, not to submit to God but to use him. So we prefer religious magic to spiritual holiness; we are interested in success not repentance.” (p.54)

We might read this story and think it doesn’t really apply to us because we don’t have an Ark to bring into battle, but if that’s all we see we will be missing the point. Do we not think if we ask God in a certain way or use just the right words or if we perform certain religious tasks (going to Sunday School, giving a tithe, etc), then surely He will respond to us and rescue us out of any situation?

Throughout this commentary, Davis points us to what God is doing–whether in the lives of Samuel, Saul, and David or in the nation of Israel. Learning more about God and His character is all we need from a commentary. Highly recommended.