July 16, 2024

The Secret Life of Albert Entwistle

 


The Secret Life of Albert Entwistle by Matt Cain
Fiction
2021
Narrated by Simon Vance
Finished on July 10, 2024
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

Albert Entwistle is a private man with a quiet, simple life. He lives alone with his cat Gracie. And he’s a postman. At least he was a postman until, three months before his sixty-fifth birthday, he receives a letter from the Royal Mail thanking him for decades of service and stating he is being forced into retirement.

At once, Albert’s sole connection with his world unravels. Every day as a mail carrier, he would make his way through the streets of his small English town, delivering letters and parcels and returning greetings with a quick wave and a “how do?” Without the work that fills his days, what will be the point? He has no friends, family, or hobbies—just a past he never speaks of, and a lost love that fills him with regret.

And so, rather than continue his lonely existence, Albert forms a brave plan to start truly living. It’s finally time to be honest about who he is. To seek the happiness he’s always denied himself. And to find the courage to look for George, the man that, many years ago, he loved and lost—but has never forgotten. As he does, something extraordinary happens. Albert finds unlikely allies, new friends, and proves it’s never too late to live, to hope, and to love.

Fans of A Man Called Ove, The Guncle, and Meredith, Alone will enjoy this sweet, touching story of self-discovery, friendship, and community. The novel's main theme of being a gay teenager when it wasn't acceptable (and when it was also illegal) is enlightening, and is also presented in the audiobook's bonus material in which the author interviews several men who experienced discrimination as gays in the 1950-1970s. The details of Albert and George's budding romance are handled tastefully, and Albert is an endearing character whom I was cheering on from the very start. His self-acceptance and growth are admirable and heartwarming. There were moments when I was certain I knew how one or two scenarios would play out, and I was pleasantly surprised that my suspicions were incorrect.

I've listened to several books narrated by Simon Vance and he is an absolute perfect reader for this book. Each character is distinguishable from the others, and Vance's ability to switch between male and female characters is remarkable.

Highly recommend. 

I received a complimentary copy from Libro.fm. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

July 11, 2024

Salt to the Sea

 


Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
Fiction - YA
2016
Finished on July 6, 2024
Rating: 4.5/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

In 1945, World War II is drawing to a close in East Prussia and thousands of refugees are on a desperate trek toward freedom, almost all of them with something to hide. Among them are Joana, Emilia, and Florian, whose paths converge en route to the ship that promises salvation, the Wilhelm Gustloff. Forced by circumstance to unite, the three find their strength, courage, and trust in each other tested with each step closer toward safety. Just when it seems freedom is within their grasp, tragedy strikes. Not country, nor culture, nor status matter as all ten thousand people aboard must fight for the same thing: survival.

A tribute to the people of Lithuania, Poland, and East Prussia, Ruta Sepetys unearths a shockingly little-known casualty of a gruesome war, and proves that humanity can prevail, even in the darkest of hours.

A winner from the backlist shelf! I read Sepetys' debut novel (Between Shades of Gray) over a decade ago, and while I appreciated that suspenseful and eye-opening story, I enjoyed Salt to Sea even more. Once I was able to recognize and remember background details of the central characters, I was hooked, eager to return to the book every night. Sepetys weaves the narrative with alternating perspectives, each chapter devoted to one of the four main characters. The additional supporting characters are given equal time within the chapters, and I came to care about each, apart from one (for obvious reasons, to those who have read the book).

I'm familiar with the Titanic and Lusitania disasters, but until now, have never heard of the 1945 Soviet submarine attack on the German cruise liner in the Baltic Sea. As with most great historical novels, I'm inspired to learn more, and would like to find a nonfiction account of the Wilhelm Gustloff tragedy. Death in the Baltic: The World War II Sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff by Cathryn J. Prince sounds promising. 

The book is 418 pages in length, yet the text of the novel is only 378 pages. There are forty additional pages that include an impressive collection of ancillary items: Author's note, research and source material, acknowledgments, maps, discussion questions, and "in conversation" material from individuals who shared knowledge or direct experience of that period in history. With that said, the novel's chapters are two to three pages in length. Toward the end, several chapters contain a single sentence. My point is that this may appear to be a lengthy work, yet it is a compelling story that is easily read over a short period of time. For those readers who disdain young adult novels, Salt to the Sea is impressive and worthy of the numerous awards bestowed upon it.

Highly recommend.

July 6, 2024

Second Quarter Favorites of 2024

 

Welcome to a new feature on my blog. I noticed a few people sharing their quarterly favorites (on Instagram) and decided to do the same. It might be helpful at the end of the year when it's time for me to compile my "Best of 2024" list.

Sandwich by Catherine Newman (5/5)

Meredith, Alone by Claire Alexander (4/5)

Still Life by Sarah Winman (4.5/5)

The Road to Dalton by Shannon Bowring (4/5)

The Hours by Michael Cunningham (re-read) (4/5)

Devorgilla Days by Kathleen Hart (4/5)

July 3, 2024

A Month in Summary - June 2024

Little Whale Cove
Depoe Bay, Oregon
June 2024


Whoohoo! We now have daytime temps in the 60s. This may sound like spring weather to most of you, but trust me, it finally feels like summer to us on the Oregon coast. A few nights ago, we actually ate outside at a restaurant and didn't need sweatshirts. I don't think it's been this nice since last October. Fortunately, the weather was close to perfect last week when my brother and his family came for a week-long visit. I think they enjoyed the mild temps, as they're used to the heat in Escondido and Nashville. 

I managed to get a few books read, but paused one (The Latecomer) and gave up on another (North Woods), so my Summer Reading Challenge isn't going too well. I did have one excellent read, however, and I'm hoping my choices for July are also winners. 


Books Read (click on the title for my review):


A Change of Circumstance by Susan Hill (3/5)

Family Family by Laurie Frankel (3/5)

Meredith, Alone by Claire Alexander (4/5)

Sandwich by Catherine Newman (5/5)

Flying Solo by Linda Holmes (3.5/5)

Movies & TV Series:


The Responder (Season One) - Despite the bleak and depressing premise of this series, we're eager to watch the next season.


Vera (Season 13) - We're all caught up until the final season drops next year. It's been an entertaining program, but I've grown tired of the show.


Dark Matter - I read and loved this book in 2016 (reviewed here). We enjoyed the series, although it was an episode or two too long. I'm hoping that Blake Crouch is busy working another TV series for his book Recursion, which is also outstanding.

Visitors:

My brother's extended family were here last week and we all had a wonderful time! Sure makes me wish we lived closer...









(Respecting a social media-free child.)



July 1, 2024

Flying Solo

 


Flying Solo by Linda Holmes
Fiction
2022
Narrated by Julia Whalen
Finished on June 29, 2024
Rating: 3.5/5 (Pretty Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

A woman returns to her small Maine hometown, uncovering family secrets that take her on a journey of self-discovery and new love, in this warm and charming novel from the New York Times bestselling author of Evvie Drake Starts Over.

Smarting from her recently cancelled wedding and about to turn forty, Laurie Sassalyn returns to her Maine hometown of Calcasset to handle the estate of her great-aunt Dot, a spirited adventurer who lived to be ninety. Along with boxes of Polaroids and pottery, a mysterious wooden duck shows up at the bottom of a cedar chest. Laurie's curiosity is piqued, especially after she finds a love letter to the never-married Dot that ends with the line, "And anyway, if you're ever desperate, there are always ducks, darling."

Laurie is told that the duck has no financial value. But after it disappears under suspicious circumstances, she feels compelled to figure out why anyone would steal a wooden duck--and why Dot kept it hidden away in the first place. Suddenly Laurie finds herself swept up in a righteous caper that has her negotiating with antiques dealers and con artists, going on after-hours dates at the local library, and reconnecting with her oldest friend and first love. Desperate to uncover her great-aunt's secrets, Laurie must reckon with her past, her future, and ultimately embrace her own vision of flying solo.

I enjoyed this light-hearted novel by Linda Holmes a little bit better than her debut, Evvie Drake Starts Over. Flying Solo is not one that would have held my interest had I read the print edition, but the audiobook, narrated by the wonderful Julia Whalen, was just what I needed to pass the time on my daily walks. Leaning more toward romance than general fiction, it's not my favorite genre, but Whalen kept me entertained, and even had me laughing out loud at some of Laurie's dialogue.

I received a complimentary copy from Libro.fm. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

June 30, 2024

Sandwich

 


Sandwich by Catherine Newman
Fiction
2024
Finished on June 27, 2024
Rating: 5/5 (Excellent)

Publisher's Blurb:

From the beloved author of We All Want Impossible Things, a moving, hilarious story of a family summer vacation full of secrets, lunch, and learning to let go.

For the past two decades, Rocky has looked forward to her family’s yearly escape to Cape Cod. Their humble beach-town rental has been the site of sweet memories, sunny days, great meals, and messes of all kinds: emotional, marital, and—thanks to the cottage’s ancient plumbing—septic too.

This year’s vacation, with Rocky sandwiched between her half-grown kids and fully aging parents, promises to be just as delightful as summers past—except, perhaps, for Rocky’s hormonal bouts of rage and melancholy. (Hello, menopause!) Her body is changing—her life is, too. And then a chain of events sends Rocky into the past, reliving both the tenderness and sorrow of a handful of long-ago summers.

It's one precious week: everything is in balance; everything is in flux. And when Rocky comes face to face with her family’s history and future, she is forced to accept that she can no longer hide her secrets from the people she loves.

I loved this novel! After reading We All Want Impossible Things last year, I couldn't wait for the release of Catherine Newman's new book, which came out earlier this month. I rarely buy newly published books, but I wasn't going to wait for this one to come out in paperback. I knew if I borrowed it from the library, I'd wind up buying a copy for a re-read anyway. My only regret is that it wasn't longer. Like Rocky, the week-long vacation with her family went far too quickly.
"It's only Monday!" I say. I say this every year. This is the part of our vacation where I feel like the week will never end. Like it's just going to stretch out luxuriously this way for the rest of time. It won't last, though. Later I'll cry, "How is it already Friday?" and everyone will nod and sigh because I ask this every year.
Coincidentally, I started reading Sandwich while my brother's family was visiting our coastal home for a full week. "How is it already Friday?" echoed my feelings as our week drew to a close. Newman's setting is vivid, and if I squint my mind's eye, I can almost imagine Rocky's vacation home here on our bluff in Little Whale Cove. Of course, instead of lobster dinners and mini-golf windmills, we have crab cakes and whale watching, but it's really not so different!

Little Whale Cove

Years ago, when I read Nora Ephron's hilarious book, I Feel Bad About My Neck, I had not quite reached the age to which she was referring, but I still enjoyed her essays, knowing my time would come when my wrinkled neck would annoy me. (Spoiler alert: It has!). Conversely, Newman's protagonist is in the middle of menopause, while thankfully, my experience of hot flashes and emotional outbursts ended over a decade ago.
I'm looking in the mirror at my hair. My hair! What on earth? It used to hang down in heavy, glossy waves, and now it sticks out of my head like a marshful of brittle autumn grasses. It is simultaneously coarse and weightless in a way that seems like an actual paradox, as if my scalp is extruding a combination of twine, nothing, and fine-grit sandpaper.
Despite the age difference, I found Rocky's thoughts and experiences relatable and validating. I also found her relationship with her two adult children, specifically with her twenty-something-year-old daughter, enviable, albeit not without its flaws.
And this may be the only reason we were put on this earth. To say to each other, I know how you feel. To say, Same. To say, I understand how hard it is to be a parent, a kid.
Followers of this blog know that my favorite genres are memoir and fiction, specifically those centered around family, marriage, mother-daughter relationships, and aging women. Sandwich checks all the boxes. As with We All Want Impossible Things, I found Newman's latest novel humorous and tender. Reading late in the night, I disturbed my husband's sleep as I laughed aloud on numerous occasions. 

I'm happy to have purchased a copy of the book for my keeper shelf and look forward to reading it again later this summer. Fans of Anna Quindlen, Joyce Maynard, Stewart O'Nan, Abigail Thomas, and Kelly Corrigan are sure to enjoy this gem. Highly recommend!

June 19, 2024

Meredith, Alone

 


Meredith, Alone by Claire Alexander
Fiction
2022
Narrated by Freya Mavor
Finished on June 17, 2024
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

Meredith Maggs has everything a person needs.

A best friend in Sadie.
A beloved cat in Fred.
Jigsaws to fill the time.
Recipes to perfect.
Even a weekly visit from the Tesco delivery guy.

So what if she hasn't left the house in 1,214 days? That her memories are treacherous, and it's getting harder to ignore the estranged sister knocking at her door.

How long can one woman keep the world out?
How long before she invites in what's out there?
And how long does it take to discover the person you were meant to be?

I really enjoyed this novel! At the heart of the story are Meredith and her sister, Fiona. Raised by a single mother who is incapable of love, throwing verbal abuse their way at every opportunity, both sisters are eager to leave home as soon as possible. Surprisingly, Meredith's awful childhood and upbringing isn't the source of her agoraphobia, although it isn't difficult to discern the cause, given several clues in the early chapters of the book.

Meredith is such a likeable, well-drawn character. I came to care about her, as well as her new friends, Tom and Celeste, who not only give her emotional support and confidence to overcome her situation, but also unconditional love, which she is so desperately in need of. The story's conclusion is not predictable or sappy, but ultimately hopeful and uplifting. Fans of Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine are sure to enjoy this satisfying, character-driven story. And the audiobook is outstanding! I was eager to listen at every chance I had, and I fell in love with the narration by Freya Mavor, a Scottish actor with whom I'm not familiar. I look forward to Claire Alexander's second novel, which is due out in 2025. 

Recommend! 

I received a complimentary copy from Libro.fm. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

June 16, 2024

Family Family

 


Family Family by Laurie Frankel
Fiction
2024
Finished on June 14, 2024
Rating: 3/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

“Not all stories of adoption are stories of pain and regret. Not even most of them. Why don’t we ever get that movie?”

India Allwood grew up wanting to be an actor. Armed with a stack of index cards (for research/line memorization/make-shift confetti), she goes from awkward sixteen-year-old to Broadway ingenue to TV superhero.

Her new movie is a prestige picture about adoption, but its spin is the same old tired story of tragedy. India is an adoptive mom in real life though. She wants everyone to know there’s more to her family than pain and regret. So she does something you should never do—she tells a journalist the truth: it’s a bad movie.

Soon she’s at the center of a media storm, battling accusations from the press and the paparazzi, from protesters on the right and advocates on the left. Her twin ten-year-olds know they need help–and who better to call than family? But that’s where it gets really messy because India’s not just an adoptive mother…

The one thing she knows for sure is what makes a family isn’t blood. And it isn’t love. No matter how they’re formed, the truth about family is this: it's complicated.

I was so excited when I spotted a copy of Family Family, Laurie Frankel's latest novel on the new release shelf at my library. I had recently compiled my stack of books for the 20 Books of Summer Reading challenge, but decided to put that on pause so I could first read this highly anticipated book. Sadly, it wasn't the hit I had hoped for. 

The story starts off well, and I quickly came to enjoy the snappy dialogue between India and the supporting cast of characters. I was taken aback by the turn of events about halfway into the book, but happy for an unpredictable plot and interesting themes about the structure of families. At that point, though, the book began to bog down, became unrealistic, and what was once entertaining dialogue, became tiresome. (If you've watched The Gilmore Girls, India's conversations and behavior reminded me of Lorelai, who is entertaining, but exhausting.) I was ready to finish the book and move on to my next read.

Family Family is the third book of Frankel's that I've read in the past few years. Prior to this recent release, I read One Two Three, which was also a challenge to finish. The first, and my favorite, is still This Is How It Always Is. I gave that novel a perfect 5-star rating, and it's one that I look forward to reading again. I'm sorry her more recent works haven't lived up to my expectations.

June 14, 2024

Looking Back - Of Mice and Men

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.



Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
Fiction - Classic
1937
Finished on March 6, 2002
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

“I got you to look after me, and you got me to look after you, and that's why.”

They are an unlikely pair: George is "small and quick and dark of face"; Lennie, a man of tremendous size, has the mind of a young child. Yet they have formed a "family," clinging together in the face of loneliness and alienation. Laborers in California's dusty vegetable fields, they hustle work when they can, living a hand-to-mouth existence. But George and Lennie have a plan: to own an acre of land and a shack they can call their own.

While the powerlessness of the laboring class is a recurring theme in Steinbeck's work of the late 1930s, he narrowed his focus when composing Of Mice and Men, creating an intimate portrait of two men facing a world marked by petty tyranny, misunderstanding, jealousy, and callousness. But though the scope is narrow, the theme is universal: a friendship and a shared dream that makes an individual's existence meaningful.

A unique perspective on life's hardships, this story has achieved the status of timeless classic due to its remarkable success as a novel, a Broadway play, and three acclaimed films.
  
My Original Thoughts (2002):

I read this with the Banned Book Group (online). Quick novella. It's been awhile since I've read anything by Steinbeck. I enjoyed this straight-forward story about George & Lennie. I'm sure I read it in high school, but didn't remember any of the details except the scene with Lennie and the mouse.

My Current Thoughts:

I'm surprised I gave this book such a high rating. It's not one of my favorites by Steinbeck, and I doubt I'll read it again. Someday, I would like to make time to reread The Grapes of Wrath, though.

June 8, 2024

A Change of Circumstance

 


A Change of Circumstance by Susan Hill
Simon Serrailler #11
Mystery
2021
Finished on June 6, 2024
Rating: 3/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

In this newest installment of Susan Hill’s electrifying crime series, Simon Serrailler finds himself in devastating new territory as a sophisticated drug network sets its sights on Lafferton.

Susan Hill is back with A Change of Circumstance, the eleventh book in the acclaimed mystery series featuring the enigmatic and brooding chief police inspector Simon Serrailler. DCS Serrailler has long regarded drugs ops in Lafferton as a waste of time. The small-time dealers picked up outside the local high school can’t—or won’t—turn in any valuable names, so they're merely given a fine and the trail runs cold. But when the body of a 22-year-old drug addict is found in neighboring Starley, the case pulls Serrailler into the underbelly of an elaborate drug running operation that pushes narcotics out from the cities, into the suburbs, and right down to villages. The foot soldiers? Vulnerable local kids like Brookie and Olivia, whose involvement gives Serrailler a bitter taste of this new landscape. It’s a harsh winter in Lafferton, and with struggles both at home and on the job, Serrailler soon learns that even the familiar can hold shocking surprises. . . .

With A Change of Circumstance, Hill delivers yet another gripping piece of the Serrailler canon. Written in the tradition of the fabulous mysteries of Ruth Rendell and P. D. James, this newest case is sure to enthrall new fans and surprise old ones in what is a captivating new addition to a highly acclaimed series.

I have spent the past year or so reading this entertaining series by Susan Hill and I am finally caught up. As with most mystery series (Louise Penny's, Deborah Crombie's, etc.), some installments are better than others. Regrettably, this most recent book was not my favorite. The first half of the book was plodding and uneven, and at times I grew weary of Simon's tortured inner thoughts about life and where he was heading. The mystery was fine, and as usual, the familial relationships played front and center, but even those left me bored and wanting more depth. Hill leaves her readers with yet another cliffhanger that had me shaking my head in frustration. It's been over two years since her last publication, and I can't help but wonder how many more she has remaining to write. Sadly, A Change of Circumstance was somewhat of a disappointment. 

June 6, 2024

Drowning

 


Drowning: The Rescue of Flight 1421 by T.J. Newman
Fiction
2021
Narrated by Steven Weber and Laura Benanti
Finished on June 5, 2024
Rating: 2/5 (Fair)

Publisher's Blurb:

Flight attendant turned New York Times bestselling author T. J. Newman—whose first book Falling was an instant #1 national bestseller and the biggest thriller debut of 2021—returns for her second book, an edge-of-your-seat thriller about a commercial jetliner that crashes into the ocean, and sinks to the bottom with passengers trapped inside, and the extraordinary rescue operation to save them.

Six minutes after takeoff, Flight 1421 crashes into the Pacific Ocean. During the evacuation, an engine explodes and the plane is flooded. Those still alive are forced to close the doors—but it’s too late. The plane sinks to the bottom with twelve passengers trapped inside.

More than two hundred feet below the surface, engineer Will Kent and his eleven-year-old daughter Shannon are waist-deep in water and fighting for their lives.

Their only chance at survival is an elite rescue team on the surface led by professional diver Chris Kent—Shannon’s mother and Will’s soon-to-be ex-wife—who must work together with Will to find a way to save their daughter and rescue the passengers from the sealed airplane, which is now teetering on the edge of an undersea cliff.

There’s not much time.

There’s even less air.

With devastating emotional power and heart-stopping suspense, Drowning is an unforgettable thriller about a family’s desperate fight to save themselves and the people trapped with them—against impossible odds.

Ugh. Once again, had I been reading the print edition of Drowning, I probably would have quit after a few pages, but since I was listening to the audio, I stuck it out and finished the book. On the other hand, maybe if I had been reading the print copy, the story wouldn't have felt so melodramatic and soap opera-ish. It didn't help that the second reader (Laura Benanti) was too emotive and that her voice grated on my nerves. (I also have a hard time believing an eleven-year-old with a peanut allergy would mistake a cracker with peanut butter for one with cheese...) 

I listened to Falling (T.J. Newman's debut) in 2021, and thought it was very good, but her latest suspense novel was a big disappointment. I don't plan to read her upcoming release, Worst Case Scenario, which comes out in August. I've had my fill of plane crash stories for a while.

I received a complimentary copy from Libro.fm. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

June 3, 2024

A Month in Summary - May 2024

 
Little Whale Cove
Depoe Bay, Oregon
May 2024

This is my most favorite time of year! The days are getting longer, the temps are getting warmer, the rain isn't as frequent, and between visitors, we're getting out for some short road trips. Life is good! Meanwhile, my reading is holding steady, and I'm excited about my summer reading plans. We'll see if I can actually read all 20 books on my list, but I'm hopeful! I enjoyed most of what I read in May, and was pleased that the book I chose to reread was as good the second time around.


Books Read (click on the title for my review):

The Road to Dalton by Shannon Bowring (4/5)

Devorgilla Days by Kathleen Hart (4/5)

The Women by Kristin Hannah (2/5)

The Hours by Michael Cunningham (4/5) - reread

Movies & TV Series:


The Gentlemen - Odd and violent, yet witty, this Tarantino-esque series was surprisingly good.



Sugar - We enjoyed this series! Unfortunately, I came across a spoiler early on, so be careful and skip all reviews if you want to be surprised. I hope there's going to be a second season. 


Why Didn't They Ask Evans - Entertaining series!


All the Light We Cannot See - I watched this by myself and initially wasn't impressed, but decided to stick with it. The last two episodes redeemed this four-episode mini-series from a complete disappointment, mainly due to the introduction of Hugh Laurie as Uncle Etienne. Nonetheless, the book was much better than this adaptation.

Celebrations:


We celebrated two birthdays in May. Rod turned 72 and my mom turned 91!


Doesn't my mom look great?!

Visitors:


My aunt and uncle (Mom's brother) came out for a visit from Durham, N.C. and thankfully, the sun came out for part of their visit.

My brother and sister-in-law were here at the beginning of the month to help celebrate the birthdays, as well. This may be the first time I didn't take any photos while they were here! I did get a shot of this other visitor, however.


Travels:

We spent the last week of May camping at one of our favorite parks on the Oregon Coast. Nehalem Bay State Park is only two hours from home, which makes it nice for a quick get-away. Our neighbors and camping buddies joined us for three of the four days we were there. Good times!











We missed the aurora borealis at the beginning of the month (I went back inside too early!), but I love this shot of Depoe Bay, which I took earlier that night. 


And, Rachel, who is always in our hearts...

February 17, 1981 to May 28, 2005