“Bruno, Chief of Police” by Martin Walker


I picked up this book on a whim from the library- and was extremely impressed. It’s like Charles Todd’s Inspector Rutledge meets “A Year in Provence.” The part that impressed me, though, was the ability to make the reader aware of the political undercurrents in France. For instance, the rise of Martine Le Pen’s party, and the distress that the average person has and inability to do anything about it; the massacre of Algerians in 1961 in France (why does the press never talk about this?), and the role conversely that they played in terrorizing the country side while employed by the Nazi Party. I think all of these events need to be considered in understanding the recent events in Paris, Nice, and the state of politics there.

The author also managed to squeeze some history regarding the Bosnian/Serbian conflict, as the hero of the book, Bruno, is a veteran of this war. He also was able to discuss the conflict that people in France feel regarding the “Year in Provence” phenomenon (English buying rural French houses to make them vacation homes), and some of the Joie de Vivre that French people are famous for.

Even though I think this would be considered a cozy mystery novel, the genius lies in the author’s ability to change the way you think about current events and recent history. I can’t recommend this book highly enough- I’m looking forward to the next one from the library!

The Panda Planner


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I am a restless planner and diarist. I constantly switch journals and planners, from electronic to written, and back again. From one company to another. From preprinted to self printed inserts. From Midori traveler’s to Filofax. You get the idea. Each requires an enormous amount of transcribing dates from old to new method, introducing the possibility for error in each transcription. By the time it’s all done, my enthusiasm is over. In the end, I feel like I’m looking for something- more appreciation of the time that goes by me daily, more time for hobbies, a return to who I was before I was Mom, physician, responsible for a lot more people than myself.

I saw an ad on Facebook for a new type of planner, one that is pre-printed, and aimed at increasing happiness and obtaining goals- improving gratitude. Then I saw more and more ads for similar types of journals. I thought- why not? It’s much, much, much cheaper than my filofax habit, and I am NEVER going to have the time to decorate one to perfection like I see in so many blogs, anyway! I looked through as many versions of these planners as I could manage, and settled on the Panda planner.

I’ve been using the Panda Planner (the a5 version- the pro wouldn’t fit in my purse) for a month, and love it. I’ve seen my productivity improve, and I managed to meditate every day for a month, only missing two days! I was motivated to wake up early every morning for a month to use the panda planner to plan my day and priorities, reflect on my wins, the things I am grateful for, and look for things to be excited about- and start a daily ritual in the morning, á la Asian Efficiency. I’m talking about really motivated- in order to get myself ready, my toddlers ready, and take the train to work for an 0730 start to the workday, I have to get up at…wait….4:30 in the morning. But, yet, I did it, and found this clarified my day.

Basically, the Panda Planner is divided into three sections, each with it’s own ribbon bookmark: monthly, weekly review and daily pages. The monthly calendar is what it sounds like, plus each day has a section to check off the habit you are trying to develop. It also has a section for focusing your values and goals that month. The weekly section helps define your roles, and determine what the most important goals are for each role, as well as projects. It also prompts you to look over your week, appreciate what went well, and what you could have improved. The daily pages do the same thing, but on a daily basis. For me, I noticed that I was much happier, and focused- grateful for my life. And without desire to switch to a different planner! In fact, I bought two more to last me through the year.

If you’ve tried this planner, what do you think??

The Secret Keeper, by Kate Morton


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I have now read everything by this author- I didn’t really go in order, but more whatever was on sale or I could get from the library. I think this author’s books are really worth reading. The premise was the same- beautiful country setting, old secret, contemporary woman discovering old secret, which may or may not put them in peril. However, this one was an older woman discovering her elderly mother’s secret- but not the secret she thinks. I can’t say much about the ending without spoiling it, but I didn’t guess what happened at all- and was shocked when I got to the very end since I THOUGHT I knew what happened!

I think any of this author’s novels would be excellent beach reads! If you’re a fan of this author, tell me what you think!

The Robert Galbraith series


As everyone knows, Robert Galbraith is a pseudonym for J.K. Rowling. Mystery is one of my favorite fiction novels (everyone knows I am busy on a weekend that a new Louise Penny novel comes out), so I was eager to read this series after enjoying Harry Potter so much. The book series starts with The Cuckoo’s Calling,  followed by the Silkworm, and finished by Career of Evil. I liked the series in general- I didn’t usually guess who the culprit was, and I particularly like the main characters, Robin and Cormoran Strike. As a military psychiatrist, I can appreciate the fear that the detective, who has a BKA (below the knee amputation) from an IED in Iraq, regards the fragile stump with: what if it gets injured, and it has to be revised to a much more difficult above the knee stump? What if the other leg gets injured?

On the other hand, I think the book seemed unrealistic that practically every attractive female throws herself at the detective (of course). He’s described as being a generally unattractive man (though admiring women ponder, “there’s something about him…” I feel like this is a pitfall that authors fall into- they think their main character is as attractive as they think he or she is!

Overall, I think the books are worth reading- not as great as Louise Penny, and not even her own Harry Potter novels, but I’m looking forward to the next one in any case!

Review of the Distant Hours, by Kate Morton


I read the Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton, and decided to see what was at our local electronic library- and found this book! I liked this one as much as I liked  the Forgotten Hours– and found the character of Juniper to be original and unlike that of anyone in fiction that I can think of. Essentially, the book is about a daughter discovering that an emotionally distant mother had been placed at castle in WWII during a mass displacement of English children- in an attempt to keep them safe, and out of London during the Blitz. She tries to learn more, and discovers a tragic family and their story, interwoven with a classic children’s tale, apparently written by the patriarch of the family. I thought this book was worth reading- another that was hard to put down. I’m slowly making my way through all of her books, so I’ll have a review of another of this author’s soon.

A review of Charles Todd’s “A Pattern of Lies.”


I’ve really enjoyed reading Charles Todd’s novels. As a military psychiatrist and history buff, I’ve appreciated the thought that this mother and son team put into their mysteries, and it encouraged me to read more about WWI. When I was little, our neighbor Mitch, who was important to me and thoughtful of a nosey little girl, was a veteran of this war. I don’t think I understood what he probably went through until I read one of these novels, and researched the Battle of the Somme- so many dead and traumatized for so little gain.

This series, the Bess Crawford series, is about a WWI battlefield nurse, who has remarkably bad luck in that there are murders everywhere she goes that require her to look into the crimes, along with her father’s command sergeant major, Simon Brandon (come on already and admit the two of you are in love!). This one was different in that most of it took place not on the battle field, but leave back in England. I really enjoyed it, and of course, it gave me something else to read about- the danger of manufacturing ammunition in WWI.

If you’re reading these novels, I think they’re better in the correct order, but not necessary. The other series they do, which I like equally- the Inspector Rutherford novels- make more sense in order, but you would have to start with a relatively new one- A Fine Summer’s Day, since chronologically, this one comes first. However, in order of publishing, it is recent. I actually recommend reading these in order of publishing instead. I’ll review the book A Fine Summer’s Day and reveal why later.

I hope you’ll read some of these books, and gain appreciation of what the generations before us endured.

Review of Kate Morton’s The Forgotten Garden: when Rebecca meets Poldark


I finished The Forgotten Garden a few weeks ago. It came highly recommended from another blog I like reading, Maybe Matilda. I had trouble putting it down- I just had to know the secret of the book! The setting is luscious, and really, who doesn’t love a grand estate and creepy family with dark secrets, and an innocent girl brought to the house? It definitely reminded me of Daphne DuMaurier’s book, Rebecca, and there were some scenes in the book that were quite derivative of Poldark, which is a much, much older book, like the one where the family gains the basis for it’s fortune by slaughtering a shipwrecked crew to take their cargo (though in Poldark, the slaughter is unintentional).

I think the best part of the book is the seductive, timeless feeling of the book, that she pulls you into the novel and the time period, and you keep wanting to read until suddenly the book is over. It was definitely entertaining! I picked up two more to read after this! I don’t think they’re books that I’ll think about much after I’m done, but I was carried away to a different time by them, and sometimes that is all I’m looking for.

Review of The Nature of the Beast, by Louise Penny


There are some real tragedies in the world, and then there are some third world tragedies in the world, like WHY MS. PENNY, DOES IT TAKE YOU SO LONG TO PUBLISH NEW INSPECTOR GAMACHE NOVELS?! During the reading of each novel, I have this fear of getting to the end- what if she kills off Inspector Gamache? Why will it take so long to revisit these characters and Three Pines? I keep wondering if I can move to Three Pines, except it doesn’t exist, I’m semi-allergic to snow, and everyone seems to get murdered there. In fact, if it weren’t such a pleasant place, I’m sure most everyone would leave. It’s clear that the charming little town is just window dressing for a portal to hell.

I don’t want to give away too many spoilers, but I’ll give away some, so if you’re upset by them, read this after you’ve read the book. It is usually a necessity of a Louise Penny book that someone is murdered in Three Pines, and Inspector Gamache comes to investigate, has some nice food at the Inn, goes to the bookstore, has a run in with the famous Ruth, and sits by a fire at least once. However, the great thing about these books is that each one is more well-written than the last. Even if the premise is unlikely- a superweapon buried in the woods?- the emotional content and the tension in the books improves each time.

I think the thing that set this book apart is the fantastic antagonist that Louise Penny developed. Since the last story-arc presumeably ended in the retirement of Gamache and the clearing house of the Surete (who else was shocked into dropping the book when the antagonist in jail wasn’t who you thought it was?), she seems like she needed someone else to serve as a foil to Armande Gamache, and boy, is John Fleming a great contrast. I haven’t seen anyone this psychologically menacing since Silence of the Lambs. I’m both concerned and relieved she might not have him in the next book.

If you haven’t read any Louise Penny books, start with the first one, Still Life. There is an over-arcing storyline that won’t make sense and character development that is both devastating and enlightening as you go on in the books.

Hurry up and write the next one, Ms. Penny! But take as much time as you need to make it as great as the last one.

Another winner in one of my favorite series by Alexander McCall Smith…


To be perfectly transparent, I love Alexander McCall Smith, and am apt to like mostly anything he writes. I love his approach to the good life, the warmth that comes through in the pages of his books, and the ethical questions inherent in all of his books. However, my two favorite series of his are the Number One Ladies’ Detective Agency Books and the Isabel Dalhousie Novels. I even suggested Isabel as the name for our daughter, but fortunately to save me from being too outwardly crazy, we discovered that Isabel is a name that runs in our family, from my husband’s great-grandmother from Spain, to Isabel de Clare, an ancestor of mine from medieval times.

I just finished his book, “The Novel Habits of Happiness,” which I loved- the newest installment in the Isabel Dalhousie series. In the book, Isabel grapples with issues of mortality and love, both in her daily life with Jamie and Charlie, her husband and son, and with her newest “case,” a little boy who claims to have been reincarnated. He makes a sad, but astute observation, and one I see often in my psychiatric practice, that our lives go by so fast:

“Isabel thought of Charlie, upstairs with his new stuffed meercat on his pillow. He had been a baby just a few months ago, it seemed, and she had thought it would never end. ‘I thought that love would last forever. I was wrong.’ That line of Auden’s that contained a truth about everything, not just love. And we had to act as if things were not going to end, because if we did not, then we would do so little in life.”

I found myself getting irritated with the constant yelling, tearing things up, messes, that parenting two small children under three involves, but when I read that quote, and though I realize it intellectually and teach people about death anxiety (see Irvin Yalom’s excellent Staring at the Sun for more information about this topic), it suddenly came to me on an emotional level. Isabel and Marcus were tiny babies a short time ago, and I have no way of knowing how long my time with them is- all of us are subject to fate, accidents, illness, death. Why waste my time getting irritated with them? I think that, though I slip and am not perfect, that Alexander McCall Smith taught me in a paragraph how to face parenting with more equanimity. The realization of the paragraph brought tears to my eyes while I was reading it. Thank you, Mr. Smith!

Putting away childhood interests…or not.


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What were your hobbies as a child? I think we grow into other things, but that perhaps constitutionally we have some interests that are a deeper part of who we are that we don’t give up. Talking with my husband, both of us have similar interests to what we had as children.

There is a resurgence in things that make us feel like kids, or at least, the things we wish we had been able to do as kids. Play and crafts are in. Adult coloring books are suddenly best sellers. There are summer camps, kid-style, for grown ups. Things that people traditionally learned to do as children are new for adults, like knitting and other hobbies. There are many suggestions why this is- some seem sort of snide, such as “recession makes us feel like being regressed,” etc.

I, however, am not one of those snide people. I am currently enjoying a return to a hobby that I used to love- writing and paper. When I was little, I used to make journals, and pretend to have a stationery store (yes, I know, other people were frying ants with magnifying glasses, playing ball, etc). Even in psychiatry residency, I used a fountain pen- influenced by a math major at my college that I was in awe of: WHO DOES CALCULUS PROBLEMS IN FOUNTAIN PEN?! Some supremely awesome mathemetician who is unafraid they will make a mistake, that’s who.

However, at some point, I stopped using paper, pen, and satisfyingly smudgy pencil, and tried to go paperless. I’m still keeping some things on Evernote- it’s just easier to reference things. But I’ve never gotten the hang of taking notes on keyboard, or with the round, fat-tipped stylus I bought for my iPad. Who thought anyone would want to write with a rubber Q-tip, anyway.

So, here I am back to paper again. My current loves: Rhodia paper (never going back to Moleskine again), my Visconti Van Gogh Starry Nights fountain pen, J. Herbin ink in violet scented ink and Stormy grey with gold flecks…and I am waiting with (no joke) bated breath for my new Midori Traveler’s Notebook and inserts- so cheap! So customizable! So functional! I can hardly wait. If you’re a Traveler’s Notebook (TN) fan, tell me any of your favorite hints for customizing or hacking your notebook!