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!

Sewing FAIL…

Measure twice, cut once. Now I know what that means! I didn’t actually mis-measure, that I’m aware of yet, but made another mistake on the skirt I’m working on. I ordered an “easy” pattern from Craftsy called it an advanced beginner pattern, and McCalls called it an “easy” pattern. I should have listened to Craftsy! The skirt had really pretty sateen fabric provided in the kit. I pre-shrank my fabric, ironed it, read the directions carefully, and pinned the pattern piece (there’s only two different pieces- the front and the back are the same, and there’s a waistband piece) down. I cut it out and success! Except when I looked at the craftsy photo, it turns out they opted for a horizontal orientation to the fabric, and I, thinking of the extra few pounds from Christmas over-indulgence, opted for a vertical orientation. Oops. I’m still going to complete the skirt- maybe it won’t look so bad…. :)

I also am working on the knit hat in rice stitch- it seems like it is coming out ok. I found an android app that helps me keep track of the pattern- Beecount. It seems pretty basic but is what I need for the job, and it was the right price: free! I like the rice stitch so far, even though I think I made a mistake when I frogged some of the knitting and restarted- I started with purl and think it was probably a knit line. I’m hoping it’s not too noticable because I don’t feel like frogging it again!


Well, back to my short vacation from work and lots of responsibility- it’s sad when staying home and cooking, straightening, organizing and knitting is a vacation, but it’s a lot easier than my normal day as a physician!

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Current projects, and trying to learn to sew…

It’s been awhile since I was on my blog! That doesn’t mean that I’ve been away from my interests, though. For fans of the Kristin Lavransdatter series, I’ve been reading the “Master of the Axe” series, also by Sigrid Undstet. I haven’t found it as compelling, but we’ll see. It might be because it is from the perspective of a male, and part of what I found gripping about the Kristin series was the authors ability to put into words the daily feelings I have about being a mother.

I finished “Divergence” by Veronica Roth- mostly because we’re having a book club meeting later this month- ladies, book +movie adaptation and maybe some wine; sounds like a good time. I thought the plot line was interesting, but the book read to me like the Hunger Games series + Twilight. A little painful.

I’m working on some ribbed fingerless mitts (a pretty mink color) from “Make it Knits!” from Interweave, and a charcoal and camel colored hat in rice stitch, which I have never tried before. I’m learning rapidly I need to keep a counter to remember whether I’m on a “purl first” row or a “knit first” row, after having ripped out multiple rows. Argh. Anyone using an Android app they like for this?

I’m working on my first sewing project, a skirt in a pretty sateen that I found on Craftsy. I’m hoping it’s not too ambitious. I found a book of really simple clothing with an Eileen Fisher meets Japanese aesthetic that I really like- things that I can’t find in the area I live in that look comfortable and nicely made. I can hardly wait!

I’ll post some photos later.

The Handsome Man’s De luxe Cafe

I don’t know how Alexander McCall Smith writes so many books, but I really liked the last one in the Number 1 Ladies Detective Agency series. If you haven’t read any of these, they’re worth your while- the author is a professor of Medical Ethics at the University of Edinburgh, and lived in Botswana at one point. He always has something profound to say about life in each book, without being too pushy, and there’s always some ethical dilemma in each book.

My favorite quote from the book, and something I see a lot in my practice of psychiatry, where people see their childhood through the lens of a child, rather than the adult they are, and keep making the same mistakes over and over without seeing the pattern:

“Of course, that was the sort of thing we all did when we were young. You cannot judge somebody of eighteen by the standards of somebody of thirty, even less by the standards of somebody who was forty. And those things that we did when we were young were not so important, really, provided that we stopped doing them as we grew older and saw them for what they were.

Mccall Smith, Alexander (2014-10-28). The Handsome Man’s De Luxe Café: No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency (15) (p. 165). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.”



Kristin Lavransdatter

I have found another book that has changed my life. Every once in awhile, a book resonates so strongly with your feelings, opens your eyes to a new experience, that it because a part of your life. I have a few books like this- not very many, because how many books really meet this criteria- and they are all treasures to me: Les Miserables, Jude the Obscure, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, The Remains of the Day, War and Peace, Anna Karenina, Never Let me Go….

The new book is actually a trilogy, by Sigrid Undset. I read them altogether, in a new translation by the person who translated the excellent Smilla’s Sense of Snow. After I was done reading the book, I immediately wanted to start reading it again, sure I had missed something but also sad at the loss of these characters who became a part of my life, Kristen Lavransdatter, Erlend, Simon… I can see myself reading this book several times throughout my life. I read on another blog (I immediately read every blog about it that I could find on google, to see what others thought) that it’s a book that speaks to many ages of people- teenagers who related to the reckless, passionate and forbidden relationship of Kristin and Erlend; tired, busy mothers; and women whose children have left the nest, and have a sense of wistful longing.

For me, the book really made me think- like Kristin in the middle book of the trilogy, I’m a busy mother (I don’t have a pile of boys like she does, just two kids, but I’m also a full-time psychiatrist and department head for a hospital) who sometimes forgets to enjoy the little moments. I feel tearful about it now, thinking about the loss that Kristin Lavransdatter reminds us is coming for us: our children will leave us or we will leave them some day. We will wish we had enjoyed every time our children had awakened in the middle of the night, warm and sleepy, afraid of the nighttime and wanting hugs from mom- did I remember to enjoy the kiss on the soft, fuzzy head of my one year old? Did I take the time to experience the cuddling two year old, who padded up to our bed in the wee hours of the night, wanting to lie between us, or did I complain they woke me up? I feel like I should be thankful in some way that Sigrid Undset reminds us of this before this time has passed me by.

Even the relationship between Kristin and Erlend reminds us to be kind to each other- remember how much you loved each other at the beginning, and do you really want to say something that jeopardizes that? Kristin and Erlend waste a lot of time, not knowing it is near the end of their lives, being angry with each other, wanting the other to make the first move and be humble. They could have spent that time in the comfort of the presence of the other- that person they risked so much to love in the first place. Kristin nurses her resentments, and Erlend carelessly treats his relationship with Kristin. How many of these sins have we all committed?

I’m reading her other masterwork, the other series for which she was awarded the Nobel Prize. I’m not sure it will mean as much to me as the Kristin Lavransdatter series, but I have high hopes. More to come. A few photos of my love and our two sweet babies…