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December 31, 2018

The Woman in the Window

UPDATE:

Just learned about this upcoming movie release. Should be very good with that great cast!

Release Date: October 4, 2019
Based On: The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn
Director: Joe Wright
Cast: Amy Adams, Julianne Moore, Gary Oldman, Wyatt Russell, Brian Tyree Henry, Fred Hechinger, Anthony Mackie
Synopsis: Anna Fox is an agoraphobic child psychologist who hasn’t left her home in 10 months. Her only view of outside world is via her window, through which she begins to watch her new neighbors, the Russells. Anna witnesses a crime while spying on her neighbors, leaving her with the decision of whether or not to alert the police.




The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn
Thriller
2018 William Morrow
Finished on March 26, 2018
Rating: 4.5/5 (Very Good!)

Publisher's Blurb:

Anna Fox lives alone—a recluse in her New York City home, unable to venture outside. She spends her day drinking wine (maybe too much), watching old movies, recalling happier times . . . and spying on her neighbors.

Then the Russells move into the house across the way: a father, a mother, their teenage son. The perfect family. But when Anna, gazing out her window one night, sees something she shouldn’t, her world begins to crumble—and its shocking secrets are laid bare.

What is real? What is imagined? Who is in danger? Who is in control? In this diabolically gripping thriller, no one—and nothing—is what it seems.

WOW! If I hadn't been so distracted with travel plans, I could have easily curled up with this psychological thriller and read it from cover to cover in a single day. I love this sort of mystery/thriller and I can even overlook the overdone "main character who drinks at least two bottles of wine a day, plus self-medicates with a variety of pills, and may or may not be a reliable narrator," as we've seen in so many of these books since Gone Girl and Girl on the Train. The Woman in the Window is a great psychological thriller, although I figured things out early on. Maybe that's what made it so good; in spite of my sleuthing abilities, which proved me correct, I still couldn't put the book down! I will be on the lookout for more by A.J. Finn.

December 30, 2018

On Chesil Beach



On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan
Fiction
2007 Nan A. Talese
Finished on March 19, 2018
Rating: 2/5 (Fair)

Publisher's Blurb:

It is July 1962. Florence is a talented musician who dreams of a career on the concert stage and of the perfect life she will create with Edward, an earnest young history student at University College of London, who unexpectedly wooed and won her heart. Newly married that morning, both virgins, Edward and Florence arrive at a hotel on the Dorset coast. At dinner in their rooms they struggle to suppress their worries about the wedding night to come. Edward, eager for rapture, frets over Florence’s response to his advances and nurses a private fear of failure, while Florence’s anxieties run deeper: she is overcome by sheer disgust at the idea of physical contact, but dreads disappointing her husband when they finally lie down together in the honeymoon suite.

Ian McEwan has caught with understanding and compassion the innocence of Edward and Florence at a time when marriage was presumed to be the outward sign of maturity and independence. On Chesil Beach is another masterwork from McEwan—a story of lives transformed by a gesture not made or a word not spoken.


I have read several books by Ian McEwan and decided to pick up a copy of On Chesil Beach at my library after learning that the movie was soon to be released on Netflix. I quickly fell into this novel late one evening, not wanting to set it down and go to sleep, but finally did. Sadly, the book started off nicely, but wound up being a dud. I didn't care for either of the characters and had to force myself to finish, which wasn't difficult since it's such a short book. Had it been any longer, I probably would have called it quits. I'm not sure why I continue to read this author's works since I've only really loved one of his novels. Next time I'm inclined to read another book by McEwan, I'll save myself some frustration and just re-read Atonement.

December 29, 2018

This Is How It Always Is



This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel
Fiction
2017 Flatiron Books
Finished on March 17, 2018
Rating: 5/5 (Excellent!)

Publisher's Blurb:

This is how a family keeps a secret…and how that secret ends up keeping them.

This is how a family lives happily ever after…until happily ever after becomes complicated.

This is how children change…and then change the world.

This is Claude. He’s five years old, the youngest of five brothers, and loves peanut butter sandwiches. He also loves wearing a dress, and dreams of being a princess.

When he grows up, Claude says, he wants to be a girl.

Rosie and Penn want Claude to be whoever Claude wants to be. They’re just not sure they’re ready to share that with the world. Soon the entire family is keeping Claude’s secret. Until one day it explodes.

This Is How It Always Is is a novel about revelations, transformations, fairy tales, and family. And it’s about the ways this is how it always is: Change is always hard and miraculous and hard again, parenting is always a leap into the unknown with crossed fingers and full hearts, children grow but not always according to plan. And families with secrets don’t get to keep them forever.

This was an outstanding novel! Frankel's writing is so engaging, reminding me of that of Anna Quindlen and Marissa de los Santos. I started reading the book late one night and couldn't put it down. This is one you'll want to discuss with others and I plan to recommend it to my book club. Now I'm eager to read more by Frankel and delve into her blog archives. Sadly (maybe she's busy writing another novel?) her blog posts ended a year ago.

Favorite passages: 
Penn knew in his heart that Claude should be who he was. But he also knew that Claude would be happier if neither his clothes nor his sandwich nor the bag it came out of attracted anyone's attention because another thing his heart knew was this: it was more complicated than that. Five years of Orion wearing all manner of weird stuff to school had occasioned not so much as a raised third eyebrow from anyone. "What an imaginative boy Orion is," his teachers said. "His spirit brightens everyone's day." If an eyeball sticker was creative self-expression, surely Claude should wear what he wanted to school. How could you say yes to webbed feet but no to a dress, yes to being who you were but no to dressing like him? How did you teach your small human that it's what's inside that counts when the truth was everyone was pretty preoccupied with what you put on over the outside too?
and

Rosie felt only fear. Rosie felt deafened by the voices howling in her head that she was mad to consent to this, that it was her judgment which was not to be trusted. And underneath that cacophony she could just make out the narrator who pointed quite peaceably to the fork in the road before them. The path on the right was paved and shady, rolling gently along a childhood filled with acceptance to an adulthood marked by requited love, grandchildren, and joy, whereas the other path was rock-strewn and windblown, uphill both directions, and led she had no idea where. Here she was at the crossroads letting her baby boy run blindly down the path on the left (in a skirt and heels) while the narrator looked on reprovingly.

and
"Never," Penn agreed. "Not ever. Not once. You never know. You only guess. This is how it always is. You have to make these huge decisions on behalf of your kid, this tiny human whose fate and future is entirely in your hands, who trusts you to know what's good and right and then to be able to make that happen. You never have enough information. You don't get to see the future. And if you screw up, if with your incomplete, contradictory information you make the wrong call, well, nothing less than your child's entire future and happiness is at stake. It's impossible. It's heartbreaking. It's maddening. But there's no alternative."
Told with great compassion and sensitivity, This is How It Always Is is one of the best book I read this year. While at times heartbreaking, all in all it's a very powerful and uplifting story. I loved it. 



"This is How It Always Is in an incredible read that speaks to the heart of what it means to love and be loved by family."
―Amazon Best Book of January 2017

"Brave, complicated, occasionally horrifying and frequently very funny…Frankel is a first-rate storyteller."
―The Seattle Times

“Frankel has tackled this controversial topic in a warm, funny and honest way and one that will undoubtedly spark thought and conversation.”
--The Fort Worth Star-Telegram

December 28, 2018

Looking Back - Underfoot in Show Business

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.



Underfoot in Show Business by Helene Hanff
Nonfiction
1962 Harper & Row
Finished in January 1998
Rating: 1/5 (Poor)

Publisher's Blurb:

The countless admirers of Helen Hanff's 84, Charing Cross Road will welcome this delightful account of her early days as a struggling writer on the edge of show business.

When she became an apprentice playwright with new York's prestigious Theatre Guild Helene was high on the champagne of her hopes. What did she care about living chiefly on coffee in meagre bed-sitters when she could always borrow her best friend's best blouse for lunch with a producer and was meeting awe-inspiring people. She was young, stage-struck and determined to have fun.


My Original Notes (1998):

Boring! Not anything like her two other books. Skimmed a lot and don't recommend it at all.

My Current Thoughts:


No longer on my shelf and certainly no desire to read this one again.

December 27, 2018

The Soul of an Octopus


The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery
Nonfiction
2015 Atria
Finished on March 13, 2018
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

Popular naturalist Sy Montgomery explores the emotional and physical world of the octopus, the remarkable connections it makes with people, and the vibrant community that arises around this complex, intelligent, and spirited creature. Practicing true immersion journalism, from New England aquarium tanks to the reefs of French Polynesia and the Gulf of Mexico, Montgomery befriends individual octopuses with strikingly different personalities--gentle Athena, assertive Octavia, curious Kali, and joyful Karma--who show their cleverness in myriad ways: escaping enclosures, creative trickery to get food, and jetting water to bounce balls.

Montgomery also chronicles scientists' growing appreciation of the octopus's problem-solving as she tells a love story. By turns funny, entertaining, touching, and profound, The Soul of an Octopus reveals what octopuses can teach us about the meeting of two very different minds.


I'll be honest. When my book club picked this book for one of our selections this year, I was less than enthusiastic. Maybe it was the subtitle (A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness) that turned me off. Or maybe it's just that I've never been a fan of octopuses. (No, octopuses, not octopi, as I later learned.) While visiting aquariums, I usually only give the octopus tank a cursory glance before moving on to the otter or penguin exhibits. Not anymore! I loved Montgomery's entertaining anecdotes and explanations about the life (and soul) of an octopus, and learned more than I could have imagined. The book is far from the dull, dry nature read I thought I was in for! Did you know, for instance, that an octopus tastes with its skin? Or that it hatches from an egg the size of a grain of rice. Or that the Pacific Octopus lives only 3-4 years and has three hearts? I also learned that they watch TV and learn from each other. And, that they lay between 67,000-100,000 eggs, but only once. After that, they starve themselves for the rest of their life and die!




I was so impressed with The Soul of an Octopus and we had a great discussion at our book club. I highly recommend this fascinating book, which may even tug at your heartstrings. It did mine.

December 26, 2018

Wordless Wednesday


Depoe Bay, Oregon
Christmas Day 2018


For more Wordless Wednesday, click here.

December 25, 2018

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!
May your day be filled with love and laughter. 

December 24, 2018

The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning



Nonfiction
2018 Scribner
Finished on March 3, 2018
Rating: 1/5 (Poor)

Publisher's Blurb:

A charming, practical, and unsentimental approach to putting a home in order while reflecting on the tiny joys that make up a long life.

In Sweden there is a kind of decluttering called döstädning, meaning “death” and städning meaning “cleaning.” This surprising and invigorating process of clearing out unnecessary belongings can be undertaken at any age or life stage but should be done sooner than later, before others have to do it for you. In The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, artist Margareta Magnusson, with Scandinavian humor and wisdom, instructs readers to embrace minimalism. Her radical and joyous method for putting things in order helps families broach sensitive conversations, and makes the process uplifting rather than overwhelming.

Margareta suggests which possessions you can easily get rid of (unworn clothes, unwanted presents, more plates than you’d ever use) and which you might want to keep (photographs, love letters, a few of your children’s art projects). Digging into her late husband’s tool shed, and her own secret drawer of vices, Margareta introduces an element of fun to a potentially daunting task. Along the way readers get a glimpse into her life in Sweden, and also become more comfortable with the idea of letting go.

This book was such a disappointment! The writing is poor and amateurish, bordering on silly, and I didn't learn anything I didn't already know. I don't know why I bothered finishing the book as I really wanted to quit (or at least skim) almost from the very beginning. However, I pushed on and read the whole thing. I wonder if I was less than impressed because we've already downsized and Magnusson's advice is irrelevant to my own situation? Or is it that her advice is common sense? If I had to recommend one over the other, I say read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (reviewed here). That too is a bit silly ("Does this spark joy?"), but the writing is polished and her methods worked for me. Oh, and there is a Netflix Original show (Tidying Up with Mari Condo) beginning January 1st. I know I'll be tuning in!

December 23, 2018

Force of Nature


Force of Nature (Aaron Falk, #2) by Jane Harper
Mystery
2018 Flatiron
Finished on February 26, 2018
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

A major voice in contemporary fiction. Like Tana French's Dublin Murder Squad series and Kate Atkinson's Jackson Brodie novels, Jane Harper's deftly plotted mysteries double as sensitive inquiries into human nature, behavior, and psychology. Force of Nature bristles with wit; it crackles with suspense; it radiates atmosphere. An astonishing book from an astonishing writer." (A.J. Finn, author of The Woman in the Window)

Publisher's Blurb:

Five women reluctantly pick up their backpacks and start walking along a muddy track. Only four come out on the other side.

The hike through the rugged Giralang Ranges is meant to take the office colleagues out of their air-conditioned comfort zone and encourage teamwork and resilience. At least, that's what the corporate retreat website advertises.


Federal Police investigator Aaron Falk has a keen interest in the whereabouts of the missing hiker, Alice Russell. Because Alice knew secrets, about the company she worked for and the people she worked with.


The four returning women tell Falk a tale of fear, violence and fractured trust during their days in the remote Australian bushland. And as Falk delves into the disappearance of Alice, he begins to suspect some dangers ran far deeper than anyone knew.


I loved The Dry (the first installment in the Aaron Falk series) and was very happy to get a copy of this new release, which grabbed me from the opening pages. After a chapter or two, though, my enthusiasm began to wane and it wasn't until I had read half of the book before it really captured my interest; then I couldn't put it down. I liked the addition of Carmen to the mix of returning characters and was glad the author decided to stop reminding us of Aaron's burned hand. Set in Australia, I should have known this installment would also have its share of poisonous creatures. The Dry had spiders, so guess what's in this one? Snakes! A carpet python and tiger snake, if you really must know. Ugh. 

Overall, I enjoyed Force of Nature, but it didn't call out to me as much as The DryI had to suspend disbelief that such a dangerous retreat was not better supervised, given that it was run by a seemingly professional company, and the uneven writing wasn't nearly as taut as that in The Dry. But, I never did figure out whodunit, so it was still an enjoyable read. I'm anxious to see how Harper does with her next release, The Lost Man, which is due out in February. It's nice to get in on a series from the very beginning!

December 22, 2018

The Uncommon Reader



The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett
Fiction
2007 Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Finished on February 19, 2018
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

From one of England's most celebrated writers, the author of the award-winning The History Boys, a funny and superbly observed novella about the Queen of England and the subversive power of reading.

When her corgis stray into a mobile library parked near Buckingham Palace, the Queen feels duty-bound to borrow a book. Discovering the joy of reading widely (from J. R. Ackerley, Jean Genet, and Ivy Compton-Burnett to the classics) and intelligently, she finds that her view of the world changes dramatically. Abetted in her newfound obsession by Norman, a young man from the royal kitchens, the Queen comes to question the prescribed order of the world and loses patience with the routines of her role as monarch. Her new passion for reading initially alarms the palace staff, and soon leads to surprising and very funny consequences for the country at large.

Oh, this is one every book-lover and Anglophile should own! It's a quick read and quite witty. Having recently watched The Crown, I could hear the Queen's distinctive voice as I read. Here are a few favorite passages:
"Pass the time?" said the Queen. "Books are not about passing the time. They're about other lives. Other worlds. Far from wanting to pass, Sir Kevin, one just wishes one had more of it. If one wanted to pass the time one could go to New Zealand."
and
The appeal of reading, she thought, lay in its indifference: there was something undeferring about literature. Books did not care who was reading them or whether one read them or not. All readers were equal, herself included. Literature, she thought, is a commonwealth; letters a republic. Actually, she had heard this phrase, the republic of letters, used before, at graduation ceremonies, honorary degrees and the like, though without knowing quite what it meant. At that time talk of a republic of any sort she had thought mildly insulting and in her actual presence tactless, to say the least. It was only now she understood what it meant. Books did not defer. All readers were equal, and this took her back to the beginning of her life. As a girl, one of her greatest thrills had been on VE night when she and her sister had slipped out of the gates and mingled unrecognised with the crowds. There was something of that, she felt, to reading. It was anonymous; it was shared; it was common. And she who had led life apart now found that she craved it. Here in these pages and between these covers she could go unrecognised.
and 
It was this sense of making up for lost time that made her read with such rapidity and in the process now making more frequent (and more confident) comments of her own, bringing to what was in effect literary criticism the same forthrightness with which she tackled other departments of her life. She was not a gentle reader and often wished authors were around so that she could take them to task.
"Am I alone," she wrote, "in wanting to give Henry James a good talking-to?"
"I can see why Dr. Johnson is well thought of, but surely, much of it is opinionated rubbish?"
It was Henry James she was reading one teatime when she said out loud, "Oh, do get on."
I'm going to treat myself to a copy for Christmas. This is one to be read more than once!

December 21, 2018

Looking Back - The Golden Compass

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 Golden Compass (His Dark Materials #1) by Philip Pullman
Young Adult Fiction
1996 by Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers (first published 1995)
Finished in January 1998
Rating: 2/5 (Fair)

Publisher's Blurb:

Lyra is rushing to the cold, far North, where witch clans and armored bears rule. North, where the Gobblers take the children they steal--including her friend Roger. North, where her fearsome uncle Asriel is trying to build a bridge to a parallel world.

Can one small girl make a difference in such great and terrible endeavors? This is Lyra: a savage, a schemer, a liar, and as fierce and true a champion as Roger or Asriel could want--but what Lyra doesn't know is that to help one of them will be to betray the other.


My Original Notes (1998):

Fantasy. Very different! I loved the idea of daemons, but the book ran hot and cold for me. Slow in spots. I got bogged down with a lot of the fantasy details, trying to figure out what was real and what wasn't.

I'm not sure if I want to read the sequel. This isn't a book I loved or disliked. Would make a great Spielberg movie!

My Current Thoughts:

I remember when an online book group that I belonged to read this young adult novel. So many people seemed to love it and the rest of the books in His Dark Materials trilogy, but I was lukewarm about the story and didn't go on to read anymore by Pullman. For the most part, I tend prefer science fiction and post-apocalyptic books over fantasy.

December 20, 2018

Need to Know



Need to Know by Karen Cleveland
Thriller
2018 Ballantine Books
Finished on February 15, 2018
Rating: 3/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

In pursuit of a Russian sleeper cell on American soil, a CIA analyst uncovers a dangerous secret that will test her loyalty to the agency—and to her family.

What do you do when everything you trust might be a lie?

Vivian Miller is a dedicated CIA counterintelligence analyst assigned to uncover the leaders of Russian sleeper cells in the United States. On track for a much-needed promotion, she’s developed a system for identifying Russian agents, seemingly normal people living in plain sight.

After accessing the computer of a potential Russian operative, Vivian stumbles on a secret dossier of deep-cover agents within America’s borders. A few clicks later, everything that matters to her—her job, her husband, even her four children—are threatened.

Vivian has vowed to defend her country against all enemies, foreign and domestic. But now she’s facing impossible choices. Torn between loyalty and betrayal, allegiance and treason, love and suspicion, who can she trust?

Need to Know is the perfect sort of book to read on a plane as it's extremely suspenseful and provides great distraction. I read it mostly at night and got so wrapped up in the story, I dreamt about the characters and plot! I would have given a higher rating, but the main character's inner dialogue become very tiresome and I was tempted to quit, but wanted to finish in order to learn the final outcome. Meh.

December 19, 2018

Wordless Wednesday

Depoe Bay, Oregon
December 2018


For more Wordless Wednesday, click here.

December 18, 2018

The Heart's Invisible Furies



The Heart's Invisible Furies by John Boyne
Fiction
2017 Hogarth
Finished on February 8, 2018
Rating: 4.5/5 (Very Good!)

Publisher's Blurb:

From the beloved New York Times bestselling author of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, a sweeping, heartfelt saga about the course of one man's life, beginning and ending in postwar Ireland.

Cyril Avery is not a real Avery or at least that’s what his adoptive parents tell him. And he never will be. But if he isn’t a real Avery, then who is he?

Born out of wedlock to a teenage girl cast out from her rural Irish community and adopted by a well-to-do if eccentric Dublin couple via the intervention of a hunchbacked Redemptorist nun, Cyril is adrift in the world, anchored only tenuously by his close friendship with the infinitely more glamorous and dangerous Julian Woodbead. At the mercy of fortune and coincidence, he will spend a lifetime coming to know himself and where he came from – and over his three score years and ten, will struggle to discover an identity, a home, a country and much more.

In this, Boyne's most transcendent work to date, we are shown the story of Ireland from the 1940s to today through the eyes of one ordinary man. The Heart's Invisible Furies is a novel that sparks both laughter and tears while reminding us all of the redemptive power of the human spirit.

What a terrific story! I read The Boy in Striped Pajamas (reviewed here) several years ago, but I never would have guessed this was written by the same author. Spanning 70 years, this achingly sad, yet witty novel is reminiscent of A Prayer for Owen Meany (John Irving). There's tenderness that will bring a tear to your eye and laugh out loud humor to add levity to Boyne's tragic tale. After the disappearance of one of the early characters, and the promiscuity of another, I almost gave up on the novel, but I'm glad I continued reading as this is one of the best books I've read this year. I did find myself shaking my head at the multiple coincidences and chance occurrences that took place over so many years, but decided to suspend disbelief and just enjoy the story. It is fiction, after all. Now to get a copy of The Absolutist and Boyne's new release, A Ladder to the Sky!