#49. Pam of Babylon (Suzanne Jenkins)

Book: Pam of Babylon, by Suzanne Jenkins

Genre and Year of Publication: Contemporary fiction, 2004

Where I got it: Free Kindle download

Length: 334 pages

Briefly, it’s what happens when a man dies suddenly and his widow discovers that he’s been having an affair – and more.

Comments: Ach, no.  The plot line that I’ve indicated is indeed a theme that could be well explored in fiction.  How does a woman come to forgive the mistress of her dead husband and even develop a friendship with her?  But here is it all too slick, too easy.  Add in all the other revelations that come tumbling out about this deceased creep – all in the space of a few weeks, mind you – and Pam’s acceptance of them all, and it just becomes too unrealistic. 

NB: There is some “mature content” which may not be acceptable to more squeamish readers.

Challenges: ebook reading challenge 2014


#48. The Imitation of Christ (Thomas à Kempis)

Book: The Imitation of Christ, by Thomas à Kempis

Genre and Year of Publication: Spiritual exhortation; written in the 1420s, in Latin

Where I got it: Free Kindle download

Length: 220 pages approx.

Briefly, it’s a series of reflections on growing in the spiritual life and in union with God, by a monk and (seemingly) intended for monks, though it has influenced many others down the centuries.  Alleged to be the second most widely read Christian book of all time, and generally hailed as a Christian (Catholic) classic.

Comments: It took me many months to read this book, from the beginning of March to the very last days of October.  That is not because, as some find, its wisdom is so rich that it can be ingested only a little at a time, but because I found it quite heavy and wearisome.  I wanted to like this book.  I was open to receiving it positively.  I know that many holy people have found it to be a treasure.  But I just couldn’t find much in it to make me want to pick it up again whenever I left it down.  Yes, I was impressed by the 100% dedication which the author expects us to give to following the Gospel and loving Jesus Christ.  But I was really turned off by the constant harping on our own vileness, filth, worthlessness, etc.  Here is just one example picked at random:

What shall I think upon in this Communion in approaching my Lord, whom I am not able worthily to honour, and nevertheless whom I long devoutly to receive?  What shall be better and more healthful meditation for me, than utter humiliation of myself before Thee, and exaltation of Thine infinite goodness towards me? I praise Thee, O my God, and exalt Thee for evermore. I despise myself, and cast myself down before Thee into the deep of my vileness.  Book IV, Chapter II, par 2

It also promotes a very individualistic spirituality; there is little sense of being on a spiritual journey with others, and little about working with others or for others in our following of the Gospel.  I suppose it is of its era.  It has a very different tone to, for example, Pope Francis’ The Joy of the Gospel.

Challenges: Back to the Classics challenge, for the category “A Classic in translation”; ebook reading challenge; non-fiction challenge


#47. Achan: A Year of Teaching in Thailand (Elayne Clift)

Book: Achan: A Year of Teaching in Thailand, by Elayne Clift

Genre and Year of Publication: Travel memoir, 2010

Where I got it: Free Kindle download

Length: 192 pages

Briefly, it’s an account by an American woman of a year which she spent as a teacher in Thailand.

Comments: I had mixed feelings about this book.  The first part, where she describes her initial experiences of living in Thailand, her students, their families, her responses to a new culture, was interesting.  The second, in which she focuses more on visits from her friends and shopping trips that she took with them… much less so.   Overall, I felt it was a missed writing opportunity.

Challenges:  ebook reading challenge 2014; non-fiction reading challenge

#46. The Not So Secret Emails Of Coco Pinchard (Robert Bryndza)

Book: The Not So Secret Emails of Coco Pinchard, by Robert Bryndza

Genre and Year of Publication: Romantic comedy, 2012

Where I got it: Free Kindle download

Length: 302 pages

Briefly, it’s a story told in emails, all written by the heroine, Coco, about her marriage, her work as a writer, and her teenage son.

Comments: It’s a light, laugh-out-loud comic read.  I enjoyed it.

Challenges: Ebook reading challenge

#45. Secret Sister (Emelle Gamble)

Book: Secret Sister, by Emelle Gamble

Genre and Year of Publication: Contemporary romance, 2013

Where I got it: Free Kindle download

Length: 279 pages

Briefly, it’s a romance with a touch of the paranormal

Comments: From the blurb: “Cathy Chance knows she loves her husband, Nick, with the same passion she had when she married him seven years ago, and he adores her. She also knows that she and her best friend, Roxanne, are closer than most sisters. But on a sunny summer day, these three are hurled into an astounding new reality which forces each to reconsider everything they thought was true about themselves, and one another.”  For me, this book was pretty absurd.  With all that I’ve got on my Kindle, I can’t even say that I had nothing else to read with me… there must have been something that kept me reading to the end, but two weeks later I can’t tell you what it was.

Challenges: ebook reading challenge 2014

#44. Sacred Road (Todd Maxwell Preston)

Book: Sacred Road: my journey through abuse, leaving the Mormons and embracing spirituality,
by Todd Maxwell Preston

Genre and Year of Publication: Spiritual memoir, 2013

Where I got it: Free Kindle download

Length: 152 pages

Briefly, it’s what it says in the subtitle: one man’s story of leaving the Mormons (“and embracing spirituality”)

Comments: The author’s childhood and adolescence were spent in New Zealand, Australia, and Utah.  His parents were both converts to the Mormon religion – I would have liked to learn a bit more about their stories.  The family was not a happy one, the father in particular being full of anger towards Todd, abusing him physically and emotionally (not sexually).  The Mormon environment was very closed and manipulative, and when as an adult Todd came to realise that it was time for him to leave, it was very difficult.  He had to leave behind his wife and children, as well as his relationship with most of his siblings. 

I would agree with other reviewers who say that he blames things on the Mormon religion which actually should be blamed only on his particular family circumstances.  With that caveat, it is an interesting book.

Challenges: Non-fiction reading challenge, ebook reading challenge.

#43. The Italian Mission (Alan Champorcher)

Book: The Italian Mission, by Alan Champorcher

Genre and Year of Publication: Spy/thriller, 2013 (read in August; reviewed in November)

Where I got it: Free Kindle download

Length: 218 pages

Briefly, it’s an action-packed spy drama, mostly set in Italy, involving an ex-CIA agent, now working (unhappily) in the diplomatic service, who is called on to help a Tibetan monk who is on the run in Italy, to escape from the agents of the Chinese government.

Comments: This is a bit outside my comfort zone – spy thrillers are not my favourite genre.  But this one wasn’t bad.  The large cast includes Chinese, Tibetans, Israelis, South Africans, Italians, and Americans.  There are the usual car chases, dramatic escapes, double-crossing agents, governments about to topple based on the success or failure of our hero’s next move, and at the end James Bond, sorry, John Adams Conti, gets his woman.

Part of the story is set on the Via Francigena, the ancient pilgrimage path from Canterbury to Rome.  I’ve already blogged about three pilgrimage books this year [two relating to the Camino de Santiago de Compostela in Spain and one to St Declan’s Way in Ireland], so the theme interests me more than a little.  I had only just heard of the Via Francigena for the first time a couple of weeks before getting this book, and was amazed to find it referenced here, particularly in the context of a spy story!  I’d like to walk part of this route some time (can’t imagine that I’ll ever do the whole thing).  I expect that my journey would be a little less dramatic than the events recounted in this book, but the beautiful Tuscan countryside would surely be at least as good…

Challenges: Full House Challenge for the category “Setting you’d like to visit”; ebook reading challenge

#42. Something Bad Happen, Please! (Tom and Hedy Valledolmo)

Book: Something Bad Happen, Please! The fine art of turning life’s little glitches into a bounty of riches, by Tom and Hedy Valledolmo

Genre and Year of Publication: hard to categorize – Self-help? Travel? How to be a Jerk? Published 2014

Where I got it: Free Kindle download (read in August; reviewed in October)

Length: 142 pages

Briefly, it’s about how to claim compensation for anything that goes wrong on your travels.

Comments: When I downloaded the book, I thought that the subtitle meant “interior riches”, that the book is about having a positive attitude and finding happiness in situations of adversity.  How wrong I was!  It’s about getting every possible penny, or something else material, in compensation from every possible mishap.  The authors must be the customers from hell.  Hotels, restaurants, airlines… watch out, because if the slightest thing is not altogether to their liking and pleasure, they’ll screw you for it.

I really don’t know how anyone could go through life with this attitude and be happy.

Challenges: ebook reading challenge; non-fiction challenge

#40. Leadership is Hell: How to Manage Well – And Escape with your Soul (Rob Ashgar)

Book: Leadership is Hell: How to Manage Well – And Escape with your Soul, by Rob Ashgar

Genre and Year of Publication: Self-help, 2014

Where I got it: Free Kindle download (read in August; reviewed in October)

Length: 168 pages

Briefly, it’s a book that aims to explode the contemporary myth that being successful means being a leader, replacing it with the saner doctrine that “most talented people would be happier as freelancers, independent contractors or followers, liberated from the burdens of overseeing others” (a quote from the author, from a Forbes piece, here).

Comments: This book was very well worth MY while reading.  Here’s part of the blurb, which says it better than I can:

[The book] explores how to identify and overcome the blind spots that may be hurting your career; whether you have the right mindset for the kind of success that you’re seeking; how to develop just the right amount of “healthy ego” to make an impact; and how to make an impact on the world in a way that’s true to who you are (be forewarned, this might involve a completely different path than your current one).

This book will take you on a journey, showing you famous figures from history and the present—some who got it right, and some who didn’t. You’ll look at seven roads to hell within the world of leadership, and seven roads out of hell, to guide you safely to a meaningful legacy.

As a result of reading and reflecting on the wisdom of this book, I think I’ve let go – to a considerable degree, probably not completely – of my dream of being “a leader” within my professional career path, and I’ll concentrate instead on being successful according to the pattern that suits my particular personality and gifts.  It has been one of the elements contributing to my decision to seek a “sideways move” at work which will make me less likely to become a leader (of other people), and more likely to make me happy.  Hurrah for that.

It’s a book I need to read again, if only because it goes against the climate of the profession in which I operate, and where I do not get much support for my choices.  So the more I can interiorize of this, the better.  I’m so glad I chose to read it.

Challenges: Full House Challenge for the “Free Choice” category; ebook reading challenge; non-fiction challenge.

#39. The Murder at Sissingham Hall (Clara Benson)

Book: The Murder at Sissingham Hall, by Clara Benson (Angela Marchmont Mystery #1)

Genre and Year of Publication: Cozy Murder Mystery, written prior to 1965 but not published till 2013 (it seems?)

Where I got it: Free Kindle download (read in August; reviewed in October)

Length: 212 pages

Briefly, it’s a traditional English country house whodunnit.

Comments: Clara Benson, the author, lived from 1890 to 1965.  She wrote several books, but considered writing to be a hobby so did not have them published (according to Goodreads.  I wonder if there’s a deeper story there?)  After her death, her family had the books published. 

The Murder at Sissingham Hall  is the first in a series featuring Angela Marchmont, a woman who just happens to find herself in circumstances which cause her to play the role of detective.  Here, she is one of the guests at the country weekend when the rich owner of the house is murdered… Everyone has a motive… things are not what they seem… her powers of deduction and observation lead to the truth being unveiled at the end…

If you like this genre, you’ll like this.  Personally I will be looking out for more Angela Marchmont books.

Challenges: Full House Challenge for the category “Book from a series”; ebook reading challenge