‘The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating’ by Elisabeth Tova Bailey

Rating: 5 out of 5.

How many snails have you walked past in your life? Probably more than you think, mostly unseen. If you have seen one, have you watched it eat or protect itself, or reproduce? Probably not, snails are slow and our lives are usually in the fast lane. Most of us steam past without a backward glance.

Elizabeth Tova Bailey was bedridden with a mysterious illness after a trip abroad. Of course she was devastated by sudden immobility, but somehow managed to fill her days, even though life had become very limited. A small companion helped.

During her illness, the author received the unusual gift of a wild snail from a friend. Beautifully described, Bailey tells the story of her observations of the tiny creature on her nightstand and her thoughts along the way about recovery and survival. This is a quiet comforting book but also endlessly fascinating.

Bailey teaches us the power of paying attention and seeing life in all of its curiosity, beauty, and wonder. Don’t gobble this one up, it’s best read at a snail’s pace.

‘Wonderstruck’ by Brian Selznick

Rating: 5 out of 5.

(Teen – Adult) This young adult middle grade graphic novel is a picture book for everyone. The book is a unique adventure in art and story and I loved it. It’s also been made into a movie, but I would recommend reading the book first.

The book alternates between two stories that eventually converge; one story is just in pictures and the other is just in words. Both the drawings and the writing are done by Brian Selznick. I will definitely be reading more by this amazing artist and author. His cross-hatched pencil sketches are vivid and emotional. The way he blends words and pictures is an experience in itself.

Ben longs for the father he has never known. Rose dreams of a mysterious actress whose life she chronicles in a scrapbook. When Ben discovers a puzzling clue in his mother’s room and Rose reads an enticing headline in the newspaper, both children set out alone on desperate quests to find what they are missing.

‘A Song of Comfortable Chairs’ (No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency # 23) by Alexander McCall Smith

Rating: 3 out of 5.

“Your furniture always tells the truth about you, and if the furniture is unvarnished, then so is that truth.”

A very dear friend gifted me this 23rd instalment of the No. 1 Ladies Detective series, paired with some gourmet teas. I knew about ‘wine and food’ pairings, but had never heard about ‘book and tea pairings!’ Thanks Laura! It was a very thoughtful and delicious gift. But being a completist I had to first backtrack and read the two I’d missed in the series. As I always say, this author “writes ’em quicker ‘n I can read ’em!”

The author grew up in Zimbabwe and later co-founded a law school at the University of Botswana. Smith is an expert in medical law and bioethics and Professor Emeritus at the University of Edinburgh School of Law. He has since become known as a fiction writer.

Rather than hardcore crime, these mysteries are about facing delicate human dilemmas. This is not hugely compelling or riveting reading, it’s more like a cozy comfortable chair where grace, generosity, and common sense reign. Personally I think the series was better in the early days, but I still love journeying on with the characters now. Smith’s profound love and respect for the place and people of Botswana is evident.

Alexander McCall Smith has written a number of series, all with his trademark gentle humour and meandering philosophical conundrums. For his website, click here.

I also love the poem that McCall Smith wrote to mark the occasion of the death of Queen Elizabeth II called A Day in September. Here is the link to that poem: A September Day, which was carried on the front page of the Sunday Times on September 11, 2022.

The refuge ‘Elephant Havens‘ referred to in How to Raise an Elephant is real. That charity is working on the ground in Botswana to protect and preserve the African elephant.

No. 1 Ladies Detective # 21
No. 1 Ladies Detective # 22

‘Joyland’ by Stephen King

Rating: 4 out of 5.

This is my first Stephen King. I never thought I would be reading a book by the ‘king of horror’ but I always wished I could read at least one of his books because he is known to be an excellent writer. He’s written whole books on how to write (On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft)! Horror just wasn’t my genre, but then someone suggested Joyland as a King book for those who want something less challenging in that regard. So I tried it and was immediately hooked.

Set in a small-town North Carolina amusement park in 1973, Joyland tells the story of the summer in which college student Devin Jones comes to work as a carny and confronts the legacy of a vicious murder, the fate of a dying child, and the way both will change his life forever.

This is a riveting story about love and loss, growing up and growing old–and about those who don’t get to do either because death comes for them before their time. Joyland is so well written and even though I do admit to a few goosebumps once, I wouldn’t call it horror. I was rooting for Devin all the way and loved the nostalgic carnival setting with a touch of humour. The unusual mix of emotional impact with suspense was addictive; I couldn’t put it down. It’s still a crime novel, so it’s not without some brutality and language, but also has a moving gentle core. I loved it! King’s writing style is exceptional and I hope to read more–if I dare.

‘Come Rain or Come Shine’ (Mitford # 13) and ‘To Be Where You Are’ (Mitford # 14) by Jan Karon

It’s been really busy lately; not much time for reading, which is not an excuse or a slump, it’s a season. And it happens.

We all have seasons in our reading life. What I tend to do is stick to easy reading, especially easy reading series. What do you do?

Many years ago I read all of the Mitford books and loved them. Now when I was catching up on these last two instalments, I was not as impressed as I was then. Did the series change or did I?

These books felt cliché to me now. I found the characters were too many without being necessary to the plot. The small town antics also seemed to be less humorous and more tiresome. I’m not a fan of Christian fiction, but this series always felt a bit different–better written and offering glimpses of faith rather than a conversion agenda. That hasn’t changed, but these did fall flat.

The Mitford series features Episcopal priest Father Tim Kavanagh. The series deals with stuff in the lives of ordinary people in an ordinary town, and showcases the importance of faith in everyday life. The books have always included humour, wit, and wisdom. For a complete series list, click here.

‘Come Rain or Come Shine’ by Jan Karon (Mitford # 13)

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Over the course of ten Mitford novels, fans have kept a special place in their hearts for Dooley Kavanagh, first seen in At Home in Mitford as a barefoot, freckle-faced boy in filthy overalls. Now, Father Tim Kavanagh’s adopted son has graduated from vet school and opened his own animal clinic. Since money will be tight for a while, maybe he and Lace Harper, his once and future soul mate, should keep their wedding simple. So the plan is to eliminate the cost of catering and do potluck. Ought to be fun. An old friend offers to bring his well-known country band. Gratis. And once mucked out, the barn works as a perfect venue for seating family and friends. Piece of cake, right?

‘To Be Where You Are’ by Jan Karon (Mitford # 14)

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Father Tim Kavanagh struggles to find meaning in retirement, while newlyweds Dooley and Lace face a crisis that drains their bank account, and four-year-old Jack Tyler looks forward to the biggest day of his young life.

It was fun to see Father Tim and Cynthia invest in an RV and see Lacey’s art work take off, but I lost the plot a few times with this last book and ended up skimming a bit.

‘Atlas of the Heart: Mapping Meaningful Connection and the Language of Human Experience’ by Brené Brown

“If we want to find the way back to ourselves and one another, we need language and the grounded confidence to both tell our stories and be stewards of the stories that we hear. This is the framework for meaningful connection.”

Rating: 4 out of 5.
“We are the mapmakers and the travellers.”

This book is a brilliant roadmap that journeys through 87 emotions and experiences that help define what it means to be human. Human emotion can be a very confusing thing. Brown sorts it all out. The print edition is a solid and appealing ‘coffee table’ style edition that is beautifully published and can be browsed in or read cover to cover.

It’s a transformative read dealing with a myriad of topics that cultivate meaningful human connection. Some people have criticised this book for rehashing a lot of stuff in her earlier books, but to me it seemed more like a coming together of her life’s work and research so far.

I think I’m a better person after reading this book. Here’s why. Human emotions and experiences are layers of biology, biography, behaviour, and backstory. She says, in order to recognise, name, and make sense of our feelings and experiences, we have to:

  1. Understand how they show up in our bodies and why (biology).
  2. Get curious about how our families and communities shape our beliefs about the connection between our feelings, thoughts, and behaviour (biography).
  3. Examine our go-to (behaviours), and
  4. Recognise the context of what we’re feeling or thinking. What brought this on? (backstory)

If you’ve ever felt adrift in your emotions, this book might help clarify things. The groupings of emotions and explanations of those groups were hugely helpful. This is the kind of book I tend to revisit from time to time.

‘Sunday Silence’ (Frieda Klein # 7) and ‘Day of the Dead’ by Nicci French (Frieda Klein #8)

Yay! I’m done the series!! Boo hoo, I’m done the series!! Feeling a bit conflicted–happy to finish, but also a little bereft.

Frieda Klein is endlessly fascinating and I came to love the other characters too–especially Josef. These books are about crime, but also about friendship, family, found family, mental health, and loyalty.

Because I don’t binge read series often, it takes me awhile to finish. I started Blue Monday back in November 2020. Actually that’s not even too bad for a series of 8 books! I just pick one up once in awhile in between other reads.

Warning: This series starts on Monday but doesn’t end on Sunday. For a complete list of the eight books in order, click here.

Nicci Gerard & Sean French

Nicci French is a husband and wife author team. Both have published books on their own as well. But I think the magic happens when they write books together! In addition to this series they have co-written a number of stand-alone books as well. My favourite of those so far is The Lying Room. I am looking forward to reading the others.

Sunday Silence by Nicci French (Frieda Klein # 7)

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Note: this book is also published under the title Sunday Morning Coming Down.

Frieda Klein is a psychologist who gets sucked into the orbit of Dean Reeve, a psychopath serial killer obsessed with Frieda herself. But this time there is a copycat at work as well. That makes things complicated. In the confusion and apprehension of two criminals at once, Klein and the other (by now) familiar characters are busy reviewing what they know and don’t know that will help them to finally solve the case. “What we don’t know–all the gaps and silences–can be more powerful than what we believe we do know.”

Day of the Dead by Nicci French (Frieda Klein # 8)

Rating: 4 out of 5.

This was a satisfying and thrilling finale to the series. It kept me guessing right to the end and it finished well. The book starts off in a unique way because at first Frieda is nowhere in sight! Everyone is wondering about where she went and is talking about her, so she is central, but absent. The title refers to a celebration to honour and remember those who have gone on. It’s about the dead as companions and friends, still alive in our memories and hearts. It is a fitting and moving thought to end this series.

‘A Great Reckoning’ by Louise Penny (Gamache, Three Pines # 12)

Rating: 4 out of 5.

A chilling story, but filled with hope.

After rooting out evil in the Sûreté du Québec, Armand Gamache is now Commander of the Sûreté Academy, a training school for officers. But there is corruption lurking there as well. Gamache finds himself up against a dangerous force to be reckoned with, where young minds are being poisoned. As always, he approaches this dangerous problem with wisdom, bravery, and integrity.

A mysterious old map is found stuffed into the walls of the bistro in Three Pines. All hands are on deck to discover its provenance and how it relates to a dead professor at the Academy.

Of course all of the old familiar Three Pines characters are present (and in fine form) as they interact with the new recruits. Picking up another book in this series is always a bit like coming home. This one is less ‘action packed’ as some of her others, but the author wrote this during a difficult time in her own life and I can see how it is more reflective and compassionate in tone as a result.

I was incredibly touched by the author’s Acknowledgements at the back of the book where she shares how challenging it was for her to write this while her beloved husband Michael was suffering from dementia. She says, “Dementia is a marauder, a thief. But every hole it drills has been filled by our friends. By practical help and emotional support.” The tribute to her husband in the Acknowledgements is so moving and full of love and respect for him. Don’t miss it. Penny has freely admitted that there is a lot of Michael in Armand Gamache.

‘Fresh Water for Flowers’ by Valérie Perrin

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The main character in this book is a woman who lives in a small house attached to a cemetery where she tends graves and nurtures people who come to mourn. Violette Toussaint is a cemetery keeper at the Brancion-en-Chalon cemetery in Burgundy. She is dedicated to caretaking and simply offers kindness. She takes great pride in her work. But what is Violette’s story? How did she come to be in this place? This lyrical novel is atmospheric and immersive and I longed to get back to it whenever I had to put it down.

Fresh Water for Flowers by Valérie Perrin, translated from the French by Hildegarde Serle, is a beautifully written and timeless novel that contains mysteries that slowly get resolved and stays compelling right to the end. Even though the story skips around in time a bit, it is easy to follow and is in equal measures heartbreaking and life-affirming. The writing is what makes this novel special and the characters are so well drawn. Even though there is tragedy, betrayal, and regret, this intimate story is also full of compassion, gentle humour, hope and love.

Note: readers should know that there is mature content and infidelity in this novel – it is France, after all, but it may be triggering for some.

‘Don’t Overthink It: Make Easier Decisions, Stop Second-Guessing, and Bring More Joy to Your Life’ by Anne Bogel

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Overthinking is something we all do, at least some of the time. It’s one of those universal, recognisable, human traits that (if we are honest) we all suffer from to some extent. Bogel makes the job of making small decisions easier, by getting us to think in advance about the bigger picture. Making value decisions ahead of time that overarch smaller ones, can save us a lot of headaches. She shares good advice about how to shape habits and routines to reflect the things that we value, and help us to avoid overthinking every little piece of our daily lives. It can be very freeing!

Anne Bogel is an author, podcaster, and book blogger. She always has creative and sensible ideas when it comes to recommending books and in offering wisdom on a variety of topics. Her blog is titled Modern Mrs. Darcy and you’ll find all you need to know about Anne there. I was honoured to be a guest earlier this year on her podcast What Should I Read Next (Episode 324).

Just for fun I’ll add this! My favourite youtube sensation has this hilarious song about overthinking. The Holderness Family make good clean parodies of well known songs on many aspects of family life. They are hilariously funny and sharply witty. Apparently, they suffer from overthinking as well!