Reading Prize Winning Books–Part 3

I’ll start by saying the next three books I read for my prize winning challenge were all on the heavy side. All well-written and I learned a great deal about different places and times, but not exactly uplifting.

The first, Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara won the Edgar Award for Best Novel in 2021. The Edgar Awards are given by the Mystery Writers of America and named for their patron saint, Edgar Allan Poe.

Nine-year old Jai lives with his family in India where there are too many people, dogs, and rickshaws. A smoggy sky blocks the sun, but from his doorway he can see the lights of the city’s high-rises where his mother works as a maid. Jai loves to watch reality police shows, so when one of his classmates goes missing, he enlists the help of his two best friends to try and find her. It almost seems like a game as they question people and gather clues, but when other children go missing, they begin to realize that something sinister is going on in their neighborhood.

This was a tough read but I’m glad I read it. The author worked as a reporter in India for many years. She was able to interview and talk with children who worked as scavengers or begged in the streets. She soon learned that around 180 children disappear in India every day, so she wrote this book to give them a voice and to make others aware of this problem.

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead. Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2020.

This story takes place in Florida in the 1960’s and is based on the history of a real reform school which operated there for 111 years. Elwood Curtis, abandoned by his parents but raised by his grandmother, Elwood believes the words of Dr. Martin Luther King–he is as good as anyone. Given an opportunity to enroll in the local black college, Elwood believes his future is bright, but when someone gives him what seems to be an innocent ride, his whole world comes crashing down.

Sent to the Nickel Academy, Elwood is hopeful that he can do his time, keep up his studies, and get out soon. Unfortunately, Nickel Academy is a place of nightmares rather than reform and hope. This is only my second book by Whitehead, but I love his writing and look forward to reading more of his books. The following quote is from Whitehead on how and where he got the idea for the book.

“This book is fiction and all the characters are my own, but it was inspired by the story of the Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Florida. I first heard of the place in the summer of 2014 and discovered Ben Montgomery’s exhaustive reporting in the Tampa Bay Times. Check out the newspaper’s archive for a firsthand look. Mr. Montgomery’s articles led me to Dr. Erin Kimmerle and her archaeology students at the University of South Florida. Their forensic studies of the grave sites were invaluable and are collected in their Report on the Investigation into the Deaths and Burials at the Former Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Florida. It is available at the university’s website.” Colson Whitehead


The Known World by Edward P. Jones. Won the Pulitzer for Fiction in 2004.

“A man does not learn very well, Mr. Robbins. Women, yes, because they are used to bending with whatever wind comes along. A woman, no matter the age, is always learning, always becoming. But a man, if you will pardon me, stops learning at fourteen or so. He shuts it all down, Mr. Robbins. A log is capable of learning more than a man. To teach a man would be a battle, a war, and I would lose.” Fern Elston

Wow! I enjoyed this much more than I thought I would. Again, another great piece of writing. Jones takes a few facts about Virginia in the early 1800’s & creates a county much as Faulkner did in his books. It’s a story about slavery, (including black people owning slaves), families, small towns, greed, love, hate, and everything in between. Though not as long as some books written like this, I could see it being serialized on one of the many streaming networks in the vein of Roots or Lonesome Dove. 5 stars

I have now covered nine of the twelve prize-winning books I challenged myself to read this year. (I am currently reading my twelth). It has been interesting to see which books have won prizes and which have come out on top from both the long and short lists. Obviously, much has to do with the judges which change from year to year. Does knowing a book has won a certain prize inspire you to read it? Especially (or maybe only) if it wins in a genre you prefer? Or does that even interest you at all? What does it mean for a book to win a prize? It definitely puts them on people’s radar and many which had been virtually unknown go on to become best-sellers. Fair or not?

Birds in October ’22 Part 2

Sord of Mallards

Myrtle Warbler

Red-bellied Woodpecker
Osprey

Osprey going for a fish

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Tufted Titmouse

Eastern Phoebe

Red-headed Woodpecker

White-throated Sparrow

Red-shouldered Hawk

O LORD, how many and varied are Your works! In wisdom You have made them all; The earth is full of Your riches and Your creatures. Psalm104:24 (AMP)

Best Bird Pictures of October ’22–Part 1

So many good pictures this month, I finally decided to post in more than one part. These pictures serve as a personal journal for me since I have been very unorganized with keeping up with my pictures. Blogging on a regular basis helps me to remember which birds I saw in different parts of the year as I learn more about birds–how to identify them and their habits.

Fall is a fun time of year to look for birds (I’ll probably say that every season) as many are migrating. Trying to sort out the different warblers has been a challenge, but a fun one. I have to thank my birding friends on Instagram for helping me out at times.

October 5 was the last day I saw two hummingbirds. The same for last year. Juvenile males are the last to leave on their great journey and in this first picture, you can see the little bit of red the young male has on his neck.

juvenile male ruby-throated hummingbird

The black-throated blue warbler was a first for me. He really is blue if you catch him in the light. One of my pictures on Instagram shows his blue. Unfortunately, it’s a bit blurry, so I didn’t include it here.

Black-throated blue warbler

The downy woodpeckers often visit my feeders, but I still enjoy capturing them (in pictures) when I see them in the woods while out walking. They are one bird I don’t have a problem identifying!

Downy Woodpecker

I’ve only seen a black and white warbler two other times, but wasn’t able to get a picture either time. On this day, one landed on a tree right in front of me and gave me a few seconds to take a few shots.

Black and white warbler

The Cape May Warbler is one of those I can often confuse with others. This is a female.

Cape May Warbler

This juvenile waxwing was hard to see in the trees, so glad to get a shot.

Cedar waxwing

I had taken several pictures of this brown thrasher in the trees; at first, not even sure what I was seeing. Then he came out and gave me several nice poses. Not a bit shy.

Brown thrasher

The Great Egret and his reflection; looking contemplative.

Great Egret

Often when I’m out birding, I don’t pay much attention to the cardinals and chickadees because I see them so often. I’m glad I took this shot though as this male cardinal really stood out eating his snack in the yellow leaves.

Northern Cardinal

Getting a good shot of the kingfisher is always a challenge I enjoy. They are so noisy and fast as they twitter across the water.

Belted Kingfisher

I hope you enjoy seeing some of these birds. October has been a good month, so more coming soon.

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Psalm 19:1

Best Bird Pictures of September ’22

I keep forgetting to update this and post. I did have a good birding month. Hope you enjoy seeing these.

Bald Eagle
Egrets
Barred Owl
red-headed woodpecker
summer tanager
brown-headed nuthatch
male juvenile ruby-throated hummingbird
Eastern Phoebe
Great Blue Heron
Sanderling

Best Bird Pictures August 22

I’m sure I could have added a few more pictures, but these are my favorites. The highlight of the month was having a photo-op with a barred owl. As you can see, I took quite a few pictures. He seemed as curious to watch me as I was enthralled with him. To see more of my pictures, follow me on Instagram. https://www.instagram.com/pmgilmer27/

Eastern Towhee
Barred Owl
Barred Owl
Barred Owl
Barred Owl
Female Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Female Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Ruby-throated hummingbird
ruby-throated hummingbird
Fledgling Cardinal with molting dad
Blue-gray gnatcatcher
Red-shouldered Hawk

“What a Friend We Have in Jesus”–A Hymn

What a Friend We Have in Jesus is a familiar hymn in many denominations, but it did not come about in one of the more conventional ways. I’ve researched and written about several hymns that were written by song writers who intentionally set out to write a hymn of praise and worship, but this hymn began as a poem meant for private usage and when first publihed, credit was not give to the writer.

What a Friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear!

Joseph Scriven (1819-1886) was born in Dublin, Ireland (in 1819 or 1820, depending on who you ask) and graduated from Trinity College there. When his health did not allow him to enroll in the military, he emigrated to Canada at the age of 25 and became a teacher.

What a privilege to carry, everything to God in prayer!

Scriven faced two different tragedies concerning two different fiancees. The first died in a drowning accident just before they were to be wed in 1844. This seems to have happened (my sources are unclear) while Scriven still lived in Ireland though he would have emigrated shortly afterward. In 1855, while in Ontario, Scriven had a second fiancee who succumbed to an illness before they could be married.

Oh, what peace we often forfeit, oh, what needless pain we bear!

Scriven wrote the words for what became “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” (which he titled “Pray Without Ceasing”) for his mother, grieving in Ireland. He sent them to her as a poem of comfort. How it eventually became published is not known, as Scriven had not intended it for public use. Consequently, it was for some time credited to Doctor Horatius Bonar. It was while Scriven was sick and a friend was visiting that the manuscript was discovered among his things. When asked if he was actually the one who had written the hymn, Scriven replied, “The Lord and I did it between us.”

All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer!

Scriven spent the rest of his life trying to live by the Sermon on the Mount. His neighbors considered him odd because of his work with the poor and physically disabled. Sadly, though he gave and shared all he could, he still suffered greatly from depression. So much so that when he died from drowning in Rice Lake, it was unknown if his death was an accident or suicide.

As with any hymn we include in our worship of God, more important than its beginnings (for the writer is only a tool in God’s hand) is: how true to the Scriptures are the words? If we sing words that don’t honor Him, then we are certainly not worshiping Him in Spirit and in truth, and in fact, may be in danger of blasphemy or of breaking the third commandment.

So, is Jesus our Friend? One we can bring all our sins and griefs? Can we bring everything to Him in prayer and expect Him to care? I believe these two verses answer those questions very well.

“On the day I called, You answered me; And You made me bold and confident with [renewed] strength in my life.” Psalm 138:3 (Amplified Version)

“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Hebrews 4:14-16 (NIV)

One Hundred and One Hymn Stories Carl F. Price; Abingdon-Cokesbury Press; 1923

Near to the Heart of God Robert J. Morgan. Baker Publishing Group

Sankey’s Favorite Hymns and Songs: A Selection and their Stories. (p. 131). White Tree Publishing.

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.