Category Archives: Uncategorized

‘The House of Unexpected Sisters’ by Alexander McCall Smith

The usual investigative crew is at it again, with many of the usual friends and villains. Tea is served and the story continues. Botswana is once again richly portrayed and described. The African sunsets are magnificent and a simple serene backdrop to the complicated activities of humans, especially those in need of  The No. 1 Ladies Detectives Mma Ramotswe and Mma Makutsi!

Precious and Grace trip through the mysteries with the help of an extended family which should by now be familiar to you if you have followed the series. Mma Ramotswe learns some unexpected things about herself in this 18th instalment and has to face up to some unsettling stuff, which she of course does with her usual wisdom, grace, and style. Mma Makutsi’s  husband’s furniture store name describes this series best–‘double comfort.’ Like I always say, we all need a series at times! 🙂

Author Feature: Lauren Winner

Lauren Winner is an American historian, author and lecturer. Her interests are in Christian practice and Jewish-Christian relations. She was born and raised Jewish and then later converted and became an Episcopal priest. She is presently Assistant Professor at Duke Divinity School.

Winner’s writing, which I have encountered in various books and publications, is academic and approachable at the same time. She is honest about difficult issues in her own life while she speaks of relationship with God. Life and faith are messy, and our journeys are not perfect. Spirituality can suffer slumps and desolation and Winner offers unique insights into how to reconnect with God in ordinary everyday ways.

Here are the books, most of which I have read:

Girl Meets God is about Winner’s journey from Judaism to Christianity. The child of a Jewish father and a lapsed Southern Baptist mother, Winner chose to become an Orthodox Jew. But even as she was observing Sabbath rituals and studying Jewish law, Lauren was drawn to Christianity.  The twists and turns of Winner’s journey make her the perfect guide to exploring faith in today’s complicated world.

Still: Notes on a Mid-faith Crisis is a second memoir where she talks about the period following the breakup of her marriage and her mother’s death, during which she experienced doubt and despair. Elegantly written and profound, Still offers reflections on how murky and gray the spiritual life can be while, at the same time, shows us how to see the light we do encounter more clearly.

Real Sex: The Naked Truth about Chastity will be especially valuable to unmarried Christians struggling with the sexual mania of today’s culture. In a culture of  “everybody’s doing it,” Winner speaks candidly, with honesty and wit, about the difficulty and importance of sexual chastity outside of a committed relationship. She confronts cultural lies about sex and challenges how we talk (or don’t talk) about sex in church.

Wearing God: Clothing, Laughter, Fire, and Other Overlooked Ways of Meeting God is about little known (or used) metaphors for God. Is God more like a cardigan sweater or a fire that burns but does not consume? Going through overlooked images of God, she offers a unique sensory exploration of relationship with God that is new and refreshing.

Mudhouse Sabbath is an invitation to spiritual discipline. In this slim volume she highlights how Jewish practices can inform Christian discipline and outlines eleven spiritual lessons that Judaism taught her. Winner feels that Christian practices would be enriched, would be thicker and more vibrant, if some lessons were taken from Judaism. Spiritual disciplines do not save us, but they are as important as piano etudes are to a concert pianist or muscle strengthening to the athlete.

‘Canada Reads 2017: The Battle of the Books’

I am proud to be Canadian at all times, but in March I always feel a little bit more proud because of Canada Reads. Every year a panel of celebrities duke it out to try to answer the question, which book should all of Canada read? It is a literary debate but spills over into a discussion about the issues that are facing Canadians from coast to coast to coast. A big thumbs up to Canada for being dedicated to the important place that books and reading have in our lives.

This week five books were digested, dissected, debated, and discussed. And the winner was…Fifteen Dogs by André Alexis. See my review of this book here. Humble the Poet did a great job of defending it! It was not the book I had hoped would win. The Break would have been my choice. See my review of that book here. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to read the other contenders but I still might. All of the books are worth reading and if you missed the whole event, you can still find it at It’s worth a listen. And today it was such fun and a great privilege to be in the studio audience at CBC with daughter Kristin. Happy reading Canada!

‘You May Want to Marry my Husband’ by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

A very fine and beloved author died too young yesterday of ovarian cancer. She loved the pleasures of everyday life evident in her writing (Encyclopedia of Ordinary Things). She had a magnificent sense of humour evident even in her children’s books (Little Pea). Ten days before she died she wrote a dating advertisement for her husband of 26 years in The New York Times entitled:

You May Want to Marry My Husband

The piece reflects her generous spirit and her affinity for bringing people together. It is heartbreaking but you won’t want to miss it. Read it and hug someone near and dear to you after you do.

‘Truly Madly Guilty’ by Liane Moriarty

truly-madly-guiltystarstarstarAustralian author Liane Moriarty really knows how to weave a page-turning domestic thriller! The small cast of characters in this one are well described and sufficiently troubled to cast doubt on several people at once–as one reviewer aptly remarked, “she gives her characters enough baggage for a world tour.” If this is not your first Moriarty, you will recognize some of the things she writes about best: fraught friendships, troubled marriages, and checkered pasts. The ending was a bit too neatly tied up, but I thoroughly enjoyed the ride once again.

“Six responsible adults. Three cute kids. One small dog. It’s just a normal weekend. What could possibly go wrong?” In Truly Madly Guilty there is an incident at a backyard barbecue that has had devastating consequences, only you don’t know what that terrible thing is until quite far into the book. After the ‘reveal’ however, it’s not over yet. Other twists and turns continue so that like peeling an onion, more layers slowly come to light. I’ve almost read all of her books now,  The Husband’s Secret is still my favourite.

Bookshelf Detective

p1090807Happy New Year!

Thanks for another year of reading and discussions about books. It’s been grand! And I have no doubt there will be plenty of reading in 2017 once again, judging by my very long TBR pile and multiple lists. I’m sure it’s the same for you. Every New Year I look at my bookshelf and make a resolution to read all the books that I own that I haven’t even read yet…maybe this year I’ll succeed! I can always hope, although placing holds at the library is so irresistible. It did get me thinking about bookshelves…

read-your-book-caseOne of my favourite things is being a bookshelf detective, especially when I’m in a stranger’s home and have no other clues to go by, making deductions based on the collections of books that I see… Is there more commercial than literary fiction? More fiction than non-fiction? Are there bestsellers or more obscure titles? Does the space look dusty and musty or has it been recently cleaned and culled to create space for newer titles? Are there some obvious ‘his’ and ‘hers’ choices? Any children’s books? Are there clues to a vocation or an ancestry, or hobbies, or travel destinations? If someone examined my own bookshelves, what would they conclude about me?

bookshelfOur house has several libraries of books with different foci: children’s books in the guest room, professional books in the office, a sewing library in my quilting room, and of course a collection of cookbooks in the kitchen. There’s mostly fiction on a built-in staircase shelf which houses dog-eared favourites as well as new books I’m longing to get to. Since we’ve moved many times, the books we have are the survivors. Many of the fiction books we’ve read have been passed on and the non-fiction keepers are kept more for perspective than information. The absence of a set of encyclopedias is notable in this computer age.

Our living room bookshelf pictured above, has the most variety and says the most about us as a family. There are books on countries and cultures where we have lived or travelled to, hobbies like motorcycling and hiking, humour, self-help, faith, biography, and family photo albums. As far as fiction goes, there’s plenty of volumes that I haven’t read yet because the TBR pile beside my bed was getting tall enough to be lethal! And last but certainly not least, the most needed book companion item perched on the wooden nose—the now necessary pair of reading glasses!

Podcasts about Books and Reading

PodcastPodcasts are awesome. They are great companions when tackling tasks like cooking, exercising, ironing, commuting, knitting, sewing… or listening to when you have the flu and are too tired to read. Get yourself some noise cancelling headphones and you won’t even hear the doorbell or the dog barking!! TED talks, Stuff You Should Know, Meeting House Sermons, Serial… these are some of my favourites.

What I enjoy about book podcasts is finding new book suggestions, listening to author interviews, getting behind the scenes information on how or why books were written, and getting to know the people behind the story. It’s fascinating stuff. Below is an annotated list of my favourite book podcasts from three different countries. Happy listening!

CBC The Next ChapterCBC The Next Chapter (Canada) Shelagh Rogers hosts this program on Radio One. It features Canadian books and literature. What I like about it is keeping up with new Canadian content and I really appreciate Shelagh Rogers warm interviewing style. She has a way of putting people at ease and asking thoughtful probing questions.

Writers and CompanyCBC Writers and Company (Canada) Eleanor Wachtel is one of the finest interviewers I’ve ever heard. She interviews authors from around the world and is amazingly knowledgeable on history and politics worldwide. Her in-depth interviews with notable literary figures are a hallmark of this award winning podcast.

BBC World Book ClubBBC World Book Club (UK) Harriet Gilbert hosts this worldwide book club featuring famous authors and their best known novels. A live studio audience is present at each taping and questions come in from listeners around the world. Since I have often been in attendance at these tapings, you might just hear my voice asking a question!

Books on the NightstandBooks on the Nightstand (USA) Ann Kingman and Michael Kindness narrate this discussion on books and audio books. Though they both work for Random House, this is a personal project. Ann and Michael offer a unique insight into not only books and reading, but also a behind-the-scenes look at bookstores and the publishing industry.