March 17, 2023

Looking Back - Good Harbor

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.

2001 Scribner
Finished on October 3, 2001
Rating: 3.5/5 (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.

My Original Thoughts (2001):

Not terribly deep (one dimensional male characters), but entertaining. Read it in two days. Fluff.

My Current Thoughts:

I still have a copy of this book, so I must have thought it worthy of someday re-reading. I was close to the young woman's age when I read the book in 2001, and I'm now a couple of years older than the other woman. I wonder if I'll relate more closely to Kathleen now that I'm in my early 60s. 

March 14, 2023

Signal Fires


2022 Alfred A. Knopf
Finished on March 12, 2023
Rating: 5/5 (Excellent)

Publisher's Blurb:

Signal Fires opens on a summer night in 1985. Three teenagers have been drinking. One of them gets behind the wheel of a car, and, in an instant, everything on Division Street changes. Each of their lives, and that of Ben Wilf, a young doctor who arrives on the scene, is shattered. For the Wilf family, the circumstances of that fatal accident will become the deepest kind of secret, one so dangerous it can never be spoken.

On Division Street, time has moved on. When the Shenkmans arrive—a young couple expecting a baby boy—it is as if the accident never happened. But when Waldo, the Shenkmans’ brilliant, lonely son who marvels at the beauty of the world and has a native ability to find connections in everything, befriends Dr. Wilf, now retired and struggling with his wife’s decline, past events come hurtling back in ways no one could ever have foreseen.

In Dani Shapiro’s first work of fiction in fifteen years, she returns to the form that launched her career, with a riveting, deeply felt novel that examines the ties that bind families together—and the secrets that can break them apart. Signal Fires is a work of haunting beauty by a masterly storyteller.

Signal Fires is the second novel of Dani Shapiro's that I've read, and I hope it won't be my last. In my pre-blogging days, I read Family History, and as best as I can remember, I enjoyed it quite well. I've also recently read and enjoyed a couple of Shapiro's memoirs (Devotion and Inheritance), so I was excited to learn that she had written another novel after more than a dozen years. I spotted a copy of the book on the new release shelf at my library and decided to ignore my huge TBR stack and give it a try. 

What a fantastic book! I fell into it from the opening lines and couldn't put it down. At the heart of the story are two families whose lives are intertwined by multiple events over the course of twenty years. Shapiro's effortless attention to detail quickly pulled me into the lives of the Wilf and Shenkman households.
These folks leave first thing in the morning, the father in a brand-new Lexus hybrid, the mother in a Prius--cars that don't make a sound--and as dusk falls they return, gliding silently into the garage, the automatic doors closing behind them. The boy doesn't play on the street the way Sarah and Theo used to. None of the neighborhood kids are ever out in their yards. They're carted around by their parents or nannies, lugging violins or cellos in their cases, dragging backpacks that weigh more than they do. They wear soccer uniforms or spanking white getups, their tiny waists wrapped in colorful karate or jujitsu belts.
The characters and setting are vivid; I could imagine not only their homes and their neighborhood in Avalon, New York, but the bitter cold of a winter snowstorm had me reaching for a warm blanket. With the exception of one character, I came to care about the entire cast, privy to their innermost thoughts thanks to alternating points of view of each family member. The way in which the lives of these two families collide held me in thrall, in spite of the nonlinear chronology. (This is not one for audio listeners, as it would be far too confusing to keep track of the characters and the fluctuating time periods.) In addition to the main plot, I enjoyed the author's imaginings of alternate scenarios for her characters' lives. I also relished the details centered around Theo's restaurants and his role as a chef.
The first of tonight's two desserts is a dense gateau au chocolat, served with a small glass of a house-made black walnut digestif, to be followed by a bite-size donut hole drizzled with caramel sauce. With a wooden spoon, he stirs the caramel. Tastes it, then adds a pinch of sea salt. These are some of his favorite moments. The low buzz of the evening winding down on the other side of the curtain. The perfection of the meal. The loneliness that he will feel in an hour, when the last of the diners has departed, when Carolos has washed the final dish, when there is nothing to do but go home--that loneliness is still far off.
Finally, I thought Shapiro did a fine job with her handling of the Covid pandemic, which could easily have been heavy-handed.
It's the start of a holiday weekend, but this year there are no holiday weekends. Instead of the explosion of July Fourth fireworks, each evening at exactly seven there is a symphony of banging pots and people leaning out from open windows to cheer in support of essential workers. This is happening not only in the five boroughs of New York City but in cities and small towns across the globe. As people line up, standing six feet apart on Malcolm X Boulevard to pick up their dinner, they are accompanied by the elemental sound of spoons banging against pots. He listens for it as he moves through the kitchen packing orders. A predictable thing in an unpredictable world. A way to measure the passage of time.
His daily menu lists two different prices for each dish. In both cases, he's almost giving it away. One price is for people who still have jobs. And the other is for everyone else. All day he talks with old customers and new ones, a raw quality in their voices he recognizes as gratitude. But Theo doesn't want or need anyone's gratitude. These hours in the kitchen are saving him. Somewhere along the way he had lost sight of how he began, with the simple desire to be in the kitchen with his mother, working side by side, a stained cookbook--Marcella Hazan, Julia Child, Jacques Pepin--open on the counter. He would line up all the ingredients before they began, along with measuring cups and spoons, pans, dutch oven, whatever was called for. He preferred stews with complex flavors that would simmer on the stovetop for hours. Mimi would switch on the radio as they worked, and sometimes if a song came on that she liked, she would sing along and he'd catch a glimpse of what she must have been like as a girl.
Signal Fires is a compulsive and satisfying read and one I won't quickly forget. This is one to discuss with a book group! It's a moving and thoughtful story that would be marvelous on the big screen. Highly recommend.

March 10, 2023

Looking Back - The Yokota Officers Club

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.

2001 Knopf
Finished on October 1, 2001
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

After a year away at college, military brat Bernadette Root has come “home” to Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan, to spend the summer with her bizarre yet comforting clan. Ruled by a strict, regimented Air Force Major father, but grounded in their mother’s particular brand of humor, Bernie’s family was destined for military greatness during the glory days of the mid-’50s. But in Base life, where an unkempt lawn is cause for reassignment, one fateful misstep changed the Roots’ world forever. Yet the family’s silence cannot keep the wounds of the past from reemerging . . . nor can the memory fade of beloved Fumiko, the family’s former maid, whose name is now verboten. And the secrets long ago covered up in classic military style–through elimination and denial–are now forcing their way to the surface for a return engagement.

My Original Thoughts (2001):

Reminiscent of The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. Funny and touching. Got a little slow partway through, but still very enjoyable. 

My Current Thoughts:

I haven't read anything else by Sarah Bird, but I do remember enjoying this one. She has written several novels, as well as a couple of nonfiction works. Her most recent release, Last Dance on the Starlight Pier sounds like it has possibilities. 

March 9, 2023

A Quiet Life


2022 Scribner
Finished on March 8, 2023
Rating: 3/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

Set in a close-knit suburb in the grip of winter, A Quiet Life follows three people grappling with loss and finding a tender wisdom in their grief.

Chuck Ayers used to look forward to nothing so much as his annual trip to Hilton Head with his wife, Cat—that yearly taste of relaxation they’d become accustomed to after a lifetime of working and raising two children. Now, just months after Cat’s death, Chuck finds that he can’t let go of her belongings—her favorite towel, the sketchbooks in her desk drawer—as he struggles to pack for a trip he can’t imagine taking without her.

Ella Burke delivers morning newspapers and works at a bridal shop to fill her days while she anxiously awaits news—any piece of information—about her missing daughter. Ella adjusts to life in a new apartment and answers every call on her phone, hoping her daughter will reach out.

After the sudden death of her father, Kirsten Bonato set aside her veterinary school aspirations, finding comfort in the steady routine of working at an animal shelter. But as time passes, old dreams and new romantic interests begin to surface—and Kirsten finds herself at another crossroads.

A Quiet Life is a quiet read. It was too quiet for my taste, though. The characters are flat and their excessive ruminations border on annoying and repetitive. There isn't much action until the final chapters and I have a feeling this is one of those books that will fade quickly from my memory. It's a shame, as I tend to gravitate toward books dealing with grief. Like Kirsten, I'm familiar with the loss of a parent, and like Ella, I've experienced divorce and custody battles, so those two scenarios should have helped me feel an affinity toward the two women. Instead, it was as if I were hearing about their struggles as told by a friend of a friend of a relative. Chuck's constant guilt for not being a better husband was tiresome, although I appreciated the glimpse into the life of a widower and how he learns to live with his grief while moving forward in his own life. A Quiet Life is a tender story, one which brings to mind Elizabeth Berg's The Story of Arthur Truluv, and one that fans of Hallmark movies might enjoy, predictable with a happy ending. I would have liked a little more substance, myself. The cover art is beautiful, though!

March 7, 2023

The Lincoln Highway


2021 Viking
Finished on March 5, 2023
Rating: 3.5/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

In June, 1954, eighteen-year-old Emmett Watson is driven home to Nebraska by the warden of the work farm where he has just served a year for involuntary manslaughter. His mother long gone, his father recently deceased, and the family farm foreclosed upon by the bank, Emmett’s intention is to pick up his eight-year-old brother and head west where they can start their lives anew. But when the warden drives away, Emmett discovers that two friends from the work farm have hidden themselves in the trunk of the warden’s car. Together, they have hatched an altogether different plan for Emmett’s future.

Spanning just ten days and told from multiple points of view, Towles’s third novel will satisfy fans of his multi-layered literary styling while providing them an array of new and richly imagined settings, characters, and themes.

Unlike some lengthy books, I did want this one to end. The Lincoln Highway isn't a boring novel, but the slow pace and the retelling of events from multiple perspectives had me calculating how many of the 576 pages remained as I read. Towles's digressions (from the recounting of Shakespeare plays, mythological adventures, and Homeric epics to philosophical paradoxes, vaudeville acts and magic tricks) are initially inventive, but as the story progresses, I grew weary of those asides, eager to return to the adventure at hand. The tension in the final pages had me wavering when it came time to rate the novel, but in all honesty, I didn't love it. It's a good (albeit melodramatic) tale, but it's not the outstanding read, like A Gentleman in Moscow. Having said that, Towles is a wordsmith, and I especially enjoyed the imagery in this passage:
In the months of summer, there were nights marked by the roll of thunder or the whistle of an arid wind on which Emmett could hear his father stirring in the next room, unable to sleep--and not without reason. Because a farmer with a mortgage was like a man walking on the railing of a bridge with his arms outstretched and his eyes closed. It was a way of life in which the difference between abundance and ruin could be measured by a few inches of rain or a few nights of frost. [Emphasis is mine]
The Lincoln Highway is peopled with memorable characters (the wise-beyond-his-years Billy, and the childlike Woolly, both of whom stole my heart), but this folksy tale is my least favorite of Towles's novels. I understand he's working on his fourth, which I look forward to, as I remain a fan in spite of this mildly disappointing read.

Photo Credit: Author's Website

March 1, 2023

A Month in Summary - February 2023

Little Whale Cove
Depoe Bay, Oregon
February 2023

We got snow! While it's unusual to get any sort of accumulation here on the coast, it's not impossible. (Facebook reminded me this morning that we had a similar snowfall four years ago). We didn't see quite as much as in the communities to the north and south of us, but it sure was pretty as it was falling. Here's a lovely shot from Newport:

Photo Credit: Local Oceans

I had another good month of reading, finishing five books, but giving up on one. Two popular novels fell short for me, but I reread Ann Patchett's book for book club, and it was just as good as the first time I read it. I'm all caught up on Deborah Crombie's mystery series, and now look forward to starting Susan Hill's Simon Serrailler series. 

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

A Bitter Feast by Deborah Crombie (4/5)

These Precious Days by Ann Patchett (5/5)

Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt (3/5)

The Measure by Nikki Erlick (3.5/5)

A Killing of Innocents by Deborah Crombie (4/5)


Flight by Lynn Steger Strong - Read 60 pages (of 230). Couldn't keep the three couples and their children straight, as they were introduced all at once, and none of whom were fully fleshed out. It was very confusing, so I made a small cheat sheet, which still didn't help. I'm sure I would have eventually gotten a handle on the relationships, but the plot was dull and I wasn't interested.

Movies & TV Series:

Modus (Season 2) - We enjoyed this second season, which kept me guessing. I wonder if another season is in the works.

Elvis - This biographical film surprised me. I've never been a fan of Elvis, nor did I know anything about Colonel Tom Parker, but both Austin Butler and Tom Hanks were very good in their portrayals.

The Crown (Season 5) - We have one episode remaining of this series. I don't care for Elizabeth Debicki as Diana, but Imelda Staunton does a fine job as the Queen. This season has been my least favorite and I can't imagine that season six will be an improvement. 

New Amsterdam (Season 1) - Soooo good! If you enjoy medical shows such as E.R., Gray's Anatomy, or House, this is one to watch. Yes, each episode tugs at your heartstrings, but I'm hooked.

Strike - Troubled Blood - I think we missed the second season of this series, but we're still enjoying this one, even if we have to wait for each episode to drop on Monday nights.

The Brokenwood Mysteries (Season 2) - We've grown weary of this series, which is similar in tone to Murder in Paradise. I doubt we'll watch any more episodes.

Jurrasic World: Dominion - I've seen the first two (three?) installments in this film series, but wasn't really interested in watching this most recent movie until my husband suggested it. With the return of Laura Dern, Jeff Goldbloom, and Sam Neill, how bad could it be? Pretty bad, but I would like to watch the very first movie again.

Vera (Season 1) - Finally getting into this series. I love Vera!

London Kills (Season 1) - Not bad, but somewhat predictable. We like that each mystery is solved by the end of each episode, although there is a larger mystery spanning the entire series. 




Del Mar in 1980?

I'm back at it after taking a long break (almost three years!) during the pandemic. It's been fun to get back together with my friends, playing 2-3 times a week. I came across the above photo from my teenage years. I used to enjoy playing paddle ball on the beach, so it's no wonder I fell in love with Pickleball. :)

Less than two weeks until Daylight Saving Time begins. I can't wait!

February 25, 2023

A Killing of Innocents

Duncan Kincaid & Gemma James #19
2023 William Morrow & Company
Finished on February 23, 2023
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:
New York Times bestseller Deborah Crombie returns with a new novel focusing on Scotland Yard detectives Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James as they must solve the stabbing death of a young woman before panic spreads across London.

On a rainy November evening, a young woman hurries through the crowd in London’s historic Russell Square. Out of the darkness, someone jostles her, then brushes past. A moment later, she stumbles, collapsing against a tree. When a young mother finds her body and alerts the police, Detective Superintendent Duncan Kincaid and his sergeant, Doug Cullen, are called to the scene. The victim, Sasha Johnson, is a trainee doctor at a nearby hospital, and she’s been stabbed.

Kincaid immediately calls his detective wife, Gemma James, who has recently been assigned to a task force on knife crime. Along with her partner, detective sergeant Melody Talbot, Gemma joins the investigation. But Sasha Johnson doesn’t fit the profile of the typical knife crime victim. Single, successful, daughter of a black professional family, she has no history of abusive relationships or any connection to gangs. She had her secrets, though, and Kincaid uncovers an awkward connection to his Notting Hill friends Wesley and Betty Howard.

As the detectives unravel Sasha’s tangled relationships, another stabbing puts London in a panic, and Kincaid’s team needs all their resources to find the killer stalking the dark streets of Bloomsbury.

I have spent the past two years reading close to one installment a month from Deborah Crombie's Kincaid/James mystery series. Earlier this month I read A Bitter Feast, finishing that book on the publication date of A Killing of Innocents, Crombie's most recent release. I didn't wait long to pick up this final installment, and now, just like that, I'm all caught up! I enjoyed this London-based mystery very much, unable to unravel that final thread until the very end when the detectives made their arrest. While not a thriller as such, A Killing of Innocents is a solid mystery. Crombie continues to develop her characters (and their relationships with one another), and the mysteries are intricate and well-plotted. I couldn't turn the pages quickly enough. 

I'm happy that I've finally made it through the entire series, but sad that I'll have to wait for the next installment. Meanwhile, could somebody please write a screenplay for the books for either PBS, Britbox or Acorn? I'm sure Crombie's fanbase would be happy to support a TV series. I certainly would!

February 21, 2023

The Measure

2022 William Morrow
Finished on February 16, 2023
Rating: 3.5/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

Eight ordinary people. One extraordinary choice.

It seems like any other day. You wake up, pour a cup of coffee, and head out.

But today, when you open your front door, waiting for you is a small wooden box. This box holds your fate inside: the answer to the exact number of years you will live.

From suburban doorsteps to desert tents, every person on every continent receives the same box. In an instant, the world is thrust into a collective frenzy. Where did these boxes come from? What do they mean? Is there truth to what they promise?

As society comes together and pulls apart, everyone faces the same shocking choice: Do they wish to know how long they’ll live? And, if so, what will they do with that knowledge?

The Measure charts the dawn of this new world through an unforgettable cast of characters whose decisions and fates interweave with one another: best friends whose dreams are forever entwined, pen pals finding refuge in the unknown, a couple who thought they didn’t have to rush, a doctor who cannot save himself, and a politician whose box becomes the powder keg that ultimately changes everything.

I loved the premise of this book, and when I first started reading, I thought I was in for another 5-star read. It's the type of story that's unique and inventive, and I could quickly see why it wound up on so many readers' "Best of 2022" lists. And yet, as I got further into the novel, it began to fizzle out. The characters are fairly one-dimensional and the plot lacks tension. I kept wondering if there would be a big reveal about the origin of the strings, or if there would be a sudden turning point in the manner in which lives were predicted as the years progressed. However, as the end of the book drew near, the narrative remained predictable and dull. I didn't mind the thinly veiled (albeit negative) nod to Trump, and the parallels to the Covid pandemic were subtle and not overwrought, but there was too much telling and not enough showing

With that said, it is a thought-provoking concept that would make for good dinner conversation fodder. Would you or wouldn't you open your box to see how much longer you had to live? Would you tell your partner? Your boss? Your parents? Fans of The Midnight Library (Matt Haig) might enjoy this one. As for me, I look forward to Erlick's next endeavor, as she has potential.

February 19, 2023

Remarkably Bright Creatures

2022 HarperAudio
Narrated by Marin Ireland & Michael Urie
Finished on February 15, 2023
Rating: 3/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

For fans of A Man Called Ove, a charming, witty and compulsively readable exploration of friendship, reckoning, and hope, tracing a widow's unlikely connection with a giant Pacific octopus.

After Tova Sullivan's husband died, she began working the night shift at the Sowell Bay Aquarium, mopping floors and tidying up. Keeping busy has always helped her cope, which she's been doing since her eighteen-year-old son, Erik, mysteriously vanished on a boat in Puget Sound over thirty years ago.

Tova becomes acquainted with curmudgeonly Marcellus, a giant Pacific octopus living at the aquarium. Marcellus knows more than anyone can imagine but wouldn't dream of lifting one of his eight arms for his human captors--until he forms a remarkable friendship with Tova.

Ever the detective, Marcellus deduces what happened the night Tova's son disappeared. And now Marcellus must use every trick his old invertebrate body can muster to unearth the truth for her before it's too late.

Shelby Van Pelt's debut novel is a gentle reminder that sometimes taking a hard look at the past can help uncover a future that once felt impossible.

After reading several glowing reviews by friends and bloggers, I had high hopes for Remarkably Bright Creatures, but unfortunately, this debut novel turned out to be somewhat disappointing. I don't have a problem with suspension of disbelief, but the novel's predictability coupled with several coincidences reduced what could have been a more substantial and thought-provoking story to a sweet beach read. Grief and abandonment are central themes, and in this case, the author handles both well without being manipulative, but her characters lack the depth for which I was hoping. In particular, I couldn't accept Cameron's age to be anywhere near thirty; his immature behavior and inner thoughts cast him more as an irresponsible and sulky teenager.

On a positive note, the audio narration is excellent. Marin Ireland is a favorite, and Michael Urie gives an outstanding performance as Marcellus. I would have liked more chapters centered around Tova and Marcellus, the two characters I cared most about. 

I enjoy reading about octopuses, and recommend The Soul of An Octopus for those seeking more about the intellect of these marvelous sea creatures.

For those seeking a light, yet uplifting story, Remarkably Bright Creatures would make a fine choice.

February 17, 2023

Looking Back - Peace Like a River

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.

Peace Like a River by Leif Enger
2001 Atlantic Monthly Press
Finished on September 18, 2001
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

Leif Enger’s debut is an extraordinary novel—an epic of generosity and heart that reminds us of the restorative power of great literature. The story of a father raising his three children in 1960s Minnesota, Peace Like a River is at once a heroic quest, a tragedy, a love story, and a haunting meditation on the possibility of magic in the everyday world.

Raised on tales of cowboys and pirates, eleven-year-old Reuben Land has little doubt that miracles happen all around us, and that it’s up to us to “make of it what we will.” Reuben was born with no air in his lungs, and it was only when his father, Jeremiah, picked him up and commanded him to breathe that his lungs filled. Reuben struggles with debilitating asthma from then on, making him a boy who knows firsthand that life is a gift, and also one who suspects that his father is touched by God and can overturn the laws of nature.

The quiet midwestern life of the Lands is upended when Davy, the oldest son, kills two marauders who have come to harm the family; unlike his father, he is not content to leave all matters of justice in God’s hands. The morning of his sentencing, Davy—a hero to some, a cold-blooded murderer to others—escapes from his cell, and the Lands set out in search of him. Their journey is touched by serendipity and the kindness of strangers—among them a free spirit named Roxanna, who offers them a place to stay during a blizzard and winds up providing them with something far more permanent. Meanwhile, a federal agent is trailing the Lands, convinced they know of Davy’s whereabouts.

With Jeremiah at the helm, the family covers territory far more extraordinary than even the Badlands where they search for Davy from their Airstream trailer. Sprinkled with playful nods to biblical tales, beloved classics such as Huckleberry Finn, the adventure stories of Robert Louis Stevenson, and the westerns of Zane Grey, Peace Like a River unfolds like a revelation.

My Original Thoughts (2001):

Started out great! Very lyrical, humorous, and touching. Yet something happened halfway through. It just lost its sparkle. Swede, the younger sister, wasn't as big of a character as she was early on. I loved her heroic verse. I have to be fair though. Last Tuesday, terrorists hijacked four U.S. commercial jets, crashing them into the World Trade Center in NYC, the Pentagon, and an open field in Pennsylvania! Our country has been traumatically altered forever. I couldn't concentrate on this book, so perhaps it was a better book than I thought.

My Current Thoughts:

I remember enjoying this book, but had completely forgotten that 9/11 took place while I was reading it. I haven't read anything else by Enger, and tried a more recent work of his (Virgil Wander), but couldn't get interested. 

February 15, 2023

These Precious Days


Nonfiction - Essays
2021 Harper
Finished on February 14, 2023
Rating: 5/5 (Excellent)

Note to Reader: No, you are not imagining things. I already posted a review for this book (click here to read) in November. I decided to read it again for my upcoming book group discussion. 

Publisher's Blurb:

“Any story that starts will also end.” As a writer, Ann Patchett knows what the outcome of her fiction will be. Life, however, often takes turns we do not see coming. Patchett ponders this truth in these wise essays that afford a fresh and intimate look into her mind and heart.

At the center of These Precious Days is the title essay, a suprising and moving meditation on an unexpected friendship that explores “what it means to be seen, to find someone with whom you can be your best and most complete self.” When Patchett chose an early galley of actor and producer Tom Hanks’ short story collection to read one night before bed, she had no idea that this single choice would be life changing. It would introduce her to a remarkable woman—Tom’s brilliant assistant Sooki—with whom she would form a profound bond that held monumental consequences for them both.

A literary alchemist, Patchett plumbs the depths of her experiences to create gold: engaging and moving pieces that are both self-portrait and landscape, each vibrant with emotion and rich in insight. Turning her writer’s eye on her own experiences, she transforms the private into the universal, providing us all a way to look at our own worlds anew, and reminds how fleeting and enigmatic life can be.

From the enchantments of Kate DiCamillo’s children’s books to youthful memories of Paris; the cherished life gifts given by her three fathers to the unexpected influence of Charles Schultz’s Snoopy; the expansive vision of Eudora Welty to the importance of knitting, Patchett connects life and art as she illuminates what matters most. Infused with the author’s grace, wit, and warmth, the pieces in These Precious Days resonate deep in the soul, leaving an indelible mark—and demonstrate why Ann Patchett is one of the most celebrated writers of our time.

You know that feeling when you meet someone for the first time and think to yourself, "Wow. I really like her. We have so much in common. I hope I get another chance to spend more time with her!" Well, that's exactly how I felt after reading These Precious Days, and when I finished reading it for the second time this morning, my feelings hadn't changed. This is a gem of a book! I still haven't taken the time to sit down and write a fan letter to the author (can I just call her Ann?), but I plan to. Until then, I can gush about the book on Thursday with my book group. I hope they enjoyed it as much as I did.

In response to an Instagram comment, I had another thought that I'd like to share here: That initial experience when reading a book (or meeting a kindred spirit) is often overshadowed by the flush of excitement to have all of one's questions answered. The second visit is more calm and allows for a discovery of hidden treasures.

February 10, 2023

Looking Back - Blue Diary

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.

2001 G. P. Putnam's Sons
Finished on September 10, 2001
Rating: 3.5/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

The courage to face the unthinkable is at the core of this magnificent new novel. How do we manage to confront the truths in our lives and find forgiveness in the most unforgiving of circumstances? How do we love truly and deeply in a world that is as brutal as it is beautiful?

When Ethan Ford fails to show up for work on a brilliant summer morning, none of his neighbors would guess that for more than thirteen years, he has been running from his past. His true nature has been locked away, as hidden as his real identity. But sometimes locks spring open, and the devastating truths of Ethan Ford's history shatter the small-town peace of Monroe, affecting family and friends alike.

This deeply felt and compelling novel makes it clear why Alice Hoffman has been called "one of the best writers we have today" (Cleveland Plain Dealer). Honest, shattering, seductive, and ultimately healing, Blue Diary is an unforgettable novel by a writer who tells "truths powerful enough to break a reader's heart" (Time).

My Original Thoughts (2001):

A good read, but not great. Turtle Moon is far better, but this was entertaining. Not a page-turner or touching. Fluff. Easily forgettable characters.

My Current Thoughts:

I sure don't remember anything about this novel. It doesn't appeal to me now, either. 

February 9, 2023

A Bitter Feast

Duncan Kincaid & Gemma James #18
2019 William Morrow
Finished on February 7, 2023
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

Scotland Yard Detective Superintendent Duncan Kincaid and his wife, Detective Inspector Gemma James, have been invited for a relaxing weekend in the tranquil Cotswolds, one of Britain’s most beautiful and historic regions, famous for its rolling hills, sheep-strewn green meadows, golden cottages, and timeless villages that retain the spirit of old England.

Duncan, Gemma, and their children are guests at Beck House, the country estate belonging to the family of Melody Talbot, Gemma’s trusted detective sergeant. No ordinary farmers, the Talbots are wealthy and prominent with ties to Britain’s most powerful and influential. A centerpiece of this glorious fall getaway is a posh charity luncheon catered by up-and-coming chef Viv Holland. After more than a decade in London, Viv has returned to her native Glouscestershire, making a name for herself with her innovative, mouthwatering use of the local bounty. Attended by several dozen of the area’s well-to-do, as well as national food bloggers and restaurant critics, the event could make Viv a star.

But a tragic car accident followed by a series of mysterious deaths could ruin her ascent. Each piece of information that surfaces makes it clear that the killer had a connection with Viv’s pub—and perhaps with Beck House itself.

Does the truth lie in the past? Or is it more immediate, woven into the tangled relationships and bitter resentments swirling among the staff at Beck House and at Viv’s pub? Or is it even more personal, entwined with secrets hidden by Viv, her business partner Bea Abbot, and Viv’s eleven-year-old daughter Grace?

Further revelations rock the Talbots’ estate and pull Duncan and Gemma and their colleagues into the investigation. With so much at stake both personally and professionally, especially for Melody Talbot, finding the killer becomes one of the team’s most crucial cases.

Two years ago (almost to the day), I began Deborah Crombie's mystery series, reading one book every month. I had previously read the first two installments in 2013 (the first of which was reviewed here), but too much time had elapsed and in an effort to reacquaint myself with the cast of characters, I started from the beginning in February 2021. Last night I finished the eighteenth installment and am now anxiously awaiting delivery of Crombie's new release, A Killing of Innocents, which should arrive in the mail any day.

It's been such a pleasure catching up on Duncan and Gemma's lives with each new book, and A Bitter Feast does not disappoint. While not the heart-pounding type of thriller I've grown accustomed to with Louise Penny's books, this mystery is well-crafted and kept me guessing up to the denouement in the final pages. Such a satisfying read! I know I've said it at least once, but I do wish PBS or Acorn would option the rights for a TV series. This would be a great show, perhaps in the hands of Anthony Horowitz.