April 21, 2014

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
2013 Harper Audio
Reader: Neil Gaiman
Finished on 2/16/14
Rating: 4.5/5 (Terrific!)

Publisher’s Blurb:

Sussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn't thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she'd claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.

Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. Like a fuse on a firework, his death lit a touchpaper and resonated in unimaginable ways. The darkness was unleashed, something scary and thoroughly incomprehensible to a little boy. And Lettie—magical, comforting, wise beyond her years—promised to protect him, no matter what.

A groundbreaking work from a master, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is told with a rare understanding of all that makes us human, and shows the power of stories to reveal and shelter us from the darkness inside and out. It is a stirring, terrifying, and elegiac fable as delicate as a butterfly's wing and as menacing as a knife in the dark.

A brilliantly imaginative and poignant fairy tale from the modern master of wonder and terror, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is Neil Gaiman’s first new novel for adults since his #1 New York Times bestseller Anansi Boys. This bewitching and harrowing tale of mystery and survival, and memory and magic, makes the impossible all too real...

Move over, Jim Dale; I think I’m in love. Neil Gaiman has such a rich, smooth voice; I would happily listen to him read a Subaru service manual. What a fabulous performance (because, quite honestly that’s really what this experience felt like; not simply an author reading his book, but one who is telling you his story). I enjoyed it so much that I found myself listening to a track a second time, and I even considered listening to the entire book once again. I’ve only experienced one other book by Gaiman (The Graveyard Book) and now I’m eager to sample more from his backlist, especially if the audio books are narrated by the author.

Final Thoughts:

In a word, enchanting. This slim novel (a fairy tale for adults, really) is worth your time. Read it. Listen to it. Just don’t miss it!

April 18, 2014

Iron Lake

Iron Lake by William Kent Krueger
#1 in Cork O’Connor Series
1998 Atria
Finished on 2/14/14
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher’s Blurb:

Part Irish, part Anishinaabe Indian, Corcoran "Cork" O'Connor is the former sheriff of Aurora, Minnesota (population 3,752). Embittered over losing his job as a cop and over the marital meltdown that has separated him from his wife and children, Cork gets by on heavy doses of caffeine, nicotine, and guilt. Once a cop on Chicago's South Side, there's not much that can shock him. But when a powerful local politician is brutally murdered the same night a young Indian boy goes missing, Cork takes on a harrowing case of corruption, conspiracy, and scandal.

As a blizzard buries Aurora and an old medicine man warns of the arrival of a blood-thirsty mythic beast called the Windigo, Cork must dig for answers hard and fast before more people, among them those he loves, will die.

After reading William Kent Krueger’s amazing stand-alone novel, Ordinary Grace, I was anxious to try this debut novel in his Cork O’Connor series. After a bit of a slow start, I became more interested in the mystery, as well as in Cork’s past, and found the second half quite intense. I couldn’t put the book down and am now eager to try Boundary Waters.

On winter in Minnesota:

He’d always loved winter in the North Woods. The clean feel of a new snow. The icy air almost brittle in his nostrils. The way sound carried forever. He could hear Walleye barking a long way off as he parked his Bronco on the frozen lake, climbed the rocky slope of Crow’s Point, and made for Henry Meloux’s cabin. The world felt empty of everything except that sound.


He was intent on the trail of oil when out of the corner of his eye he caught a flash of orange at the far right fringe of his headlight beam. He realized it was one of the signs warning of open water ahead, and he pumped his brakes, fighting to keep from sliding into an uncontrolled spin as he attempted to turn the Bronco. He felt the wheels drift over the ice as the vehicle slid sideways. A brief, panicked vision came to him of the Bronco gliding unchecked off the ice and plunging into the black depths of Iron Lake. He eased the wheel into the spin and managed to regain control. From behind the curtain of falling snow ahead, the blackness of the open water came at him like a gaping mouth. He continued to slow and to bring the Bronco around. Then he heard the ice groan and crack beneath him. Steadily he pushed down on the accelerator, running parallel for a moment to the open water, trying to keep the weight of the Bronco moving ahead of the breaking ice. His right hand ached, but he held tight and carefully brought the wheel around until he was moving back to safety. He made a wide full circle. When he came across the black train of oil, he centered it in the beam of the headlight, illuminating the stretch of ice between him and the open water. He killed the engine and got out. He could hear wild flailing in the water ahead.

Final Thoughts:

I sort of hate to get interested in another series, as I have so many titles remaining to read in John Sandford’s “Prey” series, as well as the Jack Caffery series by Mo Hayder. However, Krueger is a skilled storyteller with beautiful phrasing (reminiscent of that of Dennis Lehane), and I’m curious to see what’s in store for Cork O’Connor. If you haven’t explored this author’s backlist, I recommend beginning with Ordinary Grace (did I mention I loved that novel?!) and then give Iron Lake a try. You won’t be disappointed.

April 15, 2014

The Silent Wife

The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison
2013 Blackstone Audio
Readers: Karen White and Donald Corren
Finished on 2/7/14
Rating: 2.5/5 (Fair)


Jodi and Todd are at a bad place in their marriage. Much is at stake, including the affluent life they lead in their beautiful waterfront condo in Chicago, as she, the killer, and he, the victim, rush haplessly toward the main event. He is a committed cheater. She lives and breathes denial. He exists in dual worlds. She likes to settle scores. He decides to play for keeps. She has nothing left to lose. Told in alternating voices, The Silent Wife is about a marriage in the throes of dissolution, a couple headed for catastrophe, concessions that can’t be made, and promises that won’t be kept. Expertly plotted and reminiscent of Gone Girl and These Things Hidden, The Silent Wife ensnares the reader from page one and does not let go.

I first learned of The Silent Wife when I read Bellezza’s enticing review last summer. I loved Gone Girl, so I was anxious to dip into another psychological thriller when I saw that this was being compared to Gillian Flynn’s blockbuster hit. I listened to the audio version of this slim novel and unfortunately was not as impressed as other readers. It’s been two months since I finished the book and I have only a slight memory of the plot! Was I so distracted with my work that I failed to become fully invested in the narrative? Would I have had a greater appreciation for the story if I had read the print edition? Reading through reviews posted online, my memory of this book is slowly awakened. I now remember that I didn’t care for either character, but Todd in particular was completely unlikeable for obvious reasons. Jodi is also flawed and I never felt sympathetic to her plight. The pacing was uneven and I was disappointed at the anticlimactic ending, having anticipated a strong twist at the end.

Final Thoughts:

This may have been a case of poor timing or the wrong format, but it’s not one I plan to read again, nor can I recommend it to others. I didn’t care for either of the audio readers, so if you’re curious, I suggest getting the print version from your library.

A. S. A. Harrison was the author of four books of nonfiction. The Silent Wife is her debut novel and she was at work on a new psychological thriller when she died in 2013. She lived with her husband, visual artist John Massey, in Toronto, Canada.

April 13, 2014

Gratitude Lately

Lately, I've been thankful for

Safe landings on windy runways

New (to me) restaurants in airport terminals

  Goofy mascots welcoming me back

Peaceful mornings at Mom's
in Little Whale Cove

Oceanfront hotels with million-dollar views

 Early morning walks with only the seagulls

Crashing waves against rocky cliffs

  Rooms with views and a delicious Cab

Mornings with nothing to do
but gaze at the sea

Fish tacos and rainy afternoons

Favorite brews in new restaurants

And, in-flight programming on flights home.

Happy Sunday, friends.
What are you grateful for this week?

April 12, 2014

Still Life with Bread Crumbs

Still Life with Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen
2014 Random House
Finished on 2/4/14
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher’s Blurb:

Still Life with Bread Crumbs begins with an imagined gunshot and ends with a new tin roof. Between the two is a wry and knowing portrait of Rebecca Winter, a photographer whose work made her an unlikely heroine for many women. Her career is now descendent, her bank balance shaky, and she has fled the city for the middle of nowhere. There she discovers, in a tree stand with a roofer named Jim Bates, that what she sees through a camera lens is not all there is to life.

Brilliantly written, powerfully observed, Still Life with Bread Crumbs is a deeply moving and often very funny story of unexpected love, and a stunningly crafted journey into the life of a woman, her heart, her mind, her days, as she discovers that life is a story with many levels, a story that is longer and more exciting than she ever imagined.

It’s been four years since I read Quindlen’s amazing novel, Every Last One. That book took my breath away! It sucker-punched with me with its too-close-for-comfort plot and has stayed with me ever since the day I finished. I’ve read other novels and works of nonfiction by Quindlen, yet Every Last One remains my favorite. I was so excited when I received an ARC of Still Life with Bread Crumbs (love the cover art!) and had high hopes for another winner, but as far as I was concerned, this new one missed the mark. It was entertaining and held my interest, but something was lacking, keeping me from running out to buy the hardcover edition when it hit the shelves. In spite of my slight disappointment, Quindlen remains one of my favorite authors, tapping into the psyche of women my age.

On aging (and heart attacks):

There were nights when she woke with a barbed-wire fence of minor but undeniable pain around her heart, and she rehearsed what she’d eaten that day—raisin bran, peanut butter and jelly sandwich, chicken and rice, the cuisine of a freshman at boarding school—and convinced herself that it was indigestion, then wondered if she was having the female version of a heart attack, which she had been told was often overlooked, which seemed right since her experience was that women overlooked most of what their hearts told them. In the morning she felt fine except for the fact that she had made her hands into little paws beneath her cheek and they had gone numb at the wrists. In recent years what she missed most about her youth was sleep, that ability to fall into a hole of unconsciousness and land, softly and without sensation, at the bottom, to awake ten hours later rested and with skin remarkably uncreased.

On becoming:

She had been so relieved when the car had turned in to the bumpy gravel drive, when she saw the dog emerge from the back shed, when she opened the door to what had become a familiar smell of old woodsmoke, mildew, and vegetable soup. One day she had been out walking and she had wondered whether she’d become a different person in the last year, maybe because of what Paige Whittington had said about the dog pictures. Then when she really thought about it she realized she’d been becoming different people for as long as she could remember but had never really noticed, or had put it down to moods, or marriage, or motherhood. The problem was that she’d thought that at a certain point she would be a finished product. Now she wasn’t sure what that might be, especially when she considered how sure she had been about it at various times in the past, and how wrong she’d been. She considered the weight at the foot of the bed. For how many years had she said confidently that she was not a dog person? It just goes to show, whatever that meant. Her father had used that expression all the time. It just goes to show, sweetheart!

Final Thoughts:

While not as impressive as Every Last One (and maybe One True Thing), Still Life with Bread Crumbs is certainly a worthwhile read and one that I enjoyed a great deal. It may be a few more years before she publishes another novel, but meanwhile I still have Quindlen’s Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake in my stacks. Can’t wait!

April 9, 2014

Wordless Wednesday

Port Orford, Oregon

Florence, Oregon

Charleston, Oregon