December 5, 2021

Nonfiction November 2021 Wrap-Up


November is typically a very busy month, what with getting our RV ready for storage, celebrating our anniversary and, of course, Thanksgiving. I didn't expect to read a lot for this challenge, so I'm quite pleased with my results (especially since one of the books I read is over 500 pages). 


My favorite books were The Splendid and the Vile and A Homemade Life, both of which earned 5-star ratings.

I gave up on Untamed and Harry Truman's Excellent Adventure.

I'm still listening to Broken Horses and am currently reading I Miss You When I Blink. I plan to continue with nonfiction selections until the end of the year. 

This is one of my favorite reading challenges and it was fun to "meet" new bloggers and see what they read during November. I've added dozens of titles to my TBR list, thanks to everyone's great recommendations. 
 
Original Selections

December 3, 2021

Looking Back - The Distinguished Guest

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 Distinguished Guest by Sue Miller
Fiction
1995 Harper Collins
Read in November 2000
Rating: 2/5 (Fair)

Publisher's Blurb:

The moving story of a mother and son that touches the deepest concerns about love, art, family, and life. Lily Maynard is proud, chilly, difficult, and has become a famous writer at age seventy-two. Now, stricken with Parkinson’s disease and staying with her architect son Alan, Lily must cope with her fading powers as well as with disturbing memories of the events that estranged her from her children and ended her marriage. For Alan, her visit raises old questions about his relationship with her, about the choices he has made in his own life, and about the nature of love, disappointment, and grief. Profound and moving, The Distinguished Guest reveals a family trying to understand the meaning of its life together, while confronting inevitable loss and the vision of an immeasurably altered future.

My Original Thoughts (2000):

Didn't care much for this book. Found it somewhat dull and I didn't connect with any of the characters. 

My Current Thoughts:

I read another book (While I Was Gone) by Sue Miller a few months before I read this one. Sadly, this wasn't as enjoyable. I don't think I've read any others by this author, but I have an ARC of Monogamy on my TBR shelf and plan to get to it in 2022.

December 2, 2021

A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes From My Kitchen Table

 

Nonfiction 
2009 Simon & Schuster
Finished on November 16, 2021
Rating: 5/5 (Excellent)

Publisher's Blurb:

When Molly Wizenberg's father died of cancer, everyone told her to go easy on herself, to hold off on making any major decisions for a while. But when she tried going back to her apartment in Seattle and returning to graduate school, she knew it wasn't possible to resume life as though nothing had happened. So she went to Paris, a city that held vivid memories of a childhood trip with her father, of early morning walks on the cobbled streets of the Latin Quarter and the taste of her first pain au chocolat. She was supposed to be doing research for her dissertation, but more often, she found herself peering through the windows of chocolate shops, trekking across town to try a new p√Ętisserie, or tasting cheeses at outdoor markets, until one evening when she sat in the Luxembourg Gardens reading cookbooks until it was too dark to see, she realized that her heart was not in her studies but in the kitchen.

At first, it wasn't clear where this epiphany might lead. Like her long letters home describing the details of every meal and market, Molly's blog Orangette started out merely as a pleasant pastime. But it wasn't long before her writing and recipes developed an international following. Every week, devoted readers logged on to find out what Molly was cooking, eating, reading, and thinking, and it seemed she had finally found her passion. But the story wasn't over: one reader in particular, a curly-haired, food-loving composer from New York, found himself enchanted by the redhead in Seattle, and their email correspondence blossomed into a long-distance romance.

In A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table, Molly Wizenberg recounts a life with the kitchen at its center. From her mother's pound cake, a staple of summer picnics during her childhood in Oklahoma, to the eggs she cooked for her father during the weeks before his death, food and memories are intimately entwined. You won't be able to decide whether to curl up and sink into the story or to head straight to the market to fill your basket with ingredients for Cider-Glazed Salmon and Pistachio Cake with Honeyed Apricots.

Years ago, when I was first got into blogging, I stumbled upon some non-book related blogs filled with beautiful photographs of home interiors and delicious-looking meals that satisfied my desire to live (and appreciate) a more simple life. Shauna Ahern's blog Gluten-Free Girl was one of the first sites that caught my eye and I looked forward to each new post about her life in Seattle with her husband, who at the time was a chef at a local restaurant. It wasn't just stories about their lives, but the enticing recipes that kept me reading. It was on Shauna's blog that I learned about Molly Wizenberg (who was also living in Seattle) and started following her posts on Orangette. At the time, my husband and I were living in Nebraska and we both yearned to move to the Pacific Northwest, so I lived vicariously through these blogs with each mention of Seattle and the surrounding areas, recognizing specific places we'd been to while visiting my dad and stepmom (who were living on Lake Union on their boat during that time). 

As is the way of early blogs of the late 90s and early 2000s, and much to my disappointment, Gluten-Free Girl and Orangette are both now defunct. However, both women have fairly recent published works, which is exciting for this lover of foodie memoirs. Shauna's collection of essays (Enough) was released in 2019 and Molly's third memoir (The Fixed Stars) was published in 2020. 

I've had Wizenberg's first memoir on my shelf for about a dozen years and finally pulled it from that shelf and read it this month for Nonfiction November. I don't know why I waited so long; I loved everything about it! Each chapter reveals a little bit more about Molly's childhood, time spent in France, and life as a young woman living in Seattle. The anecdotes dovetail neatly with specific recipes, many of which I have marked to someday try. 

Wizenberg's writing is conversational, yet polished, and the pages practically turned themselves. It was easy to read a dozen or so stories each night, telling myself, "just one more." Now that I've finished, I can't wait to get a copy of Delancey, which continues with Molly and Brandon's story. (Delancey is also the name of their restaurant in Seattle.)
Like most people who love to cook, I like the tangible things. I like the way the knife claps when it meets the cutting board. I like the haze of sweet air that hovers over a hot cake as it sits, cooling, on the counter. I like the way a strip of orange peel looks on an empty plate. But what I like even more are the intangible things: the familiar voices that fall out of the folds of an old cookbook, or the scenes that replay like a film reel across my kitchen wall. When we fall in love with a certain dish, I think that's what we're often responding to: that something else behind the fork or the spoon, the familiar story that food tells.
These are some of the recipes that I'd like to sample (listed for future reference):
  • Burg's Potato Salad
  • Blueberry-Raspberry Pound Cake
  • Banana Bread with Chocolate and Crystallized Ginger
  • Burg's French Toast
  • Chocolate Cupcakes with Bittersweet Glaze
  • Hoosier Pie
  • Fresh Ginger Cake with Caramelized Pears
  • Dutch Baby Pancakes with Lemon and Sugar
  • Jimmy's Pink Cookies
  • Doron's Meatballs with Pine Nuts, Cilantro, and Golden Raisins
  • Cider-Glazed Salmon
  • French-Style Yogurt Cake with Lemon
  • Butternut Soup with Pear, Cider, and Vanilla Bean
  • Caramelized Cauliflower with Salsa Verde
  • The Winning Hearts and Mind Cake
A Homemade Life is certain to appeal to readers who loved Laurie Colwin's Home Cooking, Ann Hood's Kitchen Yarns, and Ruth Reichl's Tender at the Bone.

November 26, 2021

Looking Back - All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten

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.


Nonfiction - Essays
1988 Ballantine Books
Read in November 2000
Rating: 3/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

Robert Fulghum engages with musings on life, death, love, pain, joy, sorrow, and the best chicken-fried steak in the continental United States. The little seed in the Styrofoam cup offers a reminder about our own mortality and the delicate nature of life . . . a spider who catches (and loses) a full-grown woman in its web one fine morning teaches us about surviving catastrophe . . . the love story of Jean-Francois Pilatre and his hot-air balloon reminds us to be brave and unafraid to “fly” . . . life lessons hidden in the laundry pile . . . magical qualities found in a box of crayons . . . hide-and-seek vs. sardines—and how these games relate to the nature of God. All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten is brimming with the very stuff of life and the significance found in the smallest details.

My Original Thoughts (2000):

This is the second time I've read this wonderful book and it was just as good as the first time. Nice format of vignettes for evening reading in bed. Laugh out loud humor. I agree with his thoughts on dandelions and raking leaves!

My Current Thoughts:

I no longer own a copy of this book; probably gave it away when we purged our shelves before our big move to Oregon. Since I've already read it a couple of times, I doubt it's one I'll read again. I suspect it's a bit dated at this point.

November 22, 2021

The Splendid and the Vile

 

Nonfiction - History
2020 Crown Publishing
Finished on November 16, 2021
Rating: 5/5 (Excellent)

Publisher's Blurb:

The #1 New York Times bestselling author of Dead Wake and The Devil in the White City delivers a startlingly fresh portrait of Winston Churchill and London during the Blitz.

On Winston Churchill's first day as prime minister, Hitler invaded Holland and Belgium. Poland and Czechoslovakia had already fallen, and the Dunkirk evacuation was just two weeks away. For the next twelve months, Hitler would wage a relentless bombing campaign, killing 45,000 Britons (30,000 of them Londoners) and destroying two million homes. It was up to Churchill to hold the country together and persuade President Franklin Roosevelt that Britain was a worthy ally--that she was willing to fight to the end.

In The Splendid and the Vile, Erik Larson shows, in cinematic detail, how Churchill taught the British people "the art of being fearless." It is a story of political brinksmanship but also an intimate domestic drama, set against the backdrop of Churchill's prime-ministerial country house, Chequers, and his wartime residence, Ditchley, where Churchill and his entourage go when the moon is brightest and the bombing threat is highest. Drawing on a wealth of untapped sources, including recently declassified files, intelligence reports, and personal diaries only now available, Larson provides a new lens on London's darkest year through the day-to-day experience of Churchill and his family: his wife, Clementine; their daughters, Sarah, Diana, and the youngest, Mary, who chafes against her parents' wartime protectiveness; their son, Randolph, and his beautiful, unhappy wife, Pamela; her illicit lover, a dashing American emissary; and the cadre of close advisors who comprised Churchill's "Secret Circle," including his dangerously observant private secretary, John Colville; newspaper baron Lord Beaverbrook; and the Rasputin-like Federick Lindemann.

The Splendid and the Vile takes readers out of today's political dysfunction and back to a time of true leadership, when--in the face of unrelenting horror--Churchill's eloquence, strategic brilliance, and perseverance bound a country, and a family, together.

The Splendid and the Vile may be my favorite book of 2021! Until now, I don't believe I have ever read such a compelling book of history. I've been a longtime fan of World War II narratives, but mostly in the form of historical fiction. I requested an ARC of Erik Larson's most recent publication in late 2019 and was happy to receive a copy from the publisher specifically to give to my husband since he's read almost everything written about Winston Churchill. Truthfully, I wasn't even sure if I would read the book since I wasn't exactly enamoured with Larson's previous works. I gave up on The Devil in the White City (although, to be fair, I was in the middle of it in 2005 when tragedy struck our family and I never found the desire to pick it up again), gave Dead Wake (which I listened to on audio) a 2/5 rating, and Isaac's Storm (which I read for last year's Nonfiction November challenge) a 3/5 rating. But my husband assured me that Larson's newest book is very good and that I'd probably like it since it's a subject about which I enjoy reading. So I added it to my stack for this year's Nonfiction November challenge

Wanting to read as many books as possible for this challenge, I was tempted to start the month with some shorter memoirs that I'd chosen and leave what I perceived as a weighty tome for later in the month. However, I changed my mind, trying not to be put off by the 500+ pages of text. I shouldn't have worried; I simply could not put it down! I was drawn in from the prologue and found the entire text (including the sources and acknowledgments, which I pored over, gleaning more historical tidbits that weren't included in the text) engaging and informative. The narrow focus of a specific period during the war (Churchill's first year as prime minister, from May 10, 1940 to May 10, 1941) made it all the more compelling and I never felt any detail or description of events unnecessary.

I enjoyed reading not only about Churchill's role as prime minister during the Blitz, but also the individual stories and reflections about key events by members of his family and staff, derived from their personal diaries and letters. Additionally, there are accounts from Mass-Observation diarists, as well as ordinary British citizens, which further increases the intimacy of the narrative. 
The perspective from the ground was equally stunning. One young man, Colin Perry, eighteen, was on his bicycle when the first wave passed overhead. "It as the most amazing, impressive, riveting sight," he wrote later. "Directly above me were literally hundreds of planes, Germans! The sky was full of them." The fighters stuck close, he recalled, "like bees around their queen."
Larson also includes specific details and remarks by Virginia Woolf, Ian Fleming and Graham Greene, adding to this reader's enjoyment.

I couldn't help but be reminded of the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001 as I read the following:
The day was warm and still, the sky blue above a rising haze. Temperatures by afternoon were in the nineties, odd for London. People thronged Hyde Park and lounged on chairs set out beside the Serpentine. Shoppers jammed the stores of Oxford Street and Piccadilly. The giant barrage of balloons overhead cast lumbering shadows on the streets below. After the August air raid when bombs first fell on London proper, the city had retreated back into a dream of invulnerability, punctuated now and then by false alerts whose once-terrifying novelty was muted by the failure of bombers to appear. The late-summer heat imparted an air of languid complacency. In the city's West End, theaters hosted twenty-four productions, among them the play Rebecca, adapted for the stage by Daphne du Maurier from her novel of the same name. Alfred Hitchcock's movie version, starring Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine, was also playing in London, as were the films The Thin Man and the long-running Gaslight.

It was a fine day to spend in the cool green of the countryside. 

and

The dust burst outward rapidly at first, like smoke from a cannon, then slowed and dissipated, sifting and settling, covering sidewalks, streets, windshields, double-decker buses, phone booths, bodies. Survivors exiting ruins were coated head to toe as if with gray flour. Harold Nicolson, in his diary, described seeing people engulfed in a "thick fog which settled down on everything, plastering their hair and eyebrows with thick dust." 

There is nothing quite like a great book to make one wish to read more about a particular subject. I plan to read Larson's earlier publication, In the Garden of Beasts, but I'm also interested in Roy Jenkin's Churchill, Martin Gilbert's The Finest Hour, John Lukacs's Five Days in London, May 1940, Doris Kearns Goodwins' No Ordinary Time (which I began many years ago, but set aside due to its length), and William Shirer's The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (yes, another hefty read, I know!). 

I would also like to re-watch Darkest Hour, The Gathering Storm, Into the Storm, Winton Churchill's: Walking with Destiny, and Churchill's Secret. Any chance that Ken Burns and Erik Larson can get together and create a documentary based on this book? Please?

November 20, 2021

Parker House Rolls

Parker House Rolls

Growing up, I was not only lucky to know all four of my grandparents, but I also knew my maternal great-grandmother, Louise Ashbrook. I didn't know her as well as I knew her daughter (my grandmother), but I know that she loved nature and was an avid bird-watcher. She was also an exceptional painter of landscapes, as well as delicate scenes on hand-blown eggs, which several family members display at Eastertime. She was also know for her amazing Parker House rolls, which many of my relatives have attempted, over the years, to duplicate. She never measured her ingredients, grabbing handfuls of flour and pinches of sugar & salt, making it impossible for anyone to carry on her legacy. 
Until last week!

A few years ago, I stumbled upon a recipe for Parker House rolls that Kristen Doyle had shared on her blog (Dine and Dish). As usual, I printed the recipe and tossed it into a pile, later to be filed away and long forgotten. This year we're hosting our family gathering and I decided it was time to try my hand at Kristen's recipe (which she got courtesy of the Omni Parker House Hotel in Boston, Massachusetts). With the weather turning cold and rainy, I made plans to make stew one night and chicken and dumplings the next. What better than to have some tender, buttery rolls to go with that yummy comfort food! I dug through my files and found Kristen's recipe. I followed it almost exactly as written, opting for my KitchenAid mixer (with the bread hook attachment) instead of kneading the dough by hand. I was so pleased (ok, giddy with joy!) to not only have the dough rise perfectly the first time, but also after cutting out each little circle of dough. I waited longer than instructed to pop them in the oven since I was waiting for the rest of the meal to come together, but the kitchen was warm and the dough didn't collapse. 




The final verdict? Delicious! They're a bit lighter and fluffier than my great-grandmother's rolls, but they're the best I've ever made. I don't know which is better, serving them warm with salted butter or saving them for the next day and enjoying them with a little bit of mayo and leftover turkey. I guess I better double the recipe. Thanks, Kristen!

Ingredients

6 cups all-purpose flour (I used a little bit more)
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons salt
2 packages active dry yeast
1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks), softened
1 large egg

In a large mixer bowl, combine 2 1/4 cups flour, sugar, salt, and yeast; add 1/2 cup butter (1 stick). 

With mixer at low speed, gradually pour 2 cups hot tap water (120 degrees F to 130 degrees F.) into mixture. 

Add egg; increase speed to medium; beat 2 minutes, scraping bowl with rubber spatula.

Beat in 3/4 cup flour or enough to make a thick batter; continue beating 2 minutes, occasionally scraping bowl. 

With spoon, stir in enough additional flour (about 2 1/2 cups) to make a soft dough. Turn dough onto lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes, working in more flour (about 1/2 cup) while kneading. (I used a bread hook and left the dough in the mixer.)

Shape dough into a ball and place in greased large bowl, turning over so that top of dough is greased. Cover with towel; let rise in warm place (80 to 85 degrees F.) until doubled, about 1 1/2 hours. (Dough is doubled when 2 fingers pressed into dough leave a dent.) 

Punch down dough by pushing down the center or dough with fist, then pushing edges of dough into center. Turn dough onto lightly floured surface; knead lightly to make smooth ball, cover with bowl for 15 minutes, and let dough rest. 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

In 17 1/4-inch by 11 1/2-inch roasting pan, over low heat, melt remaining 1/2 cup butter; tilt pan to grease bottom. (I used a large jelly roll/cookie sheet pan, brushed with some of the melted butter, leaving the rest in a bowl to dip into.)

On lightly floured surface with floured rolling pin, roll dough 1/2 inch thick. With floured 2 3/4-inch round cutter, cut dough into circles.

Holding dough circle by the edge, dip both sides into melted margarine or butter pan; fold in half.

Arrange folded dough in rows in pan, each nearly touching the other. 

Cover pan with towel; let dough rise in warm place until doubled, about 40 minutes.

Bake rolls for 15 to 18 minutes until browned. 

Recipe courtesy Omni Parker House Hotel, Boston, Massachusetts

Click on the link in the sidebar for more of my favorite recipes. 

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November 19, 2021

The Quilter's Apprentice

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.

Elm Creek Quilts #1
Fiction
2000 Plume Books (first published in 1999)
Read in October 2000
Rating: 3/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

After moving with her husband, Matt, to the small college town of Waterford, Pennsylvania, Sarah McClure struggles to find a fulfilling job. In the meantime, she agrees to help seventy-five-year-old Sylvia Compson prepare her family estate, Elm Creek Manor, for sale. As part of her compensation, Sarah is taught how to quilt by this cantankerous elderly woman, who is a master of the craft.

During their lessons, Mrs. Compson reveals how her family was torn apart by tragedy, jealousy, and betrayal, and her stories force Sarah to face uncomfortable truths about her own alienation from her widowed mother. As their friendship deepens, Mrs. Compson confides in Sarah the truth about why she wants to sell Elm Creek Manor. In turn, Sarah seeks a way to bring life and joy back to the estate so Mrs. Compson can keep her home -- and Sarah can keep her cherished friend.

The Quilter's Apprentice teaches deep lessons about family, friendship, and sisterhood, and about creating a life as you would a quilt: with time, love, and patience, piecing the miscellaneous and mismatched scraps into a beautiful whole.

My Original Thoughts (2000):

Took several chapters to get interested, but once I did, I couldn't put it down. Somewhat predictable, but entertaining. Good "fluff." Lots of quilting details. Almost makes me want to give it a try. Sarah lacked self-confidence, which annoyed me throughout the entire book.

My Current Thoughts:

I didn't care for this book enough to go on and read any more in the series.

November 12, 2021

Looking Back - London Holiday

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.


London Holiday by Richard Peck
Fiction
1999 Penguin Books (first published in 1998)
Read in October 2000
Rating: 2/5 (Fair)

Publisher's Blurb:

Lesley Hockaday is a St. Louis society woman, Margo Mayhew a Chicago schoolteacher and the mother of a teenage daughter, and Julia Steadman a single, successful Manhattan interior designer. Best friends during their Missouri childhood, the passage of time, the thousands of miles between them, and the demands of family and careers have taken a toll on their friendship. When a shocking act of violence reminds them how precious life really is, the three friends decide it's time for a reunion and embark on a long-awaited trip to London.

From the cozy confines of Mrs. Smith-Porter's bed-and-breakfast, Lesley, Margo, and Julia enter a gracious world of high tea in the garden, antique markets, picture-perfect countryside, and unexpected romance. The London holiday presents them with more than a few surprises, becomes a journey of self-discovery and a chance to renew the bonds of friendship, and holds the promise of three new lives awaiting them.

My Original Thoughts (2000):

Not very good and difficult to stay interested. The narrative was very choppy. Definitely not another Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. The details about London were fun to read, though.

My Current Thoughts:

Nope. No recollection on this one at all. Maybe I picked it up because one of the characters' name is spelled the same way as mine (which is unusual in the U.S.).

November 10, 2021

Living Out Loud


Nonfiction - Essays
1989 Ivy Books (first published in 1988)
Finished on November 5, 2021
Rating: 2/5 (Fair)

Publisher's Blurb:

The voice is Anna Quindlen’s. But we know the hopes, dreams, fears, and wonder expressed in all her columns, for most of us share them. With her New York Times-based column, “LIFE IN THE 30s,” Anna Quindlen valued to national attention, and this wonderful collection shows why.

I'm quite a fan of Anna Quindlen's works and have read all but one or two of her books. I've had a copy of this collection of syndicated columns for many, many years and the Nonfiction November challenge was just the nudge I needed to finally dip into it. Each essay is about three pages in length and I wound up reading dozens of the columns back-to-back. It might have been better to read one or two a night, but I was impatient to move on to another book, so I zipped through this one. While it's a fairly quick read, I didn't love the book.

Written for The New York Times in the late 80s, much of Quindlen's essays felt dated and not relevant to my current life. My 60th birthday is just around the corner and the author was in her 30s when she wrote her column. However, I'm not sure my 30-something-year-old daughter would find much that would resonate with her, either.

A couple of entries gave me pause and I found myself thinking that the more things change, the more they remain the same:
My husband and I are educated people, and I can't tell you what a whoop we got out of it when we heard the story--untrue, it developed--that Joe Biden would get back in the race, too. Was that silly or what? "Ted Kennedy's next!" we both shouted. "Nixon," I screamed. "Like the T-shirt says, he's tanned, rested, and ready." (Written after Gary Hart dropped out of the 1988 race for the presidential nomination.)
and
The problem is that we would love absolute certainty on all aspects of this issue. We are a nation raised on True or False tests. We want doctors to give us the answers, which shows how short our memories are. After all, it was the doctors who told us that smoking wouldn't kill you and amphetamines during pregnancy didn't do a bit of harm. We want to know precisely how this disease spreads and why some people who are exposed get it and some don't and whether being exposed means inevitably getting sick. First we hear that the biggest argument against transmission through casual contact is that health-care workers don't get it. Then we hear that health-care workers have gotten it. And we don't know what to believe. All we know for sure is that getting sick means dying, at least so far. (Not about COVID-19, but AIDs)
and
I still read constantly: if my kids ever go into analysis, I'm sure they will say they don't really remember my face because it was always hidden by a book. Obviously this is in part because I like books. But another reason is that I like to be alone. I like to go deep inside myself and not be accompanied there by anyone else. 
When I sat down to write this review, my first thought was that I don't care for Anna Quindlen's books of nonfiction. And yet, as I scrolled through my blog, I discovered that I gave three of those books high ratings. Loud & Clear was, coincidentally, one of my selections for the 2007 Nonfiction November challenge and I gave it a 4/5 rating. Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake and Nanaville also received 4/5 ratings and I shared several favorite passages in each of those reviews. The only remaining book of her essays that I have not yet read is Thinking Out Loud, which was published in 1993. I think I'll pass on that one and read Alternate Side (her latest novel) instead.

November 6, 2021

A Month In Summary - October 2021

Klamath River RV Park
Klamath, California
October 2021


October proved to be another busy month for us. We were on the road for 18 days, spending several days at some of our favorite spots as we traveled down to Santa Rosa, where we helped my aunt celebrate her 75th birthday. Once back home, we enjoyed visits with some friends from Lincoln, NE, as well as with my aunt & uncle from Durham, NC. We even had a brief visit with my brother and sister-in-law who wound up with a cancelled flight out of Portland, so they headed over to the coast for a few hours! Quite a whirlwind of week, but it was so great to see all of these folks. 

Not surprisingly, my reading took a backseat to all the activities, although my numbers aren't exactly accurate. I have a couple of audiobooks (by Stephen King) that I got quite far into, but had to pause in order to start a book for my book club. The three books that I did complete were all very good and I'm eager to move forward in the Deborah Crombie series, as well get a copy of Hannah Tinti's debut novel. 


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

Falling by T.J. Newman (4/5)

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti (5/5)

And Justice There Is None by Deborah Crombie (4/5)

Movies & TV Series:


Manhunt - Very, very good. I really enjoyed this one.


Baptiste (Season 2) - The beginning of this new season is very confusing, but it eventually all comes together. Quite good.


Black Widow - I enjoyed this a lot. Very Entertaining!

Puzzlemania:



Visitors! Thanks to science and vaccinations, we have enjoyed having friends and relatives visit us in Little Whale Cove. 


We had a lovely visit with Barbara & Mark (good friends from Lincoln, NE). Hope they are able to make Oregon their new home!


We also had a great visit with Georgie & Rick (my aunt & uncle) who were here from Durham, North Carolina. It was fun hearing my mom and Rick reminisce about their childhoods.

Road Trip:

We spent a little over two weeks traveling down to Santa Rosa, CA to help my aunt celebrate her 75th birthday. It was wonderful to see her and some of the family again (we've been down there a couple of times this summer), as well as spending time camping in some of our favorite spots along the coast. 







No matter where we go, it's always great to come back home!


Weather:


We had quite a wind storm (65 mph gusts) with a lot of rain, but no trees came down, which is a good thing. We live in a forest and are surrounded by HUGE trees! 

My mom and husband have both had their Moderna boosters and I plan to get mine (and my flu shot) sometime next week. We should be healthy and safe for our Thanksgiving gathering with my three siblings and their families. I can't remember the last time we all got together for a holiday celebration! Maybe 1976?? 

November 5, 2021

Looking Back - Dear Stranger, Dearest Friend

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.


Dear Stranger, Dearest Friend by Laney Katz Becker
Fiction
2000 William Morrow
Read in October 2000
Rating: 5/5 (Excellent)

Publisher's Blurb:

In the bestselling tradition of Beaches comes a poignant and unforgettable novel of two very different women separated by miles and experience and the extraordinary long-distance friendship that changes and illuminates their lives.

Lara is a smart, sophisticated New Yorker who is frightened about her future. In search of answers, comfort, and advice, she goes on-line. And that's where she, "meets" Susan, a strong and steady, no-frills Midwesterner. No two women could be less alike. Yet from the moment they connect, it is clear that they share something deep and important, something that's nestled in the warmest corner of the heart.

What begins as a chance encounter on the Internet quickly blossoms into a very special relationship. As their e-mail messages fly back and forth, Susan and Lara forge a powerful bond of trust, honesty, and understanding. And soon they are sharing their lives in full -- talking of husbands and children, dreams and desires, the daily cycle of success and setback -- and together learning to laugh uproariously over the small and large absurdities of the world. When a devastating crisis arises, they are there for each other, providing the life-affirming strength and the lightness that is needed to cope with tragedy... and to triumph.

Lara and Susan originally go on-line looking for kind words and good advice. But they find in each other the greatest gift of all: a true and forever friend.

Vivid, funny, original, and profoundly moving, Laney Katz Becker's magnificent debut novel is sure to be a classic, read and reread by women everywhere, an intimate portrait of two complete strangers who become soul mates across hundreds of miles, and who discover the strength and the will to reach out and take hold of the wondrous stuff of life.

My Original Thoughts (2000):

I read this in two days! Love it, although it almost made me cry on several occasions. Wonderful format (epistolary emails). Not only is it a great story of friendship, but a wonderful source of information about breast cancer and its treatments.

Two women "meet" on the Internet. One has just found a lump on her breast and the other is a breast cancer survivor.

My Current Thoughts:

I was surprised to see that I gave this book a 5-star rating since I usually reserve those high marks for more literary works. However, I still have this book on my shelf, and although the medical information is most likely outdated, it's one that I have intended to read a second time. I love epistolary works and when I read this my online friendships were really taking hold. Remember the days when you mentioned an online friend to someone and they couldn't believe you were so close to someone you'd never met in person? Not so unusual these days, is it?

November 2, 2021

My Year in Nonfiction Thus Far (2021)



Week 1: (November 1-5) – Your Year in Nonfiction with Rennie at What’s Nonfiction: 

Take a look back at your year of nonfiction and reflect on the following questions – What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year? Do you have a particular topic you’ve been attracted to more this year? What nonfiction book have you recommended the most? What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?


Click on titles for my reviews:

On Island Time by Hilary Stewart (4/5)

The Sewing Room by Rev. Barbara Cawthorne Crafton (3/5)

The Oregon Trail by Rinker Buck (2/5)

Dog Songs by Mary Oliver (2/5)

Blue Horses by Mary Oliver (4/5)

Felicity by Mary Oliver (4/5)

A Thousand Mornings by Mary Oliver (4/5)

Gift From the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh (second reading 2/5; first reading 4/5)

The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff (1/5)

I read quite a bit of poetry this year, focusing on Mary Oliver's collections in April during National Poetry Month. I found some gems in her works, but my favorite nonfiction read of the year is On Island Time by Hilary Stewart. 

This year's reading goal is to focus on the books I own, but have gone ignored for many years. My list for Nonfiction November is comprised of about 50% old and 50% new-ish titles. Of course, I'm beginning with one of the more recent releases rather than the oldest. ;)

November 1, 2021

RIP XVI Wrap-Up


I'm pretty happy with my results for this year's RIP challenge. The first collage is comprised of all that I read during the two months. Beneath that are the two original slides of what I had hoped to read. I also added a couple that weren't in my initial selections, both of which were winners so I'm glad I included them.

Final Results




My favorite book of the challenge is The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley. The Madness of Crowds, Falling, And Justice There is None and The One I Left Behind were all very good, too. 

I gave up on The Innocent, A Reliable Wife and A Stranger in the House.

I'm still listening to If It Bleeds and The Outsider, but have put both on pause until I finish a book club selection. 

All in all, it was fun to spend a couple of months focusing on mysteries and thrillers. They were all from my stacks, which is always nice, too. Now on to Nonfiction November!