January 30, 2017

The Boys in the Boat

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown
Nonfiction - Nautical
2013 Penguin Audio
Read by Edward Herrmann
Finished on September 19, 2016
Rating: 2/5 (Fair)

Publisher's Blurb:

For readers of Laura Hillenbrand's Seabiscuit and Unbroken, the dramatic story of the American rowing team that stunned the world at Hitler's 1936 Berlin Olympics

Daniel James Brown’s robust book tells the story of the University of Washington’s 1936 eight-oar crew and their epic quest for an Olympic gold medal, a team that transformed the sport and grabbed the attention of millions of Americans. The sons of loggers, shipyard workers, and farmers, the boys defeated elite rivals first from eastern and British universities and finally the German crew rowing for Adolf Hitler in the Olympic games in Berlin, 1936.

The emotional heart of the story lies with one rower, Joe Rantz, a teenager without family or prospects, who rows not for glory, but to regain his shattered self-regard and to find a place he can call home. The crew is assembled by an enigmatic coach and mentored by a visionary, eccentric British boat builder, but it is their trust in each other that makes them a victorious team. They remind the country of what can be done when everyone quite literally pulls together—a perfect melding of commitment, determination, and optimism.

Drawing on the boys’ own diaries and journals, their photos and memories of a once-in-a-lifetime shared dream, The Boys in the Boat is an irresistible story about beating the odds and finding hope in the most desperate of times—the improbable, intimate story of nine working-class boys from the American west who, in the depths of the Great Depression, showed the world what true grit really meant. It will appeal to readers of Erik Larson, Timothy Egan, James Bradley, and David Halberstam's The Amateurs.

This really should have been a 5-star book for me, what with the perfect ingredients of boats and the Pacific Northwest setting. I love being on and around the water and have spent a bit of time on Lake Union in Seattle. 10 years ago, I sat on the aft deck of my dad and stepmom's boat, watching several groups of rowers make their way back and forth across the lake. I was quite envious! I've never rowed in a scull, but I owned a kayak for a few years and enjoyed paddling around on a local lake. I've always thought rowing would be a great way to be out on the water, not to mention the great workout.

So when I first learned about Brown's book, I was intrigued. Hearing that the book reads like a novel made it even more appealing. I started out with the print edition, but couldn't get interested, so I moved on to the audio. I thought the book started off a little slow, but I stuck with it, hoping things would pick up as the Olympics drew closer. I was interested in the sections that dealt with Germany and the preparations for the Olympics, but otherwise, the details about the rowing and the boys' lives became tedious to listen to. Edward Hermann did a fine job with the narration, but I found my mind wandering and really had to force myself to pay attention. 

Final Thoughts:

It took me almost three weeks to listen to 14 1/2 hours of narration and I have to say, I was glad to be finished. It's certainly not a bad book, but it wasn't what I was expecting. I thought I was in the minority, but my husband (who loves everything nautical and preferably nonfiction) didn't even finish reading it, so I don't feel too badly for giving it such a low rating.

January 26, 2017

Looking Back - Bless Me, Ultima

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.

Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo A. Anaya
1972 TQS Publications
Finished on February 10, 1997
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

Stories filled with wonder and the haunting beauty of his culture have helped make Rudolfo Anaya the father of Chicano literature in English, and his tales fairly shimmer with the lyric richness of his prose. Acclaimed in both Spanish and English, Anaya is perhaps best loved for his classic bestseller ... Antonio Marez is six years old when Ultima comes to stay with his family in New Mexico. She is a curandera, one who cures with herbs and magic. Under her wise wing, Tony will test the bonds that tie him to his people, and discover himself in the pagan past, in his father's wisdom, and in his mother's Catholicism. And at each life turn there is Ultima, who delivered Tony into the world-and will nurture the birth of his soul.

My Original Notes (1997):

Another book assigned in my Plains Lit. Class. Very good! A story of a seven-year-old Chicano boy growing up in New Mexico around 1945. Very interesting look at the devotion of Catholicism blended with pagen mysticism. Suspenseful. Sad. Beautifully written. Lyrical. I'm ready to read more of Anaya's works, such as Tortuga and a collection of short stories. Beautiful descriptions of the llano and nature in New Mexico.

My Current Thoughts:

I remember how much I loved reading and studying this novel for my Great Plains Literature course at the university. It was my first exposure to magical realism and I was spellbound! Thumbing through my copy, I have to chuckle at all the notations and underlined passages. I was such an eager student, wanting to understand everything about this book--the symbolism, biblical imagery, and the legends and superstitions of Antonio's people. There are a lot of untranslated Spanish words and phrases, which required careful translation, but now that I have those noted in the margins, reading it a second time shouldn't be too difficult. This is definitely a book I will read again!

January 25, 2017

The Woman in Cabin 10

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware
2016 Gallery/Scout Press
Finished on September 1, 2016
Rating: 2/5 (Fair)

Publisher's Blurb:

From New York Times bestselling author of the “twisty-mystery” (Vulture) novel In a Dark, Dark Wood, comes The Woman in Cabin 10, an equally suspenseful novel from Ruth Ware—this time, set at sea.

In this tightly wound story, Lo Blacklock, a journalist who writes for a travel magazine, has just been given the assignment of a lifetime: a week on a luxury cruise with only a handful of cabins. At first, Lo’s stay is nothing but pleasant: the cabins are plush, the dinner parties are sparkling, and the guests are elegant. But as the week wears on, frigid winds whip the deck, gray skies fall, and Lo witnesses what she can only describe as a nightmare: a woman being thrown overboard. The problem? All passengers remain accounted for—and so, the ship sails on as if nothing has happened, despite Lo’s desperate attempts to convey that something (or someone) has gone terribly, terribly wrong…

With surprising twists and a setting that proves as uncomfortably claustrophobic as it is eerily beautiful, Ruth Ware offers up another intense read.

The Woman in Cabin 10 starts off very well. I think the opening chapters are even better than those of her debut novel, In a Dark, Dark Wood. Unfortunately, by the halfway mark, the pacing begins to slow down and I start to grow impatient with Lo's internal whining. The first person narrative is what ultimately ruined this thriller for me, not to mention yet another drunk girl as an unreliable witness. I'm tired of this set-up!

Final Thoughts:

I love thrillers and was pretty disappointed that Ware couldn't maintain the momentum of her story line. Having recently read Murder on the Orient Express, I found myself comparing this modern thriller to that of Agatha Christie's classic, curious if the author was inspired by Agatha. Too bad she can't ask her for some pointers.

January 23, 2017

They May Not Mean To, But They Do

They May Not Mean To, But They Do by Cathleen Schine
2016 Macmillan Audio
Read by Cynthia Darlow
Finished on August 31, 2016
Rating: 3.5/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

Joy Bergman is not slipping into old age with the quiet grace her children, Molly and Daniel, would prefer. She won't take their advice, and she won't take an antidepressant. Her marriage to their father, Aaron, has lasted through health and dementia, as well as some phenomenally lousy business decisions. The Bergman clan has always stuck together, growing as it incorporated in-laws, ex-in-laws, and same-sex spouses. But families don't just grow, they grow old.

Cathleen Schine's They May Not Mean To, But They Do is a tender, sometimes hilarious intergenerational story about searching for where you belong as your family changes with age.

When Aaron dies, Molly and Daniel have no shortage of solutions for their mother's loneliness and despair, but there is one challenge they did not count on: the reappearance of an ardent suitor from Joy's college days. They didn't count on Joy suddenly becoming as willful and rebellious as their own kids.

With sympathy, humor, and truth, Schine explores the intrusion of old age into a large and loving family. They May Not Mean To, But They Do is a radiantly compassionate look at three generations, all coming of age together.

Recommended by a fellow blogger (JoAnn, I believe), I decided to give the audio version of this book a try. It wasn't bad, but I didn't love it. The reader did a great job, but some sentiments and thoughts about aging rang true and were painfully sad to hear. At times, the reality of this book made me uncomfortable as both a child of an aging parent and as a parent of an adult child. This would be a great book to discuss in a book club along with Being Mortal. Overall, They May Not Mean To, But They Do is both a sad and humorous look at aging.

January 21, 2017

Dark Matter

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch
2016 Crown
Finished on August 26, 2016
Rating: 4.5/5 (Terrific!)

Publisher's Blurb:

“Are you happy with your life?”

Those are the last words Jason Dessen hears before the masked abductor knocks him unconscious.

Before he awakens to find himself strapped to a gurney, surrounded by strangers in hazmat suits.

Before a man Jason’s never met smiles down at him and says, “Welcome back, my friend.”

In this world he’s woken up to, Jason’s life is not the one he knows. His wife is not his wife. His son was never born. And Jason is not an ordinary college physics professor, but a celebrated genius who has achieved something remarkable. Something impossible.

Is it this world or the other that’s the dream? And even if the home he remembers is real, how can Jason possibly make it back to the family he loves? The answers lie in a journey more wondrous and horrifying than anything he could’ve imagined—one that will force him to confront the darkest parts of himself even as he battles a terrifying, seemingly unbeatable foe.

From the author of the bestselling Wayward Pines trilogy, Dark Matter is a brilliantly plotted tale that is at once sweeping and intimate, mind-bendingly strange and profoundly human—a relentlessly surprising science-fiction thriller about choices, paths not taken, and how far we’ll go to claim the lives we dream of.

This book should come with a warning on the cover: Do not read at night if you are susceptible to bizarre dreams about alternate universes and questionable realities. If this doesn't present a problem for you, read away, but beware. You'll feel exhausted from lack of sleep, as you won't be able to put the book down! Dark Matter is an utterly engrossing thriller with perfect pacing and intensity. It's the proverbial page-turner. While I didn't understand a lot (ok, most) of the science, I didn't get bogged down by it either. Crouch's snappy dialogue and pacing create an experience that is sure to play out on the big screen, hopefully in the not too distant future. Or in a not-too-distant alternate reality.

January 20, 2017

The Sixth Idea

The Sixth Idea by P.J. Tracy
Monkeewrench, #7
2016 G.P. Putnam's Sons
Finished on August 20, 2016
Rating: 2/5 (Fair)

Publisher's Blurb:

The peaceful Christmas season in Minneapolis is shattered when two friends, Chuck Spencer and Wally Luntz, scheduled to meet in person for the first time, are murdered on the same night, two hours and several miles apart, dramatically concluding winter vacation for homicide detectives Leo Magozzi and Gino Rolseth.

An hour north of Minneapolis, Lydia Ascher comes home to find two dead men in her basement. When Leo and Gino discover her connection to their current cases, they suspect that she is a target, too. The same day, an elderly, terminally ill man is kidnapped from his home, an Alzheimer’s patient goes missing from his care facility, and a baffling link among all the crimes emerges.

This series of inexplicable events sends the detectives sixty years into the past to search for answers—and straight to Grace MacBride’s Monkeewrench, a group of eccentric computer geniuses who devote their time and resources to helping the cops solve the unsolvable. What they find is an unimaginable horror—a dormant Armageddon that might be activated at any moment unless Grace and her partners Annie, Roadrunner, and Harley Davidson, along with Leo and Gino, can find a way to stop it.

This highly anticipated installment in the Monkeewrench series was a terrible disappointment. The story lacked tension and seemed unnecessarily drawn out. I was curious enough to finish, but overall, it was not worth my time.  If you're a fan of the Monkeewrench crew and want to see what's in store for these characters, I suggest you get a copy of the book at your library. I doubt it's one you'll read twice.

January 19, 2017

Looking Back - Absolute Power

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.

Absolute Power by David Baldacci
1995 Warner Books
Finished on January 31, 1997
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

Absolute Corruption. In a heavily guarded mansion in a posh Virginia suburb, a man and a woman start to make love, trapping a burglar behind a secret wall. Then the passion turns deadly, and the witness is running into the night. Because what he has just seen is a brutal slaying involving the President of the United States.

Absolute Danger. Luther Whitney is the career break-in artist who's in the wrong place at the wrong time. Alan Richmond is the charming U.S. president with the power to commit any crime. And Jack Graham is the young attorney, caught in a vortex between the absolute truth--and...

Absolute Power. A tale of greed, sex, ambition, and murder, this is the novel everyone has been talking about...the shattering, relentlessly suspenseful thriller that will change the way you think about Washington--and power--forever.

My Original Notes (1997):

Excellent novel! Right up there with Patricia Cornwell and John Grisham. Very suspenseful. I read it in about a week, whenever I could squeeze it in between school work and housework. Can't wait to see the movie (Clint Eastwood's in it!).

My Current Thoughts:

I have no recollection of this book at all. Glad I was entertained by it, but I don't have any desire to give it a second read. Brain candy.

January 18, 2017

The Girl with All the Gifts

The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey
Science Fiction
2014 Hachette Audio
Read by Finty Williams
Finished on August 16, 2016
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

Melanie is a very special girl. Dr. Caldwell calls her "our little genius."

Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant Parks keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don't like her. She jokes that she won't bite, but they don't laugh.

Melanie loves school. She loves learning about spelling and sums and the world outside the classroom and the children's cells. She tells her favorite teacher all the things she'll do when she grows up. Melanie doesn't know why this makes Miss Justineau look sad.

The Girl with All the Gifts is a sensational thriller, perfect for fans of Stephen King, Justin Cronin, and Neil Gaiman.

I chose to read The Girl with All the Gifts after hearing two of my coworkers give it high praise. After listening to a sample of the audio on Audible.com, I decided to go with the audio, as the reader is outstanding. I thoroughly enjoyed the book, eager to return to it whenever time would allow.

I love the way the author describes the following scene in which the children see flowers, perhaps for the very first time in their young lives.
...It's kind of ugly, Melanie thinks, but absolutely fascinating. Especially when Miss Justineau explains that the little green balls are buds--and they'll turn into leaves and cover the whole tree in green, as though it's put a summer dress on.

But there's a lot more stuff in the bag, and when Miss Justineau starts to unpack it, the whole class stares in awe. Because the bag is full of colours--starburst and wheels and whorls of dazzling brightness that are as fine and complex in their structures as the branch is, only much more symmetrical. Flowers.

"Red campion," Miss Justineau says, holding up a spray that's not red at all but sort of purple, each petal forked into two like the footprint of an animal in a tracking chart Melanie saw once.

"Rosemary." White fingers and green fingers, all laced together like your hands clasped together in your lap when you're nervous and you don't want to fidget.

"Daffodils." Yellow tubes like the trumpets angels blow in the old pictures in Miss Justineau's books, but with fringed lips so delicate they move when Miss Justineau breathes on them.

"Medlar." White spheres in dense clusters, each one made out of overlapping petals that are curved and nested on themselves, and open at one end to show something inside that looks like a tiny model of more flowers.

The children are hypnotised. It's spring in the classroom. It's equinox, with the world balanced between winter and summer, life and death, like a spinning ball balanced on the tip of someone's finger.
The ending was somewhat anticlimactic and I was left wanting more (perhaps there's a sequel in the works?), but overall it was a very good book. It's not for the faint of heart, but it will more than likely appeal to fans of The Walking Dead and Justin Cronin's Passage trilogy. I'm eager to see the movie, but after watching the trailer I know it will be something I'll want to watch on a weekend afternoon. I'm too easily scared and don't want to have nightmares!

M. R. Carey is a pen name for an established British writer of prose fiction and comic books. He has written for both DC and Marvel, including critically acclaimed runs on X-Men and Fantastic Four, Marvel’s flagship superhero titles. His creator-owned books regularly appear in the New York Times graphic fiction bestseller list. He also has several previous novels and one Hollywood movie screenplay to his credit.

January 17, 2017

Wordless Wednesday


A winter's day, in a deep and dark December...

January 16, 2017

The Things We Keep

The Things We Keep by Sally Hepworth
2016 St. Martin's Press
Finished on August 10, 2016
Rating: 3.5/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

Anna Forster, in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease at only thirty-eight years old, knows that her family is doing what they believe to be best when they take her to Rosalind House, an assisted living facility. She also knows there's just one other resident her age, Luke. What she does not expect is the love that blossoms between her and Luke even as she resists her new life at Rosalind House. As her disease steals more and more of her memory, Anna fights to hold on to what she knows, including her relationship with Luke.

When Eve Bennett is suddenly thrust into the role of single mother she finds herself putting her culinary training to use at Rosalind house. When she meets Anna and Luke she is moved by the bond the pair has forged. But when a tragic incident leads Anna's and Luke's families to separate them, Eve finds herself questioning what she is willing to risk to help them. 

Well, that's what I get for not reviewing a book as soon as I finish reading it! Until I read the publisher's blurb, I had zero recollection of either the plot or the characters. The Things We Keep was certainly not as good (or as memorable) as Still Alice, which is also about a character with early onset Alzheimer's. The Things We Keep is told from three points of view, one of which felt contrived and predictable. I feel that Hepworth only scratched the surface of what could have been a very good examination of dementia/Alzheimer's. Ultimately, The Things We Keep left me wanting more substance and less fluff.

January 15, 2017

Keeping the Feast

Keeping the Feast: One Couple's Story of Love, Food and Healing in Italy by Paula Butturini
Nonfiction - Memoir
2010 Riverhead Books
Finished on July 28, 2016
Rating: 2/5 (Fair)

Publisher's Blurb:

Paula Butturini and John Tagliabue met as foreign correspondents in Italy, fell in love, and four years later, married in Rome. But not even a month after the wedding, tragedy struck. They had transferred away from their Italian paradise when John was shot and nearly killed on the job. The period of physical and mental suffering that followed marked the abrupt end of what they'd known together and the beginning of a phase of life neither had planned for.

They followed their instincts and returned to the place they loved, Italy, and there they found a lifeline of sorts. As John struggled to regain his health and Paula reexamined her assumptions about illness and recovery, it was food and its rituals--the daily shopping, preparing, sharing, and memory of food--that kept them moving forward. Food became a symbol of the family's innate desire to survive, to accept, and to celebrate what fell its way.

Keeping the Feast is an inspiring story of what happens when tragedy strikes a previously happy marriage and a couple must fight to find its bearings. It is a testament to the extraordinary sustaining powers of food and love, to the healing that can come from the simple rituals of life, even during life's biggest challenges, and to the stubborn belief that there is always an afterward, always hope.

My dear friend Meredith sent me this book waaaay back in 2010. I was so excited to read it, but as we all know, reading is driven by moods and for whatever reason, this book didn't call out to me as quickly as I thought it would. It languished in the bookcase until I finally decided the time was right. It was summertime and I was eager for some armchair travel, so I dove in and was quickly transported to Italy.
We moved into a small apartment near the Tiber on one of those golden October days so perfect that you could never imagine willingly leaving the city again. Every morning I would walk down our narrow street toward the hubbub of Campo dei Fiori, where the flower sellers, the fruit vendors, the vegetable sellers, the fishmongers, the mushroom lady, the bread shop, the lamb and chicken lady, the pork butcher, the notions man, the meat vans, the olive and herbs vendors, the newspaper kiosk, the housewares stand, and the roving garlic salesmen from Bangladesh were always open for business no matter how early I awakened.

Morning after morning for an entire year, I walked to the Campo before most people were up. Noisy, honking, shouting Rome is almost quiet at that hour, and what began as a simple routine soon took on the trappings of ritual. I woke up early, dressed, walked out the door and over to the Campo. I would buy a shiny, plump purple-black eggplant. Or a handful of slender green beans, or fresh and young you could eat them raw. I brought three golden pear, or a heavy bunch of fat, green grapes. I bought a few slices of Milanese salami, a bit of veal. I bought a thin slab of creamy gorgonzola, to spread on crusty, still-warm bread. I bought milk, yogurt, butter, and eggs, and finally the newspapers. Then I would head home, stopping in the tiny church of Santa Brigida, which lay halfway between the Campo and our apartment. The first few months, I would rest my bundles on the cold marble floor, kneel for a moment at the back of the church under the gaze of a painted Madonna, and try not to cry. Months later, I would still kneel for a moment in the same spot, but when I felt the tears coming, I'd make a fist and pound once or twice on the pew in front of me. It made a fitting, hollow sound in the almost empty church. Then I would collect my bundles and continue my short walk home.

I needed both parts of the ritual, the buying of the food and the stopping in the church. We all must eat, and there is nothing more normal than buying the food that keeps us alive. When I performed the ritual of buying our daily bread, the world seemed more normal. Pounding a pew a few minutes later brought home how far from normal I still felt.

Buttarini's memoir isn't just about food and living in Italy. It's about a terrible act of violence. I found myself nodding in agreement.

Years later, I still have difficulty even connecting them to a shooting. Shootings, I still like to think, happen to drug dealers or innocent passerby in New York, to foreign tourists visiting Miami. They happen to people who clean guns or keep them under their beds. They happen to soldiers, to policemen, to mafiosi, to people who have enemies. They don't happen to my husband, my family, to me. I suspect my response of utter disbelief is standard for anyone who hasn't been blindsided by some sort of shock: the sudden diagnosis of a rampaging cancer, the overnight loss of a family's life savings. Shocks like these hammer the notion that a history of good luck is no amulet for the future.

But she does write some mouth-watering passages about food that had me reaching for my Post-It notes and longing to move to Italy!

John and I quickly fell into a routine of meeting Joseph on the terrace that overlooked the lake to eat our meals together. We started around eight, with thick slices of crusty country bread, with butter and jams from the garden's fruit trees, perhaps a bit of cheese or yogurt with honey from the hives that stood below the house, and mugs of strong, milky tea. After working in the garden or doing other small chores, we met again for "elevenses," milky coffee and a couple of simple, store-bought cookies, so we could keep our hunger at bay till the main midday meal about one p.m. I happily took on the cooking: a simple pasta or risotto to start; then a bit of sauteed veal or chicken and a vegetable from the garden; a green salad tossed with olive oil, lemon, and sugar--as Joseph liked it--then fruit, followed by the inevitable siesta.

Final Thoughts:

I love a good foodie memoir, but about halfway into this book, I began to lose interest. Hating to give up on a book that so many of my friends raved about, I pushed on, hoping to finish with at least a 3-star rating. I enjoyed the descriptions of the food and meals shared with family and friends, but Keeping the Feast is such a bleak story. The author was beaten, her husband shot, her mother suffered from depression and then her husband dealt with the same, and on and on it goes. I decided to take a break for about a month, but after that I didn't have any desire to finish the book. So much for a 3-star rating.

January 14, 2017

The Life We Bury

The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens
2015 Tantor Audio
Read by Zach Villa
Finished on July 26, 2016
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

College student Joe Talbert has the modest goal of completing a writing assignment for an English class. His task is to interview a stranger and write a brief biography of the person. With deadlines looming, Joe heads to a nearby nursing home to find a willing subject. There he meets Carl Iverson, and soon nothing in Joe's life is ever the same.

Carl is a dying Vietnam veteran--and a convicted murderer. With only a few months to live, he has been medically paroled to a nursing home, after spending thirty years in prison for the crimes of rape and murder.

As Joe writes about Carl's life, especially Carl's valor in Vietnam, he cannot reconcile the heroism of the soldier with the despicable acts of the convict. Joe, along with his skeptical female neighbor, throws himself into uncovering the truth, but he is hamstrung in his efforts by having to deal with his dangerously dysfunctional mother, the guilt of leaving his autistic brother vulnerable, and a haunting childhood memory.

Thread by thread, Joe unravels the tapestry of Carl’s conviction. But as he and Lila dig deeper into the circumstances of the crime, the stakes grow higher. Will Joe discover the truth before it’s too late to escape the fallout?

The Life We Bury is a well-written mystery that held my interest and kept me guessing. It’s been a long time since I’ve read such an intelligent and compelling mystery and this particular book reminded me a little bit of William Kent Krueger's stand-alone, Ordinary Grace, which I loved. Zach Villa is a new reader for me and I was very impressed with his performance. All in all, a great listening experience. I'm anxious to try more by Eskens and I'm pleased to see he has two more for me to read. Kind of nice to discover a writer before he's written two or three dozen books!

January 13, 2017

Before the Fall

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley
2016 Hachette Audio
Read by Robert Petkoff
Finished on July 18, 2016
Rating: 3/5 (So-so)

Publisher's Blurb:

On a foggy summer night, eleven people--ten privileged, one down-on-his-luck painter--depart Martha's Vineyard headed for New York. Sixteen minutes later, the unthinkable happens: the passengers disappear into the ocean. The only survivors are Scott Burroughs--the painter--and a four-year-old boy, who is now the last remaining member of a wealthy and powerful media mogul's family.

With chapters weaving between the aftermath of the tragedy and the backstories of the passengers and crew members--including a Wall Street titan and his wife, a Texan-born party boy just in from London, a young woman questioning her path in life, and a career pilot--the mystery surrounding the crash heightens. As the passengers' intrigues unravel, odd coincidences point to a conspiracy: Was it merely dumb chance that so many influential people perished? Or was something far more sinister at work? Events soon threaten to spiral out of control in an escalating storm of media outrage and accusations--all while the reader draws closer and closer to uncovering the truth.

The fragile relationship between Scott and the young boy glows at the heart of this novel, raising questions of fate, human nature, and the inextricable ties that bind us together.

I listened to the audio edition of this mystery/thriller, which is told in alternating points-of-view. The reader was quite good, but the big reveal was anticlimactic and an overall disappointment after investing almost an entire month to listen.

January 12, 2017

Looking Back - The Way to Rainy Mountain

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 Way to Rainy Mountain by N. Scott Momaday
1976 by Turtleback Books (first published 1969)
Finished on February 2, 1997
Rating: 3/5 (Good)

From Wikipedia:

The Way to Rainy Mountain (1969) is a book by Pulitzer Prize winning author N. Scott Momaday. It is about the journey of Momaday's Kiowa ancestors from their ancient beginnings in the Montana area to their final war and surrender to the United States Cavalry at Fort Sill, and subsequent resettlement near Rainy Mountain, Oklahoma.

The Way to Rainy Mountain, a unique blend of history, folklore, and poetic memoir, was published in 1969. It takes the reader through author N. Scott Momaday’s own journey of discovering his Kiowa background and identity. The journey is told in three separate voices: The first voice, the ancestral voice, tells about the Kiowa by using oral traditions and myths; the second voice is a historical commentary; and finally, the third voice is Momaday’s poetic memoir of his experiences. All three voices together teach about the Kiowa’s origin, beliefs, traditions, morals, and conflicts. Not only does the journey recounted in this book help Momaday better understand his ancestry, it also teaches about the Kiowa tribe’s history. The uniqueness of this text, however, has been an issue for some readers; they claim it is confusing to follow and discombobulating. Others find it easier to understand by reading each individual voice consecutively instead of alternating from one voice to another as the book is written. The Way to Rainy Mountain continues to be an entry point to Kiowa history and a way to open discussions about what constitutes any history of a people.

My Original Notes (1997):

Very interesting. Quite different. A 3 part narrative about the Kiowa Indians. One part was legend or folklore. Another part was history or factual. The third part was the author's memories or thoughts. I read this book for my Plains Lit. class. Actually, I read it about 4 times (it's quite short) and got more out of it each time.

My Current Thoughts:

We spent quite a bit of time in my Great Plains Literature class studying the Kiowa Indians. I wound up giving my oral presentation on the Kiowa and as I mentioned above, I read The Way to Rainy Mountain several times, partly to gather information for my presentation, but mainly to make sense of the unique narrative. I no longer own a copy of the book, but I know it's still available and will have to take a look at it at work one of these days.

January 10, 2017

Wordless Wednesday

I never grow weary of this view!

January 8, 2017

Mountain Time

Mountain Time by Ivan Doig
1999 Scribner
Finished on June 27, 2016
Rating: 3/5 (So-so)

Publisher's Blurb:

At fifty-something, environmental reporter Mitch Rozier has grown estranged from Seattle's coffee shop and cyber culture. His newspaper is going under, and his relationship with Lexa McCaskill is stalled at "just living together." Then, he is summoned by his sly, exasperating father, Lyle, back to the family land, which Lyle plans to sell in the latest of his get-rich schemes before dying. Lexa follows, accompanied by her sister Mariah, and the stage is set for long-overdue confrontations -- between lovers, sisters, and father and son. Mountain Time is distinguished by humor and a wry insight into the power of family feuds to mark individuals and endure. Set against the glorious backdrop of Montana mountain country, it is a dazzling novel of love, family, and the contemporary West.

I don't believe I've ever read anything by Ivan Doig, but I know he was quite revered as an writer of the American West.

Ivan’s work earned him comparisons to Wallace Stegner, from whom he inherited the informal title “dean of Western Writers.” Indeed, the Center for the American West awarded Ivan the prestigious Wallace Stegner Award in 2007, and he was the recipient of the Western Literature Association’s lifetime Distinguished Achievement award. He is the recipient of more awards from the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association than any other writer, among numerous other honors. (from his website)

Doig passed away on April 9, 2015 and I still hadn't read any of his books, so this past summer I finally pulled an ARC (printed in 1999!) of Mountain Time off my shelf and settled in to be wowed. I was quite impressed with Doig's beautiful, poetic passages and would often stop to read them a second time, more slowly, and again maybe a third time, out loud to my husband.  

Whether these particular mountains were thinking or not, they were showing unclouded brows as they paraded past the right-hand wingtip when Mitch flew back to Seattle in the morning.

Lassen and Shasta, Jefferson and Hood, Adams and Rainier, the fire alps of the Cascade Range shone in the sun one after another, dormant pyramids of glacier and snow higher than hell and once upon a time as potent. He knew that on a day this drastically clear even the lonesome cone to the north, blue-white Mount Baker, would be out and waiting to make its appearance when the plane hooked above Lake Washington into the SeaTac landing pattern. 


This was her most regular route, down past the Ballard taverns favored by Henry Ingvaldson and the other old vikings of drink and then across the ship canal locks and up through a shoreline neighborhood to a grove of alders along the railroad tracks where great blue herons nested. This she had figured out for herself, that the gorgeous featherduster birds populating the waterways of Seattle must have a heronry not too far, and she had watched their flight patterns to find the spot. 

She had her binoculars on the treetop stick nests and the floppy young birds--Come on, Junior, poke your head up a tad more--when the seaplanes started going over. Nine A.M. sharp, Lexa knew without having to check her watch, the Lake Union float-plane fleet launching. A minute apart, they laboriously skied the sky, following the ship canal out to Puget Sound and then purring off northward to weekend places in the San Juan Islands. Seattle wasn't as overrun with seaplanes as Alaska, but close.

Sky as clear as a vacationing meteorologist's conscience, sailboats sprinkled on either side of the floating bridge across Lake Washington like white tepees on a vast blue prairie, Mount Rainier sitting passive and massive over Seattle's southern horizon, even the chain-link commuter traffic grinding along less glacially than during most so-called rush hours- Mitch could scarcely believe such a death spiral of a day could yield an evening like this.

Final Thoughts:

Mountain Time is a nonlinear narrative (not my favorite), set in the Pacific Northwest (definitely my favorite!). The story begins in the Seattle area, but moves on to Montana. I enjoyed the beautiful writing, but the plot wasn't as compelling as when the focus was on the Pacific Northwest. Sadly, I was ready to be finished with this book at the halfway point. I do still want to try another one of his novels and welcome any recommendations.

All photos are mine and were taken on various trips to the Pacific Northwest.