April 28, 2018

The Children's Crusade

The Children's Crusade by Ann Packer
2015 Scribner
Finished on October 13, 2017
Rating: 4.5/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

From the New York Times bestselling, award-winning author of The Dive From Clausen's Pier, a sweeping, masterful new novel that explores the secrets and desires, the remnant wounds and saving graces of one California family, over the course of five decades.

Bill Blair finds the land by accident, three wooded acres in a rustic community south of San Francisco. The year is 1954, long before anyone will call this area Silicon Valley. Struck by a vision of the family he has yet to create, Bill buys the property on a whim. In Penny Greenway he finds a suitable wife, a woman whose yearning attitude toward life seems compelling and answerable, and they marry and have four children. Yet Penny is a mercurial housewife, at a time when women chafed at the conventions imposed on them. She finds salvation in art, but the cost is high.

Thirty years later, the three oldest Blair children, adults now and still living near the family home, are disrupted by the return of the youngest, whose sudden presence and all-too-familiar troubles force a reckoning with who they are, separately and together, and set off a struggle over the family's future. One by one, the siblings take turns telling the story--Robert, a doctor like their father; Rebecca, a psychiatrist; Ryan, a schoolteacher; and James, the malcontent, the problem child, the only one who hasn't settled down-their narratives interwoven with portraits of the family at crucial points in their history.

In spite of the depressing nature of the plot and the unlikeable characters, I loved this novel. I could easily picture the house and surrounding land in which Packer sets her story because it sounds so much like my grandparents' property in Woodside, CA. Packer writes beautifully and I think this character driven story would make a marvelous movie. It certainly provided a lot of material for my book club discussion. Highly recommend!

April 26, 2018

A Celibate Season

A Celibate Season by Carol Shields and Blanche Howard
1991 Penguin Books
Finished on September 9, 2017
Rating: 4.5/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

A passionate and profound portrait of marriage -- told entirely through letters -- from two award-winning authors.

"In retrospect it seems somewhat wacky to me that... we didn't stop to consider the problems that might accompany ten months of celibate life."

For Jocelyn and Charles, the demands of family and career mean a ten-month separation, during which they decide to communicate with one another by writing letters. Each finds this intimate and exhilarating, as they are able to reveal things that would never be spoken aloud. Yet as the months pass, their letters depict two very distinct views of their time apart -- and of their marriage. As the separation begins to unravel the threads that bind their marriage together, we bear witness to the evolution and eventually the breakdown of communication. For their "season of celibacy," as they originally joked, is proving to be more of a challenge than either had ever imagined, one that tests the strength of their marriage and their commitment to one another.

I am a huge fan of epistolary novels and A Celibate Season didn't disappoint! I enjoyed this slim book, although it got a little bogged down with the details of Jock's (Jocelyn) job with the Commission in Ottawa. I was not happy with the last few letters (I almost threw the book across the room!) in which there was a turn of events that I wasn't expecting and left me feeling disappointed with both the characters and the authors. And yet, I was satisfied with the conclusion of the story and believe it's a book I will want to read again at a later date.

April 23, 2018

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Not much of anything! It's been a month since I last posted what I was reading, but we were on a three-week long road trip and I rarely get any reading time in when we travel. Too much to see and do!

I read a few more pages of Travels With Charley and would have read more, but I needed to concentrate on my book club selection since we would be home in time for that meeting.

I read Inside the O'Briens back in 2015 (you can find my review here), but I wanted to read it again before book club so it would be fresh in my mind. Unfortunately, I only managed to read about half of the book, but I still enjoyed hearing everyone's thoughts on the subject. Most of the women in my group knew one of the neighbors who had Huntington's Disease (and has since passed away), so there was lots to talk about with regard to that disease, as well as Alzheimers, ALS, and Parkinson's. We all agreed that Lisa Genova knows her subject matter and is a great author, as well. I'm still enjoying this re-read, but it may be the only book I finish in April!

I'm still listening to The Great Alone and am anxious to get back out on the walking trails so I can spend more time listening to this book.

What about you? Are you reading anything wonderful?
It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? (#IMWAYR) is hosted by Kathryn at Book Date. It’s a place to meet up and share what you have been, are, and about to be reading over the week. It’s a great post to organize yourself. It’s an opportunity to visit and comment, and er… add to that ever-growing TBR pile! This meme started with J Kaye’s Blog and then was taken up by Sheila from Book Journey. Sheila then passed it on to Kathryn at Book Date.

Last Week's Month's Posts:

Olympic Peninsula Trip - Day Twelve (Part One)

Looking Back - Their Fathers' God by O.E. Rolvaag

A Month in Summary - March 2018

Wordless Wednesday - Highway 1 (Sonoma County)

Looking Back - The Rapture of Canaan by Sheri Reynolds

Looking Back - A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines

Under the Harrow by Flynn Berry

Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen

April 22, 2018

Lost Lake

Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen
2015 St. Martin's Griffin (first published 2014)
Finished on August 29, 2017
Rating: 2/5 (OK)

Publisher's Blurb:

An enchantingly romantic and magical novel by the New York Times bestselling author of GARDEN SPELLS and THE GIRL WHO CHASED THE MOON.

It happens one morning - Kate finally wakes up from the slumber she's been in since her husband's death a year ago. Feeling a fresh sense of desire to take control of her and her young daughter's life, she decides to visit Suley, Georgia - home to Lost Lake. It's where Kate spent one of the happiest summers of her life as a child. She's not sure what she expects to find there, but it's not a rundown place full of ghosts and other curious oddities. Kate's Aunt Eby, Lost Lake's owner, wants to sell the old place and move on. Lost Lake's magic is gone. As Kate discovers that time has a way of standing still at Lost Lake, can she bring the cottages - as well as her heart and the hearts of all the guests - back to life? Because sometimes lost loves aren't really lost. They're just waiting for you to find them again.

I read this on and off for two months. It was an easy enough read (and could have been read in two days rather than two months!), but it just didn't pull me in enough to keep me reading while on vacation or hosting guests during the summer months. I was glad to finally finish! I've only read one other by this author (Garden Spells) and I think I had a similar reaction. Good, but nothing great. 

*Just checked my review for Garden Spells and it looks like I enjoyed it quite a bit more than this one!

April 14, 2018

Under the Harrow

Under the Harrow by Flynn Berry
2016 Penguin Books
Finished on August 20, 2017
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

When Nora takes the train from London to visit her sister in the countryside, she expects to find her waiting at the station, or at home cooking dinner. But when she walks into Rachel’s familiar house, what she finds is entirely different: her sister has been the victim of a brutal murder.

Stunned and adrift, Nora finds she can’t return to her former life. An unsolved assault in the past has shaken her faith in the police, and she can’t trust them to find her sister’s killer. Haunted by the murder and the secrets that surround it, Nora is under the harrow: distressed and in danger. As Nora’s fear turns to obsession, she becomes as unrecognizable as the sister her investigation uncovers.

A riveting psychological thriller and a haunting exploration of the fierce love between two sisters, the distortions of grief, and the terrifying power of the past, Under the Harrow marks the debut of an extraordinary new writer.

I waited too long to write this review and now I only have a vague recollection of the plot. I'm not even certain of how it ended, but I do know that I thought it was a very good psychological thriller. It kept me guessing (and second-guessing) all the way to the end. I also remember that it was very creepy in the opening pages and the atmospheric setting added to the tension. I'm looking forward to Berry's next release, A Double Life, which is due out this summer.

April 13, 2018

Looking Back - A Lesson Before Dying

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.

A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines
1993 Vintage
Finished in September 1997
Rating: 3/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

A Lesson Before Dying is set in a small Cajun community in the late 1940s. Jefferson, a young black man, is an unwitting party to a liquor store shoot out in which three men are killed; the only survivor, he is convicted of murder and sentenced to death. Grant Wiggins, who left his hometown for the university, has returned to the plantation school to teach. As he struggles with his decision whether to stay or escape to another state, his aunt and Jefferson's godmother persuade him to visit Jefferson in his cell and impart his learning and his pride to Jefferson before his death. In the end, the two men forge a bond as they both come to understand the simple heroism of resisting and defying the expected. Ernest J. Gaines brings to this novel the same rich sense of place, the same deep understanding of the human psyche, and the same compassion for a people and their struggle that have informed his previous, highly praised works of fiction.

My Original Notes (1997):

A well-written novel about racism and injustice in the 1940s. Lots of imagery. This is the type of book to be taught in high school. Very moving. Stays with you long after you finish reading it.

My Current Thoughts:

This would be a good book to read and discuss in conjunction with Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson.

April 6, 2018

Looking Back - The Rapture of Canaan

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 Rapture of Canaan by Sheri Reynolds
1995 Berkley Books
Finished on September 23, 1997
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

Members of the Church of Fire and Brimstone and God's Almighty Baptizing Wind spend their days and nights serving the Lord and waiting for the Rapture--that moment just before the Second Coming of Christ when the saved will be lifted bodily to heaven and the damned will be left behind to face the thousand years of tribulation on earth. The tribulation, according to Grandpa Herman, founder of Fire and Brimstone, will be an ugly time: "He said that we'd run out of food. That big bugs would chase us around and sting us with their tails . . . He said we'd turn on the faucet in the bathroom and find only blood running out . . . He said evil multitudes would come unto us and cut off our limbs, and that we wouldn't die . . . And then he'd say, 'But you don't have to be left behind. You can go straight to Heaven with all of God's special children if you'll only open your hearts to Jesus . . .'"

Such talk of damnation weighs heavy on the mind of Ninah Huff, the 15-year-old narrator of Sheri Reynolds's second novel, The Rapture of Canaan. To distract her from sinful thoughts about her prayer partner James, Ninah puts pecan shells in her shoes and nettles in her bed. But concentrating on the Passion of Jesus cannot, in the end, deter Ninah and James from their passion for each other, and the consequences prove both tragic and transforming for the entire community.

The Rapture of Canaan is a book about miracles, and in writing it, Reynolds has performed something of a miracle herself. Although the church's beliefs and practices may seem extreme (sleeping in an open grave, mortifying the flesh with barbed wire), its members are complex and profoundly sympathetic as they wrestle with the contradictions of Fire and Brimstone's theology, the temptations of the outside world, and the frailties of the human heart.

My Original Notes (1997):

Very good! I really enjoyed this novel. I was furious with the religious fanaticism and the cruel punishments, but what an interesting story. I particularly liked the characters of Ninah and Nana. Grandpa was so easy to hate. I'd like to read her other two books now.

My Current Thoughts:

I only have a slight recollection of this book, but I do know that I went on to read A Gracious Plenty by Reynolds. She's written others, but I haven't read anything else by her.

April 4, 2018

Wordless Wednesday

Highway 1 (north of Bodega Bay)
Sonoma County, California
April 2, 2018

For more Wordless Wednesday, click here.