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The Wind in the Willows–endearing children’s classic for all ages

The Wind in the Willows

by Kenneth Grahame

My book club decided to read The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, a children’s classic written in the early 1900’s by a British author. As a retired educator, I felt like this is one of those books I should have read. I downloaded a free copy from Project Gutenberg. It has some illustrations, but I found I would have liked more. The other readers in my group had various ways of reading this classic tale. One had a particularly beautifully illustrated version that I adore. Another friend listened to an audio version recorded on YouTube. At least one group member expressed disappointment that her version was an adaptation. Regardless of the version, however, we all enjoyed reading it.

The Wind in the Willows is a charming tale of a water rat, mole, badger, otter, and toad. With its exquisite language and intricate descriptions, this book is perfect for reading as a family. It was a staple in A.A. Milne’s family which I consider high praise indeed. The pace moves back and forth between quiet reflection and raucous adventure. The tale has themes of home, friendship and satisfaction. The characters move through life together with commonalities and differences that serve to make the story even more interesting.

Toad is a favorite character with moods ranging from manic to subdued and intentions to reform that often seem genuine, but sometimes are quite insincere. He has a passion for the latest and greatest “toys” and is always on the lookout for a new adventure. Fortunately, he has supportive friends who will do anything for him. He is a source of humor for the reader.

If you have never read The Wind in the Willows, I strongly recommend it, especially if you enjoy beautiful word pictures. I like researching unfamiliar words, but those who don’t will have no problems as the general meaning of words of a botanic nature, Britishisms, and words no longer in common usage are certainly easily understood from context. The Wind in the Willows is a great read, and I am so glad to have added it as part my literary heritage.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Children’s Fiction

Notes: Ages 7-14

Publication: 1908 & 1913—Charles Scribner’s Sons

Memorable Lines:

Toad talked big about all he was going to do in the days to come, while stars grew fuller and larger all around them, and a yellow moon, appearing suddenly and silently from nowhere in particular, came to keep them company and listen to their talk.

He increased his pace, and as the car devoured the street and leapt forth on the high road through the open country, he was only conscious that he was Toad once more, Toad at his best and highest, Toad the terror, the traffic-queller, the Lord of the lone trail, before whom all must give way or be smitten into nothingness and everlasting night.

Toad sat up slowly and dried his eyes. Secrets had an immense attraction for him, because he never could keep one, and he enjoyed the sort of unhallowed thrill he experienced when he went and told another animal, after having faithfully promised not to.

Death Comes for the Archbishop–New Mexico frontier

Death Comes for the Archbishop

by Willa Cather

Every well-read person should have read at least one book by Willa Cather, an American Pulitzer Prize winning author famous for her novels set in the frontier. When my book club decided recently to read Death Comes for the Archbishop, I had not read any of Cather’s books. I was delighted that the choice was one that focused on the history of the Catholic church in New Mexico where I currently live. The novel provides as a backdrop a tour of cities, towns, pueblos, and open deserts inhabited by foreign priests, Mexicans, and Indians. Cather paints beautiful word pictures of the landscapes while depicting the difficulties of life, and especially travel, as two French priests attempt to revive the Catholic religion in the region. Churches had been planted over three hundred years earlier but did not receive much attention from Rome. With the annexation of new territories by the U.S., things begin to change in a land viewed as “wild” for many reasons. It is ruled over by the Bishop of Durango located in Mexico, fifteen hundred  miles away from Santa Fe where the missionaries headquartered. 

Jean Marie Latour, a parish priest based in the Lake Ontario region is elevated to bishop arriving in New Mexico in 1851 after a difficult and dangerous year long journey. He is accompanied by his childhood friend Father Joseph Valliant.  Despite its title, Death Comes for the Archbishop is not a murder mystery nor does it focus on the death of the Archbishop. Instead, it is a triumphant tale of strong, wise, and intelligent men who against all odds form friendships with peoples of various tribes, cultures, and languages in a harsh but beautiful land. The descriptive language is exquisite and serves to enhance and further the plot. This book celebrates the usually successful struggles for survival and the somewhat successful attempts to share the Catholic religion. In the Archbishop’s passing, it becomes evident that he was much loved and respected by the peoples of the many cultures in his diocese.

Death Comes for the Archbishop is a tale I would enjoy rereading for the breadth of its descriptions and the depth of its topics. The two Fathers were men I would enjoy meeting. Quite unalike physically and in disposition, they were fast and loyal friends with different means of evangelism, but suitable to their characters. Although this book has a specific setting in terms of time period and location and has characters with a religious profession, its themes of devotion, strength, and friendship transcend the New Mexico frontier of the 1850’s and the Catholic priesthood. Although the specifics were interesting and an effective vessel for the themes, the novel proves Cather to be, above all, an able storyteller. I had no regrets in reading this work of historical fiction based on the lives of two missionaries, and I highly recommend it.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Historical Fiction

Publication: June 15, 1927—Reading Essentials

Memorable Lines:

Everything showed him to be a man of gentle birth—brave, sensitive, courteous. His manners, even when he was alone in the desert, were distinguished. He had a kind of courtesy toward himself, toward his beasts, toward the juniper tree, before which he knelt, and the God whom he was addressing.

There was a reassuring solidity and depth about those walls, rounded at doorsills and windowsills, rounded in wide wings about the corner fireplace. The interior had been newly whitewashed in the Bishop’s absence, and the flicker of the fire threw a rosy glow over the wavy surfaces, never quite evenly flat, never a dead white, for the ruddy colour of the clay underneath gave a warm tone to the lime-wash.

This mesa plain had an appearance of great antiquity, of incompleteness; as if, with all the materials for world-making assembled, the Creator had desisted, gone away and left everything on the point of being brought together, on the eve of being arranged into mountain, plain, plateau.

Montana Wishes–romance in Montana

Montana Wishes

by Amy Vastine

Along comes another romance as the Harrison girls get slowly pulled back to their biological Blackwell roots and their Montana cowboy origins. In the first of the Blackwell Sisters series, Lily Harrison is a runaway bride who finds herself, a new vocational passion, and a handsome cowboy fiancée in Falcon Creek, Montana. 

In Montana Wishes, the second book in the series,  Lilly sends for her identical twin sister Amanda to help her plan a second wedding as well as move all her belongings to Montana. Amanda enlists her best friend Blake to help her make the drive. The timing could not be worse as Blake has just proposed to Nadia whom he has dated for only two months. Amanda is grieving the loss of her best friend, reeling from the impact of a medical decision, and angry about the intrusion into her life of a grandfather and a set of cousins she didn’t know she had. But, being Amanda, she steps up to the plate and tries to make everything right for everyone else. 

I like this book and its characters. Just as I thought the romantic situation was going to get stagnant, the author of Montana Wishes, Amy Vastine,  would throw in a twist or surprise that moved the plot forward and kept me turning pages. As we watch the interactions of Blake, Amanda, and Nadia, theoretical questions about love and friendship take on a personal meaning. 

Can men and women be best friends? 

Should you marry your best friend? 

Should your spouse be your best friend? 

There is also a question of the importance of fertility in a relationship. Although it is handled well, that issue may be an unintentional trigger for some readers. All in all, it is a fun read that segues into the third book in the series, Montana Dreams.

I would like to extend my thanks to Amy Vastine and to Harlequin Heartwarming for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Romance

Notes: 1. #2 in the Blackwell Sisters series, but could be read as a standalone as the author provides plenty of background information to bring the reader up to speed.

2. Clean and heartwarming romance

Publication:   September 8, 2020—Harlequin Heartwarming

Memorable Lines:

(Song lyrics): In the distance he sees what he never saw. Laughter ringing like wind chimes in a summer storm. Across rocky tipped horizons and cloudless skies. And just like that he knows…the sounds of home.

The worst thing in the world was disappointing Amanda. She was just so good. To the core. She did everything she could to do no harm, put others’ needs above her own and brighten the world around her. People like her were rare. When you were someone she loved, you wanted to be good, too.

“Just because we have a tiny bit of the same blood in our veins does not make us family. Family is the people you’ve created memories with, the people who have cared for you and let you care for them. It’s the people who are there for you when you need them…”

The One Saving Grace–love or lust?

The One Saving Grace

by Julie Houston

The One Saving GraceAs I went through each one of three books I chose to read as an introduction to author Julie Houston, I watched her develop as a writer. Her plots have become more complex, her characters have more depth, and she has found a balance that uses less vulgar language.

The One Saving Grace is the second book about Harriet and her long-time friend Grace. They did everything together as children, adored and hated “Little Miss Goodness” Amanda in unison as teenagers, and now they find themselves torqued around as adults by Amanda again. But Amanda is the least of their worries as the past becomes enmeshed in the future with unpredictable romances popping up and Harriet’s husband’s ex-girlfriend lurking the the background with revenge on her mind.

In the first book about Harriet and Grace, Harriet is confronted with an unplanned pregnancy she can not cope with on many levels. In this book, her moral dilemma is an affair. As I read the book, the author led me to somewhat understand Harriet’s temptation. As I stand back, book finished,  and look at her predicament, however, I have a hard time reconciling the Harriet who was devastated by the suspicion of her husband having an affair with the the Harriet who is willing to lose her family to temporarily satisfy her carnal desires. Sex is a major theme in the book, but is never described in detail.

The best part of The One Saving Grace is the surprises that reveal motivation and the resolution of conflicts. The theme of postnatal depression is also important in this book and one not to be overlooked as it affects not only Grace, who desperately wanted a baby, but also her family and friends.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Aria for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: General Fiction (Adult), Romance

Notes: This is the second book about Harriet and Grace, but works great as a standalone as Houston inserts background information as needed.

Publication:   February 19, 2019—Aria

Memorable Lines:

I actually felt a bit miffed that someone else was after Mrs. Doubtfire…like when you were a teenager, you might not fancy that spotty, tongue tied guy with the bum fluff on his top lip who’s been drooling over you for months, but you certainly don’t want him going off with anyone else.

I’d make my way up to the gym machines to face Tina Trainer, who had obviously taken her instructions at the same place Dante got his inspiration for the Inferno.

Envy I’d always reckoned to be the most corrosive of all emotions, eating into one’s soul like a particularly pernicious acid….Envy is a mere novice, a total non-starter compared to her grown-up sister, Guilt.

God, a Motorcycle, and the Open Road: A Biker’s Devotional

God, a Motorcycle, and the Open Road

by Tim Riter

God, a Motorcycle, and the Open RoadI couldn’t imagine what a devotional with a motorcycle focus would be like. If you are a motorcycle rider or aficionado, then the answer found in Tim Riter’s God, a Motorcycle, and the Open Road is fascinating, inspiring, and FUN. It could be read over the course of a year with one chapter per week, allowing the reader to absorb and apply the Biblical truths. One day I may do that, but for this reading I devoured, it not wanting to put it aside.

Having logged more than 240,000 miles on two wheels in 46 states, Tim Riter loves short rides, long rides (including Iron Butt), hot and cold rides, solo and group trips. He loves God and sees a strong connection between motorcycling and his faith. The chapters in God, a Motorcycle, and the Open Road are formatted to begin with personal anecdotes from Riter’s many motorcycle trips. Then he finds lessons in the stories and connects them to spiritual truths. He finishes each section with “Kick-Starting the Application,” encouraging readers to challenge themselves.

Come along with God and Tim on motorcycle adventures, some painfully hilarious stories by a master storyteller, and some life changing lessons. You will be glad you did.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Harvest House Publishers for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Christian, Religion and Spirituality

Publication:   April 2, 2019—Harvest House Publishers

Memorable Lines:

Why does God sometimes rescue some of his people and not rescue others? I have no clue….But I do trust his love even more than I trust his power. I suspect that’s the key. God’s omniscience trumps our finite knowledge. I’ve seen enough of his love to have faith in it.

Honda’s engineers want to provide the best riding experience. The closer we follow their design, the better we ride. God wants to provide our best life experience. The closer we follow his design, the better we live.

Frankly, leaning on God sometimes makes no more sense to our finite minds than does leaning a bike into a curve at speed. But that lean allows us to get through the curve. And reminding ourselves that God loves us in all of our trials and failures, that he always works for good, allows us to survive the curves of life.

The Year of Starting Over: A Feel-Good Novel about Second Chances and Finding Yourself. 

The Year of Starting Over

by Karen King

The Year of Starting OverI don’t know any honest person who won’t admit, at least to themselves, that there is something that they wish they had done differently. Since there are no “do-overs” in life, I am grateful for second chances and that is what The Year of Starting Over is all about. Its subtitle is A Feel-Good Novel about Second Chances and Finding Yourself. 

In Karen King’s novel, Holly is confronted with both the need and opportunity to hit the reset button on her life when it becomes apparent her relationship with boyfriend Scott will never lead to the type of loving marriage her Nanna and Pops enjoyed. Her job as a care assistant for the elderly is not the path to fulfillment for Holly as an artist. Holly is left money by her Pops giving her a chance to change those circumstances and begin living for herself. 

Holly has to sort through relationships as she reinvents herself in this gentle romance. She travels from England to Spain to help her friends, Fiona and Pedro, establish an artists’ retreat. With an adventure in another country, the interesting characters, and a female lead who steps out of her comfort zone, you may well be pleasantly reminded of Under the Tuscan Sun. The plots play out differently, but the feel-good aura is present in both.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Bookouture for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Romance, Women’s Fiction

Publication:   February 7, 2019—Bookouture

Memorable Lines:

Although her family had always praised her designs, Scott had dismissed it as her “hobby” and had never taken much interest.

Holly felt frustrated as she listened to them, wishing she knew the language better. She’d improved since she’d started taking lessons with Felipe, but not enough to understand conversations, especially when they spoke so quickly.

Her family had been pretty poor, he knew that from what she’d told him, but they’d been happy. His family were rich by comparison, but there was no closeness between them.

On the Internet: Our First Talk About Online Safety

On the Internet: Our First Talk About Online Safety

by Dr. Jillian Roberts

illustrated by Jane Heinrichs

On the InternetWhen we put technology in the hands of children, we need to do it with the awareness that social media involves a lot of concepts that children are not prepared to handle. Many parents did not participate in social media themselves as youngsters, and so they are not always prepared for the difficulties that may arise. With that in mind, Dr. Jillian Roberts, a former schoolteacher and practicing psychologist has written a book to help guide the needed discussions. The book is illustrated with both photographs and child friendly drawings. It includes questions children might ask, answers that an adult can help to interpret, and explanations for terms like “boundaries,” “inappropriate,” and “online bullying.” It also includes positive examples of using social media for good. It is a book intended to initiate discussion between parent and child.

On the Internet: Our First Talk about Online Safety is well written and illustrated, and I recommend it. My personal opinion, however, is that children in grades one through three, the suggested audience for this book, are too young to use social media independently. I suggest that it is not too early to begin the discussion as social media and its accompanying problems are pervasive in our society. Young children hear others talking about this technology and may see older siblings using it. Discussion of online issues not only prepares children for future exposure, but also opens up opportunities to discuss the basics of friendship and bullying as they occur outside of social media.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Orca Book Publishers for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Children Nonfiction, Computer and Internet

Notes: Age Range suggested by publisher: 6-9 years

Grade Level suggested by publisher: 1-3

Publication:   February 19, 2019—Orca Book Publishers

Memorable Lines:

THINK before you post:

T: Is it True?

H: Is it Helpful?

I:  Is it  Inspiring?

N: Is it Necessary?

K: Is it Kind?

Our Gift-Giving God: A Devotional

Our Gift-Giving God: A Devotional

 by Andrea Levin Kim

Our Gift-Giving GodIn Our Gift-Giving God, Andrea Levin Kim centers the devotional around eight gifts from God to us, each paired with a traditional Christmas symbol. The author suggests beginning on the first day of December and learning about and meditating on each gift for three days. Each gift and supporting Bible verses are followed by questions and a prayer. The book concludes with the gift of Christmas. Alternate schedules are provided for those who would like to associate the gifts with Hanukkah or with the use of particular Christmas symbols throughout the season. Regardless of how you choose to use Our Gift-Giving God, you will be blessed as you prepare for Christmas by studying Scriptures that focus your thoughts on the role of Jesus in your life, not only as a child in a manger or a humble miracle-working man, but as the Savior of the world who sacrificed his own life so that you can have eternal life.

Our Gift-Giving God is sweetly illustrated by Carissa Robertson with simple line with watercolor pictures. The symbols are traditional for Christmas but may be associated with a gift you might not have anticipated. For example, a decked out fireplace is paired with new beginnings and angels with the concept of mercy. Andrea Levin Kim makes her points quite well, and you will come away with a deeper understanding of God’s love, provision, and sacrifice. I recommend this book for a scripturally based devotional with a fresh approach to the Advent season.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Lucid Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Christian, Religious

Notes: 1. The purpose of this book is not to address the historical origins of various Christmas symbols, but to help prepare the reader’s heart for a celebration of the birth of Christ.

  2. The suggested timelines for reading the book are truly only suggestions. I worked my reading of it into my schedule and was blessed by it.

Publication:  November 19, 2018—Lucid Books

Memorable Lines:

Accepting this gospel gift of approval humbles us and fills us with a deeper desire to love and serve the Giver with all our heart, soul, and mind, and to love others out of that secure place of the covering of His approval. He will never love you less and He cannot love you more because His love and approval are perfect…

God’s words about real joy are like notes that together sing of the truth of a gospel gift that cannot be drowned out, that never lies, that is never upstaged or outshined by an emotion or circumstance, a song that never gets old or outdated but invites us to dance in step with Him. His word reveals a joy that is not only catchy, but catching, not only memorable, but lasting; not only uplifting, but a reminder that the Savior raises us up and seats us with Him.

The secret ingredient of the Lord’s gift of joy is the Lord Himself—God with us, Immanuel. It’s not what He can do for us or the multitude of blessings He delivers, although they are certainly good.

Night of Miracles–tales of sweetly intertwined lives

Night of Miracles

by Elizabeth Berg

Night of MiraclesOne of the most interesting things in the world is people. Elizabeth Berg created a gentle, touching world in The Story of Arthur Truluv. Then she expanded on the core characters, adding more characters that tie into one another in Night of Miracles. The chapters are short; the novel is a character driven set of tales of common people living out their interesting lives looking for meaning in the everyday circumstances and the extraordinary ones.

Arthur Truluv’s legacy of calmness and kindness lives on in the family he adopted. His neighbor Lucille’s legacy is the culinary wisdom she imparts during an age of “fast” everything. Neighbors Jason and Abby learn the importance of living in the present. Tiny and Monica learn to share the love that has been in front of them all along. The chapters bounce back and forth from one storyline to the next. This is one of those stories I had to keep reading. I read the last of the book with tissue in hand, not because it is tragic, but because there is sweet sadness in knowing that life keeps progressing toward an inevitable conclusion and we can find happiness by reaching out to share life with others.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Random House for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Women’s Fiction

Notes: For those who enjoyed The Story of Arthur Truluv, this is not a sequel in the traditional sense. It takes a few of the characters from that book and builds a story around them. Although it could happen, I wouldn’t expect any more stories in this line. From my perspective the story has been told.

Publication:   November 13, 2018—Random House

Memorable Lines:

It was true what they told her on the first day of teachers’ college: you never forget some of your students. For Lucille, it was the cut-ups she could never keep from laughing at, the dreamers she had to keep reeling back into the classroom, and little Danny Matthews, with his ragged heart of gold.

At least Link loves to read. There’s always hope when a kid—or an adult, for that matter—likes to read.

All those years, and not one person that she had truly opened up to, or kept up with. Probably she expected her husband to be everything to her when it wasn’t his place to do that, even if he wanted to or could. Another thing she regrets: having made him feel that he was failing her when she was the one failing herself.

The Phantom of Oz–The Wizard: A Space OZpera

The Phantom of Oz

by Cindy Brown

The Phantom of OzDespite its title, I don’t think The Phantom of Oz really started out to be a ghost story. Because the Ivy Meadows Mystery Series focuses on the theater and actors, there are a lot of stage tricks that imitate the paranormal. In the end, however, this cozy mystery does address the question “Do you believe in ghosts?” Bigger and more important themes are tackled as well in author Cindy Brown’s latest mystery: fake news, paparazzi, body image, jealousy, priorities, friendship, social media, scams and control.

As a theatre buff I enjoyed reading about the trials of Ivy Meadows who attempts to eek out a living by combining the life of an actress with learning detecting skills from her P.I. uncle and mentor Bobby. We watch as Ivy juggles trying to find her missing friend Candy while working as an actress. She also finds time to maintain relationships with boyfriend Matt and mentally challenged brother Cody.

The Phantom of Oz has a good mystery, interesting setting (the Grand Phoenician Theatre), and some wacky theatre types. My only criticism is that the thread of Cody’s desire to become an actor and his sudden willingness to drop the pursuit could have been developed more thoroughly. In general, however, this is a fun book that addresses some serious issues.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Henery Press for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: General Fiction (Adult), Mystery

Notes: The end of the book includes:

1. Reader’s Discussion Guide

2. Topics and Questions for Discussion

3. Enhance Your Book Club or Class

This book is #5 in  the Ivy Meadows Mystery Series. It could be read as a standalone.

Publication:   January 30, 2018—Henery Press

Memorable Lines:

Looking at petit-fours: I could almost hear their come-hither voices: “I’m the most delicious cake ever. I’m moist and sweet. And I’m free.” It was the last line that did it. We actors are suckers for free food.

I stood for a moment backstage, where the murky blue lighting matched my mood. I watched the revelers around me, feeling like an outsider who’d crashed the party.

This confronting-the-suspects thing was never as easy as it looked in Agatha Christie’s books.

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