Tuesday, March 13, 2018

A Pocket Full of Rye

In this Miss Marple mystery, a man is mysteriously poisoned in his office at work one day, and the next day, his much younger, very beautiful wife was poisoned as well, and their maid was strangled. The police don't know what's going on, but they're investigating the best they can. I like how Miss Marple is always introduced to each murder mystery differently in each of her stories--in this one, she knew and helped train the maid, Gladys, and came swooping in to help investigate and give them any information she could when she read about her murder in the papers. Miss Marple obviously figures out the solution at the end, as well as contributes the main idea that the three murders are linked to the nursery rhyme "Four and Twenty Blackbirds" and gives those ideas to the police, while they do the majority of the actual investigating. However, other than that, Miss Marple doesn't appear much in this story--but that doesn't detract too much from the enjoyment of the book because it worked very well anyways. The characters were really interesting and fun. (It's amazing listening to so many Agatha Christie novels in a row--the plots may get familiar after a while but the characters are always so different and interesting. It's amazing how she did it!) I had an inkling about who did it--mainly because I've just started suspecting the least suspicious person and maybe because I've gotten into the Christie mindset after listening to so many in a row--but I was hoping I was wrong the whole time because I liked them so much and didn't want them to be guilty. This was definitely an enjoyable story and a fun listen. My only real complaint is that Miss Marple seemed to figure out the guilty party in this one just out of thin air and without any actual evidence or proof. She explains what happened to the police and they're like, "Okay, you're probably right, but how do I arrest him?" and she says, "You're very smart, I'm sure you'll be able to do that."

Monday, March 12, 2018

They Do It with Mirrors by Agatha Christie

Another Miss Marple mystery, but this one was not my favorite. The setting is pretty good--Miss Marple goes to visit a friend who runs a rehabilitation home for delinquent boys, and is there when the crime is committed, and is fully involved in the entire book from page 1, which I liked. Her friend, Carrie Louise, is someone she's known since they were girls in school together, and Miss Marple goes to visit her to find out if something is wrong, per Carrie Louise's sister's request. While Miss Marple is there, there's an attempted murder and an actual murder, and she has to figure out who did it in order to keep her friend safe.

A Murder Is Announced was far better than this one, in my opinion. That one kept me guessing the whole time, but I guessed what happened and "whodunit" while the scene of the crime was still being described, although Christie was clever enough to confuse me a little bit in there for a while still. But I thought it wasn't all that well-thought-out, although Miss Marple still was charming. I really liked the narrator of this book and her voices she used, especially for Miss Marple. All in all, though, not necessarily my favorite of Christie's books.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder

I absolutely love the Little House books and have read them countless times before (and have written about them here on this blog before). But this time, I was reading this book out loud with Dane, and I enjoyed it even more. There is just something about sharing a book that you love with a child that you love. It made me so happy to see how engaged he was and how excited he got at the exciting stories about the panthers and bears in the woods, and how he loved learning about how they used all the parts of the pig when they killed it. Some of the parts get a little technical and too hard to understand for a kid his age (like about how they made their cheese, or about the harvesting using the threshing machine), but he gamely sat through it and loved looking at the pictures. I was so happy he wanted to read this with me, because part of me worried he would think it was a "girl" book, since it's about a girl named Laura, but once I started the first chapter he was all in. It was one of my goals the last year to read at least two of these books with Dane, and I definitely want to try and get through Little House on the Prairie and Farmer Boy before we move on to something else... but if Dane wants to keep going with this series I won't complain. (Not like the whole Mouse and the Motorcycle trilogy, haha!)

A Murder is Announced by Agatha Christie

This was another Miss Marple audiobook, and I'm realizing it's hard for me to say if I do or don't like these books when I'm listening to them. Because if I'm listening to them, I stay engaged for the whole time, and I don't speed through it and find out what happens until I slowly plod through it at the same speed. I don't know if that's the whole case, but all I know is, I really enjoyed listening to this one, but then after the fact, I feel like there were lots of things that bugged me about it. This book starts with an announcement of a murder in the newspaper, which everyone takes to be a murder mystery party, but which soon turns out to be an actual murder. The police come in to investigate, and then Miss Marple shows up and helps them out a lot with her great sense and her ability to put things together.

I didn't have a great suspicion or sense of who had done it--although I'm starting to get the sense from reading lots of Christie's books all together that it's always going to be the least likely, most surprising person--but I did feel like there were a lot of unsatisfactory coincidences and random people showing up in this book. At the end, when everything starts to get explained, all of a sudden, half the people aren't all who they said they were, and I don't know that I buy that at all. And then it seems pretty unconvincing that their main strategy for catching the murderer depended on the oh-so-undependable maid acting a part and Miss Marple's voiceover chops... it seemed a little thin at the end. But the rest of the story was pretty well done and I had a great time listening to it.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Glimpses into the Life and Heart of Marjorie Pay Hinckley, edited by Virginia H. Pearce

It's hard not to love Sister Hinckley, and I want to be more like her. Reading this book was a fun glimpse into her life and her mentality. I felt a little bit insecure about comparing myself with her at the beginning of it, but after a while I started to get a sense of her and feel less intimidated by her perfection and more admiring and feeling like I could eventually become like her. After all, she was about ninety when this book was written, she wasn't perfect. It was very refreshing to read some of the stories about her as a young mother, and to realize that she got mad at her kids every once in a while too. She had so many wonderful qualities, like her faith, her optimism (she has so many wonderful quotes about being positive, like the famous, "You either have to laugh or cry. I choose to laugh. Crying gives me a headache."), and her uplifting nature towards everyone else. I loved what everyone said about her always saying kind things about everyone--not just kind things, but admiring, uplifting, and constantly positive things. So many of her qualities are ones that I would like to emulate, particularly in my mothering and someday, in my mother-in-lawing (she sounded like a wonderful mother-in-law). Anyways, this is definitely a great book to keep and to be able to refer back to and remember. When I'm ninety years old, I want to be like her.

Quotes from the book that I loved:

"We are not asking for something spectacular but rather for our sisters to find real self-fulfillment through wise self-development in the pursuit of righteous and worth endeavors" - Spencer W. Kimball

"We have a lot to learn about simplifying our lives. We have to decide what is important and then move along at a pace that is comfortable for us. We have to develop the maturity to stop trying to prove anything, to be what we are."

"Do whatever you have to do this week; do it with your heart and soul, and do it cheerfully."

"I am so grateful for the blessings that I have enjoyed in my life.I do not know why the Lord has been so good to me. I don't know why I have been so blessed. But I do know that the Lord has a right to expect a lot of me. Sometimes the commitment gets a little heavy and sometimes I wonder if I can really do this. Then I think of all that I have been given, and it is easy to get up and do something a little more."

Sunday, March 4, 2018

The Giver by Lois Lowry

I loved this book when I was younger, and so I wanted to read this one this year in my quest to read books that make me happy. I started and finished it last night in about an hour and a half--another thing that makes me happy when reading a book. And I felt the magic of this book, the sense of wondering and worrying about how did these people get there, and is this what the future is going to be like? The choices that the people in the world of The Giver have chosen to live in the safest way possible--without choices and without emotions. But they have one person who is the vault of memories of the whole human race, and Jonas, at the age of twelve, is selected to be the next Receiver to learn about life as it really was and is--pain, and truth, and love, and memories. He even learns about colors for the first time, and begins to be able to see them in a world of black and white. His transformation, and his decisions he makes as a result of his wisdom he gains from learning about life, is the point of this story, and I love it.

I think it is so interesting to remember back and think that this is one of the first dystopian novels set for middle-grade or young adults, and how all of the current dystopian novels are kind of descendants of this one. And it's interesting that this book has been banned so often and viewed as so controversial, when the Hunger Games, a book about children killing children, has been so much less so. I think this one is not even in the same category as Hunger Games--it's much more beautiful and well-written, and has much more interesting themes and ideas. The message may be about the same, about questioning authority, but this story has a lot more depth and imagination in it, and the future world is much more interesting. (Not that I didn't enjoy Hunger Games, as much as the next person.)

Friday, March 2, 2018

Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown

I have only read one other book by Brene Brown (Daring Greatly), but I have also listened to her TED talks and I feel like I generally have a good grasp on what she is all about. This is her most recent book (I think?) and it seemed like a lot of repetition of her previous works, but also a lot of different stuff. This book seemed like it was very influenced by our current political climate, where everyone is extremely polarized and argumentative and can't get along, and Brown is trying to combat that with giving suggestions on how to communicate with people civilly and how to create real connections with people, but still being true to yourself and feeling strong in your own convictions and values.

I really liked some of the points that she made. She started off with a story about her feeling like she didn't belong as a child, and a story when she didn't make the cheerleading squad in middle school and how alone she felt, even with her family, who didn't seem very supportive when she didn't make it. That story was so heartbreaking to me, and it was really sad to think about the effects of feeling like you don't belong in your own family--and made me think a lot about parenting and how to avoid making your kids feel like that. Her four things that we should do to "brave the wilderness" and make connections with people while staying true to yourself were: 1. People are Hard to Hate Close Up. Move In. 2. Speak Truth to BS, Be Civil. 3. Hold Hands with Strangers and 4. Strong Back, Soft Front, Wild Heart. I especially liked the chapters about 1 and 3, and thought those were really applicable and appropriate. I loved her ideas about "holding hands with strangers," and the benefits of being at gatherings with people that involve strong emotions, like funerals or concerts or rallies, and how those real connections in a real-life setting bring us real joy and strength.

I feel a little bit skeptical about her obsession with "true belonging" and being true to yourself, though. Of course I think self-acceptance is so important. And I imagine I'm probably not great at it, nor are most people. It's a constant work-in-progress for everyone, I'm sure. However, I don't know that that itself is the pinnacle of everything and the only way to true happiness. Of course, everything she says is backed up with data (as she likes to talk about all the time), so I'm probably wrong. But I wonder if there's something different about coming from an LDS background and our views about commitments and covenants that makes me not want to swallow what she's saying wholeheartedly. I think you can definitely take this "being true to yourself" thing too far--because you can't just up and leave all your commitments and obligations and responsibilities just because you think it's not being true to you. Oh well. I am sure she would have a great answer for me, but I don't feel like it was really addressed in this book.

Sometimes her tone in this book bugged me. It was kind of whiny ("I don't fit in anywhere!" "You probably hate me!"). And also, although some of the information was good, I feel like this didn't necessarily need to be a stand-alone book. She probably could have squeezed this all into a TED talk. But otherwise, it was a fine book to read, and it only took about two hours. I think I am going to read her first book, Gifts of Imperfection, soon, since I heard that it was one of her best.