October 30, 2011

Sunday Salon - October 30, 2011

It’s another beautiful day in Nebraska! I don’t know if it’s because I’ve been out biking so much this past month or if it’s been an unusual autumn, but I’ve definitely taken notice. The sky is so blue and the leaves on the trees are simply stunning. I’ll take these mild temps as long as the sun’s shining. We had snow in early October two years ago (and a terrible snowstorm in 1997), so I know how distressing an early snowstorm can be. I hope those of you on the East Coast didn’t suffer any terrible damage to your homes or vehicles and that if you lost power, it wasn’t for too long! Three million people without power is mind-boggling!

October 1997
Lincoln, NE

October 2009
Lincoln, NE

I’m having a great week with regards to my reading. I finished Off Season by Anne Rivers Siddons (review to come hopefully before 2012!) and dove right into three (!!) books, all of which are calling for attention. I started listening to Faith by Jennifer Haigh and find myself looking for any reason to grab my Nano and listen to another chapter or two. I didn’t think I’d ever read anything by Haigh, but I just remembered that I read Mrs. Kimble. It must’ve been sometime before 2006, though, since I can’t find a review for it on my blog. I know I have Baker Towers on my Amazon wish list and will have to look for a copy of The Condition, as well.

I decided it was time to pull something from my shelves, something I’ve been meaning to read for a few years, and my hand fell upon The Little Friend and The Secret History, both by Donna Tartt. I wasn’t sure which to choose, so I read a few paragraphs from the former. I was immediately drawn into the story, so I set The Secret History back in its place and continued to read The Little Friend. So far, so good.

The third book I started is one I had not planned to read at all. Haruki Murakami is an author who has never appealed to me. I’ve read a few Japanese novels, but nothing that has impressed me enough to venture any further. However, Bellezza has mentioned Murakami on her blog many, many times and her enthusiasm for his latest novel, 1Q84, piqued my interest. I decided to give it a glance one day at work and before the week was over, I’d read the first three chapters. Wow! I need not have worried about a complicated or confusing writing style; I’m already talking it up to my coworkers, regulars and husband. I’m so curious to see where Murakami leads me that I decided to download the 944 page tome to my iPad. I wish I could spend the entire week curled up on my couch with this intriguing tale. If I were a more patient reader, I’d set it aside for my long flights to Kauai next March… Nah.

Friday, I posted a review for another Jacqueline Winspear book and I have three more reviews to compose and post. Who knows, maybe I’ll finally get caught up for the year. If the weather turns nasty, I won’t be riding my bike quite as much. I was able to log 70 miles last week and hope to get a few more long rides in before the temps drop below freezing. I suppose walking on my treadmill will give me more opportunities to listen to my audio books, though.

I’ve been an Amazon Associate for several years and while I don’t make a lot of money, I do get a little something every month or quarter. I happened to click over to the site this afternoon and decided to take a look at my recent reports. I’m always a bit amused by the variety of items ordered via a click-thru from my blog. Usually the purchases are limited to books, and recently I’ve seen a jump in e-books, but today I noticed that someone had recently purchased a Schwinn Recumbent Exercise Bike, of all things!

I never know who buys what, but I’d like to say thank you to everyone who visits Amazon from my blog. It makes the little bit of extra effort to create links all the more worthwhile. Now to figure out how to get someone to buy a car or boat… ;)

By the way, did anyone notice the similarities in the cover art for 1Q84 and The Little Friend?

Links to the books mentioned in this post can be found by clicking on the cover art in my sidebar.

October 28, 2011

The Mapping of Love and Death

The Mapping of Love and Death by Jacqueline Winspear
Mystery (#7 in the Maisie Dobbs’ series)
2010 Sound Library - Unabridged
Reader: Orlagh Cassidy
Finished 8/30/11
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Winner of the 2011 Bruce Alexander Memorial Historical Mystery Award

Product Description

August 1914. As Michael Clifton is mapping land he has just purchased in California's beautiful Santa Ynez Valley, war is declared in Europe—and duty-bound to his father's native country, the young cartographer soon sets sail for England to serve in the British army. Three years later, he is listed as missing in action.

April 1932. After Michael's remains are unearthed in France, his parents retain London psychologist and investigator Maisie Dobbs, hoping she can find the unnamed nurse whose love letters were among their late son's belongings. It is a quest that leads Maisie back to her own bittersweet wartime love—and to the stunning discovery that Michael Clifton was murdered in his dugout. Suddenly an exposed web of intrigue and violence threatens to ensnare the dead soldier's family and even Maisie herself as she attempts to cope with the impending loss of her mentor and the unsettling awareness that she is once again falling in love.

This is my favorite in the series, thus far. Maisie’s personal life played a larger role than in previous installments and I’m anxious to read on (or listen) to see what comes next for this plucky sleuth. I have a feeling there are big things in store in Maisie’s future.

On solitude:

Maisie prepared a simple evening meal of soused mackerel and vegetables, with a slice of bread and jam for pudding. In general, she did not mind a solitary repast, often taken on a tray while she sat in one of the armchairs, a fork in one hand and a book in the other. And she was under no illusions regarding the significance of the book, whether a novel or some work of reference. As she turned the pages, the characters or the subject matter became her company, a distraction so that the absence of a dining companion—someone with whom to share the ups and downs of her day, from the surprising to the mundane—was not so immediate. Guests to her home were few, and after such a visit, during which a linen cloth would be laid on the dining table and cutlery and glasses set for two, the vacuum left by the departing visitor seemed to echo along the hallway and into the walls. It was at those times, when her aloneness took on a darker hue, that she almost wished there would be no more guests, for then there would be no chasm of emptiness for her to negotiate when they were gone.

Nan says:

There's something about a Jacqueline Winspear book that slows me down. I barely notice turning the pages. I am transported back to Maisie Dobbs' time and place, and I almost become part of the story.


I cannot praise the series highly enough. The books are categorized as mysteries, but really they are the story of Maisie Dobbs. Because of her work as an investigator, there is always a mystery going on, and as interesting and intriguing as it may be, what this reader loves is the character and her life and times, and the people around her.

I agree, wholeheartedly. And, I'm not at all surprised that Nan chose to include the same passage that I did. Go here to read her complete review.

Be sure to take some time to peruse the author's website and blog. The old photographs alone are worth the visit. Click here to view Winspear speaking on The Mapping of Love and Death at Warwick's in La Jolla, California.

October 25, 2011

Loot from Mom!

As some of you are already aware, my mom loves to read as much as I do. I can remember coming home from school and finding her curled up with a book, sometimes a mystery from the library or a novel that her sister or brother (both of whom are also avid readers) had sent when they were finished reading it. For many years, she worked at the library in Lincoln City (Oregon) -- mainly, I think, for the joy of being around all those wonderful books, but also to get first dibs on the books that are donated to the Friends of the Library for resale. ;) She's no longer a volunteer at the library, nor is she active in a face-to-face book club anymore, but she does have a blog in which she shares her thoughts on the books she's read, photos of her travels with my stepdad, and various posts about life on the Oregon Coast.

Mom has always been very generous with her books, sending me boxes of those she's finished with, or packing them up to bring when she and Bill make their annual trek out to Nebraska, as they did a little over a week ago. As promised, here is the list of books she brought for me:

Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas

The last two are actually from my stepdad for my husband, but I might give the Larson book a try. I've heard excellent things about it.

So, any recommendations as to which I should read first? I just finished a book by Anne Rivers Siddons, so I may wait a bit before reading Burnt Mountain.

October 23, 2011

Sunday Salon - October 23, 2011

I didn’t get much reading in this past week, but I did have a wonderful visit with my parents who were here from Oregon. I decided to work on putting together some photo albums, so we spent the afternoons sorting through stacks and stacks of old photos, laughing over some, tearing up over others. I’m all for digital photography, but there’s nothing like reminiscing over a pile of pictures. Sitting in front of a computer monitor just doesn’t cut it.

My mom is a voracious reader and kindly brought us a lovely stack of books, which I plan to share in a separate post later this week. Stay tuned!

Speaking of books, it feels like such a long time since I posted a book review, but I only have three more to write and then I’ll be all caught up. A few days ago, Nan wrote about book reviews and blogging and I found myself nodding my head in agreement. She said:

I don't always want to do a long book report. Sometimes I want to state 'just the facts,' with only a brief explanation of the book and how I felt about it. Once in a while there just isn't that much to say, but yet I want to write something because I use my blog as a book journal.

This is exactly how I feel, especially when I’m reviewing an audio book. So, things may change a little bit around here.

It looks like it’s going to be another beautiful Sunday, with temps reaching close to 80! I’m getting ready to head out for a bike ride with a friend and it’s not quite 40 degrees, but it shouldn’t be too bad since there’s no wind. I’m sure we’ll warm up after the first mile or two. I hope everyone is having a nice, relaxing weekend. Congrats to all of the Read-a-Thon participants. Maybe I’ll get a chance to participate next year. I could use a full day devoted to nothing but reading. Ten minutes before bed just isn't enough time to really get involved in a book, is it?

October 19, 2011

What Are You Listening To Wednesday

Bellezza has created a new meme. Here's what she has to say:

After the responses to my post on Norah Jones, and dear Les saying, "I love to see what you're listening to!" I thought I'd suggest What Are You Listening To Wednesday.

It doesn't have to be music. It could be conversations you overheard during coffee at Starbucks. It could be the children in your home (or classroom). It could be the things you're telling yourself with a small, still voice inside. It could be an audio book or a movie. Just tell us, what are you listening to?

And so I offer you this:

I could listen to my nephew play for hours.

October 16, 2011

Sunday Salon - October 16, 2011

There are fewer than three months remaining in the year.

I’ve only finished 28 books.

I can’t remember ever having such a slow reading year as this year.

In 1999 I read a total of 42 books. That was my worst year on record.

In 2003 I read 88. That was my best year.

Even in the black year of 2005, I managed to finish 57.

I’ll be lucky if I read 40 in 2011.

So what gives? My house isn’t any cleaner. My yard hasn’t won any landscaping awards. However, we took some wonderful vacations (Colorado, California, and Oregon) this summer and we’ve had lots of visitors, as well. But the main distraction has been my obsession with cycling. I used to be a fanatic about running, but after over 30 years of pounding the pavement, my knees called it quits. I bought my new bike last spring and have tried to ride as often as possible. The summer heat and aforementioned travels limited my riding time, but September and October have been fantastic. Since April, I’ve logged just over 500 miles, with my personal best of 60 miles in one day. My new goal is to ride 100 miles in a single day. Oh, and to never get bitten by another dog! Yes, I was bitten two weeks ago while riding with a friend out on the MoPAC trail. And, since the dog wasn’t current on its rabies shots, it wound up in quarantine for 10 days. The good news is it wasn’t rabid. And I’m now current on my tetanus booster.

If our fall weather continues to be as lovely as these past few weeks, I might actually hit 750 miles before winter arrives. But more than likely, I’ll be back inside, curled up on the couch with Annie-Dog and a stack of books.

Life is good.

When the spirits are low,
when the day appears dark,
when work becomes monotonous,
when hope hardly seems worth having,
just mount a bicycle and go out for a spin down the road,
without thought on anything but the ride you are taking.
-- (Sir) Arthur Conan Doyle (author of Sherlock Holmes),
in the January 18, 1896 issue of Scientific American Magazine

October 14, 2011

{this moment}

A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. - Amanda Soule

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October 12, 2011

Wordless Wednesday

(Be sure to click on photo to enlarge)

October 10, 2011

Beachcombing for a Shipwrecked God

Beachcombing for a Shipwrecked God by Joe Coomer
1995 Scribner Paperback Fiction
Finished 8/31/11
Rating: 4.5/5 (Terrific!)

Publisher’s Blurb:

Nine weeks after losing her husband, Charlotte escapes to a wooden motor yacht in New Hampshire, where her shipmates are an aging blue-haired widow, an emotional seventeen-year-old, and the ugliest dog in literature. A genuine bond develops among the three women, as their distinct personalities and paths cross and converge against the backdrop of emotional secrets, abuse, and the wages of old age.

Off the boat, Charlotte, an archaeologist, joins a local excavation to uncover an ancient graveyard. Here she can indulge her passion for reconstructing the past, even as she tries to bury her own recent history. She comes to realize, however, that the currents of time are as fluid and persistent as the water that drifts beneath her comforting new home.

In keeping with my beach/summer reading theme (yes, this review is long overdue!), I pulled Coomer’s novel off one of my shelves and was immediately pulled into his engaging story of three independent women, living aboard a wooden boat named Rosinante in Portsmouth Harbor, New Hampshire. I’ve never lived on a boat, but as I read, I was filled with blissful memories of two incredible weeks when my husband and I cruised the San Juan Islands aboard my dad and stepmom’s wooden boat, The Lady Mick. The nautical terminology I learned that summer all came flooding back as I read, reminding me of the unique lifestyle one enjoys while living aboard.

I laid down on my bunk, little dry silent Piscataqua on my chest, and listened instead to what my life in that room would be like. It seemed as though I were lying upon another living being who was as mindful, as tense, as I was. The boat had been alive, of course, constructed as far as I could tell entirely of wood. It reacted to the slightest change in both the wind and water with movements I could feel in the same way I could tell when Jonah moved beside me in bed. There was a floating sensation, as if I were being rearranged or adjusted. When the tide ebbed Rosinante was pushed up against the dock, tubular PVC fenders protecting the hull, and held there with, I suppose, the force of several tons of pressure. When the tide flowed, the boat went taut on the lines stretching to the dock’s galvanized cleats. I could hear these lines creaking and the slow groan of the boat’s timbers, each fastener taking its turn to moan. Some form of friction was constant. The current sliding off the hull, perhaps four inches from my head, gurgled, shushed, and occasionally popped. As I lay there a small electric motor turned on somewhere beneath me, beneath the sole, and I heard a stream of water falling into the river outside the hull. It lasted for perhaps thirty seconds and the motor shut off. The boat had peed. It was silly, but it made me smile.

Ah, the bilge pump. A boat-owner’s best friend.

I believe my heart has always found peace when near any body of water. Those two weeks aboard The Lady Mick, as well as a week on the Oregon Coast, in Little Whale Cove, were incredibly healing for both me and my husband after tragedy struck our family several years ago. Time became elusive and routines vanished as we drifted about in our thoughts and memories, lulled to sleep by the slapping of the water against the hull or to the distant echo of waves crashing against the rocky shoreline.

Joe Coomer captures this state of mind so adroitly:

I came across a love of moving water, an ebbing tide parting on the plumb bow of an old boat, and the sea passing swiftly along the waterline carried bits of seaweed, the body of a dead bird, a dark brown leaf, and a love that seemed necessary to me, to be near that abrasive current, the green swell and nascent gurgle. I thought I’d never be able to love anything again, anything other than the memory of my husband, and so I felt ashamed and queer kneeling there on the dock, my bag over one shoulder and a kitten inside my coat, looking down into the water of Portsmouth Harbor, and feeling for a moment, not sad.


I’d left home, quit my job. I was the only person on the planet, outside of Grace, who knew where I was. It felt safe. I’d left at least some of my grief a thousand miles away. Another delusion, another pretty thought, shimmering above my head like the reflection of light off the water that entered through the windows of my snug cabin, my constantly shifting home.

There is something cozy, almost cocoon-like, about living on a boat:

It was almost dark by the time I stepped back aboard the old cruiser. A passing boat rolled over a wake that rocked Rosinante at her berth, and I had the same queer sensation that she was alive when my foot touched her deck, that I’d stepped on something that breathed. The windows of the salon were fogged, but a dim light still shone from within. Heat and a faint smoke issued from the stack over the galley and was blown upriver. I pushed down on the brass lever with my free hand, and let myself in as quietly as possible. The mahogany table in front of the settee was set with silver, china and crystal, cloth napkins. Above the table an oil lamp that I’d thought was merely decorative was burning.

This was my first encounter with Joe Coomer and it won’t be the last. His main characters are sharply drawn, a bit quirky, and completely likeable. The plot and dialogue are both refreshing and engaging and I was sorry to see this lyrical story come to an end. What a wonderful film this would make!

If I were to ever win the lottery, the first thing I’d do is buy a house along the Oregon or Washington coast. Of course, I’d happily share the wealth with my husband, so the second thing I’d do is take him shopping for a boat. What more could we possible need?

October 7, 2011

{this moment}

A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. - Amanda Soule

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October 1, 2011

Body Surfing

Body Surfing by Anita Shreve
Fiction 2007 
Back Bay Books 
Finished 8/19/11 
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good) 

Publisher’s Blurb: 

At the age of twenty-nine, Sydney has already been once divorced and once widowed. Trying to regain her footing, she has signed on to tutor the teenage daughter of a well-to-do couple as they spend a sultry summer at their ocean-front New Hampshire cottage. But when the Edwardses’ two grown sons arrive at the beach house, Sydney finds herself caught in a destructive web of old tensions and bitter rivalries. As the brothers vie for her affections, the fragile existence Sydney has rebuilt is threatened. With the subtle wit, lyrical language, and brilliant insight into the human heart that are the hallmarks of her acclaimed fiction, Shreve weaves a novel about marriage, family, and the supreme courage it takes to love. 

I’d almost given up hope for finding another novel by Shreve that would entertain me as well as Fortune's Rocks and The Pilot's Wife, especially after my recent disappointment with Sea Glass and previous disappointments with A Wedding in December, Light on Snow, and The Weight of Water. While Body Surfing was not a stellar read in comparison to Fortune’s Rocks, it was highly enjoyable with likeable (and believable) characters who continue to haunt my thoughts. I zipped through this novel in less than four days, which is saying something, since lately I’ve been choosing afternoon bike rides over reading. Shreve pulled me in quickly with this opening scene:

Three o’clock, the dead hour. The faint irritation of sand grit between bare foot and floorboards. Wet towels hanging from bedposts and porch railings. A door, caught in a gust, slams, and someone near it emits the expected cry of surprise. A southwest wind, not the norm even in August, sends stifling air into the many rooms of the old summerhouse. The hope is for an east wind off the water, and periodically someone says it. An east wind now would be a godsend. 

And, yes, this is the same New Hampshire beach house in which Shreve sets her earlier books (The Pilot’s Wife, Fortune’s Rocks and Sea Glass). I love Shreve’s attention to detail in this passage. I can almost smell the salty air and hear the breakers crashing against the shoreline:

On the porch, red geraniums are artfully arranged against the lime-green of the dune grass, the blue of the water. Not quite primary colors, hues seen only in nature. Knife blades of grass pierce the wooden slats of the boardwalk. Sweet pea overtakes the thatch. Unwanted fists of thistle push upward from the sand. On the small deck at the end of the boardwalk are two white Adirondack chairs, difficult to get out of, and a faded umbrella lying behind them. Two rusted and immensely heavy iron bases for the umbrella sit in a corner, neither of which, Sydney guesses, will ever leave the deck. Wooden steps with no railing lead to a crescent-shaped beach to the left, a rocky coastline to the right. Sydney runs across the hot sand to the edge of the water. The surf is a series of sinuous rolls, and when she closes her eyes, she can hear the spray. She prepares herself for the cold. Better than electroshock therapy, Mr. Edwards always says, for clearing the head.

I lived in San Diego for 20 years and I spent as much time at the beach as I possibly could. I loved to go for long walks along the shore, allowing the waves to tickle my feet in the cooler months and diving beneath them during the lazy days of summer. I never learned how to surf with a board, but I loved to body surf and spent many hours in the water with my friends. We’d swim out past the breakers to a buoy and dive down to see if we could spot any garibaldi or other interesting fish and then turn back toward the beach, catching wave after wave until we were exhausted. Shreve not only captures the essence of this sport, but she could have been writing about any one of my experiences in the waves:

A seizure of frigid water, a roiling of white bubbles. The sting of salt in the sinuses as she surfaces. She stands and stumbles and stands again and shakes herself like a dog. She hugs her hands to her chest and relaxes only when her feet begin to numb. She dives once more, and when she comes up for air she turns onto her back, letting the waves, stronger and taller than they appear from shore, carry her up and over the crest and down again into the trough. She is buoyant flotsam, shocked into sensibility. She body surfs in the ocean, getting sand down the neckline of her suit. As a child, when she took off her bathing suit, she would find handfuls of sand in the crotch. She lowers herself into the ocean to wash away the mottled clumps against her stomach, but then she sees a good wave coming. She stands and turns her back to it and springs onto the crest. The trick always is to catch the crest. Hands pointed, eyes shut, she is a bullet through the white surge. She scrapes her naked hip and thigh against the bottom.

My friend, Nan, says she thinks I am meant to live by the sea and I do believe she’s right. Until I can figure out a way to do that, I’ll live vicariously through books like Body Surfing.

I love the UK cover art, don't you?