January 31, 2016

A Month in Summary - January 2016

Whoohoo! I finished eight books, six of which I already owned before the year began. Not bad for the first month of 2016!

Unremarried Widow by Artis Henderson (own - ARC) 4/5

The Secret Place by Tana French (borrowed - audio & print) 2/5

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah (own - ARC) 4.5/5

Wildflower by Drew Barrymore (borrowed - audio) 4/5

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd (own - audio) 4.5/5

What Comes Next and How to Like It by Abigail Thomas (own - ARC) 4.5/5

Like Family by Paolo Giordono (own) 3.5/5

Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg (own - ebook) 2.5/5


Triple Dog Dare Challenge - 6/8 books read from my own stacks (but 2 were audio books, so I believe I stuck to my goal)

8 books
4 novels
1 mysteries
3 memoirs
4 new-to-me-authors 
5 print
1 ebook
3 audio
6 female
2 male 
2 borrowed
6 from my stacks 

Favorite of the Month: The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

Reviews to follow 

January 28, 2016

Looking Back - Sense & Sensibility

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.

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
Fiction - Classic
Originally Published: 1811
1996 Barnes and Noble Books
Finished in January 1996
Rating:3/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

The first of Jane Austen's published novels, Sense and Sensibility portrays the life and loves of two starkly different sisters: Elinor and Marianne Dashwood.

The elder Elinor is the epitome of prudence, discretion, and self-control, while Marianne embodies emotion, openness, and enthusiasm. This contrast results in their attraction to men of vastly different characters--and sparks family and societal dramas that are played out around their contrasting romances.

Secrets, betrayals, and confessions soon complicate the story, whose goal is nothing less than the achievement of perfect happiness. Beyond the polar differences between the two sisters' characters lies the universal dilemma of balancing what we owe to other human beings and our own needs.

In this classic novel, Austen--the most insightful and, at the same time, most entertaining of novelists--demonstrates her gift for irony, which gives her portrayal of ordinary life the heft of profound drama. As in every great work of literature, the philosophical resolution of this one is ambiguous: It is for the reader to decide whether sense and sensibility have truly merged--if life and love can really coexist.

My Original Notes:

Read this for my newly created "Book Group" (Linda Thomas, Nancy Wood and myself). Started off slow, but eventually caught my interest. Similar to Edith Wharton (privileged upper class). Lots of thought spent on acquiring a husband of wealth and importance. Somewhat trivial, yet apparently accurate for the time. Sparked interest to now read Pride and Prejudice.

We had a wonderful, two-hour long discussion about the book. We all enjoyed it and are excited to see the new movie tonight!

My Current Thoughts:

I'm sure this will cause gasps from some of you, but I have to admit that I'm not a big fan of Jane Austen's books. As I recall, I struggled with this novel, preferring Edith Wharton's works to Austen's. I have no recollection of this book and while I know I saw the film (starring Emma Thompson and Hugh Grant), I still couldn't tell you what it's about.

Should I re-read it, now that 20 years have passed (and I am, hopefully, a more mature reader than I was back then) or should I simply watch the movie(s) and call it good? 

I didn't rate the book back in 1996, but given that it wasn't that remarkable, today I will give it an average rating.

January 26, 2016

Wordless Wednesday {more or less}

A Trip of a Lifetime {Day Three - Wachau Valley}

Sunrise over the Danube

One of the many locks (66 to be exact) we sailed through. 
If this was in Altenword, it's 52.48 feet high.

Looking back before the lock gate closes.

Watching the lock fill.

Heading out.

MS A'Rosa Mia

A (state)room with a view.

Cruising through the Wachau Valley.

Durnstein Abbey and Trifels Castle.

January 24, 2016

Leaving Time

Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult
2014 Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group
Read by Rebecca Lowman, Abigail Revasch, Kathe Mazur, and Mark Deakins
Finished on July 15, 2015
Rating: 4.5/5 (Very Good!)

Publisher's Blurb:

A mother's love.
A daughter's search for truth.
A mystery that will not rest…

Throughout her blockbuster career, #1
New York Times bestselling author Jodi Picoult has seamlessly blended nuanced characters, riveting plots, and rich prose, brilliantly creating stories that "not only provoke the mind but touch the flawed souls in all of us" (The Boston Globe). Now, in her highly anticipated new book, she has delivered her most affecting novel yet—and one unlike anything she's written before.

For more than a decade, Jenna Metcalf has never stopped thinking about her mother, Alice, who mysteriously disappeared in the wake of a tragic accident. Refusing to believe that she would be abandoned as a young child, Jenna searches for her mother regularly online and pores over the pages of Alice's old journals. A scientist who studied grief among elephants, Alice wrote mostly of her research among the animals she loved, yet Jenna hopes the entries will provide a clue to her mother's whereabouts.

Desperate to find the truth, Jenna enlists two unlikely allies in her quest. The first is Serenity Jones, a psychic who rose to fame finding missing persons—only to later doubt her gifts. The second is Virgil Stanhope, a jaded private detective who originally investigated Alice's case along with the strange, possibly linked death of one of her colleagues. As the three work together to uncover what happened to Alice, they realize that in asking hard questions, they'll have to face even harder answers.

As Jenna's memories dovetail with the events in her mother's journals, the story races to a mesmerizing finish. A deeply moving, gripping, and intelligent page-turner, Leaving Time is Jodi Picoult at the height of her powers.

It's been a while since I've read a book by Picoult, and even though I started to figure out the surprise ending before it was revealed, I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this audiobook! I'd love to go back and re-read the book from the very beginning to see what clues I might have missed.

One minor quibble: The three readers were all very good, although I do wish they read their individual parts even during the alternating chapters (which are told by one of the other two characters). It was a bit jarring to listening to one reader use a different voice for one of the characters after getting used to that particular character's voice.

Final Thoughts:

I loved this book! Picoult is a consummate storyteller and I've yet to be disappointed by any of her novels. Leaving Time is thought-provoking and one to read more than once and share with friends. It would make for a great book club discussion, too.

Go here to watch a National Geographic interview with the author.

January 21, 2016

Looking Back - Chicken Soup for the Soul

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.

Chicken Soup for the Soul by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen
1993 HCI
Finished in January 1996
Rating: 3/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

Two of America's best-loved inspirational speakers share the very best of their collected stories and favorite tales that have touched the hearts of people everywhere. Canfield and Hansen bring you wit and wisdom, hope and empowerment to buoy you through life's dark moments.

My Original Notes:

Short, 1-3 page reflections or stories on life. Heart-warming. Inspiration. Good, light reading, but not great. Actually, pretty sappy stuff.

My Current Thoughts:

I have no idea why I chose to read this book 20 years ago! Mind you, this was before online book clubs, blogging, Goodreads, etc. I didn't belong to a book club and I hadn't started my career as a bookseller. Stephen King, John Grisham, Sidney Sheldon and, yes, Danielle Steel were my authors of choice. Let's just say I'm forever grateful for all the wonderful book recommendations I've received from fellow book lovers over the past two decades, and I can honestly say I will never read another Chicken Soup book again. Not my cuppa soup tea!

The Husband's Secret

The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty
2013 Dreamscape Media, LLC
Read by Caroline Lee
Finished on June 30, 2015
Rating: 3.5/5 (Good)


Publisher's Blurb:

At the heart of The Husband’s Secret is a letter that’s not meant to be read

My darling Cecilia, if you’re reading this, then I’ve died. . .

Imagine that your husband wrote you a letter, to be opened after his death. Imagine, too, that the letter contains his deepest, darkest secret—something with the potential to destroy not just the life you built together, but the lives of others as well. Imagine, then, that you stumble across that letter while your husband is still very much alive. . . .

Cecilia Fitzpatrick has achieved it all—she’s an incredibly successful businesswoman, a pillar of her small community, and a devoted wife and mother. Her life is as orderly and spotless as her home. But that letter is about to change everything, and not just for her: Rachel and Tess barely know Cecilia—or each other—but they too are about to feel the earth-shattering repercussions of her husband’s secret.

Acclaimed author Liane Moriarty has written a gripping, thought-provoking novel about how well it is really possible to know our spouses—and, ultimately, ourselves.

Entertaining, yet easily forgettable. So much so, that I'm struggling to remember exactly what was the secret! I enjoy Moriarty's writing and snappy dialogue, and loved What Alice Forgot, but these are not the sort of books that I'll ever read a second time. In a word, beachread!

January 17, 2016

Mailbox Monday

Why yes, I did get some new books last week! I didn't buy them, as I'm trying to stick to my plan to read only from my stacks. However, these ARCs showed up at work and I couldn't resist bringing them home. They both sound very good and I'll probably dive into them sometime this summer.

I've not read anything by Lisa Lutz, but this blurb caught my eye:
A sharp, clever, and utterly compelling thriller about a woman running from the mistakes and misfortunes of her past. Terrific. ~ Chris Pavone, New York Times bestselling author of The Expats and The Accident
And, after reading the following blurb, I knew I had to give Anna and the Swallow Man a chance. 
Not unlike another novel I edited, Markus Zusak's The Book Thief, this is a story about growing up--all the way up--during a time of monumental change. I am incredibly proud to share Anna and the Swallow Man with you. It deserves a space on the top shelf, where the most brilliant books live to be read and cherished time and time again. ~Erin Clarke, Executive Editor, Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers.

The Passenger is due out on March 1, 2016. Anna and The Swallow Man will hit the shelves on January 26, 2016. Oh, goodness. Maybe I'll sneak these in before summer. They both sound very, very good.

What arrived in your mailbox this week? 

Click on the titles for more information.

Find more Mailbox Monday posts here.

January 14, 2016

Looking Back - The Sewing Room

Looking Back... In an effort to transfer my book journal entries over to this blog, I'm going to attempt to post (in chronological order) an entry every Friday. I may or may not add extra commentary to what I jotted down in these journals.

The Sewing Room by Rev. Barbara Cawthorne Crafton
Nonfiction - Essays
1993 Viking
Finished January 1996
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good!)

A lovely book... honest, funny, sad... impossible to put down. ~ Madeline L'Engle


In these insightful essays, Barbara Cawthorne Crafton reflects on a broad range of experiences ministering among merchant seafarers, the homeless, the bereaved, AIDS patients, and others in need of personal and spiritual help. She shares honestly her own emotions as she grapples with the harsh realities of the world, while delighting in the humor and joy found in everyday living.

Crafton compassionately recounts the unique stories of the men, women, and children she worked with during her service as a port chaplain in New York and New Jersey and as a minister at Trinity Church on Wall Street. In doing so, she weaves together threads of the mundane and the traumatic, the lovely and the ugly, and the down to earth and the holy, creating an original tapestry of the richness of life.

My Original Notes:

My mother gave me this book; both she and my grandmother read it and highly recommended it. Nice short essays. "Uncommon reflections on life, love, and work." Some reminded me so much of my grandmother... Strange to know she was reading this just a few weeks before her death.

My Current Thoughts: 

I've had a draft of this post for several years now. Every time I start to share it, I find myself flipping through the pages of the book, re-reading passages, wondering why some spoke to me back in 1996, while others are still just as powerful as they were 20 years ago. I rarely re-read books, but maybe this is the year.

On the passage of years:
But years pass again, and life changes. Love comes again. Marriage. My youngest child is almost grown, and I am astonished at how brief this era, almost past, has been. How brief my life has been. I am aware that the decades left to me will seem even briefer, so they had better be sweet. If I do not capture and celebrate what art I have, it will die. If I do not nourish myself, I will yearn for nourishment. If I do not connect myself with my own past in the things I do now, I will remain adrift from it. Those whom I have loved in the past cannot catch hold of me, for they are dead. It is I who must catch them.
On the loss of a child: 
How long has it been since your son died, he asks? Five years. The man looks at my husband and tries to imagine himself surviving five years of this. He can't. He asks if it gets any easier. It gets different, my husband answers. Not exactly easier. It's hard to explain.
On parental worry:
Separateness with love, though, recognizing that my child is a separate person with a destiny separate from my own, a destiny I cannot completely control:  that's frightening.
... Now you know other fears at night. The stakes are a lot higher. Fears that don't spring from a neurotic need to control everything, but from an accurate assessment of what the world is like. The world is sometimes a dangerous place in which to live. There are things out there that can really hurt your child. And so, you worry.
On imperfection:
I told them that it is good to have one's faults unambiguously revealed from time to time, in order that one may know wherein it is that we are acceptable. It is not in our perfection that we are loved. It is in the honest confession of our imperfection. Our clear conscience does not come from our assurance that we have not sinned. It comes from our assurance that we are forgiveable. 

From Publishers Weekly:
This collection of reflective essays reveals the many-sided life of a pioneering female Episcopal minister. Currently on staff at the Seaman's Church Institute in New York City, Crafton is a wife, mother and grandmother whose ministry has taken her to comfortable suburban and large urban parishes as well as to the waterfront. The essays, "a string of people's moments," illuminate these phases of her life as Crafton ruminates on the human condition and the passage of time. In a book that ranges widely--from homelessness to a remarried parent--two especially compelling essays on dying stand out. "To Be or Not to Be" weighs the death with dignity/death with technology impasse, emphasizing the great desire for life. "If I Should Die Before I Wake" urges acceptance of the inevitable, which frees people to live in the moment. Expressing an ecumenical and gently feminist sensibility, Crafton touches on important human concerns with light grace and common sense.

From Library Journal:
This collection of about 40 simple but profound short essays are reflections on human experience by an Episcopal priest and mother who has been a port chaplain at the New York Seamen's Church Institute as well as a priest at Trinity Church on Wall Street. Often, her essays quietly deal with conflict between her feminist politics--which, as the title essay explains, led her to denigrate her grandmother's sewing accomplishments--and her awareness of life's brevity and the creativity she needs to express--via sewing. Other essays include "My Mother and I Have Gotten Along Really Well Since She Died" and "Ted Who Has AIDS." Highly recommended for public and church libraries.

January 13, 2016

Wordless Wednesday

A different view in Oregon...

January 12, 2016

Etta and Otto and Russell and James

Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper
2015 Simon & Schuster
Finished on June 23, 2015
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good!)

Publisher's Blurb:

"Otto, I've gone. I've never seen the water, so I've gone there. Don't worry, I've left you the truck. I can walk. I will try to remember to come back."

Eighty-three-year-old Etta has never seen the ocean. So early one morning she takes a rifle, some chocolate, and her best boots and begins walking the 3,232 kilometers from rural Saskatchewan, Canada eastward to the sea. As Etta walks further toward the crashing waves, the lines among memory, illusion, and reality blur.

Otto wakes to a note left on the kitchen table. “I will try to remember to come back,” Etta writes to her husband. Otto has seen the ocean, having crossed the Atlantic years ago to fight in a far-away war. He understands. But with Etta gone, the memories come crowding in and Otto struggles to keep them at bay. Meanwhile, their neighbor Russell has spent his whole life trying to keep up with Otto and loving Etta from afar. Russell insists on finding Etta, wherever she’s gone. Leaving his own farm will be the first act of defiance in his life.

Moving from the hot and dry present of a quiet Canadian farm to a dusty, burnt past of hunger, war, and passion, from trying to remember to trying to forget, Etta and Otto and Russell and James is an astounding literary debut “of deep longing, for reinvention and self-discovery, as well as for the past and for love and for the boundless unknown” (San Francisco Chronicle). “In this haunting debut, set in a starkly beautiful landscape, Hooper delineates the stories of Etta and the men she loved (Otto and Russell) as they intertwine through youth and wartime and into old age. It’s a lovely book you’ll want to linger over” (People)

Don't you just love it when you discover (or a co-worker helps you discover) one of those "under-the-radar" books and it turns out to be one of your favorites for the year? This is what happened when I picked up Emma Hooper's debut novel, Etta and Otto and Russell and James. Lately, I've found myself drawn to books about older characters, and not knowing a whole lot about Saskatchewan (in spite of being Canadian), and falling in love with the quirky cover art with the postmark and the hiker and dog, this novel appealed to me before even cracking the spine.

Final Thoughts:

Told in alternating points-of-view and spanning the years from WWI to the late 20th century, this page-turner deserves attention. Part fantasy, part poetry, and part historical fiction, Etta and Otto and Russell and James is a beautiful tale about love and memory. A very enjoyable debut, which begs to be discussed with friends. I look forward to more by Emma Hooper!

January 10, 2016

{Gratitude Lately}

Lately, I've been thankful for

Good friends 
who make birthdays more fun

Friday nights 
with homemade pizza 
and a movie

from two special people 
in Southern California

A job that helps me 
justify my fondness 
for wine and chocolate

Sweet memories 
of a Christmas past

Fun memes 
on Instagram

Birthday gifts 
from thoughtful friends

Time to read
before lights out

Favorite foods
that I could eat

Cozy afternoons 
that require nothing more
than a cup of tea

New bourbon 
to keep us warm 
on a frigid night 
(-17 windchill!)

and this man, 
who never once hesitates 
to venture out with this pup, 
no matter how damn cold it is!

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

For more Gratitude posts, click here.