Book Chat

book chat
mitfordI’ve heard of so many people loving the “Mitford” books series that I figured it was time I check out the phenomenon. I began, of course, with the first in the series, “At Home in Mitford.” For those couple of you who haven’t read it, it details the life of kindly priest Father Tim, who lives in the idyllic town of Mitford.

I found the book sweet, and I enjoyed it. It’s not deep, but as others have said, it was “happy,” and sometimes that’s just what one needs in a book. I met a whole village full of memorable characters, whom I’m assuming will continue through the rest of the series. Some snippets from the book I enjoyed  –

  • “I heard a Mississippi preacher say that everybody is trying to swallow something that won’t go down.”
  • “Do you know what I appreciate more than your sermons? … The fact that you love us. Yes, that’s enough for me, that you love us.” (this is said to Father Tim, and yes, I found myself wishing more than once that I had a pastor like him)

Have you read the Mitford books? Do you recommend them?


Laura Ingalls Wilder a Writer's Life

I’m taking an online course this month about Laura Ingalls Wilder. I’m not getting into it “whole hog,” but I am reading “Laura Ingalls Wilder, A Writer’s Life” for it, as well as watching the video lectures. It’s interesting. I’ve read the Little House series multiple times, and have also read many books about Laura. This is yet another.

I found the book’s tone a bit scholarly for my tastes (it continually referred to Laura as “Wilder,” and each time I’d have to think for a second to realize who they were talking about). A fairly big deal is made about the fact the the Little House books aren’t totally “true” (the family didn’t move continually west, Little House on the Prairie events happened before Little House in the Big Woods events, Jack the dog didn’t die while with the family but was given away with Pet and Patty — okay, the bit about Jack did bum me out a little). Maybe it’s because of my own experience writing a memoir, but this doesn’t bother me at all. When you write about a life, you realize that you have to create a story arc. Let’s face it: most people’s lives, written on a day-to-day narrative, just aren’t that interesting. As Laura herself said, “There were so many ways of seeing things and so many ways of saying them.”

The real thing I took from the book was sympathy for Laura in dealing with her only daughter, Rose. Rose seems as though she came into the world with a defiant attitude, and she kept it throughout her life. Yes, she edited Laura’s work, but she often did it while making condescending remarks to her and making derogatory comments about Laura to her friends. Rose wanted a stone cottage, so she had one built at her parent’s farm — then told them that she was giving it to them, while Rose moved into their own lovingly-built home.

As an adult, Rose wrote that she “hated everything and everybody in (my) childhood.” She also wrote, “I lived through a childhood that was a nightmare.” Hardly what we’d expect from the child of cheery, determined Half Pint! Rose struggled with depression and wild mood swings throughout her life, characterizing herself as manic depressive. Honestly, I found myself thinking that “The Long Winter” must have been nothing compared to surviving this daughter. It’s just sad the way personalities can clash and wreak so much havoc in families.


What Color is Your Parachute 2015

I remember reading “What Color is Your Parachute?” years ago, probably when I was in college. The book has been around for years, and aims to help you decide on a career and know yourself better. I was happy to review the 2015 version thanks to Blogging for Books. Actually, I didn’t even know that the book came out with an annual update.

The book is interesting and I think it would be very helpful to teens and to those looking to change occupations. There are detailed sections on knowing yourself (by making a “flower” listing skills, likes and dislikes, and much more). There are sections on how to interview well, how to choose a job you’d enjoy, and more. Really, it’s hard to sum up the book quickly, since it’s 300 pages of meaty advice. I think this would make a great graduation gift.

This 2015 edition includes up-to-date research and tips about writing impressive resumes and cover letters, doing effective networking and confident interviewing, and negotiating the best salary possible. But it goes beyond that, in helping you to better know who you are, with its classic self-inventory—called “The Flower Exercise”—because the best answer to What shall I do? flows from knowing Who you are.



Remember Columbine? It’s pretty hard to forget the April day in 1999 when two teens gunned down kids and teachers at Columbine High School. It happened just two weeks before one of my girls was born, so it has also stayed in my memory for that reason.

My oldest daughter read “Columbine” by Dave Cullen for a school class, and recommended it. I read it, and was impressed by the author’s research and attention to detail. His theory is that Eric Harris was the mastermind of the tragedy, and that Eric was a psychopath. It was chilling to read his research on Harris, and how Harris truly seemed to have no empathy for any of his victims (or anyone else, for that matter). Then again, that pretty much defines a psychopath. He charmed others into thinking he was not a threat. Dylan Klebold, the other killer, was Harris’s sidekick and was more the traditional teen trouble-maker — a depressed follower. He dismisses the theory that Harris and Klebold were bullied, and that this was a cause of their actions. Apparently, there’s quite a debate going on regarding what their true motivation was.

Reading the book made me kind of anxious — various scenes were described in great detail, and I truly felt like I was there. Even while I was disgusted by the cruelty of the killers, I was impressed by the generosity of many in the school who sacrificed to help others. And the lengthy recovery of some of the survivors was inspiring as well.



I remember watching “Water for Elephants” back in a 2011 flight to Hawaii. It was a good movie, and I thought that sometime I’d enjoy the book. That sometime happened this month. The book was quite similar to the movie, and I enjoyed it as well. In case you haven’t heard of it, it’s the story of Jacob, a university veterinary student in the 1900s who is forced to drop out just before graduating by his parents’ tragic deaths. He joins a circus, where he meets many fascinating animals and humans — including the lovely performer, Marlena. Marlene is mistreated by her jerk-of-a-husband (who also mistreats circus animals and circus workers he considers beneath him). The whole book is well-written and reads really smoothly, right up to the climax, which I’ll save for you to discover.

The book is told by Jacob, who is currently in his 90s and living in a nursing home, which was heart-breaking (“I could have sworn that just a few seconds ago I was twenty-three, and now here I am in this wretched, desiccated body.”). I could have done without the profanity and some of the … um, “adult” situations, but otherwise, good read.

What have you been reading lately? Check out others’ lists at 5 Minutes for Books.

7 thoughts on “Book Chat

  1. I was mesmerized by Columbine and the book that is pretty much it’s fictional counterpart–“We Need To Talk About Kevin” by Lionel Shriver. I tried to read the biography of Laura, but couldn’t keep going. I may give it another try after your review–it does sound worth finishing and maybe a new day, a new approach? Water for Elephants was compelling, but I haven’t watched the movie. Excellent, balanced reviews!

  2. I am in the middle of “The Hot Zone” by Richard Preston. Fascinating, factual account of ebola back in the early days (80s) out in the world and in the lab. Caught wind of this novel online and am glad I downloaded it to my Kindle.

    I enjoy Preston’s fictional work, and this book has the same, readable quality. Highly recommended!

    As for the book about Laura Ingalls Wilder, I read a non-fiction account of her family. Rose sounds a lot like ‘Pa’ who continually was looking for something and never seemed satisfied with his life. ‘Ma’ sounded very long-suffering and tolerant of his need to roam.

  3. Sad to admit, but I’ve never read a Mitford book myself. I started one once, but just couldn’t get into it. Maybe I should try again someday….

    I didn’t know Parachute came out annually either. Wow. But that’s good; I’m sure it’s still as interesting as ever. It’s been years since I read it.

    I read Water for Elephants but still haven’t seen the movie. I enjoyed it too (except yes, they could have eliminated a few scenes and words). Good list!

  4. I’ve read most, if not all, of the Mitford books and attended a drama of part of the story here in GR. I enjoyed the books.

    I started the book about Laura Ingalls Wilder. I just couldn’t get into it. Who cares if her stories were not absolutely true to life? I thought of writing a review of it on Amazon, but I’m afraid it would be a really nasty one. She did so much jumping from reality to how the books were written that I had trouble following her. Part of that may be because I’ve never read the Little House series. This did not give me the urge to read them, which is sad.

    I’ve heard the Parachute book reviewed very positively. Maybe I should read it.

    Pretty sure I couldn’t get into Columbine. I don’t care for anything suspenseful.

  5. In the Mitford books series I’ve read At Home in Mitford, A Light In the Window, and These High, Green Hills. Actually I think I read one more of them.
    Right now I’m doing well to keep up with reading my magazines.
    I sure appreciate your excellent reviews and am amazed at how much you read!

  6. I love the Mitford books. I always described them as cozy. It helps that I lived for 26 six years in SC, south of Mitford’s NC, but similar enough.

    I haven’t read as much about Rose but had the same impression.

    The Columbine book would be a very hard read, I think.

  7. I must confess that I have never read a Mitford book. I always here great things about them. Perhaps one day….

    I was intrigued about Water for Elephants but the mention of profanity makes me hesitant. Worth it? I don’t know!

    Loved seeing what have been reading!

Thanks for taking the time to comment. I enjoy hearing your thoughts.