"Carry On, Mr. Bowditch" by Jean Lee Latham

I remember reading this book when I was in my early teens and thinking it was absolutely fascinating.  I read it about the same time as Captains Courageous by Rudyard Kipling, and the two of them made me a fan of tall ships.

The funny thing is, when I was reading this aloud to my kids this fall, I remembered almost none of it.  I thought it took place mostly aboard ship, but it was actually mostly about how Nathaniel Bowditch grew up self-educated and the struggles he went through to learn and understand things.  Not struggles because he had a learning disability, but because he was incredibly smart but not rich enough to afford a good education.  So, he taught himself Latin and higher mathematics and navigating and all sorts of complex things.

I didn't realize this as a kid, but Nathaniel Bowditch was a real person, and this is basically a biography written like a novel.  That made it more interesting to me this time through, though I do think the whole book was not nearly so exciting as I remembered.  I definitely appreciated the themes of never giving up and not letting others discourage you, but my kids had trouble staying engaged with the book.  Partly because all the side characters kept dying off in the most abrupt ways possible.  Once we learned this was based on a real person's life, that became a little more understandable, I guess.

Overall, this is one of the rare occasions where I remember loving something as a kid or teen, but discover I now only like it okay.  I'm glad I reread it, but I doubt I'll reread it again.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: G.  Nothing untoward here.

"Kidnapped" by Jan Burke

This was a nail-biter, and no mistake.  So many little threads of killings and kidnappings and disappearances and deaths, all woven together skillfully.

A young man goes to prison for killing his father and little sister.  His brother and mother are convinced he's innocent.  Fast-forward a few years, and new evidence crops up, old evidence is shown to be mismanaged and misidentified, and then a dead body linked to another kidnapping is found, and suddenly lots of crimes that seemed unrelated start forming a pattern.  At least, that's how intrepid reporter Irene Kelly sees it, and her police detective husband Frank sees it the same way.  

This book marks the end of My Year with Irene Kelly.  Although there is one more book in the series, Disturbance, I won't be reading it.  I discovered that it deals with the same ultra-creepy killer from Bones, which I disliked so much when I read it earlier this year that I didn't even review it.  I don't want to remember it.  So I know I don't want to read another book about the same guy.

I'm really happy I've finally read this whole series!  Bloodlines remains my personal favorite, and I also think it's the most masterful of the ten I've read.  But I very much enjoyed most of the other books, including this one.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: R for semi-graphically described murders, bad language, adult dialog, and some non-graphic sexual situations.

This has been the 55th book read off my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2022.

"Gilead" by Marilynn Robinson

Hmm.  Hmm hmm hmm.  This was an unusual book, and no mistake.

The whole thing is a letter from an aging pastor with a deadly heart problem -- he's writing to his young son because he knows his son will have to grow up without getting to know him, and he wants to leave him with some understanding of who his father was.  So, there are no chapter breaks, just places where he stops writing for a while and then comes back.

It's a series of musings about this man's life, his views on the world, his family history, and his thoughts on religion.  There's also a lot about how he met his much-younger wife, the joy she and their son have brought to his waning years, and what it's like to be the pastor of a very small congregation in rural Iowa in the first half of the twentieth century.  

Me, I was born in rural Iowa when my father was the pastor of a very small congregation.  So I probably related to that aspect more than some readers would.  We moved away when I was three, but my family's roots are all in rural Iowa, and my parents have retired there.  It's a good, rich place to live, with its own quiet beauty and strength.  Some of that shone through in this book, and I was glad of that.

Yeah, anyway, about the book.  It rambles, it circles back to things discussed earlier, it goes off on tangents -- I eventually just had to sternly tell myself that I would finish this book before I could start reading anything else.  As it is, it took me five months to finish it.

Now, it wasn't boring.  It was really quite fascinating.  Except that, I somehow never remembered how interesting it was when I wasn't actively reading it.  I would set it down and just go my merry way, and only physically seeing it would remind me to read it.  That's very weird for me, as usually I think about the things I'm reading while I'm not actually reading them.  I can only remember one other instance when I was this disconnected from a book I was enjoying, and that was Papillon by Henri Charriere.  Same thing there when I read that one ten or twelve years ago -- I'd be engrossed while reading, then totally detach as soon as I put it down.  So weird.

The most interesting part was when the narrator was talking about the Spanish Influenza during World War One.  He says, "People came to church wearing masks, if they came at all.  They'd sit as far from each other as they could" (p. 47).  Boy, does that sound familiar!  And, lest you think Robinson wrote that with Covid-19 in mind, this book was published in 2004, when it won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

Anyway, I disagreed with a lot of the main character's theology, and I was really sad that he never leaned on God for comfort or help.  There's a middle-aged man whose story weaves in and out of this one who desperately needed to know that God loves and forgives him, but the pastor never shared that with this other man at all, and toward the end, that made me pretty disgusted.  It IS a pretty clear picture of what happens when you remove Christ from Christianity, I'll give it that.

The title interests me greatly because, these days, the Bible reference to Gilead that springs to mind most often is from Jeremiah 8, when he laments, "Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there?" (Jer. 8: 22 KJV)  I can see how that relates to the book, because both the pastor narrator and the middle-aged man he keeps trying to help both are searching for the balm of God's love and forgiveness and utterly missing out on it.

Still, it was a beautifully written, contemplative book, as you'll see in the parts I quote below.  But I left it feeling like it could have been so much more.  The narrator clings to the forms and idea of faith, but not to the Savior we place our faith in. In the end, it felt empty of hope and joy, and that was disappointing.  

Particularly Good Bits:

It seems to me some people just go around looking to get their faith unsettled.  That has been the fashion for the last hundred years or so (p. 27).

I am also inclined to overuse the word 'old,' which actually has less to do with age, as it seems to me, than it does with familiarity.  it sets a thing apart as something regarded with a modest, habitual affection.  Sometimes it suggests a haplessness or vulnerability.  I say 'old Boughton,' I say 'this shabby old town,' and I mean that they are very near my heart (p. 32-33)  (My Iowa-born pastor father uses 'old' the exact same way.)

To be useful was the best thing the old men ever hoped for themselves, and to be aimless was their worst fear (p. 56).

It is a good thing to know what it is to be poor, and a better thing if you can do it in company (p. 227).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-13 for discussions of violence and bloodshed during the Civil War, racism, miscegenation laws, and some non-smutty discussions of unwed motherhood.  No bad language or racy scenes.

This has been my 54th book read off my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2022.

"The Murder of Roger Ackroyd" by Agatha Christie

My favorite part of this book was figuring out that Hercule Poirot was in it before he was actually mentioned by name.

My least-favorite part of this book was figuring out who the killer was about two-thirds of the way through the book, and being right.  I really hate that.  I pretty much demand that the detective and the villain in a mystery book or show or movie should be smarter than I am.  If I figure things out before the big reveal, I feel cheated.  I don't try to figure them out -- I even actively try NOT to.  But sometimes, it happens, and then I'm kinda bummed.  Especially since several people told me to avoid spoilage on this, and that I was going to really enjoy the reveal.  Oh well, it was still a fun Hercule Poirot mystery :-)

This one is kind of a locked-room mystery and kind of a house-party mystery, and also a cozy-village mystery.  A rich guy gets murdered, lots of people who were at his big estate for a party are suspects, and so are lots of people in the village.  There are some obvious suspects and some not-so-obvious ones, and Poirot's little grey cells get quite a workout before the end.

Particularly Good Bits:

It is odd, when you have a secret belief of your own which you do not wish to acknowledge, the voicing of it by someone else will rouse you to a fury of denial (p. 225).

"It is completely unimportant," said Poirot.  "That is why it is so interesting," he added softly (p. 288).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-13 for murder, some innuendo and talk about unwed mothers, and a smattering of mild bad language.

This has been my fifth book read from my fourth Classics Club list, and also my 53rd book read from my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2022.

"The Vanderbeekers Make a Wish" by Karina Yan Glaser

This series continues to be a complete delight!  I probably start all my reviews for these books this way, but it's true.  I love this fictional family.

In The Vanderbeekers Make a Wish, the kids are trying to find a way to make their father's upcoming 40th birthday extra special.  They hit on the idea of recreating a road trip he was supposed to take with his own father after graduating from college, but which never happened because their grandfather died.

The only trouble is, their other grandparents have come for an unannounced, unexpected visit.  And, while the Vanderbeeker kids know they should love their grandparents, they struggle a lot with that.  Their mom's father is quiet and observant and almost never talks.  Their mom's mother is bossy, demanding, and unsatisfied with everything and everyone.  Still, the kids obey their parents' reminders to be polite and kind and respectful to their grandparents... most of the time.  They're kids, and they stumble, but they also apologize and ask for forgiveness when they do.

I loved how this particular book wove more of their mother's Chinese heritage into the story.  But mostly, I loved the utterly believable generational conflicts and conundrums.  This family feels very real, but in a light and uplifting way.  The parents are good parents, the kids are good kids, and the misunderstandings and scrapes that occur are never overblown OR underplayed.

Particularly Good Bits:

Upstairs, Mama was finishing up a batch of granola that Oliver and Papa would take with them, the musical clinking of metal bowls and wooden spoons a comforting sound that the Vanderbeeker kids had all been hearing since birth (p. 2-3).

Even though Hyacinth herself was quiet, she preferred to be around people who talked a lot.  That meant she could listen, which made her happy (p. 176).

We don't know a lot about the adults in our lives," Hyacinth said.  "They're all mysteries" (p. 223).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: G.  Wholesome and uplifting and wonderful.

This has been the 52nd book read off my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2022.