December 4, 2019

A Month in Summary - November 2019

Little Whale Cove
Depoe Bay, Oregon
November 2019

Well, that was quite a month! In spite of all the craziness that popped up during the last two weeks (see my post here), I managed to get in a lot of reading and stuck with my personal challenge to read only nonfiction. Nonfiction November is always a fun blogging challenge to follow, and I wind up adding a lot of titles to my TBR list, but I'm not an official participant. My favorite of the month? I'd Rather Be Reading by Anne Bogel. She really gets us readers!

Books Read in November (click on title for my review):

Wish You Were Here by Stewart O'Nan

Forty Autumns by Nina Willner

Mister Owita's Guide to Gardening by Carol Wall

I'd Rather Be Reading by Anne Bogel

Dinner with Edward by Isabel Vincent

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

First Lines:

They took Arlene's car because it had air-conditioning and Emily wasn't sure the Olds would make it. That and Arlene's was bigger, a wagon, better for bringing things back.

Emily knew she wouldn't be able to resist. She'd never learned to take even the smallest loss gracefully--a glass cracked in the dishwasher, a sweater shrunk by the dryer. She'd stuff the Taurus full of junk she didn't have room for at home. All of it would end up down in the basement, moldering next to the extra fridge still filled to clinking with Henry's Iron Citys. She didn't drink beer, and she couldn't bring herself to twist them open one by one and tip them foaming down the sink, so they stayed there, the crimped edges of the bottle caps going rusty, giving her vegetables a steely tinge. She would save what she could, she knew, though Henry himself would have shaken his head at the mess. (Wish You Were Here)

Our story started when one war ended and another began. 

The day World War II ended, my grandmother, Oma, was one of the first in the village to emerge from the underground cellar and step out into the still and desolate landscape of rural Schwaneberg. At forty years old, her belly swollen with her seventh child, she hoisted open the heavy wooden door and climbed up onto the dry, dusty landing as her children followed, squinting as their eyes met the daylight. (Forty Autumns)

I never liked getting my hands dirty. This was one reason that our yard looked so sad. But there were other reasons, too--bigger reasons that were much harder to confront than brittle grass and overgrown bushes. (Mister Owita's Guide to Gardening)

"Can you recommend a great book?"

Because I'm a writer, certified book nerd, and all-around bookish enthusiast, people ask me this question all the time. I talk about books like it's my job--and in a sense, it is. I make book recommendations all day. (I'd Rather Be Reading)

I heard about the promise Edward made to his dying wife long before I met him.

Valerie, Edward's daughter and one of my oldest friends, related the story when I saw her shortly after her mother's death. Paula, who was just shy of her ninety-fifth birthday had been bedridden and drifting in and out of consciousness for days, sat up in bed specifically to address her beloved husband.

"Listen to me, Eddie." Paula spoke firmly, emphatically. "You can't come with me now. It would be the end of our little family." (Dinner with Edward)

I was stunned by Mary Karr's memoir, The Liars' Club. Not just by its ferocity, its beauty, and by her delightful grasp of the vernacular, but by its totality--she is a woman who remembers everything about her early years. (On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft)

Movies and TV Shows:

Echo in the Canyon - I love music documentaries, particularly those of the 60s, and this one didn't disappoint. I could happily watch it again.

El Camino - We loved Breaking Bad, but this follow-up movie was a big disappointment. I was tempted to turn it off halfway in, but stuck with it. Meh.

Saving Private Ryan - We've watched this a few times and it never gets any easier to sit through those opening scenes of the battle on Omaha Beach. Excellent cast.

Avengers Endgame - Loved it until the end.

The Vietnam War (Ken Burns) - Burns is simply a genius when it comes to documentaries. We have watched several of his programs, but I think this is possibly his best. It's a depressing topic, but there is so much about Vietnam that I didn't know until I watched this show. If I were a high school history teacher, I would be sure to include this series in my lesson plans. 

Puzzlemania - 

This one was quite challenging!

Outings and Trips:

We haven't done much in the way of outings or trips since we returned from our road trip. The only outings of note were to Corvallis when my husband wound up in the hospital with pancreatitis and a severe gall bladder attack. Four days later, I was able to bring him home where he has been recovering as he figures out what he can eat. Thank goodness this didn't happen on our trip or during our daughter's wedding!

Rod wasn't the only one in our household to wind up in an ER this month. My 86-year-old mother had been battling a terrible cold/cough and it became much worse one night, so we call 911 and she was taken to the ER where she was diagnosed with viral pneumonia. She was released two days later after several breathing treatments and rounds of antibiotics and is now recuperating at home with us.

We are grateful for all the wonderful doctors and amazing nursing staff at both ERs and hospitals!


My brother and his family came down from Seattle for a three-day visit and our next-door neighbors joined all of us for our Thanksgiving feast. It was a lovely day and yes, we ate too much!

We have so much for which to be grateful. At the top of our list is family, friends and our health.

Happy Holidays!

December 3, 2019

On Writing

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
Nonfiction - Memoir
2000 Scribner
Finished on November 30, 2019
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

"If you don't have the time to read, you don't have the time or the tools to write."

In 1999, Stephen King began to write about his craft -- and his life. By midyear, a widely reported accident jeopardized the survival of both. And in his months of recovery, the link between writing and living became more crucial than ever.

Rarely has a book on writing been so clear, so useful, and so revealing. On Writing begins with a mesmerizing account of King's childhood and his uncannily early focus on writing to tell a story. A series of vivid memories from adolescence, college, and the struggling years that led up to his first novel, Carrie, will afford readers a fresh and often very funny perspective on the formation of a writer. King next turns to the basic tools of his trade -- how to sharpen and multiply them through use, and how the writer must always have them close at hand. He takes the reader through crucial aspects of the writer's art and life, offering practical and inspiring advice on everything from plot and character development to work habits and rejection.

Serialized in the New Yorker to vivid acclaim, On Writing culminates with a profoundly moving account of how King's overwhelming need to write spurred him toward recovery, and brought him back to his life.

Brilliantly structured, friendly and inspiring, On Writing will empower -- and entertain -- everyone who reads it.

Memoirs are my favorite type of nonfiction, so I don't know why I left On Writing to languish on my TBR shelf for nearly 20 years. When this year's Nonfiction November blogging challenge rolled around, I decided to add it to my stack and managed to finish it on the very last day of the month. 

As with most of King's books, I was instantly drawn into the writing, reaching for my Post-It notes, reading passages aloud to Rod, chuckling at King's humor while making notes of books to add to my TBR list. I loved reading about King's childhood and his early days as an aspiring writer. I enjoyed getting to peek into his life as a new husband and father and the struggles he and Tabitha endured in those early days as a young family. I was also spellbound as I read about King's recounting of his nearly fatal accident in 1999. At the time, I knew he was hit by a van and nearly died, but I didn't know many of the details until I read the final section of this book. Wow. What a story. Unfortunately, it wasn't one of his horror stories, but true life.

I was disappointed as I reached the final pages of On Writing, not because it was over, but because I didn't love it. About halfway in, I realized I wasn't the target audience for this book, which is less memoir and more instructional. While I loved the segments about his childhood and early adult life, I didn't care about the nuts & bolts about writing. I picked up a few tips (grammar rules for possessives and the dreaded passive voice), but most of these have been drilled into my brain from years of being married to a writer/editor who has kindly proofread my blog posts for over a dozen years. Reading Stephen King's thoughts on the art of writing for publication was interesting, but I was tempted to skim not just paragraphs, but entire pages of his book. I never skim, so this was not a good sign. I kept reading and eventually got to the last section (a dozen plus pages about his accident) where I was rewarded for my perseverance. When it came time to think about how I would rate this book, I initially thought I would just give it a 3/5 (Good) rating, but since I accept that I was not the target audience, and I loved the sections that didn't deal with writing, I decided to bump up that mediocre rating.

A Favorite Passage:
Book-buyers aren't attracted, by and large, by the literary merits of a novel; book-buyers want a good story to take with them on the airplane, something that will first fascinate them, then pull them in and keep them turning the pages. This happens, I think, when readers recognize the people in the book, their behaviors, their surroundings, and their talk. When the reader hears strong echoes of his or her own life and beliefs, he or she is apt to become more invested in the story. I'd argue that it's impossible to make this sort of connection in a premeditated way, gauging the market like a racetrack tout with a hot tip. 
I've been reading Stephen King novels for decades. He's a masterful, if not genius, storyteller and I have enjoyed so many of his books. Back in the day of the Thursday Thirteen blogging meme, I compiled a list of King's books that I've read. I could add a few more titles to that outdated list, but even with those additions, there are still so many more books yet to read. I'm not sure I want to read any that give me nightmares, but after reading this memoir, I'm eager to give his earlier novels a chance. I never did read Carrie, Salem's Lot, The Deadzone, or Christine. And the last book I read of his was 11/22/63, so I've missed out on a dozen more recent titles. Everyone seems to have a favorite (or two or three) Stephen King book. What's yours?

December 1, 2019

Dinner with Edward

Dinner with Edward by Isabel Vincent
Nonfiction - Memoir
2016 Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Finished on November 25, 2019
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

When Isabel meets Edward, both are at a crossroads: he wants to follow his late wife to the grave, and she is ready to give up on love. Thinking she is merely helping Edward’s daughter--who lives far away and has asked her to check in on her nonagenarian dad in New York--Isabel has no idea that the man in the kitchen baking the sublime roast chicken and light-as-air apricot soufflĂ© will end up changing her life.

As Edward and Isabel meet weekly for the glorious dinners that Edward prepares, he shares so much more than his recipes for apple galette or the perfect martini, or even his tips for deboning poultry. Edward is teaching Isabel the luxury of slowing down and taking the time to think through everything she does, to deconstruct her own life, cutting it back to the bone and examining the guts, no matter how messy that proves to be.

Dinner with Edward is a book about love and nourishment, and about how dinner with a friend can, in the words of M. F. K. Fisher, "sustain us against the hungers of the world."

It's been over three years since my blogging friend, JoAnn, of Gulfside Musing, reviewed this slim memoir (posted here) after picking it up at an independent bookstore while on vacation in Colorado. She was very thoughtful and sent me the book once she was finished, but it wasn't until a few days ago that I was finally inspired to take it down from the shelf and begin reading. (Thank you, Nonfiction November challenge!) JoAnn read the entire book on her flight home and I was able to read it in just one day, as well. I adore memoirs, particularly those with a culinary focus, and I was quickly drawn into Isabel's delightful stories about her unique friendship with Edward. 
Edward was neither a snob nor an insufferable foodie. He just liked to do things properly. He cared deeply about everything he created--whether it was the furniture in his living room or his writing. He had built and upholstered all of the furniture himself and wrote out his poems and short stories in longhand, patiently rewriting each draft on unlined white paper until he felt it was good enough to be typed by one of his daughters. He treated cooking much the same way, even though he had started doing it late in life, in his seventies. "Paula cooked for fifty-two years, and one day I just told her she'd done enough work, and now it was my turn," he said.
My only quibble is the lack of recipes. However, Edward states:
"It's just cooking, darling," he said, when I asked why he didn't use cookbooks. "I don't ever think of what I'm doing in terms of recipes. I just don't want to bother looking at recipes. To me, that's not cooking - being tied to a piece of paper."
Ah, but I am tied to a piece of paper. I need recipes! I guess I'll have to resort to Googling the various items listed in each menu and see what I can come up with. 

As with many of my favorite culinary memoirs, Dinner with Edward is not just about food, but also about life and the deep friendships and conversations shared over a delicious meal. Sure to appeal to fans of Laurie Colwin's Home Cooking and Ann Hood's Kitchen Yarns, Isabel Vincent's splendid memoir will not disappoint.

Thank you, JoAnn, for sharing this lovely little book with me. It has found a place next to my favorite memoirs and is one that I will pick up again when I am in need of a comfort read.

November 30, 2019

I'd Rather Be Reading

I'd Rather Be Reading by Anne Bogel
2018 Baker Books
Finished on November 23, 2019
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

For so many people, reading isn't just a hobby or a way to pass the time--it's a lifestyle. Our books shape us, define us, enchant us, and even sometimes infuriate us. Our books are a part of who we are as people, and we can't imagine life without them.

I'd Rather Be Reading is the perfect literary companion for everyone who feels that way. In this collection of charming and relatable reflections on the reading life, beloved blogger and author Anne Bogel leads readers to remember the book that first hooked them, the place where they first fell in love with reading, and all of the moments afterward that helped make them the reader they are today. Known as a reading tastemaker through her popular podcast What Should I Read Next?, Bogel invites book lovers into a community of like-minded people to discover new ways to approach literature, learn fascinating new things about books and publishing, and reflect on the role reading plays in their lives.

The perfect gift for the bibliophile in everyone's life,
I'd Rather Be Reading will command an honored place on the overstuffed bookshelves of any book lover.

Over the years, I have read and enjoyed many books about bookstores, books and reading: Ex Libris (Anne Fadiman), Dear Fahrenheit 451 (Annie Spence), 84, Charing Cross Road (Helene Hanff), The Book That Matters Most (Ann Hood), The End of Your Life Book Club (Will Schwalbe), Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading (Maureen Corrigan), So Many Books, So Little Time (Sara Nelson) and Book Lust (Nancy Pearl), to name just a few. Most recently, Ann Hood's gem, Morningstar: Growing Up with Books had me nodding my head and reaching for my Post-It flags to mark favorite passages. Bogel's slim collection of essays had me doing the same and didn't disappoint.

Favorite Passages:
You're looking for a book that reminds you why you read in the first place. One written well and that will feel like it was written just for you--one that will make you think about things in a new way, or feel things you didn't expect a book to make you feel, or see things in a new light. A book you won't want to put down, whose characters you don't want to tell good-bye. A book you will close feeling satisfied and grateful, thinking, Now, that was a good one.
A good book allows me to step into another world, to experience people and places and situations foreign to my own day-to-day existence. I love experiencing the new, the novel, the otherwise impossible--especially when I can do it from my own comfy chair.
Books draw us deeply into the lives of others, showing us the world through someone else's eyes, page after page. They take us to new and exciting places while meeting us right where we are, whisking us away to walk by the Seine or through a Saharan desert or down a Manhattan sidewalk.
Your To Be Read list holds 8,972 titles, and you want to read every one. Your TBR list is unquestionably too long to finish before you die. Your TBR list is longer than your arm, but you still can't decide what to read next. You have countless unread books at home, yet you feel like you have nothing to read. You have countless unread books at home, but the only book you're in the mood to read won't be published for six more weeks. You have countless unread books at home, but you can't resist buying one more. 
There's something about glimpsing, and especially handling, a book from long ago that takes me right back to where I was when I first read it. The book triggers memories of why I picked it up, how it made me feel, what was going on in my life at the time, transporting me so thoroughly that, for a moment, I feel like I'm there once again.
Bookish enthusiasm is contagious, but it isn't sufficient--not if I want to find the books that are truly right for me, and for you to find the ones that are right for you. It's easy enough for me to say, I liked that book," or "I didn't," but I often struggle to explain why. I'm constantly surprised at how difficult it is to articulate my thoughts on what I've read in a way that is coherent, useful, and enjoyable, whether I'm sharing a five-thousand-word formal review or a twenty-word text message. But I feel I owe it to my fellow readers to try, because my comments help others decide what is worth reading and what should be read next.
We are readers. Books grace our shelves and fill our homes with beauty; they dwell in our minds and occupy our thoughts. Books prompt us to spend pleasant hours alone and connect us with fellow readers. They invite us to escape into their pages for an afternoon, and they inspire us to reimagine our lives. Good reading journals provide glimpses of how we've spent our days, and they tell the story of our lives.

I'd Rather Be Reading is the perfect gift for any bibliophile on your Christmas list. Be sure to order a copy for yourself, too! 

November 29, 2019

Looking Back - The Poisonwood Bible

Looking Back... In an effort to transfer my book journal entries over to this blog, I'm going to attempt to post (in chronological order) an entry every Friday. I may or may not add extra commentary to what I jotted down in these journals.

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

1998 HarperFlamingo
Finished in March 1999

Rating: 4.5/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

The Poisonwood Bible is a story told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price, a fierce, evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959. They carry with them everything they believe they will need from home, but soon find that all of it—from garden seeds to Scripture—is calamitously transformed on African soil. What follows is a suspenseful epic of one family's tragic undoing and remarkable reconstruction over the course of three decades in postcolonial Africa.

The novel is set against one of the most dramatic political chronicles of the twentieth century: the Congo's fight for independence from Belgium, the murder of its first elected prime minister, the CIA coup to install his replacement, and the insidious progress of a world economic order that robs the fledgling African nation of its autonomy. Against this backdrop, Orleanna Price reconstructs the story of her evangelist husband's part in the Western assault on Africa, a tale indelibly darkened by her own losses and unanswerable questions about her own culpability. Also narrating the story, by turns, are her four daughters—the self-centered, teenaged Rachel; shrewd adolescent twins Leah and Adah; and Ruth May, a prescient five-year-old. These sharply observant girls, who arrive in the Congo with racial preconceptions forged in 1950s Georgia, will be marked in surprisingly different ways by their father's intractable mission, and by Africa itself. Ultimately each must strike her own separate path to salvation. Their passionately intertwined stories become a compelling exploration of moral risk and personal responsibility.

Dancing between the dark comedy of human failings and the breathtaking possibilities of human hope,
The Poisonwood Bible possesses all that has distinguished Barbara Kingsolver's previous work, and extends this beloved writer's vision to an entirely new level. Taking its place alongside the classic works of postcolonial literature, this ambitious novel establishes Kingsolver as one of the most thoughtful and daring of modern writers. 

My Original Notes (1999):

Very good! Marvelous use of four (sometimes five) different voices, allowing the reader insight into the main (female) characters. I was so impressed with Adah's voice! Found humor in the vain voice of Rachel. Horrified by the scene of the ant attack! Heartbroken with the losses... I was a bit disappointed with the last part of the book. It was more political and just not as interesting. But overall, a well-crafted novel. Unforgettable, insightful and masterfully written.

My Current Thoughts:

I enjoyed Kingsolver's earlier novels (The Bean Trees and Pigs in Heaven) and must have been very enthusiastic about the release of The Poisonwood Bible since I bought it in hardcover (something I rarely do now). I remember how much I enjoyed the alternating voices of the main characters and learning about political climate of the Congo in the late 50s, but I also remember how the narrative got bogged down toward the end. Nearly 550 pages in length, this is quite a chunkster, but it's a book that I've been meaning to reread for many years. I'm about to start reading Unsheltered (Kingsolver's latest novel) for book club, so maybe that will inspire me to reread this old favorite sometime in 2020.

November 27, 2019


Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and I have to say that I am very grateful that these two are both home and on the mend. Rod had a terrible gall bladder attack earlier this month and wound up in the hospital with pancreatitis. He spent a couple of days in the hospital getting that under control, followed by surgery to remove his gall bladder and was discharged the following day. Shortly after his follow-up appointment with his surgeon, my mother developed pneumonia and she wound up spending a couple of days in the hospital. They are now both resting, more or less comfortably, at home. 

Two ER visits, two paramedic transports and two hospital stays in two weeks. Let's hope that the belief that bad things occur in threes is just that--nothing but a superstition. My birthday falls on Friday the 13th, but I certainly don't plan to go into hiding. Life happens, whether in threes or more. 

This Thanksgiving I am very thankful for the amazing team of medical professional we encountered during the past two weeks. From the EMTs and ER nurses to the surgical teams and nursing staff to the support staff, each and every one was professional, knowledgeable and very compassionate in their care of two of my favorite people.

November 26, 2019

Mister Owita's Guide to Gardening

Mister Owita's Guide to Gardening by Carol Wall
Nonfiction - Memoir
2014 Amy Einhorn Books
Finished on November 20, 2019
Rating: 2/5 (Fair)

Publisher's Blurb:

A true story of a unique friendship between two people who had nothing - and ultimately everything - in common.

Carol Wall, a middle-aged woman living in a small Virginia town, was at a crossroads in her life. Her children were grown and had left her nest empty; she had successfully overcome the illness that had upended her idyllic existence and forced her to question her own assumptions about what truly gives life  meaning; her beloved parents were getting older, and their care was her burden to carry, alone. Her yard was showing obvious signs of neglect, yet the last thing in the world she thought she would start doing is take up something as frivolous as gardening. Carol and flowers had a history--and it wasn't a happy one.

One day, while she was driving by her neighbor's house, Carol couldn't help noticing the neighbor's yard. Flowers were blooming everywhere. The lawn was a luscious dark green. The trees were glorious, and their shade inviting. In comparison, Carol's yard was... well, just a yard, perhaps the ugliest one on the block.

Yet even more compelling than the beautiful plants was the magnetic man orchestrating this magic. As if drawn by an inexplicable force, Carol found herself calling to gather more information about the stranger. She learned that his name was Giles Owita. He was from Kenya. He bagged groceries at the supermarket in town. He was very good at gardening.

Soon Giles was showing up at Carol's doorstep and transforming now only her yard, but her life. Though they seemed as different as could be, a caring bond began to grown between them. And as it turned out, they both had closely held secrets that, when revealed, would cement their connection forever. 

Mister Owita's Guide to Gardening is an account of an unexpected friendship that sustained Carol through crises and milestones. It is the memoir of a woman who at midlife found there was so much more to learn about herself and others. And perhaps more important, it is also an ode to Giles Owita himself, an intelligent and complex man whose wisdom and grace were truly remarkable. 

As I began reading Carol Wall's memoir, I had that heady feeling of joy, knowing from the opening pages that this was going to be a wonderful book. I felt an immediate connection to the author and looked forward to learning more about her life, as well as that of Giles Owita and his ability to transform a sad garden into a place of beauty and joy. However, somewhere around the third chapter I grew more than weary of Carol's insecurities and whining. While not exactly a drama queen, her reaction to the declining health of her parents, and that of her own cancer battles, seemed over the top and irrationally hysterical. I was tempted to abandon the book, but stuck with it since a few of my friends gave it a high rating and it was a quick read. Overall, it was a disappointing read.

November 24, 2019

Forty Autumns

Forty Autumns by Nina Willner
Nonfiction - Memoir
2016 William Morrow
Finished on November 18, 2019
Rating: 3/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

In this illuminating and deeply moving memoir, a former American military intelligence officer goes beyond traditional Cold War espionage tales to tell the true story of her family—of five women separated by the Iron Curtain for more than forty years, and their miraculous reunion after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Forty Autumns makes visceral the pain and longing of one family forced to live apart in a world divided by two. At twenty, Hanna escaped from East to West Germany. But the price of freedom—leaving behind her parents, eight siblings, and family home—was heartbreaking. Uprooted, Hanna eventually moved to America, where she settled down with her husband and had children of her own.

Growing up near Washington, D.C., Hanna’s daughter, Nina Willner became the first female Army Intelligence Officer to lead sensitive intelligence operations in East Berlin at the height of the Cold War. Though only a few miles separated American Nina and her German relatives—grandmother Oma, Aunt Heidi, and cousin, Cordula, a member of the East German Olympic training team—a bitter political war kept them apart.

In Forty Autumns, Nina recounts her family’s story—five ordinary lives buffeted by circumstances beyond their control. She takes us deep into the tumultuous and terrifying world of East Germany under Communist rule, revealing both the cruel reality her relatives endured and her own experiences as an intelligence officer, running secret operations behind the Berlin Wall that put her life at risk.

A personal look at a tenuous era that divided a city and a nation, and continues to haunt us, Forty Autumns is an intimate and beautifully written story of courage, resilience, and love—of five women whose spirits could not be broken, and who fought to preserve what matters most: family.

I recommended Forty Autumns to my book group after learning about it from a friend who also read it for her book group. She raved about the book and said her group had a wonderful discussion, so I was sold. World War II is a subject I'm drawn to, but I didn't know much about this part of Germany's history when I picked up the book. Like most major events in history such as JFK's assassination, Apollo 11 moon landing, the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion and 9/11 (the sort that we can recall where we were when we first heard that shocking news), I remember when I first heard about the fall of the Berlin Wall. I was busy with work and family life and while I knew it was a historical event, I didn't fully understand the enormous impact it had for those German families who had been separated from their loved ones for decades. Nina Willner's narrative sheds light on the authoritarian rule and repression by the East German government, as well as sharing her family's individual story of fear and uncertainty, including the separation of family members over the course of forty years. Willner's poignant memoir is well written and informative, but sadly, I didn't love it. It started off very strong and readable, but began to drag halfway through. I felt that the author kept her readers at a distance, in spite of sharing such a personal story, and I might have enjoyed it better had it been presented as a historical novel rather than a memoir.

November 23, 2019

California Road Trip 2019 - Bullards Beach State Park

Tuesday, September 3, 2019
Bullards Beach State Park
Cost: $29 + 8 reservation fee = $37
Weather: Sunny and upper 60s

We had a lovely day relaxing at our campground in Bandon. After breakfast, we decided to ride our bikes out to the lighthouse (only 6 miles round trip) and later took a short hike up to the Bullard Family Cemetery, which another camper recommended. In all the visits to Bullards Beach State Park, this was the first we had heard of this little cemetery of just a dozen plots. Perched up on the hill, surrounded by salal, shore pines, rhodies and huckleberry, we discovered it to be well-maintained (most likely by the state park rangers) and quite peaceful. We also explored the other campground loops, checking out the sun and shade situations for future visits. I always prefer a campsite with a lot of sun, especially on the Oregon coast, which never gets terribly hot. We did a little reading (outside in the sun, of course!) and later enjoyed our drinks by the fire. All in all, a nice start to our big road trip. 

Bullard Family Cemetery

Nice level site.

No neighbors on one side.

Sunny afternoon.

So nice to get out and ride.

We do love our campfires.


November 19, 2019

California Road Trip 2019 - Prep, Pack and First Day Out

Monday, September 2, 2019
Depoe Bay to Bandon, OR
Bullards Beach State Park
Distance: 134 miles
Duration: 2 nights
Cost: $29 + 8 reservation fee = $37
Weather: Sunny and upper 60s

I'm probably stating the obvious, but we absolutely love our RV road trips! After several trips (including the big two-month-long journeys in the fall), I think I've pretty much got all the planning and preparation down to a science. I have a lengthy checklist to help remind us of what to pack, but I also do a lot of food prep so I don't have to spend my evenings cooking when I'd rather relax by the fire with a glass of wine. This year we decided to skip the more rigid planning and didn't make any reservations for our return trip once we left the Manhattan Beach area. This allowed us so much more flexibility to extend (or shorten) our stays depending on how we were enjoying the location and parks, what the weather situation was like, if we had seen everything we wanted to see, and if our neighbors were loud and obnoxious or, as we discovered in Dunsmuir, a lot of fun and willing to show us their favorite spots. Another benefit to a more relaxed trip is that I didn't have to spend a lot of time booking our sites. With that said, I still relied heavily on RV Trip Wizard to map out our route and also have at least two campsites in mind, depending on how many miles we were willing to put in each travel day. But part of the fun is in the planning, right?  

An Organized Mess

This trip was a little more complicated since the ultimate goal was to be in San Diego for our daughter's wedding at the end of September. In addition to our usual "camping" gear, we had to pack clothes for a week's worth of wedding events. We use a lot of tubs to store our items in the cupboards and on the bunk above the cab, but this time we also had to figure out where to stow a garment bag and small suitcase. As always, I overpacked, but we went from temps as high as 100 down to a low of 27, so we needed more than just shorts and t-shirts. The only thing we really didn't use was our rain gear. Out of the 55 days away, we only encountered 1 day of rain and that was almost all during the night. I will admit that I didn't need as many books as I packed, but it would have been nice to have the last two seasons of Game of Thrones. We watched a total of three seasons and were anxious for more!

Meal Prep Pays Off

A month or two before we get ready for a trip, I start freezing meals to take along. It's not really any extra work since I can use whatever I make for dinner and either double the recipe or simply freeze the leftovers. Soups are great for this, as well as pulled pork, ribs, stroganoff, and wings. We also grill a lot of salmon, burgers, pork tenderloin and chicken, so I stock up on all of that ahead of time so we don't have to worry about finding a grocery store if we're out in the boonies. I'm constantly amazed that the RV freezer holds as much as it does! We even have room for a small bag of ice for Rod's bourbon.

I've mentioned this helpful website in previous posts and I can't recommend it highly enough. I can figure out how many miles to our next destination, locate (and read reviews for) campgrounds and RV parks, find restaurants and local interests, calculate the cost of fuel, and archive previous trips. It's been a game-changer, as well as a huge time-saver. Love it!

We had originally planned to leave the day after Labor Day, but decided to go ahead and go on Labor Day. Traffic wasn't bad at all and the heaviest was heading north, which kind of surprised us. We had gorgeous weather and stopped for a few photos by Haceta Head and watched the whales and sea lions play in the water.

Haceta Head

Always on the lookout for a good Mexican restaurant, we decided to try El Guadalajara in North Bend (Coos Bay) for a late lunch. The restaurant, pretty much a hole-in-the-wall type of place in a small strip mall, won't win any awards for decor but it was pretty good! Too bad it's such a long drive from home.

Carne Asada Burrito

Chicken Taquitos

So much food! We wound up skipping dinner later that evening.

We made it to Bullard's Beach State Park, which is one of our favorite parks for either a quick getaway or for our first night down 101. We tried a different loop this time (C Loop) and got a nice sunny site with no neighbors on either side of us. After our huge lunch, we made sure to get in a long walk before settling in for the night.

November 16, 2019

Wish You Were Here

Wish You Were Here by Stewart O'Nan
2002 Grove Press
Finished on November 12, 2019
Rating: 3/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

A year after the death of her husband, Henry, Emily Maxwell gathers her family by Lake Chautauqua in western New York for what will be their last vacation at their summer cottage. Joining her is her sister-in-law, who silently mourns both the sale of the lake house and a long-lost love. Emily's firebrand daughter, a recovering alcoholic recently separated from her husband, brings her children from Detroit. Emily's son, who has quit his job and mortgaged his future to pursue his art, comes accompanied by his children and his wife. Memories of past summers resurface, old rivalries flare up, and love is rekindled and born anew, resulting in a timeless novel by one of our most engaging storytellers.

Wish You Were Here is the first installment in O'Nan's Maxwell trilogy. I wouldn't normally read a series out of order, but I didn't know about this book when I read Emily, Alone several years ago. When I spotted Henry, Himself (the most recent book by O'Nan) on the shelf at the library, I was eager to read it since I loved Emily, Alone. I loved it, as well, so I decided to buy a copy of Wish You Were Here. I don't know why, since I rarely ever buy books anymore, but I was so sure it would be another winner. Well... it's probably a good thing that I didn't read this book when it was first published or I may not have gone on to read the other two. Not a lot happens in any of these books, as they are character studies of the Maxwell family, but this one left me wanting more. I was drawn in from the opening pages, but as I continued to read, I found myself bored with the characters' frustrations, jealousies and complaints. Emily and Henry are the stars of their respective books, but Wish You Were Here is told from all nine of the characters' points-of-view. Mundane details of a single week at the lakeside cottage are hardly riveting (as one reviewer claims), and I became frustrated with the multiple POVs, unable to keep track of which character (mainly the four children) was which. Yet, I couldn't quite give it up. Now knowing the backstory to the subsequent novels, I'm eager to reread Emily, Alone. If O'Nan decides to write another book about this family, I doubt I'll bother, that is unless it's told from Rufus' (the family dog) POV!

November 15, 2019

Looking Back... In an effort to transfer my book journal entries over to this blog, I'm going to attempt to post (in chronological order) an entry every Friday. I may or may not add extra commentary to what I jotted down in these journals.

Total Control by David Baldacci
1996 Grand Central Publishing
Read in February 1999
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

Sidney Archer has the world. A husband she loves. A job at which she excels, and a cherished young daughter. Then, as a plane plummets into the Virginia countryside, everything changes. And suddenly there is no one whom Sidney Archer can trust.

Jason Archer is a rising young executive at Triton Global, the world's leading technology conglomerate. Determined to give his family the best of everything, Archer has secretly entered into a deadly game of cat and mouse. He is about to disappear - leaving behind a wife who must sort out his lies from his truths, an aircrash investigation team that wants to know why the plane he was ticketed on suddenly fell from the sky, and a veteran FBI agent who wants to know it all.

From Seattle to Washington, D.C., from New Orleans to Maine, the hunt for Jason Archer follows a trail as complex as the world he lived and worked in - a world of enormously powerful computers, a multimillion-dollar takeover deal, titanic financial standoffs, artificial intelligence, and the Internet. With brilliant minds colliding, ruthless men waging battles of intimidation, rainmakers going toe-to-toe with killers, and security specialists making a fortune trying to plug the holes, the startling truth behind Jason Archer's disappearance explodes into a sinister plot with the murder of the country's single most powerful individual. And soon Archer's wife, Sidney, aided by the relentless and sharp-eyed FBI agent Lee Sawyer, will plunge straight into the violence that is leaving behind a trail of dead bodies and shocking, exposed secrets...

My Original Notes (1999):

Spellbinding! Somewhat difficult to keep track of all of the characters, but other than that, this is a great suspense novel. I'm ready for his next!

My Current Thoughts:

Nope. No recollection of this book, but I do remember reading a lot of books like this. It was the time in my life when I was reading a lot by Grisham, Cornwell, Coben, etc., but it's been many years since I've read any of their current novels. Maybe it's time to revisit some of these authors.