Friday, October 27, 2017

The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan

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If you have ever wanted to have a Highland Fling, I have just the book for you. The Bookshop on the Corner features a pastoral setting in Scotland, plenty of intriguing characters, a romance or two, and lots of book talk — always a plus. 

It is pure escape.

The Birmingham library that Nina has worked in for years closes its doors. Ready for a change, she buys a large van, fills it with her own collection of books and books discarded from the closed library, moves to Kirrinfief, Scotland, and opens her own mobile bookstore which she promptly names Little Shop of Happy-Ever-After. She travels from village to village, market day to market day, connecting her customers with just the right book.

Now that she is away from the noise and confusion and traffic of the city, she comes to realize how much the beauty of the countryside appeals to her. It's rich and wild and strange, and yet, she feels at home. 

Nina's best friend Surinder (her mother was on the police force; I laughed out loud!) offers moral support although she lacks the courage to pick up her life and move as well. Nina has a couple of romantic encounters - a poetic one right out of a romance novel, and the other one a little more down to earth. 

The book contains glorious descriptions of flowers and food, dawns and sunsets, weather both calm and dramatic. There are feasts and festivals. One, celebrating Midsummer's Eve was a delight to behold with its huge bonfire, dancing, and drinking to celebrate the solstice.

I quite enjoyed Nina's adventures and was cheering for her risky venture to succeed. I love a story about starting over. Really, who hasn't thought of ditching their current life and creating the one they have dreamed of? 

Fling on!

Friday, October 20, 2017

In Which I Meet Gretchen Rubin

I got to meet another one of my rockstar writers! Gretchen Rubin, who writes about happiness, habits, and human nature was at an event Wednesday night put on by the same healthcare organization that brought organizer Peter Walsh (here) and gratitude guru Janice Kaplan (here) to Louisville. 

I have been following Ms. Rubin and her blog and her books for the past ten years. I remember being laid up after surgery in 2007 and messing about online looking for help with de-cluttering, simple living, etc. Her blog The Happiness Project with its cheerful blue bird popped up and I have been a fan ever since. 

I have read and written before about her books The Happiness Project (here and here), Happier at Home (here), and Better Than Before (here).

I got to meet Ms. Rubin. I'll call her Gretchen now that we are best of friends. She was sitting next to me in the front row so I introduced myself and welcomed her to Louisville. She was very gracious and gave a terrific talk on her new book The Four Tendencies.

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If you aren't familiar with The Four Tendencies, it is the culmination of her research on how people respond to expectations — inner or outer. You could be an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel.

I knew even before I took her quiz that, like Gretchen, I am an Upholder. My motto, therefore, is "Discipline is my freedom." 

Upholders respond to both inner and outer expectations which means I can complete my own ToDo List and also meet deadlines set by others. We are a small group, she says. Our weaknesses?  Upholders sometimes get locked into their schedules, may seem rigid and judgmental to others, and struggle with fluid situations. This is so me!

Questioners find it easier to meet their own expectations while needing to be convinced to meet yours: "If you convince me I need to do something, then I will comply" is their reasoning. Questioners can seem stubborn and insubordinate, but it's only because, well,  they question everything.

On the other hand, Obligers respond well to outer expectations. If you are an Obliger, you work best when held accountable. If you want to read more, then joining a book club will help. Or you might try making plans to meet a friend to walk three times a week. "You can count on me and I'm counting on you to count on me" is the Obliger's rallying cry. The problem Obligers face is they can suddenly explode with anger if they feel they are being taken advantage of...which of course they are, Gretchen says. Employers of Obligers need to watch for and head off over-commitment and over-work that Obligers are famous for.

Rebels know what they want, go for it, and ignore convention. They are the spirit of resistance. A Rebel's motto is "You can't make me and neither can I." Oddly enough, Gretchen says, Rebels are attracted to high-structure jobs — the military or police — as the regulations give them something to push against. 

Understanding your own tendency in meeting expectations can help you show compassion for yourself, she says. Know that there is nothing wrong with you. Understanding how others meet expectations helps us realize that we are all different and that we can take into account another's perspective. 

After the presentation, I asked her how as an Upholder with a big dollop of Rebel, I could let that Rebel have a little more room to play. She suggested that I schedule time to wander, to explore, to daydream. If it's on my calendar, I will do it. 

What about you? Are you an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel? You can take her quiz Here. Let me know in the comments how you fared and if you agree with the results.

Friday, October 13, 2017

A Deceptive Clarity by Aaron Elkins

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Dr. Chris Norgren is a curator at the San Francisco County Museum of Art. He is currently working out an uneasy divorce settlement with his wife — she has left him after a decade of marriage — but he still has the house and the dog. And his job.

He is not happy. Well, actually he is more befuddled than anything and not sure where exactly his life is headed. So, when the museum's director asks him to fly to Berlin to assist with the opening of an exhibit of 20 paintings from the private collection of a wealthy Italian, he is only too eager to leave the country and the frequent and frustrating conversations with his attorney. 

Upon arriving in Berlin, he meets with the debonair Peter van Cortlandt who is in charge of the exhibit. Peter and Chris have lunch before Peter heads off for Frankfurt on museum business. Next thing we know, Peter has been murdered and Chris has been assaulted. 

In addition to trying to determine why Peter was killed and who was responsible, Chris also must determine the motive behind the attack on himself. To muddle things even further, one of the paintings may be a forgery. But which one?

The investigation sends Chris off on a whirlwind of European travel and he ends up following the trail from Berlin to Florence to Munich to London.

Oh, and there is a bit of romance as well. 

I liked this mystery. The writing is quite lighthearted and witty.  There was much chatter about Renaissance artists' brushstrokes, paint ingredients, and signatures. There were discussions about art fakes and forgeries which got a little confusing, but I held strong. 

I liked the characters and am disappointed that there are only two more in the Chris Norgren series: A Glancing Light and Old Scores. I look forward to reading both of them.

Author Aaron Elkins has another series that features forensic anthropologist Gideon Oliver. There are eighteen books in that collection.

If you have a hankering for an easy read and a marvelous puzzle — not to mention a bit of art history and foreign travel — I don't think you will go wrong with A Deceptive Clarity.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Carolina Writers at Home edited by Meg Reid

I have read and enjoyed many books offering first hand accounts of the creative process of writers, the jumbled desks of writers, and the how-to-do-it tips of writers.

Add to this now Carolina Writers at Home, a terrific book of essays by Southern writers. Edited by Meg Reid, it is a veritable grab bag of delights. There are authors featured from both North and South Carolina and the text is enhanced with evocative, sepia-toned photos by Rob McDonald. As I have deep connections to North Carolina — my father was born and raised in Greensboro — I am especially fond of this book.

There are twenty-five essays here about homes from the Coast to the Mountains to the Piedmont. I took my time and read one each morning over several weeks. I savored them and found it was a happy way to begin my day. 

The authors were given free rein and could write about any aspect of home that was important to them: space, possessions, time to write, wildlife, views, pets, gardens. It didn't matter just as long as it was what interested them.

Jill McCorkle's bookshelf - I couldn't resist taking a photo to show you

Some of the writers I was familiar with: Clyde Edgerton, Nikky Finney, Jill McCorkle. Some were new to me and I was happy to meet them. 

George Singleton writes about moving from the home he had lived in for thirty-three years. 

Kathryn Stripling Byer mourns the loss of a magnificent oak tree that once graced her yard. The only memento left now is its stump.

Daniel Wallace shares on his 'ark of things' from a small wooden cricket catcher to his collection of glass eyes. (Strangest collection ever? How does one start amassing those odd objects?) 

Oh, these are grand musings by wonderful writers about a place dear to their heart. There is not a bad one in the bunch. I was lucky enough to have been given the hardback edition (best choice) but the book also is available in paperback.

When the outside world is topsy-turvy, it is good to be reminded how important it is to have a comfortable, safe place to come home to.

Highly recommended!