May 20, 2024

Devorgilla Days

 


Devorgilla Days by Kathleen Hart
Nonfiction - Memoir
2021
Finished on May 18, 2024
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

This is a story about uncovering the things that really matter, and discovering what makes us feel alive. It is a story about finding that inner strength and resilience, and never giving up hope.

Eight years ago, Kathleen Hart was diagnosed with breast cancer. Further complications led to a protracted recovery and months spent in hospital, where Kathleen had to learn how to walk again. While recuperating, she came across a small whitewashed cottage for sale in Wigtown, Scotland. Driving hundreds of miles on nothing more than a few photographs and an inkling, she bought it that very same day, and named it Devorgilla after the formidable 13th century Scottish princess.

Devorgilla Days is the story of how Kathleen left behind her old life to begin again in Scotland's book capital. From renovating her cottage to exploring the seemingly quiet, but actually bustling town, she encounters a whole community of book lovers, beekeepers, artists and writers - and Lobster Fishermen. Kathleen starts wild swimming, a ritual that brings peace and clarity to her mind as her body heals. And, with the support of her virtual worldwide community who know her as PoshPedlar on Instagram, she rebuilds her life again.

Heartwarming and deeply moving, Devorgilla Days is an inspiring tale of one woman's remarkable journey, a celebration of community, and a call-to-arms for anyone who has ever dreamt of starting over.

I thought I read about Devorgilla Days on a friend's blog, but I can't locate their review, nor can I find any mention of it by my friends on Goodreads. Hmmm, it must have been shared by someone on Instagram, which is where I've gotten a lot of recommendations lately. I'm sure the beautiful cover art caught my eye, as well as the subtitle ("finding hope and healing in Scotland's book town"). 

Kathleen Hart's memoir is somewhat reminiscent of Anne Morrow Lindbergh's Gift from the Sea. Both memoirs are personal introspections, as well as observations of their surroundings, yet rather than a solo retreat on Sanibel Island, Hart buys a small cottage in Scotland, where she lives alone, recovering from numerous illnesses and setbacks: Pneumonia, breast cancer and a mastectomy, multiple reconstructive surgeries, pleurisy, a slipped disc, three attempts at a discectomy, and, (as if that's not enough!), a tumor in her chest, which required open-heart surgery. She really has had everything thrown at her! And yet, despite her terrible luck, she recovers, finds joy and friendship in her new community, and takes daily swims (weather permitting) in the frigid Wigtown Bay. Remarkable! 

Hart's writing is engaging and uplifting, and I enjoyed a glimpse into her not-so-solitary life in Scotland. Once settled, she learns to be "her own best friend," but it isn't long before she's joining a variety of groups, finding new activities to occupy her time: Beekeeping, a knitting group called Knit and Natter, Scottish country dancing, watercolor painting, Gaelic lessons, and of course, swimming.
The wind blusters across the cool water, ruffling its surface, and splashes of briny spray sting my face as I sweep, kick, thrust out into the bay. Miles to the south, the craggy silhouette of the Lake District is vivid against a peachy sky. It's very clear today; even the terrain is visible: valleys, cliffs, scree, all glowing golden in the last of the light. It's a wonderful sight, romantic and alluring, and it could be anywhere in the world. I conjure up the peaks of a rugged Antipodean island, or perhaps a mountain range in Mongolia. It looks close enough to swim to. I propel myself forward, towards the horizon--horizons give me hope; they are a glimpse of the future. Across to the west, on the opposite side of the bay, the heather high up on the Galloway Hills glows and shimmers like an amethyst, glinting in the final rays of the sun. The cairn is silhouetted gold, like the halo of a Russian icon.

A severe cold spell is forecast, with fierce storms on the way, so I make the most of the session, swimming slow steady laps across from the breakwater to the harbour wall. The sun is very low now, cradled by a dip in the field, and casts silvery spangles over the tar-black water. A crow waddles across the beach, picking his way through large mounds of seaweed, searching for his supper. The hills and mountains have softened now, bathed in a soothing amber hue. Two swans sweep by, rhythmically beating time, wings not quite clipping the surface of the water. I can hear the swoosh, swoosh as they head into the harbour. I float a while, suspended, letting my mind go quiet, treading water, cupping my hands and pushing ripples out to sea, wondering where they will land, these mini whorls of water. Perhaps they'll reach Dublin, maybe New York.

My skin is tingling with the cold, my fingers white and aching, and I can see lights glowing in the cottages across the estuary. The sun has set. It's time to get out. 
Devorgilla Days is less about a community of bookstores (twelve!) and more about a community of kind-hearted neighbors. It's less about Hart's physical ailments and more about her keen sense of awareness of her surroundings and the natural environment she inhabits. I loved this book and am now one of her many thousand Instagram followers (@poshpedlar). Her curated photographs and cheerful quotations are beautiful and inspiring, as one would imagine. I wish her good health and happiness!

May 10, 2024

Looking Back - Crazy Love

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.


Crazy Love by David Martin
Fiction
2002
Finished on March 1, 2002
Rating: 4.5/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

David Martin has proved to be an unusually versatile writer, both of acclaimed thrillers like Lie to Me and of love stories like The Crying Heart Tattoo. Now, in Crazy Love, Martin has created remarkable characters and his richest story a chronicle of passion and heartbreak.

Joseph Long, known locally as Bear, is a farmer ridiculed by neighbors for his strangeness. Lonely nearly to the point of madness and so desperate for human touch, he leans against the hands of the barber giving him a haircut.

Katherine Renault is a successful career woman, wondering why, if she has the perfect job and the perfect fiancé, does she feel so hollow inside -- even before the illness, the disfiguring surgery.

They should have nothing in common -- though he has a magical touch with animals, he considers them property, while she can't tolerate their mistreatment. She's a sophisticated city dweller who can't abide violence, and he's never traveled beyond the local town and has blood on his hands. But love is crazy, and soon they are rescuing the injured of the world just as they rescue each other. Enduring violence and loss, they live in a domestic bliss wide and deep enough to dilute most of life's dramas, until fate tests them again.

Funny, erotic, emotionally powerful, yet surprisingly unsentimental about our relationships with each other and with animals in our care, Crazy Love will heal broken hearts.

My Original Thoughts (2002):

I loved this book up until the final pages! I would have given it a perfect 5-star rating, otherwise. Tugs at your heartstrings (ok, I cried a few times - something I rarely do while reading). Compassionate. Memorable characters. 

My Current Thoughts:

I no longer own my copy of this book, and honestly, I have no memory of the story.

May 7, 2024

The Road to Dalton

 


The Road to Dalton by Shannon Bowring
Dalton, Maine #1
Fiction
2023
Finished on May 5, 2024
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

From debut author Shannon Bowring comes a novel of small town America that Pulitzer-winner Richard Russo calls, "measured, wise, and beautiful."

It's 1990. In Dalton, Maine, life goes on. Rose goes to work at the diner every day, her bruises hidden from both the customers and her two young boys. At a table she waits, Dr. Richard Haskell looks back on the one choice that's charted his entire life, before his thoughts wander back to his wife, Trudy, and her best friend.

Trudy and Bev have been friends for longer than they can count, and something more than lovers to each other for some time now—a fact both accepted and ignored by their husbands. Across town, new mother Bridget lives with her high school sweetheart Nate, and is struggling with postpartum after a traumatic birth. And nearer still is teenager Greg, trying to define the complicated feelings he has about himself and his two close friends.

The Road to Dalton offers valuable understandings of what it means to be alive in the world—of pain and joy, conflict and love, and the endurance that comes from living.

The Road to Dalton appeared (with high ratings) on several blogs last year, so I bought a copy to give to my mom last Christmas. (One of the many benefits of sharing a home with my book-loving, 91-year-old mother is that she passes her books on to me once she's finished reading them.) After reading three hefty novels last month, I decided it was time for something not only shorter in length, but lighter in tone. Had I read the publisher's blurb before starting Bowring's novel, I would have known that despite its cheerful cover, The Road to Dalton isn't exactly a light, breezy story. And yet, it worked for me. 

Reminiscent of Olive Kitteridge (Elizabeth Strout's renowned novel), and also set in Maine, Bowring's debut is a story of the intertwined lives of a small community in which everyone knows everyone's business. While no single resident takes center stage (as in Olive Kitteridge), there are those whose lives intersect more with the community than others. Each character struggles with heavy life challenges, which could make for a bleak story, but as I turned the last page, I felt hopeful for those characters I'd come to know and care about in this character-driven novel. I'm looking forward to Bowring's follow-up (Where the Forest Meets the River), which is due out this September. 

The Road to Dalton is a satisfying, poignant read. Recommend!

May 3, 2024

A Month in Summary - April 2024

Highway 101
South of Port Orford, Oregon
April 2024

We spent three weeks traveling in April, so there's not much to share (other than photos); no visitors, no new puzzles, no new cars... But my reading was really good, if not excellent. The King book was a disappointment, but I LOVED Still Life and Demon Copperhead! All three books were well over 400 pages, which seems to be my thing this year.


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

Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver (5/5)

Fairy Tale by Stephen King (2.5/5)

Still Life by Sarah Winman (4.5/5)

Movies & TV Series:


Vera (Season 11) - Another entertaining season. 

Travels:

As I mentioned above, we were on the road for three weeks, traveling down Highway 101 to Santa Rosa, then over to the Sacramento area, then north to Dunsmuir, and back up into Oregon. It was a great trip, and as always, we took our time, staying at ten different campgrounds and homes. We got to camp with some friends from our neighborhood, visit one of my aunts, and catch up with some good friends (one of whom I've known since elementary school!). The weather was wonderful, with the exception of some rainy days in Oregon. Typical!

Spotted this HUGE trillium on a hike in Oregon!
William Tugman State Park
Lakeside, Oregon

Peaceful spot to read my book.
Alfred Loeb State Park
Brookings, Oregon

Always a treat to see these guys when we're in their 'hood.
Elk Country RV Resort
Trinidad, California

I never get tired of this scene.
Elk Country RV Resort
Trinidad, California

Another peaceful view.
Auntie Sue's 
Santa Rosa, California

The view from our campsite!
Railroad RV Park
Dunsmuir, California

This creek lulled us to sleep for three nights.
Railroad RV Park
Dunsmuir, California

Walked 5+ miles (roundtrip) to reach this spot from our campsite.
Valley of the Rogue State Park
Gold Hill, Oregon

Camping Buddies - Molly & Dave
William Tugman State Park, Oregon

Auntie Sue
Handline Restaurant
Sebastopol, California


Brunch with Sarah and Bert
Fox and Goose Public House
Sacramento, California

Best buddies - Bert & Rod
Carmichael, California

Best buddies for 56 years (!!) - Pam & Les
Red Bluff, California


May 1, 2024

Still Life

 


Still Life by Sarah Winman
Fiction - Historical
2021
Finished on April 29, 2024
Rating: 4.5/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

A captivating, bighearted, richly tapestried story of people brought together by love, war, art, flood, and the ghost of E. M. Forster, by the celebrated author of Tin Man.

Tuscany, 1944: As Allied troops advance and bombs sink villages, a young English soldier, Ulysses Temper, finds himself in the wine cellar of a deserted villa. There, he has a chance encounter with Evelyn Skinner, a middle-aged art historian intent on salvaging paintings from the ruins. In each other, Ulysses and Evelyn find a kindred spirit amidst the rubble of war-torn Italy, and paint a course of events that will shape Ulysses’s life for the next four decades.

Returning home to London, Ulysses reimmerses himself in his crew at The Stoat and Parot—a motley mix of pub crawlers and eccentrics—all the while carrying with him his Italian evocations. So, when an unexpected inheritance brings him back to where it all began, Ulysses knows better than to tempt he must return to the Tuscan hills.

With beautiful prose, extraordinary tenderness, and bursts of humor and light, Still Life is a sweeping portrait of unforgettable individuals who come together to make a family, and a deeply drawn celebration of beauty and love in all its forms.

Marvelous! I'm so glad I didn't give up on this outstanding novel. The first fifty pages didn't grab me, but after that, I was hooked. The touching relationships between a small group of friends prove that family is more than that in which we are born. I loved each and every one, including Claude, the parrot!

It took me a little over two weeks to read, but if we weren't traveling, I could have read it in a few short days, it was that engrossing. And yet, I found myself putting it down every dozen or so pages, willing myself to make it last. 456 pages and I wanted more!

On Art:
We like beauty, don't we? Something good on the eye cheers us. Does something to us on a cellular level, makes us feel alive and enriched. Beautiful art opens our eyes to the beauty of the world, Ulysses. It repositions our sight and judgment. Captures forever that which is fleeting. A meager stain in the corridors of history, that’s all we are. A little mark of scuff. One hundred and fifty years ago Napoleon breathed the same air as we do now. The battalion of time marches on. Art versus humanity is not the question, Ulysses. One doesn’t exist without the other. Art is the antidote. Is that enough to make it important? Well, yes, I think it is.
On Love:
What are we without love? 
Waiting, said Evelyn.
Humor:
Do I look as tipsy as I feel?
No point asking me, dear, said Dotty, I’ve been talking to two of you for the last hour.
I was captivated by Sarah Winman's beautiful prose, details of Italy (specifically Florence), and snappy dialogue, greedily adding her earlier works to my list of future purchases. I remember hearing good things about Tin Man, but never got around to buying it. If it's half as good as Still Life, I know I'll love it! This is one I hugged to my chest as I finished the final page, and I'll happily read a second time. Sure to appeal to readers who enjoy historical fiction, Renaissance art, Italy, and love...

Highly recommend!

Note: I rarely write my own synopsis of the books I review, instead relying on the publisher's blurb for those who wish to learn more about the plot and characters. The one above is spoiler-free, so I encourage you to give it a read. 

A parade of small stories, intimate connections and complex characters... Sentence after sentence, character by character, Still Life becomes poetry. ~ The New York Times Book Review

April 29, 2024

Fairy Tale

 


Fairy Tale by Stephen King
Fiction
2022 Simon & Schuster Audio
Narrated by Seth Numrich
Finished on April 27, 2024
Rating: 2.5/5 (Fair)

Publisher's Blurb:

Legendary storyteller Stephen King goes deep into the well of his imagination in this spellbinding novel about a seventeen-year-old boy who inherits the keys to a parallel world where good and evil are at war, and the stakes could not be higher—for their world or ours.

Charlie Reade looks like a regular high school kid, great at baseball and football, a decent student. But he carries a heavy load. His mom was killed in a hit-and-run accident when he was ten, and grief drove his dad to drink. Charlie learned how to take care of himself—and his dad. Then, when Charlie is seventeen, he meets Howard Bowditch, a recluse with a big dog in a big house at the top of a big hill. In the backyard is a locked shed from which strange sounds emerge, as if some creature is trying to escape. When Mr. Bowditch dies, he leaves Charlie the house, a massive amount of gold, a cassette tape telling a story that is impossible to believe, and a responsibility far too massive for a boy to shoulder.

Because within the shed is a portal to another world—one whose denizens are in peril and whose monstrous leaders may destroy their own world, and ours. In this parallel universe, where two moons race across the sky, and the grand towers of a sprawling palace pierce the clouds, there are exiled princesses and princes who suffer horrific punishments; there are dungeons; there are games in which men and women must fight each other to the death for the amusement of the “Fair One.” And there is a magic sundial that can turn back time.

A story as old as myth, and as startling and iconic as the rest of King’s work, Fairy Tale is about an ordinary guy forced into the hero’s role by circumstance, and it is both spectacularly suspenseful and satisfying.

Meh. I have usually enjoyed, if not loved most of the books I've read by Stephen King. Unfortunately, Fairy Tale was a disappointment. It had promise, and I loved the first part, which focuses on Charlie's introduction to Mr. Bowditch and Radar (Bowditch's dog). This section (roughly the first third of the book) felt like a classic King novel (young boy, old man, and a dog), and the audio production pulled me in from the opening lines. However, once Charlie entered the "other" world, I lost interest, and it took me almost two months to finish the book. I don't know if I would've maintained my enthusiasm had I listened at longer stretches, but March was super rainy, so my daily walks were pretty much nonexistent. We were also traveling for a big portion of April, so again, not much listening time. Honestly, it didn't call out to me, and I really didn't care how it was going to end. With that said, I did push through and eventually finished, but it's not a book that I can recommend... unless you love fantasy. I can see how this story would appeal to those who like that genre, but I prefer King's supernatural tales. 

April 15, 2024

First Quarter Favorites of 2024

 


Edit: Oops. I accidentally included Demon Copperhead in this post when it should actually go on next quarter's list.

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.

Demon Copperhead 5/5

The Plot 4.5/5

Since We Fell 5/5

Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow 4.5/5

Small Mercies 4.5/5

The Comforts of Home 4.5/5

The Weight of Silence 4.5/5

The Soul of Discretion 4.5/5

April 13, 2024

Demon Copperhead

 


Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver
Fiction
2022
Finished on April 12, 2024
Rating: 5/5 (Outstanding!)

Publisher's Blurb:

Set in the mountains of southern Appalachia, this is the story of a boy born to a teenaged single mother in a single-wide trailer, with no assets beyond his dead father's good looks and copper-colored hair, a caustic wit, and a fierce talent for survival. In a plot that never pauses for breath, relayed in his own unsparing voice, he braves the modern perils of foster care, child labor, derelict schools, athletic success, addiction, disastrous loves, and crushing losses. Through all of it, he reckons with his own invisibility in a popular culture where even the superheroes have abandoned rural people in favor of cities.

Many generations ago, Charles Dickens wrote David Copperfield from his experience as a survivor of institutional poverty and its damages to children in his society. Those problems have yet to be solved in ours. Dickens is not a prerequisite for readers of this novel, but he provided its inspiration. In transposing a Victorian epic novel to the contemporary American South, Barbara Kingsolver enlists Dickens' anger and compassion, and above all, his faith in the transformative powers of a good story. Demon Copperhead speaks for a new generation of lost boys, and all those born into beautiful, cursed places they can't imagine leaving behind.

I received an ARC of Demon Copperhead in 2022. The size of Barbara Kingsolver's latest novel, as well as the subject matter, made me hesitant to pick it up. I loaned the book to my mom, who told me she hated it. I loaned it to my husband, who gave up after reading a dozen or so chapters. So, it continued to languish on my nightstand, in spite of my affection for Kingsolver's books. I have read all of her novels (with the exception of The Lacuna), and many are on my list for re-reading (Flight Behavior, The Poisonwood Bible, Pigs in Heaven), so why was I so reticent to start this particular book? I'm sure I would have eventually picked it up, but when my book club selected it for our June discussion, that was nudge I needed. Realizing that it would take me a couple of weeks to read, I decided to start before our RV trip to California, knowing I would have several days of uninterrupted reading once we were on the road. Little did I know that this book would consume my waking thoughts and dreams for the next two weeks. 

I love that Kingsolver tells this tale exclusively from Demon's point of view. I quickly came to care about this resilient young boy, heartbroken over the terrible cards that were dealt to him, his mother, and many of the folks in his life. The situations that claim Demon's innocence, as well as the fragmented sentences which make up the early dialogue in the novel, held me in thrall. With each new turn of events, I couldn't help but wonder if life would ever improve for Demon. Even when it looked like he had finally found a good family situation, I worried about the other shoe falling, forcing him back out on his own, struggling to survive the cruelties of society.

I know this must be a difficult (if not impossible) read for anyone touched by the opioid crisis, and I have to admit that there were times when I didn't think I could continue reading. But Kingsolver's prose, while at times perhaps heavy-handed, never felt didactic or gratuitous. She has written an engrossing and important story, which is not merely entertainment, but rather sheds light on a serious societal problem. For this reason, the Pulitzer Prize is well-deserved. I'm eager to hear how others in my book club felt about the book and anticipate a thought-provoking discussion.

I hadn't considered reading David Copperfield before picking up Demon Copperhead, but now I'm curious to give the former a read in order to find the connections between the two stories. I'm also interested in watching Dopesick, which I understand to be an excellent series.

Passages of note:
I made my peace with the place, but never went a day without feeling around for things that weren't there, the way your tongue pushes into the holes where you've lost teeth. I don't just mean cows, or trees, it runs deeper. Weather, for instance. Air, the way it smells from having living things breathing into it, grass and trees and I don't know what, creatures of the soil. Sounds I missed most of all. There was noise, but nothing behind it. I couldn't get used to the blankness where there should have been bird gossip morning and evening, crickets at night, the buzz saw of cicadas in August. A rooster always sounding off somewhere, even dead in the middle of Jonesville. It's like the movie background music. Notice it or don't but if the volume goes out, the movie has no heart. I'd oftentimes have to stop and ask myself what season it was. I never realized what was holding me to my place on the planet of earth: that soundtrack. That, and leaf colors and what's blooming in the roadside ditches this week, wild sweet peas or purple ironweed or goldenrod. And stars. A sky as dark as sleep, not this hazy pinkish business, I'm saying blind man's black. For a lot of us, that's medicine. Required for the daily reboot. (Demon's thoughts on living in a city.)
and
"Certain pitiful souls around here see whiteness as their last asset that hasn’t been totaled or repossessed."
and
“It’s not something to fix,” he said. “It means strong. Outside of all expectation.” I looked at him. He looked at me. His hands were on his desk with the fingers touching, a tiny cage with air inside. Black hands. The knuckles almost blue-black. Silver wedding ring. He said, “You know, sometimes you hear about these miracles, where a car gets completely mangled in a wreck. But then the driver walks out of it alive? I’m saying you are that driver.”
An affecting and memorable coming-of-age tale which I doubt will ever leave me. Highly recommend!

Novelists like Kingsolver have a particular knack for making us empathize with lives that may bear little resemblance to our own. ~ Salon

Spoiler Alert: 


I was pleased with the hopeful ending...

April 2, 2024

A Month in Summary - March 2024

Little Whale Cove
Depoe Bay, Oregon
March 2024

I don't know about all of you, but I am so happy it's finally spring! I love the longer days and while we'll still see some rain for the next few months, it won't be as often as during the winter. I hope! 

It was a busy month, but I managed to get back into a good routine of going to yoga three times a week, as well as playing pickleball at least once a week. Now that the weather has improved, I hope to return to my daily walks.

My reading has been going very well. I reread two novels, continued with a favorite mystery series, started a new series, read a memoir that's been lurking on a shelf for a couple of decades (!!), read a recent release, and was spellbound by a great suspense novel. No complaints about any of these!



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

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski (4/5) - reread

The Benefit of Hindsight by Susan Hill (4/5)

The Samurai's Garden by Gail Tsukiyama (4/5) - reread

Day by Michael Cunningham (3/5)

The Stonecutter by Camilla Lackberg (4/5)

Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes (4/5)

The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz (4.5/5)

Movies & TV Series:


Leave the World Behind - I read this book (on audio) in 2022 and enjoyed it, but I'd forgotten some of the details until I started watching the movie on Netflix. I really like it! Ethan Hawke was great, as were the rest of the cast. The ending was just as ambiguous as the the one in the novel, but a small departure from the book. 


You Are What You Eat: A Twin Experiment - I enjoyed this documentary series, but came away from it the same as I did after watching What the Health. Basically, cherry-picked stats to support a pro-vegan lifestyle, which should be taken with a grain of salt.


We Are the World: The Story Behind the Song - An enjoyable documentary featuring some of the great voices from the 80s. 


American Symphony - I went into this knowing nothing about either Jon Batiste or his wife, Suleika Jaouad. Apparently, I've been living under a rock. Worthwhile documentary about the creative genius of Batiste and his wife's battle with cancer.


MI-5 (Season Six) - Love this series! It gets a little convoluted with each new episode, but I enjoyed it and am eager to watch the next season.


Deadwind (Season One) - Entertaining police drama set in Finland. There are twelve episodes in the first season, so we'll take a break between seasons and get back to the show later this summer. 

Puzzlemania: 



Travel:

We are getting ready to head out in the RV for a trip down the coast to the Bay Area. I'm hopeful that we'll leave the rainy weather behind us in Oregon. I'm ready to break out my shorts and flip flops!

Other News:




We bought a new car! Rod has always wanted to own another sports car (we've owned a Karmann Ghia, Porsche 356C, MG Midget, MGA, Miata, and a Mini Cooper) so we decided to get a 2023 Mazda Miata (which is now called an MX-5). It is SO much fun! My brother was in town for the weekend and the weather couldn't have been nicer. Mark and Rod had a good time cruising around with the top down. Two cool dudes!

April 1, 2024

The Plot

 


Mystery/Thriller
2021
Finished on March 30, 2024
Rating: 4.5/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

Jean Hanff Korelitz’s The Plot is a psychologically suspenseful novel about a story too good not to steal, and the writer who steals it.

Jacob Finch Bonner was once a promising young novelist with a respectably published first book. Today, he’s teaching in a third-rate MFA program and struggling to maintain what’s left of his self-respect; he hasn’t written—let alone published—anything decent in years. When Evan Parker, his most arrogant student, announces he doesn’t need Jake’s help because the plot of his book in progress is a sure thing, Jake is prepared to dismiss the boast as typical amateur narcissism. But then . . . he hears the plot.

Jake returns to the downward trajectory of his own career and braces himself for the supernova publication of Evan Parker’s first novel: but it never comes. When he discovers that his former student has died, presumably without ever completing his book, Jake does what any self-respecting writer would do with a story like that—a story that absolutely needs to be told.

In a few short years, all of Evan Parker’s predictions have come true, but Jake is the author enjoying the wave. He is wealthy, famous, praised and read all over the world. But at the height of his glorious new life, an e-mail arrives, the first salvo in a terrifying, anonymous campaign: You are a thief, it says.

As Jake struggles to understand his antagonist and hide the truth from his readers and his publishers, he begins to learn more about his late student, and what he discovers both amazes and terrifies him. Who was Evan Parker, and how did he get the idea for his “sure thing” of a novel? What is the real story behind the plot, and who stole it from whom?

I missed all the fuss over The Plot when it first hit the shelves in 2021, so I didn't know anything about it when I found it on the shelf at our neighborhood library. What caught my attention was this tiny blurb on the cover: "Insanely readable." - Stephen King. I have read and loved many books with King's endorsement, so I took the book home and added it to my stacks. A day later, I saw a few Instagram posts about a new book by Korelitz called The Sequel. Everyone seemed very excited about this follow-up, so as soon as I finished The Stonecutter, I immediately picked up The Plot.

Wow! I could not put the book down! This is the quintessential page-turner, but I forced myself to slow down and enjoy the read rather than rushing ahead to see how it would end. And what an ending! Of course, now I can't wait to read The Sequel, which is due out on October 1st. I went into The Plot without any knowledge of, well, the plot, and I intend to stay away from any blurbs about The Sequel. I love to be utterly surprised by a book, particularly a mystery/thriller.

In addition to the suspenseful aspect of this novel, I enjoyed the details about writing, publishing, and marketing a book. As you know, my husband is a writer (you can learn more about his books on his website), and I have spent many years working in bookstores, so it was fun to read more about the process from an author's point of view.

Meanwhile, I happen to have another book by Korelitz in my stacks. Who knew! I read so many rave reviews about various novels and eventually buy those books to add to my TBR piles. The Latecomer is one that I bought with some Christmas money, so now I'm very eager to give it a read. In addition to The Latecomer, Korelitz has six others to sample. I love discovering a new-to-me author who has a decent backlist. Whoohoo!

Have you read The Plot? I can't wait for my husband and mom to read it so I have someone with whom to discuss the big denouement. Maybe I'll recommend it to my book group for next year's reading list. 

Oh! And have you watched the HBO series, The Undoing (starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant)? It's based on Korelitz's novel You Should Have Known. Great show!

More from Stephen King:
The Plot is one of the best novels I've ever read about writers and writing. It's so insanely readable and the suspense quotient is through the roof. It's remarkable. 

I agree!

March 31, 2024

Under the Tuscan Sun



Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes
Nonfiction - Memoir
1996
Finished on March 28, 2024
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

Frances Mayes—widely published poet, gourmet cook, and travel writer—opens the door to a wondrous new world when she buys and restores an abandoned villa in the spectacular Tuscan countryside. In sensuous and evocative language, she brings the reader along as she discovers the beauty and simplicity of life in Italy. An accomplished cook and food writer, Mayes also creates dozens of delicious seasonal recipes from her traditional kitchen and simple garden, all of which she includes in the book. Doing for Tuscany what M.F.K. Fisher and Peter Mayle did for Provence, Mayes writes about the tastes and pleasures of a foreign country with gusto and passion. A celebration of the extraordinary quality of life in Tuscany, Under the Tuscan Sun is a feast for all the senses. 

I've owned a copy of Under the Tuscan Sun for so long, the pages have turned yellow! I finally decided to give it a read and enjoyed it immensely. It's the perfect sort of memoir to pick up and read a few pages (or chapters) here and there. Mayes does a marvelous job depicting her new home and surroundings in Tuscany. While not as humorous as Peter Mayle's A Year in Provence, I savored the prose and descriptions of meals much more so with this book. I saw the film (starring Diane Lane) twenty years or so ago, and as I remember, I enjoyed it, but it's very loosely based on Mayes' memoir. I'm glad I read the book many years later, so as not to compare the two since they're completely different stories.

Some of my favorite passages...
The forno in Cortona bakes a crusty bread in their wood oven, a perfect toast. Breakfast is one of my favorite times because the mornings are so fresh, with no hint of the heat to come. I get up early and take my toast and coffee out on the terrace for an hour with a book and the green-black rows of cypresses against the soft sky, the hills pleated with olive terraces that haven't changed since the seasons were depicted in medieval psalters. Sometimes the valley below is like a bowl filled up with fog. I can see hard green figs on two trees and pears on a tree just below me. A fine crop coming in. I forget my book. Pear cobbler, pear chutney, pear ice, green figs (would the wasps already be in green figs?) with pork, fig fritters, fig and nocciolo tart. May summer last a hundred years.

and

As I unload my cloth sacks, the kitchen fills with the scents of sunny fruits and vegetables warmed in the car. Everyone coming home from market must feel compelled to arrange the tomatoes, eggplants, (melanzane sounds like the real name and even aubergine is better than dreary-sounding eggplant), zucchini, and enormous peppers into a still life in the nearest basket. I resist arranging the fruit in a bowl, except for what we'll eat today, because it's ripe this minute and all we're not about to eat now must go in the fridge.

and

I have considered my table, its ideals as well as its dimensions. If I were a child, I would want to lift up the tablecloth and crawl under the unending table, into the flaxen light where I could crouch and listen to the loud laughs, clinks, and grown-up talk, hear over and over "Salute" and "Cin-cin" travelling around the chairs, stare at kneecaps and walking shoes and flowered skirts hiked up to catch a breeze, the table steady under its weight of food. Such a table should accommodate the wanderings of a large dog. At the end, you need room for an enormous vase of all the flowers in bloom at the moment. The width should allow platters to meander from hand to hand down the center, stopping where they will, and numerous water and wine bottles to accumulate over the hours. You need room for a bowl of cool water to dip the grapes and pears into, a little covered dish to keep the bugs off the Gorgonzola (dolce as opposed to the piccante type, which is for cooking) and caciotta, a local soft cheese. No one cares if olive pits are flung into the distance. The best wardrobe for such a table runs to pale linens, blue checks, pink and green plaid, not dead white, which takes in too much glare. If the table is long enough, everything can be brought out at once, and no one has to run back and forth to the kitchen. Then the table is set for primary pleasure: lingering meals, under the trees at noon. The open air confers an ease, a relaxation and freedom. You're your own guest, which is the way summer ought to be. 

and

I was drawn to the surface of Italy for its perched towns, the food, language, and art. I was pulled also to its sense of lived life, the coexistence of times that somehow gives an aura of timelessness--I toast the Etruscan wall above us with my coffee every morning--all the big abstracts that act out in everything from the aggression on the autostrada to the afternoon stroll through the piazza. I cast my lot here for a few short months a year because my curiosity for the layered culture of the country is enexhaustible. But the umbilical that is totally unexpected and elides logic reaches to me through the church. 

 Marvelous armchair travel. Highly recommend!