My Life In France

“I was 32 when I started cooking; up until then, I just ate.” 

Julia Child 

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She’s so funny!

Julia Child wrote this book about the three things she was most in love with; her husband (Paul), France, and cooking; she had the time of her life when she and Paul moved together- in 1948- to France, where she studied at the famous Cordon Bleu cooking school in Paris…

Born and raised in a well-to-do family (with hired cooks) in Pasadena, California, Julia met the love of her life in Kandy (Sri Lanka) where they were both stationed in the Office of Strategic Services. Here’s what she said about their marriage:

“We had a happy marriage because we were together all the time. We were friends as well as husband and wife. We just had a good time.”

Their love story is unconventional, unexpected, and undeniably appealing. He loved photography, and was a decade older than she was. She was taller than him, and delightfully real. I really enjoy the photos of the two of them, which are sprinkled throughout My Life In France.

In ‘la belle France’ she really ‘found herself’ as an individual. Her words:

“I had come to the conclusion that I must really be French, only no one had ever informed me of this fact. I loved the people, the food, the lay of the land, the civilized atmosphere, and the generous pace of life.”

Her inspiring story of coming to herself in a foreign country is fascinating to me because I, too, love going places and learning how other people look at life. I feel like I want to take these treasures of perspective and keep them in my pocket until they rub off on me, as she did.

“It seemed that in Paris you could discuss classic literature or architecture or great music with everyone from the garbage collector to the mayor.” 

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Of course it was learning  French cooking, and bringing this skill home to America, that made Julia Child so famous that we’re reading her books over 60 years later!

The story of how this masterpiece came about is mind-boggling! She was so intense; I can’t fathom the countless hours she spent experimenting, practising, and perfecting recipes. Even just translating them into available-in-America ingredients that would work out well was a huge job. But, as she said “…nothing is too much trouble if it turns out the way it should.”

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She was totally absorbed by learning to cook. It seemed to give her endless supplies of energy, and her dedication to this new passion makes me want to do a lot more of the things that make me lose track of time; passions that just swallow me up for as long as I can stay wrapped up in them.

“I suddenly discovered that cooking was a rich and layered and endlessly fascinating subject. The best way to describe it is to say that I fell in love with French food- the tastes, the processes, the history, the endless variations, the rigorous discipline, the creativity, the wonderful people, the equipment, the rituals.” 

Saying that, let’s remember that this woman cooked on her TV show, and it went on the air- with her mistakes included! She was no stranger to human error, and she didn’t pretend otherwise! That’s one of the reasons people love her.

“Maybe the cat has fallen into the stew, or the lettuce has frozen, or the cake has collapsed. Eh bien, tant pis. Usually one’s cooking is better than one thinks it is. And if the food is truly vile, then the cook must simply grit her teeth and bear it with a smile, and learn from her mistakes.”

Have you ever read any of Julia Child’s cookbooks? I still (loosely) follow her delicious recipe for stovetop beets. Just so good.

I hope you enjoy reading this post, and that you’ll leave me a comment and follow my blog! 

Thank you for reading with me, 

Leah 🙂

The Mysterious Affair At Styles

“Every murderer is probably somebody’s old friend.”

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This is the book that began it all… Agatha Christie’s first ever published novel!

She wrote it during World War 1, and after being turned down (hard to believe!) by more than one publisher, it finally made its way into bookstores early in 1921. Since then, Agatha Christie became the best selling novelist of all time, outsold only by Shakespeare and the Bible. Plenty of time for those who’d refused her to regret that decision!

In the little Essex village of Styles St Mary, we first meet Hercule Poirot… a Belgian refugee, who’d been a great police detective there before fleeing to England with countless others early in WW1. Poirot is hilariously renowned for his devotion to ‘order and method’ in criminal detection.

“Everything must be taken into account. If the fact will not fit the theory—let the theory go.”

He’s recruited to help solve the murder at Styles Court by Arthur Hastings, an officer in the British army who’s on leave recovering from a battle wound. Hastings is a highly likeable character (more than a little bit like ‘my dear Watson’ to the great Sherlock Holmes) He and police Inspector Japp of Scotland yard are to become regular fixtures in the many Poirot stories that followed this one….

And now, for the mystery! Emily Inglethorp, a wealthy older woman is poisoned.

Suspects include her new husband Alfred, who is decades younger than her, John and Lawrence Cavendish (Emily’s stepsons from her first marriage), Mary (John’s wife), as well as the victim’s’s paid companion, Evelyn Howard, and a family friend, Cynthia Murdoch; all of whom were living at Styles at the time of the crime.

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Alfred is suspicious for more than just the obvious reason of his sudden marriage to such a rich woman so much older than himself. He’s not very popular with John and Lawrence, who naturally wish their own father’s fortune to have been left more to them than in the power of their stepmother and her new husband! Mary seems to be (understandably) resentful of their financially dependent position, and Cynthia is working at a WW1 medical dispensary, so she has access to poisons! Even Evelyn Howard, who is generally  considered a good sport, but who is clearly not impressed with her employer’s second husband, isn’t above suspicion.

“They tried to be too clever—and that was their undoing.”

Of course you can be sure of satisfaction among the twists and turns of this clever plot, and if you haven’t read Agatha Christie before, there’s no better place to start than here- at the beginning!

I’m not a fan of gruesome or graphic crime stories, but these ones are classy. The writing is all about the brilliant detective using logic and awareness of human nature to solve mysteries. Plus, it’s fascinating to go back to this old time and far-off place and hear how people thought and spoke. I can never get enough!

Do you like reading mystery/detective novels?

Which are your favourites, and why?

Thank you for reading with me, 

Leah 🙂

p.s. I hope you enjoyed my post today… If so, please leave me a comment, follow my blog, and and feel free to share it with someone else who might like it, too!!

 

The Zookeeper’s Wife

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“I don’t understand all the fuss. If any creature is in danger, you save it, human or animal.” 

This is the only book of Diane Ackerman’s that I’ve ever read, and I’ll readily admit I only even heard of it because of the movie of the same title. I’m so glad she wrote this, so we can all be amazed and inspired by how these heroes cleverly outsmart and bravely overcome a powerful evil, saving hundreds of innocents from its madness.

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Diane Ackerman

It’s the true story of Antonina and her husband Jan Zabinski, who kept a zoo in Warsaw, Poland… They were real, and so- imperfect people who knew how to be bigger than their flaws. This allowed them to see beyond their own troubles and take giant steps over their fears in order to rescue others in far worse danger. I love it.

Antonina was the kind of animal lover who brought up ‘wild’ animals alongside her child in their home, including lynx, badger, and even hyena pups. She cared for them tenderly and took their ways and needs in stride in an incredible way and to an incredible degree.

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Antonina

“Why was it, she asked herself, that ‘animals can sometimes subdue their predatory ways in only a few months, while humans, despite centuries of refinement, can quickly grow more savage than any beast.”

Early in World War 2, when the Germans bombed Warsaw, many of the zoo’s animals and enclosures were destroyed. But the Nazis’ insane obsession with a master race extended beyond humans, and the Warsaw zoo had some valuable animals in its captive breeding program, which the Nazis prized enough to try and exploit as a resource.

In the most horrible irony, while they were capturing millions of Jewish (and other marginalized) people and sending them in cattle cars to concentration camps where they were treated as sub-humans, the Nazis were going to great lengths to recreate strong, ancient, ‘pure’ animal races.

Jan and Antonina decided to take friends into their home to provide them with a safe hiding place. But that wasn’t enough.

“Suffering took hold of me like a magic spell abolishing all differences between friends and strangers.”

Eventually, they were secretly bringing hundreds of Jewish people from the ghetto into their zoo and hiding them in empty animal cages.

The Zabinskis empathy and humanity in a time and place overshadowed by inhumanity and cruelty makes for a terrible contrast, highlighting their heroism.

“We feel what we see, we experience others as self.”

The research that led to the writing of this book is astounding, and the story that unfolds from the pages of history is breathtaking.

It throws down the gauntlet; how many of us are willing to endure even a small inconvenience to stand up for someone who’s being made to suffer for their ethnicity or their religion?

Have you read this book?

What other stories of heroism do you love? 

I’m sure I’ll be writing about other ones as time goes by…

Thank you for reading with me,

Leah 🙂

ps: I hope you’ll leave me a comment, follow, and share my blog! 

 

 

The Summer Before The War

“War does have a way of interfering with one’s most closely held desires.”

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This yummy novel is part love story, part ode to the English summer of 1914, and partly a gentle feminist manifesto.

Beatrice Nash is a very clever, well read, highly educated woman; more so than is deemed quite proper, really. She’s coming into the little East Sussex town of Rye as a newly appointed Latin teacher, and several of the traditional people there find her a bit shocking. She would become a writer if she could, but has to earn her living, and is frankly fortunate that her own education allows her to do so by using her brain.

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Alas, she is also quite lovely to look at. Still recovering herself after the death of her old father, Beatrice is ready for a fresh start. Thanks to Agatha Kent (an old family connection who is also a well-established matron in Rye society) she has secured this new job. Agatha is a strong proponent of women’s rights and education for all children, including those labelled ‘gypsies’. She’s a super-likeable character, and if I were in the novel, I’d want to spend time with her in the hopes that she’d ‘rub off’ on me!

As so often happens, life has more in store for Beatrice than she had in mind for herself. Though she’s not looking for love, Agatha’s sensitive nephew Hugh Grange (a medical student on his summer break) finds his aunt’s bright and lovely young protege irresistible. Their friendship is growing to mean more to both of them by the end of that fateful summer than either of them expected it to…

“But if all else fails, I can always write her a sonnet.” “A sonnet?” said Hugh. “No woman can resist having her name rhymed with a flower in iambic pentameter,” said Daniel.”

Beatrice had found Hugh’s cousin Daniel pretty charming, but there was no future for the two of them as Daniel is homosexual. As are a pair of young local women Beatrice gets to know. Of course this is all kept quiet, as society was unforgiving toward such individuals….

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….And toward unmarried women who were no longer virgins. This is appallingly evident in the awful case of Celeste, the daughter of an old Belgian professor. They are taken in as refugees by England, as were countless other Belgians early in World War 1. (Naturally, they were a more palatable family to bring into one’s home than many others, who were made far less welcome due to their ‘peasant’ status.)

But poor Celeste is pregnant with the child of the German soldier who had raped her, and incredibly, she’s treated as ‘damaged goods’ by narrow-minded residents of Rye. It’s a relief to me to see how Beatrice Nash is able to make a difference at a time of terrible upheaval and long-overdue change!

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It’s a little tricky to know what to make of the local ‘man of letters’, Mr Tillingham. He seems like a nicely intellectual, slightly eccentric old character; but there’s something about him that feels like sand in my teeth.

Daniel is killed in the fighting, and their poor young Romany student returns home with P.T.S.D. Helen Simonson doesn’t spare her readers a view of the reality of war, which of course contrasts sickeningly with the insanely feverish, flag-waving excitement that drew so many off to battle. Beatrice and Hugh find in each other the love they so deserve after he returns from serving as an army doctor. It doesn’t feel especially romantic, but more like a piece of comfort. They and their lives, like those of millions of others, are forever changed by the war.

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This novel makes the same statement as did Testament of Youth. Violence and death is a senseless waste of life. I wrote a blog post about this intense autobiographical book shortly after I read it. Here’s a link to that: Vera Brittain.

It also reminds me of a more recent post, in which I blogged about another historical novel from the same period and not far away; Jacqueline Winspear’s  The Care and Management of Lies…

Which literary character do you wish you could actually get  inside the world of a novel and hang out with?

If you enjoyed reading this, I hope you’ll follow my blog and pass it on to someone else who might like it, too!

Thank you for reading with me,

Leah 🙂

 

Haiku

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Photo by Chad Greiter on Unsplash

I’m an avid Happier podcast listener! Sometimes it’s practical and helpful, other times merely interesting, but always funny.

If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a weekly conversation between two sisters; one who lives in New York city and writes books about human nature and happiness, and the other who lives in Los Angeles and writes TV shows.

In one episode, they introduced the idea of making up a daily haiku as a little mindfulness moment.

And… if you’re not familiar with haiku, it’s a breathtakingly simple Japanese form of poetry that can also be done in English.

Often about nature, a haiku is simply a thought expressed in 3 little lines; the first line is 5 syllables; the second line is 7 syllables; and the third line is 5 syllables again.

That’s it.

Here’s an example by Gretchen Rubin, one I heard on that podcast episode:

Central Park in bloom.

This year, I made sure to go.

Spring passes too fast.

Here is a link to the podcast notes for that episode.

And if you want to check out some haiku by other Happier podcast listeners, take a look at this hashtag on Twitter!

The idea isn’t to write a masterpiece, just to compose a thought in a mindful way.

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Inspired by this, I found this lovely little haiku book at the library…

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What’s interesting about this tiny volume is the way it brings together the works of traditional Japanese poets (translated into English), and throws in a few classic English poets.

Here are a few I liked from Japanese poets.

Today’s moon;

Will there be anyone 

Not taking up his pen?

-Onitsura

 

This ramshackle house, 

And me just the same as ever-

The first day of spring.

-Issa

 

My life,-

How much more of it remains?

The night is brief.

-Shiki

 

Along this road

Goes no-one

This autumn eve.

-Basho

 

In the icy moonlight

Small stones

Crunch underfoot.

-Buson

And here are some haiku-like lines written by western word artists…

 

I will touch 

A hundred flowers

And pick not one.

-Millay

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(me touching, but not picking a flower 😉

A violet

By a mossy stone

Half hidden from the eye.

-Wordsworth

 

not seeing 

the room is white

until that red apple

-Virgil

 

I was puzzled by the way the haiku poems collected in this anthology  are so loose in their ‘syllables per line’ structure! I wondered if it had something to do with the translation…

Then I read (in the foreword) this explanation by Peter Washington, the editor:

“Everyone is familiar with the notion that haiku have seventeen syllables, arranged in a pattern of 5-7-5. What matters more is the combination of subtlety, force, economy, and technical refinement…”

That clarifies for me how great poets can get away with having a very fluid relationship with the rules. I think I’ll just stick to the standard form. Maybe one day I’ll graduate to the level of haiku composition that can afford to flout the rulebook, but not yet! I may not have a professional grasp on subtlety, force, economy, and technical refinement, but I can make up a symmetrical little poem with 17 syllables. Here goes:

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fresh green fir branches

reach out friendly hands to me

earthy smelling woods

-Leah

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That’s from Sunday afternoon; it’s a sweet and easy way for me to remember my walk up the riverbank trail with my husband.

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Have you ever tried making up a haiku?

What else do you like to do for little moments of mindfulness on busy (or slow) days?

Thank you for reading with me,

Leah 😉

Footsteps in the Dark

“It was growing late, and though one might stand on the brink of a deep chasm of disaster, one was still obliged to dress for dinner.”

~ Georgette Heyer

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Delicious. This really hit the spot.

Interwar England is one of my favourite settings to read in, and Georgette Heyer is one of my favourite reasons for this! Published in 1932, Footsteps in the Dark is the first of the many mystery novels written by this prolific author. I enjoyed it so much that I went straight on to her next mystery, and don’t plan to stop until I’ve read them all.

(Or until I run out of access on my library app for the month. That happened fast.)

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Georgette Heyer

I could compare it to Agatha Christie’s detective stories; only somehow a little lighter in tone, and a little more emphasis on the action as it happens than on the brilliant mind solving the crime. I like how Georgette Heyer always seems to write one character who is terribly clever in that very dry English way; it lightens the mood of the book and really takes the edge off the tension created by creepy mysteries unfolding among such prosaic and unsuspecting snobs.

The old-fashioned thriller woven through with social comedy is a perfect combination, like eating sour candy.

When the story begins, Celia Malcolm and her siblings (Peter and Margaret Fortescue) have just inherited a charming old country house.  Against the advice of Celia’s husband Charles, they decide to keep it as a summer residence. ‘The Priory’ has barely been maintained since the tenants were haunted away a few years ago by the resident ghost (a ‘monk’.) There’s no telephone or even any electricity installed, but they (with their elderly aunt, Mrs. Bosanquet) cheerfully drive up the long lane through the forebodingly dark woods to the house for a season of rustic, if genteel rest and relaxation…

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Charles and Peter’s idea of a good vacation involves a bit of fishing, so they take full advantage of the estate’s trout stream, and on their way home one day they happen to spy a couple of men who are acting and talking rather suspiciously. One of them is the mysterious stranger who helped Margaret out when she had car trouble the day before, and the other is the shifty character they’d recently spotted eavesdropping on their conversation with the innkeeper in the local pub. Hmm.

There aren’t many neighbours of sufficient social standing to get together with for dinners and card parties, but the Fortescues do enjoy some such visits with the local gentry; enter Colonel Ackerly (a retired military officer who plays a mean game of lawn tennis), and the eccentric Mr. Titmarsh (a devoted and enthusiastic collector of rare moths), as well as Dr. and Mrs. Roote (the tipsy village doctor and his long-suffering wife)…

There are a few other locals who show up in this old-school cast, but the last one I’ll mention is Monsieur Duval. He’s an appallingly rude, drug addicted artist who lives in a secluded cottage near The Priory. His egotism is matched only by everyone else’s utter distaste for his company (and his art.)

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If you’re in the mood for secret moving panels, winding passages, skeletons, and terrifying noises in the night, barely laced with a little touch of romance, this vintage thriller might be the book for you.

While this novel is not to be taken at all seriously, it’s brilliant as lightly thrilling escape literature! Of course, reading novels set long ago and far away is one thing, but I find that when I read ones that were actually written in other periods I have to overlook some very out-dated attitudes in order to enjoy the story for what it is. This is fine with me; I’m not a fan of revisionist history and the flavour is more authentic than anything a modern author could dream up.

Do you prefer to read stories set in modern times, or take in a little time travel on your way through a book?

Thank you for reading with me,

Leah 🙂

 

 

 

Pemberley Shades

“Are the shades of Pemberley to be thus polluted?”

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Ooh. Aah. This is a vintage sequel, the second Pride and Prejudice spin-off ever published… It came out in 1949!

(Incidentally, the first ever sequel to Pride and Prejudice, the most famous- of Jane Austen‘s novels, was published in 1915, entitled Old Friends and New Fancies.)

Back to our feature presentation: Pemberley Shades.

What a delightful book. The language feels quite authentic and the story is imagined really well, which is believable since its author was a clergyman’s daughter who grew up (with a governess) in Victorian England, and lived out her days as a single woman living with her family- as had Jane Austen herself.

~I’m excited to share with you an excellent blog post I discovered about the story of this story, especially it’s recent republication!

Pemberley Shades: The Legend of the Lost Sequel

On to the story itself…

Things are not always what they seem. Least of all, people.

This photo of the Derbyshire countryside (where our story takes place), seen through the mist, really captures our novel’s tone; trying to get a clear view through a screen of lies…

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Photo by Ali Gooya on Unsplash

So, we begin just a few years after the end of Pride and Prejudice… at Pemberley (the famous Darcy family estate) with Elizabeth and Darcy; happily married parents of young Richard (their cute, but somewhat spoiled son and heir.) Darcy’s musically talented younger sister, Georgiana, is still single and so living at home with the happy couple.

As their local rector has recently passed away, Darcy is on task to fulfil his responsibility of choosing and providing a new one to preach and minister to his tenants. He’s determined to avoid having the unbearable Mr. Collins foisted upon them all by Lady Catherine de Bourgh, who has a hate on for her former favourite.

In the meantime his friendly neighbour Robert Mortimer of Clopwell Priory has been kindly filling in at the pulpit. But alas, in spending so much time at Pemberley, he finds himself infatuated with Georgiana. Which is sad for him, as she does not return his sentiments.

In the nick of time, Darcy receives a recommendation for a clergyman who sounds like just the ticket. Enter Mr. Stephen Acworth. And this is where the plot thickens.

I don’t want to spoil the book for you, so I’ll now become a little vague (to match the thickening plot.)

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English manor house, site for the BBC’s filming of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice

We are treated to a  letter from Mr. Collins, and extended visits by several amusing characters from the original cast; including Lady Catherine De Bourgh and her poor daughter Anne (who seems to have had enough of her domineering mother), the hopelessly good-natured Jane with her beloved Bingley and their children, as well as Elizabeth’s somewhat reformed younger sister Kitty, their mildly eccentric father, and the all-around wonderful Aunt Gardiner.

“Sound principles are not always found in conjunction with a sweet temper, a superior understanding and elegant manners, but Mrs Gardiner possessed all these attributes and more besides.”

The ‘lightly gothic’ tension in the plot of Pemberley Shades reminds me of Northanger Abbey (Jane Austen’s slightly spoofy Gothic drama.)

So whet your lips for some thrillingly awkward, even frightening scenes deep in the shady woodlands, some shockingly improper behaviour by those who should know better, and some downright satisfying (if surprising) romantic entanglements!

I’m sure any fans of Jane Austen (and her entourage of follow-on novels) will enjoy this book as much as I did.

Which other Austen-esque ‘sequels’ or ‘alternate endings’ have you read, and which would you recommend?

Thank you for reading with me,

Leah 🙂

 

 

 

Better Than Before

“Habits are the invisible architecture of daily life.”

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I first stumbled onto Gretchen Rubin’s work several years ago when I happened upon a copy of her hugely popular The Happiness Project.

Since then, I’ve become an avid listener of Happier, the helpful and funny podcast she co-hosts with her sister.

And I just keep reading her books. She is startlingly clever, and devotes a great deal of her abundant energy to researching happiness, habits, and human nature; and thankfully, much more of that energy to sharing what she learns with the rest of us!

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So basically, if you’re human, and want to choose your habits rather than letting them choose your life for you, this book is for you. I really enjoyed learning about what makes us tick, and how to tap into that awareness in order to struggle less and succeed more .

“How do we change? –by using habits…. If we change our habits, we change our life.”

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Self-Knowledge

As knowledge is power, the first part of the book helps us learn see ourselves through the lens of our instinctive response to expectations (both inner and outer)…

  1. Upholders respond readily to both inner and outer expectations.
  2. Questioners question all expectations, and respond only to those they can internally justify.
  3. Obligers respond readily to outer expectations while struggling to meet their own inner expectations! (me)
  4. Rebels resist all expectations, both their own, and those of others.

p.s. In case this fascinates you as it does me, there is whole other book about these four tendencies. (The Four Tendencies)

From there, we proceed to a series of thought-provoking questions to help us further understand our individual natures… (the ‘Distinctions’)

Am I…

  1. a lark or an owl?
  2. a marathoner, a sprinter, or a procrastinator?
  3. an underbuyer or an overbuyer?
  4. a simplicity lover or an abundance lover?
  5. a finisher or an opener?
  6. a familiarity lover or a novelty lover?
  7. promotion-focused or prevention-focused?
  8. and, do I like to take small steps or big steps?

The answers I came up with reveal facets of my personality I wasn’t even aware existed. ‘Things I never knew I never knew.”

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And then, the main course!

The author (I am convinced she is actually a genius. Maybe if I write in to her blog and ask, she will tell me her I.Q. score…?) has identified:

Strategies for habit change!

Here they are:

  1. Monitoring
  2. Foundation
  3. Scheduling
  4. Accountability
  5. First Steps
  6. Clean Slate
  7. Lightning Bolt
  8. Abstaining
  9. Convenience
  10. Inconvenience
  11. Safeguards
  12. Loophole-Spotting
  13. Distraction
  14. Reward
  15. Treats
  16. Pairing
  17. Clarity
  18. Identity
  19. Other People

(She often refers to the 21 strategies of habit change, but I have presented the first two- Tendencies & Distinctions- separately above under the Self-Knowledge heading.)

What I really appreciate about this book (apart from its user-friendly presentation of research that matters) is the individualized approach. Once I figured out my own answers to the questions at the top (which was fun to do) I could recognize which strategies would work best with my personality.

The idea is to reduce friction!

And it works. I sleep more now!

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Why make things harder than they have to be?

What habits have you successfully changed, and how?

Thank you for reading with me,

Leah 🙂

The Department Of Sensitive Crimes

“Sometimes we stumble over the truth. We think we find it, but it finds us.”

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Have you heard of ‘Scandi-noir“? (a.k.a. “Nordic-noir”)

I had, but only vaguely. In case you’re as innocent of this relatively new, darkly disturbing crime fiction as I was until recently, it’s meant to be a bit of a cultural expose uncovering creepy elements of society purportedly lurking beneath the calm surface of life in northern European countries.

You may recall a recent post I wrote about  Lagom (the Swedish concept of balance and harmony)… Well, in the words of Alan Bradley, here’s what we’re now encountering:

“With astounding heart and mind, Alexander McCall Smith launches a bold and original new series. With The Department of Sensitive Crimes, he invents a new and compassionate genre: Scandi Blanc…”

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Photo by John Flygare on Unsplash

Ulf Varg is a detective who lives and works in Malmo, Sweden. From an inconspicuous office, he leads a small team in solving crimes which are beyond the scope (or beneath the notice) of the regular police force, while stoically enduring the occasional joke about his names, which both translate as ‘wolf.’

In classic Alexander McCall Smith style, we are invited into the personal as well as the professional life of our protagonist…

We learn the sad history of his failed marriage and meet his therapist; “Dr. Svensson had once counselled him to think of the things you’re doing rather than the things you did. It was useful advice- he knew that- even if the therapist liked to claim he was not dispensing advice, but helping him to work out what was the best thing to do. That was the trouble with Dr. Svensson, thought Ulf: he often denied that he was there- an odd thing to do, especially when you charged so much for being present.”

We also get to know Ulf’s deaf labradoodle (Martin) and Mrs. Hogfors, the retired neighbour who cares for him while while Ulf’s at work… “Martin loved Mrs. Hogfors, and she adored him in return, allowing him to sleep on her sofa, feeding him a constant diet of fattening treats, and refusing to countenance any talk of faults on his part.”

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Photo by Sander Weeteling on Unsplash

Ulf’s co-workers are endearingly human and amusingly Swedish. But don’t expect to find nothing more than a lot of crime detection and platonic social interactions. Ulf is in love, and it’s heart-rending to delve a bit into the two sides of that ill-fated relationship…

I highly recommend this mentally and emotionally provocative novel to anyone who enjoys life. It’s not heavy, but with the light touch he’s famous for, this brilliant author hits another home run.

Have you read other books/ series by Alexander McCall Smith?

What do you think of this new series?

Thank you for reading with me!

Leah  🙂

 

 

 

 

Becoming Mrs. Lewis

 

“What on earth would become of me if I should ever grow brave?”

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What a heartbreakingly beautiful true story.

I was vaguely aware that C.S.Lewis had been married late in life to an American woman in ill health. That was about all I remembered from the film, Shadowlands. Then I happened upon this book in a library e-reader app last week, and could hardly put it down until I came to the inevitable end.

From the first page, it compels.

Who knew that the woman who would one day become Mrs. Lewis started out as a highly intelligent, atheist Jewish child in New York City?

That she lived and wrote as a communist, and graduated with a masters degree from Columbia University?

That she endured years of infidelity and abuse with an alcoholic  husband before fleeing with her two little boys to save her health and hope…?

Not I…

Early in this historical novel (which reads more like an autobiography) Joy had a totally unexpected experience when she fell to her knees in desperation and fear on the floor of her baby’s bedroom one night. She was surprised to find herself uttering a prayer, which was answered by an immediately overwhelming sense of comfort and peace. She could never look at her life the same way again.

“Much of what I’d done — mistakes, poems, manipulations, success and books and sex — had been done merely to get love. To get it. To answer my question: do you love me? . . . From that moment on, the love affair I would develop would be with my soul. [God] was already part of me; that much was clear. And now this would be where I would go for love — to the God in me. No more begging or pursuing or needing.” (‘Joy’) 

She was an award winning writer in her own right, and knew other writers; one of her friends had spent time in England with the well-known author, C.S. Lewis (known to his friends as Jack.) She wrote to him, searching to understand her spiritual experience and gain clarity as a Christian convert.

They did have some things in common, most importantly their incredible intellect, and their surprise at being forced by their own undeniable experiences to forsake their atheism for Christianity.

C.S. Lewis The Kilns, His Oxford Home

~The Kilns, Lewis’s home

(photograph: awesomestories.com)

Joy met her match in Lewis, an Oxford professor 17 years her senior, who worked in a world of academics (of which she was undoubtedly one) and men (of which she was undoubtedly not one.) The college where he worked wasn’t even open to women students!

Little did he know then that this was ‘the beginning of the end’ of his life as a confirmed bachelor. He was originally from northern Ireland, and when Joy stepped into his life he lived contentedly in the English countryside with his older brother, Warnie (who was a dear, and loved her as a sister.) But alas, Jack’s friends didn’t approve of her, especially not for him. It really is amazing that they ever got together.

“It is not hopeless,” he said with surety. “It is uncertain, and this is the cross God always gives us in life, uncertainty. But it is not hopeless.” (‘Jack’) 

Love conquers all.

Patti Callahan ( author of Becoming Mrs. Lewis) has researched minutely and read extensively; so much so that she’s able to write convincingly in the first person about Joy’s courageous suffering through her ‘once upon a time’ and brave living which propelled her eventually into her own ‘happily ever after.’

Becoming Mrs. Lewis left me craving more about this brilliantly gifted writer who waded through chronic illness and faced down relentless prejudice to produce an impressive body of written work and captivate the heart and mind of one of the most famous writers and speakers of his time (and the author of The Chronicles of Narnia!)

It’s safe to say she was the love of his life, as he said this of her:

“She was my daughter and my mother, my pupil and my teacher, my subject and my sovereign; and always, holding all these in solution, my trusty comrade, friend, shipmate, fellow-soldier. My mistress; but at the same time all that any man friend (and I have good ones) has ever been to me. Perhaps more.”                                                 -Person Jr., James E (16 August 2009). “Books: ‘Out of My Bone: The Letters of Joy Davidman'”. The Washington Times. Retrieved 8 December 2011.

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Joy Davidman (findagrave.com)

I know Joy wasn’t alone in her experience of feeling at first that she had to do or be something, good enough somehow, to ‘earn’ the right to be loved by ‘proving worthy of it’…

I’ve experienced powerful change in my own life, by realizing that I, in my flaws, am and always have been perfectly loved by God.

How about you?

Also, can you recommend to me any other good books or movies about Joy and Jack?

Thank you for reading with me,

Leah 🙂