Reading, Reviews

Review of M.M. Kaye’s Death in Kenya

A couple of weeks ago, someone mentioned in a forum about D.E. Stevenson that “if you like D.E. Stevenson, you should try M.M. Kaye.” Well, if you’ve been around this blog, you know D.E. Stevenson is my most recently discovered favorite author. Of course, I requested an M.M. Kaye book from the library. I was a bit surprised when I got it, though. M.M. Kaye wrote a variety of different books, but most of them are whodunit murder mysteries set in Africa and other foreign locales. I wasn’t sure why a person would think Stevenson’s homey, warm, character driven novels were comparable to murders on the African plains. It was as if someone told a Jane Austen fan, “Well, if you like Jane Austen, you should definitely read Agatha Christie.” But Kaye’s novels looked interesting in their own right, so I gave Death in Kenya a try.

Death in KenyaDeath in Kenya is set in the 1950s, during the British colonial period in Kenya. Em DeBrett is a matriarch of the Kenyan Colonials, but she is getting frailer in her late years and her estate, Flamingo, is entrenched in a mysterious set of circumstances, culminating in a murder. She asks her niece, Victoria, to come help her with the running of the estate. Victoria comes, but does not realize how dangerous the setting has become until the very day she arrives. As the book unfolds, each character is developed and the reader can never really rule anyone out until the very end. It’s a very satisfying mystery novel. Kaye is similar to Agatha Christie in a lot of ways, but where Christie has a mastermind like Poirot or Miss Marple solve the mystery, Kaye makes the crime path unfold a bit more slowly and naturally. The “ah ha!” moment does not take quite so much explaining as it does in a Christie novel, though it does take some. Also, Kaye actually lived in Kenya for a while and the descriptions of Flamingo and the surrounding area are enthralling. I felt that set her apart a bit more from the typical murder mystery writer.

One way I could relate to the main character, Victoria, was in her desire to move somewhere warm. If I had lived in sunny, arid Kenya as a child and was moved to London as a young adult, I would be planning my getaway from that fair but chilly, damp city as soon as I came of age. Victoria was more patient than I would have been, but I completely applauded her choice once the opportunity came. The fact that this tiny bit of the book stood out the most to me should not tell you that the rest of the book is boring; it should tell you that I am really sick of winter. Aren’t we all.

I will probably pick up another Kaye mystery someday, but what is higher on my To Be Read List is her highly acclaimed novel, The Far Pavilions. At 955 pages, it may be on my list for quite some time.

What are you reading to beat the late winter blues?

Everyday Life, Parenting

Surface Farming

I was driving down the road, thinking deeply about at least four different issues at the same time. The kids were listening to Psalty in the backseat. Listening to Psalty usually means I don’t have to talk for a blessed little while. But Ella had something on her mind.


“Yeah?” I turned down the volume and dragged my brain back into the car.

“In the Rapunzel movie (Tangled), the bad guys become good guys!”

“Yep, it’s pretty cool.”

“But there are still some bad guys. Who are those guys trying to chase Eugene?”

“The Stabbington Brothers?”

“Yeah, why are they chasing him.”

“Because they want everything Flynn has, the crown and then Rapunzel’s magic hair.”

“Why do they want all that?”

“They’re greedy.”


I turned the volume back up. But a twitch in my brain got stronger in the next few seconds. Here was my four-year-old daughter, asking me questions about good and evil, probing into a topic that is prevalent in stories and in real life, and I was trying to stay on the surface and wrap our conversation up neatly so I could get back to figuring out all the stuff.

I turned the volume back down. “That happens a lot, doesn’t it? In stories and movies, there are people who are bad guys because they want more money or power, right?”

“Yeah. Could you turn it up please?”

Opportunity lost. And this image came to mind, of me, with an old-fashioned plow. Now, I’m not a farmer. My children aren’t soil. But bear with me in this Little House on the Prairie imagery. I had this image of me with that old-fashioned plow, my hands on the handles and my horse and I walking along at a brisk pace, quickly going over the top layer of soil. “Well, that was easier than I though it would be!” I said to myself as I brushed my hands off and called it a day. But I had gone so fast and wanted it to be so easy, I had barely turned over any soil. That is not a field that will reap a good harvest. That is a field that hasn’t had the rich soil underneath tilled up and broken into fertile ground. Am I that surface farmer every day when  it comes to raising my children? I can skim along, check a day of activities off, and I can be a surface farmer, just going over the fields with the plow in the fastest and straightest manner, getting it done without getting too dirty and exhausted. But what have I actually accomplished? What I need to do is push the plow down, blister up my hands, break a sweat, and get down to the rich matter below the surface.

I thought about this idea for a few moments in that car ride, wondering if my analogy actually made any logical sense, when my breath caught in my throat. Because, hold on, my children actually are soil! In the Bible, Jesus gives a parable about a sower:

3 Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. 9 Whoever has ears, let them hear.” Matthew 13:3-9, NIV

Okay, so this daily sowing of my children’s minds and hearts just got a lot more serious. As a parent, my ultimate goal is to plant seeds in them: seeds of wisdom, seeds of truth, seeds of love, all kinds of seeds. And how tragic would it be if I didn’t prepare them for those seeds first? What if I just let them stay shallow soil? Then the seeds I plant will sprout soon after sowing, and I’ll think, “Good! My work is done here.” But there will be no root to the sprouts because that soil wasn’t tilled and prepared. That wisdom or love or truth will dry up and vanish. Yeah, I’ve seen that happen. And I’ve seen parents replant. I’m guessing there’s a lot of replanting involved in this whole process, and it lasts a lifetime. What makes my heart thud even now when I think of all of this is that I only have a small window of opportunity to condition the soil of the soul. There is so much more that goes into the shaping of person than a parent or two parents or an entire village pouring into a child. I’m thankful for that, but I’m also mindful that my chance to make deep furrows are at their finest right now.

I always thought I’d like to be a farmer, and I guess I kind of am. The good cultivators in any walk of life get exhausted, get grimy, and get very involved with the work of their hands. I have to remember that when I just feel like combing the soil over, gliding over the surface without changing the make up of the field. I don’t want to be a surface farmer. I want to pull up the thorns and weeds and plow deep into the richness below, where the seeds can flourish into a legacy my children will keep forever.

A note for any already exhausted mamas and daddies out there: you are doing good work. This post is in pursuit of refining and reaching higher, not loading on the guilt. I know there are days when I’ve done the best I can and it still isn’t pretty. I only want to share an idea that is helping me remember what really matters in the time I spend with my young children. I hope it will help you in some way, too. 


Review: The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

The Invention of WingsThough a life long Southerner, I am not a big fan of Southern Literature. But ever since reading The Secret Life of Bees, I knew I would always give any novel by Sue Monk Kidd a try. Mermaid Chair left me pretty disappointed, but I stood by my love of Bees and put myself on the library waiting list for The Invention of Wings as soon as it came out. Here’s what The Invention of Wings is about:

Hetty “Handful” Grimke, an urban slave in early nineteenth century Charleston, yearns for life beyond the suffocating walls that enclose her within the wealthy Grimke household. The Grimke’s daughter, Sarah, has known from an early age she is meant to do something large in the world, but she is hemmed in by the limits imposed on women.

Kidd’s sweeping novel is set in motion on Sarah’s eleventh birthday, when she is given ownership of ten year old Handful, who is to be her handmaid.We follow their remarkable journeys over the next thirty-five years, as both strive for a life of their own, dramatically shaping each other’s destinies and forming a complex relationship marked by guilt, defiance, estrangement and the uneasy ways of love. As the stories build to a riveting climax, Handful will endure loss and sorrow, finding courage and a sense of self in the process. Sarah will experience crushed hopes, betrayal, unrequited love, and ostracism before leaving Charleston to find her place alongside her fearless younger sister, Angelina, as one of the early pioneers in the abolition and women’s rights movements.

I enjoyed the fact that this book was based on real abolitionists, the Grimke sisters. They were remarkable women in a time when women weren’t supposed to be remarked on for anything but their choice of dresses and hair styles. They were Southern Belles gone wrong, in their society’s opinion. I also appreciated how this novel portrayed a reality of slavery in Charleston, South Carolina, without being as graphic as the recent popular novel, The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom. Having been to Charleston countless times, it was a hard reality check to really imagine what some of those historic buildings were housing three hundred years ago. The historical element of the novel was the novel’s best point.

Where the book disappointed me was in the character development and very inwardly focused narrative. The narrative switches from the first person perspectives of Sarah and Handful. I got very sick of being in Sarah’s head especially. If Kidd wanted me to feel stuck in molasses, she made her point. Handful’s narrative was more humorous and interesting. I would have rather heard more about Sarah’s sisters, Angelina, but it turns out there’s not really a whole lot known about her. She was the one with spunk in the Grimke family. The slow moving span of 35 years that the novel covers and the misguided patience of Sarah throughout her life made me tempted to throw the book down in frustration. But it was on an e-reader, so I didn’t throw it.

Because of the slow pace and tiresome narrative from Sarah, this book is a 2.5-3 out of 5 star book for me. If you’re interested in the Southern history and the Grimke sisters, I would recommend it, but if you are simply looking for a book that is similar in style and feel to The Secret Life of Bees, I’d give Beth Hoffman’s Saving Cee Cee Honeycutt or Sarah Jio’s The Violets of March a try.

The Violets of March       Saving Ceecee Honeycutt

7 Challenge, Everyday Life

Waste Not: Part 5 of the 7 Challenge

7: An Experimental Mutiny Against ExcessLast month I was supposed to be working on the Waste part of the 7 challenge. When I began thinking about this part of the challenge, I thought I was already doing pretty well on that front. I have a family of four and we fill up our recycling cart at the same rate if not faster than our trash cart. Usually, our trash cart is only half full on the day the trash is picked up. I am guilty of looking at neighbors’ trash cans on trash pick up day and thinking, “Wow. They are Wasters.” Needless to say, there was a high horse to fall off there.

And fall off I did. Because, while I do recycle absolutely everything I possibly can, the point remains that if I have something to recycle, that means I’m buying something that’s prepackaged. Deli meats, canned spaghetti sauce, boxes of noodles, yogurt cups, all that stuff comes in recyclable packages. And some things I consider to be necessary are packaged and aren’t recyclable. I mean, when I think about all the Styrofoam egg cartons…but how do you get around that? Aldi only sells one kind of egg!

I guess it all comes down to how much trouble I’m willing to go to in my attempts to reduce waste. I think I kind of phoned it in on this part of the challenge. And that is unacceptable. So I’m doing a re-do in March. Here are the more specific goals for the month:

-Start (and, please Lord, finish!) potty training Isaac in the second half of the month. He’ll be 3 in June and with another baby due in July, now seems like it’s time. My “method” relies heavily on not wearing a whole lot of clothing for the first few days of potty training, which is why I think this should take place in the warmer part of  the month. I greet this part of the challenge with a great deal of trepidation–potty training my firstborn took about a year, and I am not exaggerating.

-At least try to get Ella out of nighttime Pull-ups. I’ve heard some parents have success with waking young children up and taking them to the bathroom before the parents go to bed. I’m just not sure about this one. One problem is I go to bed about an hour to an hour and a half after my children. Is that enough time? Another problem is I abhor the drama that always follows when my poor little four-year-old is incoherently sleepy. To willingly bring that upon both of us is going to take some girding up of mental toughness. If anyone else has experience with methods for getting rid of Pull-ups at night, please share. I’d really prefer not waking her up because I think she barely gets enough sleep as it is.

-Sew a couple of handkerchiefs for myself. Yes, I just used the word “handkerchief.” And the word “sew.” I hate, hate, hate buying Kleenexes. Which is why my husband is always asking in a very nice but what I hear as accusing tone, “Don’t we have any Kleenex?” I just don’t think to buy them, and when I do remember, I say, “We don’t really need those.” But my husband and my kids really enjoy a soft nose wipe for the winter months. And the allergy ridden spring months. And probably all the months in between. I could care less, I’ll use a brown paper bag, but I do grab a Kleenex if they’re handy. I’d rather use something that’s reusable, though. So, hello, old fashioned-ness. (I have the same goal for nursing liners, but I won’t go into great detail there. Details about Kleenex usage are quite enough for one day).

-Reduce our dependence on boxed cereal. There are lots of reasons this is a good idea, one of them being most cereal doesn’t keep my kids full past 8:00 a.m. Another reason is a lot of those colorful boxes pose major recycling problems. Another reason is it’s mostly gross and we throw out half of the box. Is there a drawback? Oh yeah, cooking and washing dishes before 8:00 in the morning. Dear friends, bring on the easy breakfast ideas.

Those are the goals. I could think of more, but my children are pretending to be firefighters and I probably should go put a stop to their throwing open the front door and yelling “Fire, fire, EMERGENCY!” for the whole neighborhood to hear. Because a false 911 call is even more wasteful than a Styrofoam egg carton.



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