Resolved Reads 2021

This morning I got an e-mail from Goodreads. Titled Christine’s Year in Books, it’s a summary of my reading in 2020 — that they know about. Kobo and library books I’ve listed as READ, as well as books on my Kindle reader which show up automatically when I’ve finished, since the two companies are connected. According to their count, I’ve read 102 books this year. Probably 110 would be closer, as I’ve re-read half a dozen or so without registering that fact on Goodreads.

My average book length was 206 pages; the longest was a collection of Penny Powers stories — 1760 pages in all. Right now I’m reading and almost done Jake and the Kid, a book by W.O.Mitchell set on the prairies. Then I have a couple more e-books started that I hope to finish shortly. Are you one to start more than one book at a time? Or are you one of these self-disciplined sorts who always finishes one thing before you start another? 😉

I enjoy a variety of genres and authors, but when I get into a series I’ll usually read the whole works — and if I really enjoy the characters, I’ll read the books more than once. Like Diana Xarrisa’s mild mystery series featuring the Markham sisters and their bed and breakfast in “Doveby Dale.” These novellas come in alphabetical order and I’ve just bought the last one, The Zachary Case, but I’ve re-read most of the others.

I’ve read most of the Miss Marple stories by Agatha Christie. Another series I’ve followed is Elizabeth Lemarchand’s mysteries solved by Inspectors Pollard & Toye of Scotland Yard. These are police procedurals as are Emily Brightwell’s Victorian mysteries featuring Scotland Yard Inspector Witherspoon and his housekeeper, Mrs Jeffries. When a murder is committed among the toffs in London, Witherspoon is sent to find the guilty party. Acting as a team, his staff and friends quietly get involved in turning up and sharing pertinent information. Finally Mrs Jeffries sorts it all out in her mind and figures out whodunit and why, then tips off the inspector so he can arrest the perpetrator. I just read the newest, Mrs Jeffries and the Alms of the Angel, #38 in the series.

A much milder series I follow is Nicholas Rhea’s Constable series, which rarely involve serious crimes, just day-to-day policing among the farms and small villages in rural England circa 1950. The Miss Read stories about Fairacre and Thrush Green are likewise sent in the 40s in rural England.

But now I’m pondering my next year’s reading plan and making a New Year’s Resolution. I’m considering all the books I’ve bought waiting patiently in the “To Read Soon” pile. I’ve read that other folks load their e-readers with books that don’t get read — and I am definitely guilty! But there are always intriguing new ones! As a friend quoted lately: “So many books; so little time.”

I rarely ever make definite New Year’s Resolutions because I know they are so hard to keep when temptation sings its siren song, but I’m resolved that in 2021 I WILL NOT BUY or BORROW ANY MORE BOOKS until I’ve gone through those 280 books on my Kindle and read the ones I haven’t yet. (If possible.) Plus write reviews for the ones I have read — if I haven’t already. Any new ones that pop up during the year and specially appeal to me can go on my Goodreads “Want to Read” list — along with the 190 already listed there. 😉

Can I keep this resolution? Or is this an impossible dream? What do you think?

My New Hat

I’ll always remember that pink hat. It was a real beauty, so big and floppy it made you think of a sombrero with flowers.

It was made up of threads, rings of variegated colour, with small white daisies decorating the front. At the back the brim was festooned with purple mums, each with a bright orange eye. As an added touch of pizzazz, a gold braid wound its way artfully around the brim, the ends hanging down in tassels.

My hat adventure started the week after the Sunday School picnic. I’d spent a couple of hours in the sunshine supervising the kindergarten class and came home from the event red-nosed, cheeks on fire.

On Sunday morning sympathetic friends suggested, “You should get yourself a sun hat, Andella.”

I’d always been too vain for a hat, I guess, but as I looked in the mirror now, I gave in gracefully. Yes, a hat may look old-fashioned — it may even make me look like a grandma — but in the long run it would save me some serious suffering. “Saved from the bakin’,” I murmured, then chuckled to myself.

As soon as I was presentable again I headed to the accessories counter at a local upscale department store, determined to fight back against those nasty UV rays that fry you and also wrinkle you in old age. I perused their selection of sports caps, straw hats and floppies. This would be my last sunburn.

Among the various toppers on display I saw this amazing creation. A delight to the eye, a real work of art. Love at first sight! I paled at the intimidating price tag, but affection always has a price, right? From now on I wouldn’t stint on such an important issue as my health and beauty.

So I swiped the old debit card and wore the thing home, feeling delighted knowing eyes were turning my way as I walked down the street. Had here been an Easter Parade I may well have won the “most colorful hat” contest.

The very next week I had the perfect chance to test my gorgeous creation. My sister had invited us to join them for a supper barbeque by the lake and the sun was shining brilliantly that afternoon. So I wore my pink hat, expecting to turn my sister an envious shade of green.

I took it from the shelf and gave it a little shake, enjoying the rustle of the silk flowers. “They look so real,” I told my husband as I admired the color combination. On impulse I gave it a spritz of my favorite cologne, Lilac Legacy.

“Most certainly they do, sweetheart,” he said. “I hope there’ll be no deer around. They may try to sample you.”

“Deer don’t eat lilacs so I’ll be alright,” I assured him. He carried out the picnic basket, I set my hat carefully in the back seat of the car, and we were off for a delightful day at the park.

Sporting my jaunty topper and my fuschia sun-dress, I marched over to the picnic area. But we’d barely joined my sister’s family when I heard this buzzing sound. Next thing my husband and sister were both shouting, “Look out, Andella! Don’t move.”

It’s very hard to restrain from swatting at bees when half a dozen are buzzing in your face. In fact I couldn’t resist slapping at one that landed on my collar and leapt from there to my hairline. Talk about a pain in the neck. A few well placed bee sings will get you there in no time.

Not thinking clearly, I stumbled toward the lake. Or maybe because the stings felt so much like fire my subconscious called for water. Then someone yelled something about some mud on the stings, so I waded knee-deep into the lapping waves and reached down to scoop up a handful.

Our ever-capricious forces of nature have deposited some oblong, slippery rocks in the water right about there. Of course my foot had to land on the edge of one. I groped for balance, took a misstep, and fell straight forward. And my beautiful pink hat with its cargo of mums and daisies, went floating away, pursued by a dozen frustrated bees.

Thankfully my husband was right there to assist me. But what consolation did my loving, compassionate sister say as I straggled out of the lake?

“Hey, Sis. You made quite the tsunami.” Adding insult to injury.

(Original image of pink hat: Ben Kerckz — Pixabay)

Ragtag Daily Prompt : DELIGHT

Scars

Our Ragtag Daily Prompt for today is SUSPENSE — which gives me the chance to tell you about a couple of books I’ve read lately.

Scars by [Kevin Dautremont]

SCARS
By Canadian writer Dr. Kevin Dautremont

One of the best Christian mystery books I’ve read, comparable to Dan Walsh’s mysteries. I enjoyed the writing style, somewhat like that of James Patterson, where the events are told in quick, intense spurts. I had no trouble following as the writer took readers from one character to another, revealing their feelings and motives, neatly weaving in the back-story for the various main characters and showing their interactions, good or bad.

Doctor Derek Kessler has moved to Montana to try and put behind him the accident that took the lives of his wife and young daughter. “Where was God that day? Why did He allow them to die?” Like gray clouds, the questions still hover, challenging his faith. Rebecca Andrychuk is a tough lawyer with issues from her troubled past, a broken relationship with her father and her mother’s suicide. The Sheriff has his own wounds; however, behind his pugnacious front and personal biases he wants to know the truth.

I found the story well plotted, not a thriller but a moderate level of suspense, moving along at a steady pace toward the surprising ending twist. The story is complete as is, but I was sorry to reach the end. Having gotten to know these main characters, I’d like to read more about each of them and would welcome a sequel.

THE AMAZON.COM LINK for SCARS

A Case of Blackmail in Belgravia (Freddy Pilkington-Soames Adventures #1)

The first book in the Freddy Pilkington-Soames series. Very well written! No high suspense, but the story grabs you from the first page and keeps you reading. The victim, Ticky Maltravers, is supposedly adored by everyone—but the fact is, no one really likes the self-centred fellow. After a dinner party with some of his supposed admirers he dies on the way home. Worse, he shares a cab with Freddy’s mother and collapses almost on her doorstep, making her look guilty of some mischief. She enlists Freddy — horrified and very annoyed — to take his body home somehow so no one will accuse her.

Realistic attitudes for that era, yet the dialogue is more of a parody on the thinking of the upper crust snobs before the Great War. “Police are a nuisance asking questions and they have no right to bother us this way. It should be obvious that none of us could possibly be guilty. We just don’t do that sort of thing.” And Freddie, nosing around asking questions, makes himself the biggest nuisance of all. He may be a humble reporter at the daily paper, but he has an air of Lord Peter Wimsey about him.

I’ve also enjoyed a couple of the Angela Marchmont Mysteries by this same British author; A Question of Hats is a good one. These and the Freddy Pilkington-Soames Adventures are traditional English whodunits set in the 1920s and 30s.

THE AMAZON.COM LINK for BLACKMAIL IN BELGRAVIA

Books: Calm Before the Storm

Just re-released in Kindle form:

Calm Before the Storm
by Janice L Dick

Calm Before the Storm (The Storm Series Book 1) by [Janice L. Dick, The Mosaic Collection]If you enjoy historical fiction set in Europe, here’s a compelling story for you that’s well written and well researched. Exciting, at times quite tense, this is the story of a Christian family living through the turbulent times of the Russian Revolution.

In the 1700s Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia, invited an number of German religious groups to move in and establish themselves in the fertile farmland of the Ukraine and they were doing well for themselves. The Russian serfs had been freed some time before this story begins, but they received no land or help from their government and had to survive however they could.

As the 1900s began, severe poverty and hunger had made the peasants desperate. The government of Tzar Nicholas was imploding, a political cyclone was stirring, and some of the Russian peasants were starting to look resentfully at the prosperous German communities around them.

The Hildebrandts were one of many families in the prosperous Mennonite communities. Heinrich, the widowed father, sixteen-year-old Katarina, the beautiful fourteen-year old Mika, her mentally unbalanced brother Peter, and the two youngest siblings Anna and Kolya (Nicholai) were enjoying the good life on a beautiful estate, scarcely touched by the winds of change until the Great War started.

Entwined with their story is the experience of Johann Sudermann, hired to tutor the younger children, enthralled by the lovely but super-efficient Mika. Though the Mennonites had been granted exemption from the army when they first settled in Russia, soon after the war begins all conscientious objectors must report to work camps. Johann and many others were sent to the medical corps to care for wounded soldiers however they could. The Russian army was so overwhelmed and under-equipped that defeat was inevitable.

We also get cameos of Johann’s childhood Russian friend, Paul Tekanin, as he goes to St Petersburg and joins the Bolsheviks in their plan to overthrow the Tzar. Excerpts from his life give readers a picture of the deplorable state of affairs in St Petersburg before the Revolution, with the mad monk Rasputin pulling the strings.

I’m impressed with how well the author has researched the historical background for this story and interweaves it with an accurate account of day-to-day life in the Mennonite community at that time. Together with the Hildebrandt family readers can experience the joys of prosperity, the fear of a looming collapse of government, the immediate effects of war, and their faith that God will bring them through, come what may.

The King’s Rousing Speech

The Ragtag Daily Prompt this morning is Abstract in Black & White

I’m not sure exactly how to demonstrate this, so I’ll respond with a bit of whimsy.

chess-2727443_640
          Image by Felix Mittermeier — Pixabay

The King’s Rousing Address to His Pawns

All right you pawns, listen closely! I am the King. I’m the Leader, Monarch, Head of State, Supreme Ruler and all that. My job is to direct operations here and tell you what to do. Your job is to obey my orders implicitly, never doubting my wisdom. Got that?

I may be limited in my movements, but any remarks about “the lame old King” shall be treated as any other treason. Likewise, though Her Royal Highness the Queen may fly around freely, any comments about her being domineering or solipsistic will be punished. She does her part in the battle and has many captures to her credit.

As we head into the battle your duty is to prepare the way and, whenever necessary, encircle your King. You must be vigilant at all time to protect me from capture, defending me at whatever cost to yourselves. Should this involve the noble act of dying for King and country, fear not. I shall duly reward you with a medal, presented posthumously.

It’s also your duty to defend the Royal Family from any opprobrium on the home front, demonstrating unquestioning loyalty at all times. This is a monarchy, not a democracy — remember that — and critical speech will not be tolerated. Should the town criers report anything uncomplimentary about any member of the Royal Family, the offenders shall be silenced promptly. Should any peasant, or peasants, suggest that your King is conceited or lacking intelligence, or mention that the Queen is chasing after fair knights and bishops, the accusers shall be skewered and thrown to the sea monster in the moat.

Go forth now with the blessing of your King, who’s counting on you to perform your duties with vim and vigor. If any messengers have anything to report about the battle or specific casualties, I shall be in the counting house, counting the national income. Thus shall I do my best to ensure that you all receive your proper wages. Her Royal Highness shall attend to the packing of the royal household, lest a sudden castling prove necessary.

The Signal Flag

The Ragtag Daily Prompt for today is BEACON

This word makes me think of a short story I could write sometime. The main character will be a young man whose horse stumbles and tosses him, so here he is, following a faint prairie trail one bitterly cold evening. His eyes search the darkness for one glimmer of light, one hope of rescue. He’s very close to giving up and accepting the fate of freezing to death when he sees the far-off glow of a window. A homesteader’s cabin! Shelter and warmth — his only hope! but what kind of people live there? What fate awaits him when he gets there?

Yes, someday I’ll write that tale. 🙂

However, today I’m going to give you another quick story. I read this years ago in the 1972 Friendship Book of Francis Gay and am retelling here in my own words. This doesn’t involve a beacon — at least the rector never intended to display one…

Years ago the rector in a small English town took a notion that it’d make a nice touch for his church if they had a flag — something they could hoist for on special occasions. He shared his idea with his flock one Sunday morning and different ones nodded in agreement.

One elderly woman had a flash of recall: wasn’t there one around her house somewhere? She went home and rummaged through her attic, thinking she may have seen the flag in her father’s old trunk. Ah! Here it was.

She took it to the rector, who laid it out and studied it awhile. The design was nothing he’d ever seen before, but it had a unique, pleasing placement of colours. Sure, why not use it as their banner for special-occasions?

Calling a number of folks to come and see, he attached it to the rope and ran it up the flagpole. Folks nodded. It looked attractive enough…and would be a nice touch for the Feast of Saint Somebody a few weeks hence.

The rector decided to leave the flag up for the day and went in to tea. Early that evening someone knocked at the manse door; the rector opened it and saw a sailor standing there grinning.

“Excuse me, sir,” the sailor began, giving the rector a hearty salute. “I come to see if I could be of some help, seeing you have an emergency.”

The rector was startled. “Emergency? We have no emergency here that I know of.”

“But I’ve just read the signal flag on your church tower, sir. It’s saying that you are in great difficulties and urgently need a pilot.”