September 25, 2023

Good Harbor

Good Harbor by Anita Diamant
2001 Scribner
Finished on September 15, 2023
Rating: 3/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

Anita Diamant, whose rich portrayal of the biblical world of women illuminated her acclaimed international bestseller The Red Tent, now crafts a moving novel of contemporary female friendship.

Good Harbor is the long stretch of Cape Ann beach where two women friends walk and talk, sharing their personal histories and learning life's lessons from each other. Kathleen Levine, a longtime resident of Gloucester, Massachusetts, is maternal and steady, a devoted children's librarian, a convert to Judaism, and mother to two grown sons. When her serene life is thrown into turmoil by a diagnosis of breast cancer at fifty-nine, painful past secrets emerge and she desperately needs a friend. Forty-two-year-old Joyce Tabachnik is a sharp-witted freelance writer who is also at a fragile point in her life. She's come to Gloucester to follow her literary aspirations, but realizes that her husband and young daughter are becoming increasingly distant. Together, Kathleen and Joyce forge a once-in-a-lifetime bond and help each other to confront scars left by old emotional wounds.

I decided to pull this one off my shelf and give it a second reading. Cancer, infidelity, and books are the main themes and while I zipped through it quickly, it's not one that's going back in my permanent collection. I read this in 2001 and wrote a short post about it here.

September 20, 2023

20 Books of Summer Reading Challenge Results - 2023


I love the 20 Books of Summer Reading Challenge and this summer was the fourth year that I've participated. I like to wait until the fall equinox (September 23rd) rather than Labor Day to finish up the challenge, giving myself three extra weeks to complete my goals, but we had visitors this past weekend, followed by a month-long road trip that began a couple of days ago. So, I decided that I better wrap it up now before life gets busier!

This year I chose 20 novels, many of which have been in my stacks for well over a decade. I had so many DNF'd titles in this collection, but it's nice to have finally sampled them and cleared them off my shelves. I had high hopes for a few, but I started those shortly after reading Tom Lake, which may have set up any book for failure. 

In addition to the books on my original list, I added a few others, including a couple of audiobooks. I wound up reading 16 books (see image below), but gave up on a dozen. Overall, I'm very pleased with my results. I won't link to each review (they're all available on this blog), but here are the final ratings:

Three 5-star books
Four 4.5-star books
Five 4-star books
One 3.5-star book
Two 3-star books
One 2-star books

For past posts (and results) about this challenge, click here. 

September 16, 2023

Lonesome Dove


Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
Fiction - Western
2017 Phoenix Books (first published in 1985)
Narrated by Lee Horsley
Finished on September 14, 2023
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

A love story, an adventure, and an epic of the frontier, Larry McMurtry's Pulitzer Prize­–winning classic, Lonesome Dove, the third book in the Lonesome Dove tetralogy, is the grandest novel ever written about the last defiant wilderness of America. Journey to the dusty little Texas town of Lonesome Dove and meet an unforgettable assortment of heroes and outlaws, whores and ladies, Indians and settlers. Richly authentic, beautifully written, always dramatic, Lonesome Dove is a book to make us laugh, weep, dream, and remember. 

I finally did it! I read Lonesome Dove

As mentioned in the publisher's blurb, Lonesome Dove has a little bit of everything: cowboys, horse thieves, Indians, whores, ranchers, and two former Texas Rangers, not to mention gunfights, snake bites, dust storms, grasshoppers, and blizzards. It took a long time before I got hooked (well over my usual 100 pages cut-off point), but I stuck with it since so many readers have raved about this book. (My sister-in-law has encouraged me for at least two decades to read the saga.) I listened to the audio for over 5 weeks (it runs just shy of 37 hours!) and was happy when I finally got to the point in which I started looking forward to my daily listen, eager to find out what adventures were in store for Gus, Call, and the Hat Creek Outfit. 

Lee Horsley does a fine job with the audio narration of Larry McMurtry's epic, although I was a little put off by Horsley's reading during the first hour or so; once he stopped breathing directly into the microphone, I could enjoy his vocal characterizations of each individual. While some listeners have complained about the volume Horsley uses for Gus McCrae's character, I didn't mind his loud voice, which reminded me of Calamity Jane's voice in the HBO series, Deadwood. It's all just part of Gus's colorful personality.

Westerns are not my usual choice of fiction, and I can only think of four that I've read in the genre: Whiskey When We're Dry (John Larison), All the Pretty Horses (Cormac McCarthy), News of the World (Paulette Jiles), and These Is My Words (Nancy Turner), all of which I loved. I might consider reading the other books in McMurtry's tetralogy, but I'd just as soon re-read Lonesome Dove, it was that entertaining. I laughed out loud and felt sad when lives were lost. It will be a long time before I forget Gus, Call, Newt, Lippy, Dish, Pea Eye, Lorie, and Clara. Now to watch the miniseries. 

Highly recommend.

September 12, 2023

Little Monsters


Little Monsters by Adrienne Brodeur
2023 Avid Reader Press
Finished on September 11, 2023
Rating: 4.5/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

From the author of the bestselling memoir Wild Game comes a riveting novel about Cape Cod, complicated families, and long-buried secrets—for fans of the New York Times bestsellers The Paper Palace and Ask Again, Yes .

Ken and Abby Gardner lost their mother when they were small and they have been haunted by her absence ever since. Their father, Adam, a brilliant oceanographer, raised them mostly on his own in his remote home on Cape Cod, where the attachment between Ken and Abby deepened into something complicated—and as adults their relationship is strained. Now, years later, the siblings’ lives are still deeply entwined. Ken is a successful businessman with political ambitions and a picture-perfect family and Abby is a talented visual artist who depends on her brother’s goodwill, in part because he owns the studio where she lives and works.

As the novel opens, Adam is approaching his seventieth birthday, staring down his mortality and fading relevance. He has always managed his bipolar disorder with medication, but he’s determined to make one last scientific breakthrough and so he has secretly stopped taking his pills, which he knows will infuriate his children. Meanwhile, Abby and Ken are both harboring secrets of their own, and there is a new person on the periphery of the family—Steph, who doesn’t make her connection known. As Adam grows more attuned to the frequencies of the deep sea and less so to the people around him, Ken and Abby each plan the elaborate gifts they will present to their father on his birthday, jostling for primacy in this small family unit.

Set in the fraught summer of 2016, and drawing on the biblical tale of Cain and Abel, Little Monsters is an absorbing, sharply observed family story by a writer who knows Cape Cod inside and out—its Edenic lushness and its snakes.

I was not familiar with Adrienne Brodeur when I saw an Instagram post about her new novel, Little Monsters, but something about that review piqued my interest. I've always been drawn to family dramas and this one did not disappoint. As a matter of fact, I spent the past two nights reading long after my normal bedtime, never once feeling sleepy, and finishing the book at 5 a.m. this morning. I can't remember the last time I stayed up all night reading a book! Brodeur's attention to detail and lyrical prose makes me wish she had an extensive backlist in which I could immerse myself. The setting is magical and the characters are mostly likeable. I never warmed to Ken or Adam, but I wanted more of Abby, Jenny and Steph; maybe a sequel centered around the young cousins and their relationships could be equally entertaining. 

For those who have read and enjoyed The Arrivals (Meg Mitchell Moore), The Most Fun We Ever Had (Claire Lombardo), Signal Fires (Dani Shapiro), Commonwealth (Ann Patchett), or The Children's Crusade (Ann Packer), this one's for you! Highly recommend.

September 6, 2023

The Light Pirate

The Light Pirate by Lily Brooks-Dalton
2022 Grand Central Publishing
Finished on September 3, 2023
Rating: 5/5 (Outstanding)

Publisher's Blurb:

Florida is slipping away. As devastating weather patterns and rising sea levels gradually wreak havoc on the state’s infrastructure, a powerful hurricane approaches a small town on the southeastern coast. Kirby Lowe, an electrical line worker; his pregnant wife, Frida; and their two sons, Flip and Lucas, prepare for the worst. When the boys go missing just before the hurricane hits, Kirby heads out into the high winds to search for them. Left alone, Frida goes into premature labor and gives birth to an unusual child, Wanda, whom she names after the catastrophic storm that ushers her into a society closer to collapse than ever before.

As Florida continues to unravel, Wanda grows. Moving from childhood to adulthood, adapting not only to the changing landscape, but also to the people who stayed behind in a place abandoned by civilization, Wanda loses family, gains community, and ultimately, seeks adventure, love, and purpose in a place remade by nature.

Told in four parts—power, water, light, and time—The Light Pirate mirrors the rhythms of the elements and the sometimes quick, sometimes slow dissolution of the world as we know it. It is a meditation on the changes we would rather not see, the future we would rather not greet, and a call back to the beauty and violence of an untamable wilderness. 

Imagine a time when it is literally too hot to go outside during daylight hours. If you do, your core body temperature will rise so quickly, you will suffer from heat exhaustion within minutes and die. Nocturnal life becomes the norm for survival.

Imagine a year in which there are so many hurricanes that the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) goes through the entire alphabet, only to start over again before the end of the "season."

Imagine the disappearance of Miami-Dade County, the Outer Banks, and other coastal cities, all preceded by a mass exodus of residents to safer locations where they endure perpetual wildfires in their new communities.

These calamities are not difficult to imagine. One just needs to read the news and know how close we are coming to creating the above into realities. The following  headline was published in the New York Times on Labor Day:
In a typical Atlantic Ocean hurricane season, August is the ramp-up to September’s peak. This season came to life almost overnight in mid-August, producing a record four named storms in less than 48 hours. [Emphasis mine]
I also read this in The New York Times earlier this month:
More than any past year, this summer felt like the moment that climate change came for the vacationer. It began with heat waves across Southern Europe, where popular attractions closed to avoid the intolerable midafternoon temperatures. The infernal heat cured the kindling for wildfires, which were soon raging in Italy, Turkey, Spain, Portugal, Cyprus, Greece and elsewhere, forcing holiday cancellations and, as in the case of Rhodes, large-scale evacuations. On the other side of the world, another fire, this one likely supercharged by hurricane winds, consumed Lahaina on Maui, killing at least 115 people.

Hail as big as tennis balls pounded towns in northern Italy. Torrential rain triggered flash floods across Central Europe. All of this wild weather has coincided with tourism’s great rebound, the year when tourist numbers are expected to recover to prepandemic levels.
There are few contingencies in motion for when the weather in today’s most popular destinations becomes a bane rather than a blessing. Many people are speculating that European summer travel patterns are bound to migrate north as prospective vacationers deem an increasing likelihood of sustained 110-degree Fahrenheit temperatures too much to bear. Uncanny sights like the ghostly hotel towers of Varosha, a once-glamorous resort in Cyprus that was abandoned after the Turkish invasion of 1974, may become commonplace across Europe’s southern coasts.
The gravity of the climate crisis should not be lost on readers of The Light Pirate, a novel so timely and smartly written, it should be required reading not only of high school students, but all citizens of this planet. Cli-fi is a new-to-me genre, but unlike its sister Sci-fi, it's far too realistic and terrifying, the imminent threat all too near and not to be ignored. As Kirby, one of the main characters, believes:
This world is worried, of course, about climbing temperatures and vengeful wildfires and rising tides. The headlines are absolutely terrible[...]. Incessant. Exhausting. But they're just that. Headlines. Things that happen to other people, elsewhere. The Middle East, Indonesia, Northern California, the Bahamas: those poor people. Southern Florida and the Keys, Louisiana, Puerto Rico: those poor people. The safe zones have shrunk, will go on shrinking, but the people still firmly attached to the idea that there will continue to be such lines--between safe and not safe, between us and those poor people--are determined to go on as they always have.
By the time Kirby reaches the parking lot, he realizes that he's known for weeks. Months, even. It was the same with the beaches. The same with the floods, the hurricanes, the sea level. Didn't he know all of this was coming? Didn't everyone? They've known for years. Decades. It didn't make any difference. None at all. Because now it's here and despite all that knowing, he's lost. Everyone is. They had all hung their hats on the question of proximity. Yes, it will be bad, they said to one another, but we have years. We have time. Somehow we'll solve this along the way. He doesn't even have the energy to be angry. 
I'm not a fan of magical realism, but I was willing to suspend disbelief and just go with it. The occurences are not a distraction and, truthfully, I enjoyed those parts of the story. Don't let that label dissuade you from reading this powerful book!

Thought-provoking is a hackneyed term, but I can't think of a better descriptor for The Light Pirate. It's a gripping read from the opening lines, easing up before the halfway point, but never losing momentum or growing sluggish. I haven't read a lot of climate fiction, but Ash Davidson's debut novel, Damnation Spring (an environmental story set in the California redwood forests) came to mind as I read Brooks-Dalton's provocative, cautionary tale. 

I loved this novel, which is so beautifully written with well-drawn characters I hated to say goodbye to. I couldn't put it down! The Light Pirate is one to own, to share with others, to discuss in book groups, and to inspire all of us to do more to save our planet. Highly recommend.

September 2, 2023

A Month in Summary - August 2023

Little Whale Cove
Depoe Bay, Oregon
August 2023

Glancing back at my calendar, August was a crazy busy month, with only a couple of days when we had nothing going on. We had three families visiting from California, Colorado, and Texas (not all at the same time!), and we enjoyed meeting a couple of the youngest of those visitors for the first time. The weather couldn't have been nicer; lots of sunshine and comfortable temps so we were able to sit outside on our back deck. It doesn't always rain in Oregon, ya know. :) Actually, we had a much needed rain shower last night, which was lovely. It's been a very dry summer! However, I'm hoping the weather will continue to be nice for our upcoming trip to Canada. 

I'm wrapping up my Summer Reading Challenge this weekend and will get a separate post up for that later next week. As far as August goes, I had a really good month of reading. My favorite book was Tom Lake, but there are four others that were also very good. I gave up on a few books that I started shortly after I finished Tom Lake, and maybe I didn't give those a fair chance, but they were too light and predictable, and didn't hold my interest.

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

The Downstairs Neighbor by Helen Cooper (4/5)

The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green (4.5/5)

The Windsor Knot by SJ Bennett (4/5)

Our Town by Thornton Wilder (3/5)

Tom Lake by Ann Patchett (5/5)

The Vows of Silence by Susan Hill (4.5/5)

Ocean State by Stewart O'Nan (2/5)

Gave Up On:

The Invisible Husband of Frick Island by Colleen Oakley

The Reading List by Sara Nisha Adams

How to Walk Away by Katherine Center

Movies & TV Series:

The Valhalla Murders - Terrible dubbing, but not bad. "An Oslo detective with a painful past returns to his native Iceland to help a police officer hunt for a serial killer with a link to a mysterious photograph."

The Bear - Very good! I'm currently watching Season Two and will be sorry when I'm caught up. I loved the episode with a guest appearance from Olivia Coleman. (Every Second Counts. IYKYK.)

Barbie - First movie I've seen in a theater in several years. I went with a group of friends (with low expectations), and while I didn't love it, there was plenty to discuss about women's roles in history, which led to a discussion about the upcoming presidential election and women's rights.

The Fall (Season One) - Disturbing! After watching the first episode, we realized we'd already watched the first season of this series, but didn't remember enough so we decided to continue watching. The psychological thriller examines the lives of two hunters -- one is a serial killer who preys on victims in and around Belfast, Northern Ireland, and the other is a female detective drafted from the London Metropolitan Police to catch him. 

National Theater Live: Fleabag - I went with some friends to see this production at our local performing arts center, in spite of the fact that I've never watched Fleabag. In preparation for the show, I did watch the first episode, just to familiarize myself with the character. Unfortunately, all four of us were disappointed with Phoebe Waller-Bridge's solo theater performance. "Fleabag is a rip-roaring look at some sort of woman living her sort of life. She may seem oversexed, emotionally unfiltered, and self-obsessed, but that's just the tip of the iceberg. With family and friendships under strain and a guinea pig café struggling to keep afloat, Fleabag suddenly finds herself with nothing to lose."

We had a lovely time before the show at Local Oceans, a great seafood restaurant in Newport. Their grilled halibut and peaches are a seasonal favorite.

In the Dark - This BBC program has only four episodes, which is nice since sometimes we don't feel like getting sucked into a long, drawn-out show.


Quinn, Heather and Cora

Heather, Cora, Quinn, Mom, Alison and Brian

Dulcie, Sylvie, Mom, Alison and Brian

Vivie and Emie

Corynn, Vivie, Linda, Mom, Emie and Ryan

Mom and Mark

As I mentioned earlier, we are heading out on another road trip in mid-October. We plan to explore the eastern side of Vancouver Island, beginning and ending with a few days near Victoria. I'm hoping to start blogging about our recent trip to Canada this past summer, but until then, you can checkout my posts about last year's trip to Glacier National Park. I would love to go back there someday, but there are so many other places to visit first.

Happy reading!

September 1, 2023

Looking Back - Spilling Clarence

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.

Spilling Clarence by Anne Ursu
2002 Hyperion
Finished on January 25, 2002
Rating: 3.5/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

What if you could suddenly remember everything that ever happened in your life Would it be a blessing -- or a curse

The answer is found in Spilling Clarence, a satisfying, witty, romantic, and tender novel. In the fictional town of Clarence, Minnesota, a breakroom microwave sparks a smoky fire at the pharmaceutical factory and triggers a massive chemical spill. Panic-stricken and paralyzed, the townspeople wait until the all-clear signal to assure them everything's back to normal. Except that it isn't. Over the coming days, the citizens of Clarence fall under the spell of a strange and powerful drug that unlocks their memories. They become trapped by their own reminiscences: of love and death, of war and childhood, of family they've lost and sins they've committed.

Beautifully rendered with a light comic touch, this bittersweet first novel is about more than the sum of its beguiling parts. It's about the need to remember, and about the bliss of forgetting. A universe peopled by exquisitely drawn characters, Spilling Clarence is a funny, moving story with a truly original premise that introduces the impressive talents of an exciting new writer.

My Original Thoughts (2002):

Read most of this on my day off. The first few pages grabbed my attention as the narrative moved to a chain bookstore called Davis & Dean (remineding me of B&N and Borders). A father and daughter are enjoying their Friday afternoon ritual of visiting the bookstore when a psychopharmaceutical factory has an accident and a memory-enhancing drug is released into the air of small college town named Clarence. Bernie, a widower, teaches at the college. His nine-year-old daughter is precocious, but likeable. Somewhat predictable, but very suspenseful. A hint of Stephen King's stories. 

The voice in the first half of the book was annoying. Almost a "tell-it-like-it-is" that felt abrupt and choppy. The narrator seems to address the reader as someone describing a made-for-tv movie. But, thankfully, the second half is almost void of this "style."

My Current Thoughts:

I no longer have a copy of this debut novel, but I remember that I enjoyed it quite well.

August 30, 2023

Ocean State


Ocean State by Stewart O'Nan
2022 Atlantic Monthly Press
Finished on August 28, 2023
Rating: 2/5 (Fair) - reduced on 9/1 from 3/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

Set in a working-class town on the Rhode Island coast, O'Nan's latest is a crushing, beautifully written, and profoundly compelling novel about sisters, mothers, and daughters, and the terrible things love makes us do.

In the first line of Ocean State, we learn that a high school student was murdered, and we find out who did it. The story that unfolds from there with incredible momentum is thus one of the build-up to and fall-out from the murder, told through the alternating perspectives of the four women at its heart. Angel, the murderer, Carol, her mother, and Birdy, the victim, all come alive on the page as they converge in a climax both tragic and inevitable. Watching over it all is the retrospective testimony of Angel's younger sister Marie, who reflects on that doomed autumn of 2009 with all the wisdom of hindsight. Angel and Birdy love the same teenage boy, frantically and single mindedly, and are compelled by the intensity of their feelings to extremes neither could have anticipated. O'Nan's expert hand paints a fully realized portrait of these women, but also weaves a compelling and heartbreaking story of working-class life in Ashaway, Rhode Island. Propulsive, moving, and deeply rendered, Ocean State is a masterful novel by one of our greatest storytellers.

Meh. I was tempted to give Ocean State a 2/5 rating, but rounded up since it kept me reading late in the night, eager to learn the outcome of the murder. [Dropped it down to a 2/5 after giving it more thought.] I didn't care for any of the characters, and thought both girls were naive and foolish, trapped in a love triangle gone wrong. I also found it somewhat difficult to keep track of the two main characters until I was several chapters into the book. I have read other novels by O'Nan, which were much more relatable. Emily, Alone and Henry, Himself are two of my favorite books by this author. 

If you don't mind a lot of teenage angst, and enjoy Stewart O'Nan's writing, borrow this one from the library. 

My reviews for the books I've read of O'Nan's:

Emily, Alone (4.75/5)

August 24, 2023

The Vows of Silence


The Vows of Silence by Susan Hill
Simon Serrailler #4
2007 Chatto & Windus (first published in 2006)
Finished on August 22, 2023
Rating: 4.5/5 (Excellent)

Publisher's Blurb:

We met the enigmatic and brooding Simon Serrailler in The Various Haunts of Men and got to know him better in The Pure in Heart and The Risk of Darkness. The Vows of Silence, the fourth crime novel featuring Chief Inspector Serrailler, is perhaps even more compulsive and convincing than its predecessors.

A gunman is terrorizing young women in the cathedral town of Laffterton. What, if anything, links the apparently random murders? Is the marksman with the rifle the same as the killer with the handgun? With the complexity and character study that earned raves for The Pure in Heart and the relentless pacing and plot twists of The Various Haunts of Men, The Vows of Silence is truly the work of a writer at the top of her form. 

The Vows of Silence may be my favorite thus far in Susan Hill's mystery series. I was kept guessing until the final chapters, in which a small hint confirmed my suspicions. Well-written mysteries keep me reading late in the night, and this fourth installment did just that. And yet it wasn't simply my curiosity about the identity of the killer, but the continuation of the evolving storyline of the Serrailler family. I won't divulge more, but I will say that I was moved to tears. I know I've said it repeatedly (both about Hill's and Deborah Crombie's mysteries), but I love getting to know the characters in these books; they're authentic and so likeable. I wish, once again, that someone would create a TV series of both of these women's books. 

A solid mystery. Highly recommend, but do read these in order!

August 19, 2023

Tom Lake

Tom Lake by Ann Patchett
2023 Harper
Finished on August 17, 2023
Rating: 5/5 (Excellent!)

Publisher's Blurb:

In the spring of 2020, Lara’s three daughters return to the family's orchard in Northern Michigan. While picking cherries, they beg their mother to tell them the story of Peter Duke, a famous actor with whom she shared both a stage and a romance years before at a theater company called Tom Lake. As Lara recalls the past, her daughters examine their own lives and relationship with their mother, and are forced to reconsider the world and everything they thought they knew.

Tom Lake is a meditation on youthful love, married love, and the lives parents have led before their children were born. Both hopeful and elegiac, it explores what it means to be happy even when the world is falling apart. As in all of her novels, Ann Patchett combines compelling narrative artistry with piercing insights into family dynamics. The result is a rich and luminous story, told with profound intelligence and emotional subtlety, that demonstrates once again why she is one of the most revered and acclaimed literary talents working today.
"Patchett’s intricate and subtle thematic web…enfolds the nature of storytelling, the evolving dynamics of a family, and the complex interaction between destiny and choice….These braided strands culminate in a denouement at once deeply sad and tenderly life-affirming. Poignant and reflective, cementing Patchett’s stature as one of our finest novelists." — Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

I'm not sure if I know how to review this marvelous novel! I loved the entire book, savoring each sentence, and as the final pages drew near, I told my husband that I hated to say goodbye to Patchett's characters; they felt so real! The book could have been a thousand pages and it wouldn't have been long enough.

To begin, I'm very happy that I decided to get a copy of Our Town to read in advance of starting Tom Lake. Somehow, I managed to go through life without ever reading Our Town. I've also never seen the play, but had a vague idea of its premise. I suppose one could read Tom Lake without knowing a thing about Thornton Wilder's classic, but it's a much richer experience knowing the role of the actors, and how they influenced Patchett's story.

Not only does Ann Patchett create memorable characters who feel like family, she also paints a beautiful image of the setting....
Tom Lake turned out to be crushingly pretty. There was a huge covered amphitheater sunk into the rolling lawns. The musical ran in the amphitheater. They also had a black box theater where they staged the straight plays like Our Town and Fool for Love. There were tennis courts with a clubhouse that served iced tea and sandwiches. A smattering of lovely houses--some that had been turned into administrative offices, some for boarding the actors and designers and technicians, and some where regular people spent the summer--spread along the shore of a tremendous lake. Fruit trees bloomed, paths meandered, hills swelled, like someone had clipped pictures out of a pile of magazines and then glued the very best ones together on a single page. A couple of miles away was a small town that took most of its annual revenue from the summer tourists who came to stay in one of the two hotels, have supper, and spend the next morning wandering through the little shops before coming over with their theater tickets. The most ambitious ones walked in for a show then caught a shuttle bus back. They wore Tom Lake T-shirts and Tom Lake hats as they paddled rented canoes past the diving platform and out across the lake. The whole thing was a fragile ecosystem, as small towns and theater companies usually are, but as far as I could see it was thriving.
I also love this gem of a passage:
There's no explaining this simple truth about life: you will forget much of it. The painful things you were certain you'd never be able to let go? Now you're not entirely sure when they happened, while the thrilling parts, the heart-stopping joys, splintered and scatted and became something else. Memories are then replaced by different joys and larger sorrows, and unbelievably, those things get knocked aside as well, until one morning you're picking cherries with your three grown daughters and your husband goes by on the Gator and you are positive that this is all you've ever wanted in the world. 
“We clump together in our sorrow. In joy we may wander off in our separate directions, but in sorrow we prefer to hold hands.” 
I know that Tom Lake is a book I'll read again, and I'm eager to listen to the audio production, which is narrated by the ever-so-talented Meryl Streep!

I also can't wait to return to Nashville, not only to see my daughter and son-in-law, but to pay another visit to Parnassus Books. Maybe I'll get to meet my favorite author face-to-face!

This is one you'll hug to your chest, whispering "Great book! Bravo." Highly recommend.

This made my day!

August 18, 2023

Looking Back - Holes

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.

Holes by Louis Sachar
1998 Farrar Straus & Giroux
Finished on January 23, 2002
Rating: 3.5/5 (Good)

Newberry Medal Book, 1999

Publisher's Blurb:

Stanley Yelnats is under a curse. A curse that began with his no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather and has since followed generations of Yelnats. Now Stanley has been unjustly sent to a boys’ detention center, Camp Green Lake, where the boys build character by spending all day, every day digging holes exactly five feet wide and five feet deep. There is no lake at Camp Green Lake. But there are an awful lot of holes.

It doesn’t take long for Stanley to realize there’s more than character improvement going on at Camp Green Lake. The boys are digging holes because the warden is looking for something. But what could be buried under a dried-up lake? Stanley tries to dig up the truth in this inventive and darkly humorous tale of crime and punishment—and redemption.

My Original Thoughts (2002):

I've been hearing rave reviews about this book for several years, so I decided to give it a read. I enjoyed it, but didn't think it was great.

My Current Thoughts:

Holes is a fine book, but it didn't move me like other books for young readers, such as Wonder (R.J. Palacio), Stargirl (Jerry Spinelli), or The Book Thief (Markus Zusak).

August 15, 2023

The Windsor Knot


The Windsor Knot by S.J. Bennett
2020 William Morrow and Company
Finished on August 12, 2023
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

The first book in a highly original and delightfully clever crime series in which Queen Elizabeth II secretly solves crimes while carrying out her royal duties.

It is the early spring of 2016 and Queen Elizabeth is at Windsor Castle in advance of her 90th birthday celebrations. But the preparations are interrupted when a guest is found dead in one of the Castle bedrooms. The scene suggests the young Russian pianist strangled himself, but a badly tied knot leads MI5 to suspect foul play was involved. The Queen leaves the investigation to the professionals—until their suspicions point them in the wrong direction.

Unhappy at the mishandling of the case and concerned for her staff’s morale, the monarch decides to discreetly take matters into her own hands. With help from her Assistant Private Secretary, Rozie Oshodi, a British Nigerian and recent officer in the Royal Horse Artillery, the Queen secretly begins making inquiries. As she carries out her royal duties with her usual aplomb, no one in the Royal Household, the government, or the public knows that the resolute Elizabeth will use her keen eye, quick mind, and steady nerve to bring a murderer to justice.

SJ Bennett captures Queen Elizabeth’s voice with skill, nuance, wit, and genuine charm in this imaginative and engaging mystery that portrays Her Majesty as she’s rarely seen: kind yet worldly, decisive, shrewd, and most importantly a great judge of character.

Marvelous! As a fan of The Crown, I could easily envision Imelda Staunton as S.J. Bennett's 90-year-old monarch. I thoroughly enjoyed the glimpse of the royal life inside both Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace. The Queen's APS (Assistant Private Secretary) is a character whom I look forward to seeing more of as I read the next book in this series. Regretfully, the mystery (which involves not one, but three murders) is convoluted, and it wasn't until the denouement that I fully understand what had transpired in the castle. It may be that The Windsor Knot requires more consistent reading time than I allowed. I read it in fits-and-spurts due to a busy week, but was always eager to return to the story to see what the Queen and Rozie were up to. Bennett expertly captures the Queen's voice, and I'd love to see Acorn or Britbox create a series based on these books. 

Highly recommend! 

August 13, 2023

The Anthropocene Reviewed


The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green
Nonfiction - Essays
2021 Penguin Audio
Narrated by John Green
Finished on August 8, 2023
Rating: 4.5/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

A deeply moving and mind-expanding collection of personal essays in the first ever work of non-fiction from #1 internationally bestselling author John Green.

The Anthropocene is the current geological age, in which human activity has profoundly shaped the planet and its biodiversity. In this remarkable symphony of essays adapted and expanded from his ground-breaking, critically acclaimed podcast, John Green reviews different facets of the human-centered planet - from the QWERTY keyboard and Halley's Comet to Penguins of Madagascar - on a five-star scale.

Complex and rich with detail, the Anthropocene's reviews have been praised as 'observations that double as exercises in memoiristic empathy', with over 10 million lifetime downloads. John Green's gift for storytelling shines throughout this artfully curated collection about the shared human experience; it includes beloved essays along with six all-new pieces exclusive to the book.

John Green has written several novels that have been on my TBR list for many years, but until now, I've only managed to read The Fault in Our Stars, which I loved. I have no excuse for not reading any other books by Green, but I find that unless I have a book in my TBR bookcase, I don't think about it until a) I see it at the library or b) someone mentions it in passing or in a review. My Goodreads list isn't terribly helpful, especially since my "Want to Read" list has over 1,100 titles!

The Anthropocene Reviewed wound up in my audiobook library after reading JoAnn's glowing review in early 2022. As JoAnn mentions, I'd be hard pressed to choose a favorite essay; the range of topics is thought-provoking, humorous, educational, and tender. Halley's Comet, Lascaux Cave Paintings, Diet Dr Pepper, Velociraptors, Canada Geese, Air-Conditioning, The Internet, Piggly Wiggly, The Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest, The Yips, Googling Strangers, Bonneville Salt Flats, The Notes App, and The QWERTY Keyboard are just a few (there are over 40 essays) that I think would interest my husband. As I listened, I found myself wishing that he enjoyed audiobooks--this would be a great one to listen to on a road trip! With that said, I plan to buy a print edition since I think he'd enjoy the book (and he especially likes to read with a highlighter in hand while reading nonfiction). As a matter of fact, I can think of several other relatives and friends who might like this book. It's a couple of years old, but it might make a great Christmas gift for readers in my life. 

About Ratings:
The five-star scale has only been used in critical analysis for the past few decades. While it occasionally applied to film criticism as early as the 1950s, the five-star scale wasn’t used to rate hotels until 1979, and it wasn’t widely used to rate books until Amazon introduced user reviews. The five-star scale really doesn’t exist for humans; it exists for data aggregation systems, which is why it did not become standard until the internet era. Making conclusions about a book’s quality from a 175-word review is hard for artificial intelligences, where as star ratings are ideal for them. (The Anthropocene Reviewed)

Unlike short stories (which I prefer to read one at a time, allowing a break between each story), I couldn't stop listening to these essays. As soon as I finished listening to one, I moved on to the next, inhaling the entire book in just a few days. Green includes numerous quotes by a variety of authors in order to confirm his thoughts; yet another reason to own the print edition.

It took me a few essays before I grew comfortable with the author's narration for the audiobook. He tends to speak in a halting, if not clipped, manner. However, the catch or tremble in his voice during a tender essay made up for his reading.

The Anthropocene Reviewed would make for a great book group selection as there is so much to discuss. The topics would even make for great dinner party conversation! A very satisfying read. Highly recommend.