January 31, 2019

The Cruelest Month

The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny
Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #3
2007 St. Martin's Minotaur
Finished on January 28, 2019
Rating: 4.5/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

Welcome to Three Pines, where the cruelest month is about to deliver on its threat.

It’s spring in the tiny, forgotten village; buds are on the trees and the first flowers are struggling through the newly thawed earth. But not everything is meant to return to life. . .

When some villagers decide to celebrate Easter with a séance at the Old Hadley House, they are hoping to rid the town of its evil---until one of their party dies of fright. Was this a natural death, or was the victim somehow helped along?

Brilliant, compassionate Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec is called to investigate, in a case that will force him to face his own ghosts as well as those of a seemingly idyllic town where relationships are far more dangerous than they seem.

Well done! I do believe I am finally hooked on this series. It's been over 12 years since I first read Still Life and looking back at my review, I'm a little surprised I gave it such a high rating. I wrote the following after reading the second book, A Fatal Grace:
I read the first in the series (Still Life), and later listened to that same story on audio to reacquaint myself with the cast of characters before moving forward and reading this book. I decided to continue with the series on audio rather than the print version and while I enjoyed the book, it took me almost three weeks to finish. Unlike the psychological thrillers I enjoy listening to, the books in this cozy series are more serene, and I found my mind wandering as I listened while I worked. At one point, I had to go back and listen to a chapter a second time to sort out some of the details, and I found that if I didn’t listen over the weekend, I had to backtrack once again to refresh my memory.
So that's the key. Print rather than audio. Some mysteries are wonderful on audio, but this series begs to be read and savored. I love the sprinkling of French phrases, most of which (surprisingly!) I can decipher thanks to two years of high school French. I am also up to speed on all the supporting characters, no longer relying on an index card (with names and relationships) I kept tucked inside the book. I can now readily picture each character and the details of the village of Three Pines. 

It took me a full week to read the book, but it never once felt sluggish and I was eager to get back to it at the end of each day, reading far too late in the night.  I was a bit confused by references to an earlier incident in the series, but Penny does a fine job teasing out the backstory without giving too much away. However, I'm tempted to go back and re-read A Fatal Grace, but since I have so many books in this series on which to catch up, I'll just move on to A Rule Against Murder, which is already on my nightstand. 


Ruby by Ann Hood
1998 Picador
Finished on January 22, 2019
Rating: 2/5 (Fair)

Publisher's Blurb:

After the tragic death of her husband of barely one year, Olivia, a milliner from New York City, must begin rebuilding her life. Ordinarily a vivacious and strong woman, she finds herself unable to surmount her grief...until she meets Ruby.

Young, pregnant and delinquent, Ruby trespasses and enters the seemingly uninhabited Rhode Island beach house in which Olivia and her late husband had planned to build their life together. Abandoned by her family, Ruby has no home and seems far too immature to care for the baby Olivia so strongly desires. With her eye on the adoption of the newborn, Olivia offers the rebellious teen a place to stay.

An unlikely friendship is forged as Olivia nurtures Ruby and her unborn child and experiences the daily challenges presented by a wayward teen, who may or may not teach Olivia how to live again.

It's quite apparent that Ruby is one of Ann Hood's earliest novels and not nearly as polished as her more current books, several of which I've recently read. (Her website doesn't even have Ruby listed in her collection of published books, which is interesting.) I stumbled upon the book while perusing the shelves at my library and decided to give it a try, since I really enjoyed The Book That Matters Most, The Knitting Circle and her nonfiction gem, Morningstar: Growing Up With Books (click on the titles for my full reviews). Unfortunately, Ruby is trite, lacking tension and fully realized characters, and is far too predictable. I didn't sympathize with either of the main characters and grew weary of the far-fetched plot, which became a slog by the halfway mark. I continued reading only because it's a short book and I was curious about the ending. I'm glad this wasn't the first book I read of Hood's or I may not have gone on to try anything else by her.

January 30, 2019

Wordless Wednesday

Little Whale Cove
Depoe Bay, Oregon
January 28, 2019

For more Wordless Wednesday, click here.

January 29, 2019

Gallup, El Morro, & Albuquerque, NM

Friday, September 21, 2018
Gallup to Albuquerque, New Mexico (via El Morro)
Distance: 244 miles
Enchanted Trails RV Park
Duration: 2 nights
Cost: $18.09 per night
Weather: Warm and sunny

We were not at all sad to leave the USA RV Park. There is nothing remarkable about the amenities or surroundings, and the noise from the trains and low-flying planes (directly over the park in the early morning hours) make for a restless night. Needless to say, we were up early!


Gravel sites with no shade for those parked near the front of the park. Alternating site approaches means your coach door opens toward your neighbor's coach door - and your picnic tables are on the same side. Why?? Looking for the positive, this has to be one of the most level sites we've encountered. I don't think we even used leveling blocks, which may be a first.

We drove through Gallup, but didn't see anything tourist-worthy to stop for, so we continued on down the road, heading south. (Highway 564 south to 602 to 53 east to 122/Route 66 to 279) We took a side trip to El Morro National Monument, where we enjoyed our lunch and took a 1/2-mile walk on the Inscription Trail. It's a nice, easy trail where you can see the ancient markings, as well as inscriptions from the 1800s.

Nice visitor's center with very helpful rangers. 

Didn't see a single snake or, 
for that matter, very many people.

Inscription Trail

The wildflowers were gorgeous!

A fence railing prevented us from getting too close,
 but I was able to zoom in on the markings.

Amazing that people were able to etch their names, 
dates and other information with such beautiful handwriting!

Just a few of the 2,000-plus carvings at El Morro.

After lunch, I hiked to the top of the rocks and did the 2-mile Mesa Top Trail. The view was amazing and with nobody else on the trail, my hike felt even more inspiring. It was almost as if I was the last person on the planet!

Eventually, I would be on the top of those rocks!

I kept a watchful eye out for snakes hiding in the shade!

Can you see the volcano in the distance?

I came across the ruins of the Atsinna, which were occupied by the ancestors of the Zuni people from approximately 1275 to 1400.

Believe it or not, this is the trail!

Created by the Civilian Conservation Corps,
 these steps made for easier climbing.

Approximately 200 feet above the valley floor, 
I can see where our RV is parked beyond the Visitor Center.

In addition to the stairways, the Civilian Conservation
Corps carved trail markings in the sandstone.

It was incredible to walk these paths without the distraction of others around me. Other than an occasional jet far overhead, it was completely silent.

The rock formation on the left reminds 
me of the ancient stone heads of Easter Island.

We enjoyed our stop at El Morro and while it's a little off the beaten path, it's well worth a visit.

It was beginning to get late in the afternoon and time to hit the road to Albuquerque. We drove most of the way on Route 66 until it abruptly disappeared, forcing us to jump back on I-40. I'd rather poke along at my own pace, rather than push the RV to go 60-65 with the semis flying past me at 75, so I was happy we were able to drive some of that distance on the old highway.

Absolutely gorgeous, wide open space.
 I don't think we're in Nevada anymore!

This is why I love road trips!

Route 66 with I-40 just beyond those rock formations.

After stopping for gas in Grants (a sad, depressed-looking town), we made it safe and sound to our next RV park, just west of Albuquerque. Our site was fairly level and there were a few more trees than at our previous location, which helped make it feel a little less stark. 

It was a long day and we arrived
 just in time to see a gorgeous sunset.

Click on images for larger view.

Previous Posts:

Discovering Soshone Point (Grand Canyon)

January 28, 2019

The Sense of an Ending

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
2011 Alfred A. Knopf
Finished on January 19, 2019
Rating: 2/5 (Fair)

Publisher's Blurb:

By an acclaimed writer at the height of his powers, The Sense of an Ending extends a streak of extraordinary books that began with the bestselling Arthur & George and continued with Nothing to Be Frightened Of and, most recently, Pulse.

This intense new novel follows a middle-aged man as he contends with a past he has never much thought about--until his closest childhood friends return with a vengeance, one of them from the grave, another maddeningly present. Tony Webster thought he'd left all this behind as he built a life for himself, and by now his marriage and family and career have fallen into an amicable divorce and retirement. But he is then presented with a mysterious legacy that obliges him to reconsider a variety of things he thought he'd understood all along, and to revise his estimation of his own nature and place in the world.

A novel so compelling that it begs to be read in a single sitting, with stunning psychological and emotional depth and sophistication, The Sense of an Ending is a brilliant new chapter in Julian Barnes's oeuvre.

I don't think I'm sophisticated enough for this cerebral-type of novel. I spotted it on the shelf at the library one day and decided to give it a try since I wanted to read it before watching the dvd that's been in my Netflix queue for ages. Sadly, this introspective, navel-gazing, over-analyzed retrospection of young adulthood did not impress me and had it not been such a quick read, I would have ditched it at the 80 page mark. Since it only took me two days to finish, I read to the bitter end. 

What did I know of life, I who had lived so carefully? Who had neither won nor lost, but just let life happen to him? Who had the usual ambitions and settled all too quickly for them not being realised? Who avoided being hurt and called it a capacity for survival? Who paid his bills, stayed on good terms with everyone as far as possible, for whom ecstasy and despair soon became just words once read in novels? One whose self-rebukes never really inflicted pain? Well, there was all this to reflect upon, while I endured a special kind of remorse: a hurt inflicted at long last on one who always thought he knew how to avoid being hurt--and inflicted for precisely that reason.

Many readers (including those on the Man Booker Award committee) claim The Sense of an Ending is a brilliant novel, but I found the characters unsympathetic and dull, leaving me bored and disappointed. Perhaps those who are drawn to Ian McEwan's novels will appreciate Barnes's philosophical examination of memory and the consequences of choices made in one's youth. I prefer John Boyne's brilliant storytelling of similar themes, as presented in The Heart's Invisible Furies.

And, no. I no longer have any desire or intention of watching the film.

Julian Patrick Barnes is a contemporary English writer of postmodernism in literature. He has been shortlisted three times for the Man Booker Prize--- Flaubert's Parrot (1984), England, England (1998), and Arthur & George (2005), and won the prize for The Sense of an Ending (2011).

January 27, 2019

If You Lived Here, I'd Know Your Name

If You Lived Here, I'd Know Your Name by Heather Lende
Nonfiction - Memoir
2006 Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Finished on January 15, 2019
Rating: 3/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

Tiny Haines, Alaska, ninety miles north of Juneau, is accessible mainly by water or air--and only when the weather is good. There's no traffic light, no mail delivery, people can vanish without a trace, and funerals are community affairs.

As both obituary writer and social columnist for the local newspaper, Heather Lende knows better than anyone the goings-on in this breathtakingly beautiful place. Her offbeat chronicle brings us inside her busy life: we meet her husband, Chip, who owns the local hardware store, their five children, and a colorful assortment of friends and neighbors, including aging hippies, salty fishermen, and native Tlingit Indians, as well as the moose, eagles, sea lions, and bears with whom they share this wild and perilous land.

"Part Annie Dillard, part Anne Lamott... NPR commentator Heather Lende... subtly remind[s] readers to embrace each day, each opportunity, each life that touches our own and to note the beauty of it all." ~ Los Angeles Times

This is the third book by Heather Lende that I've read since I first discovered her nonfiction in 2012. While I enjoyed it more than Find the Good, it wasn't nearly as good as Take Good Care of the Garden and the Dogs. I had high hopes, as we are planning to take an RV trip to Alaska in the next few years and I thought this memoir might provide some interesting tips about where to go and what to see. Some of the stories were touching, particularly "I Am Not Resigned" (which deals with the death of a beloved pet), but most will fade from my memory over the next few months. I'm not sorry I read Lende's essays, but they didn't resonate with me the way Kelly Corrigan's did in Tell Me More.

January 26, 2019

Instant Pot Pork Tenderloin with Black Beans and Coconut Rice

Yum, yum, yum! I discovered this recipe on Pam's blog (Sidewalk Shoes) almost a year ago and it has become a family favorite. I love bacon and ribs, but until I discovered tenderloins, I didn't care for any other cuts of pork, especially chops, which are too easy to overcook. Not only is this recipe delicious, it's quick and easy. Perfect for a last-minute meal at home or in the RV. Thanks, Pam!

Instant Pot Pork Tenderloin
with Black Beans and Coconut Rice
(Photo credit: Pam Greer)


2 tablespoons peanut oil
1 pound pork tenderloin cut into 2-inch chunks
1 leek thinly sliced
4 1/2 ounce chopped green chiles canned
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
15 ounce black beans canned, rinsed, and drained
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup coconut milk (unsweetened)
1 cup white rice
2 tablespoons light brown sugar

Heat the oil in the pressure cooker turned to the Saute setting. Add the pork and brown on all sides, about 6 minutes. Remove and let rest on a plate.

Add the leeks and the chiles. Cook about 2 minutes, then stir in the thyme, cumin, coriander, salt and pepper. Cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the beans, broth, coconut milk, rice and brown sugar. Stir to dissolve the brown sugar.

Add the pork back to the pot and pour any drippings from the plate back in the pot. Try to make sure the rice and pork are covered by the liquid.

Lock the lid on the pot, set the valve to Sealing and set to cook at high pressure for 15 minutes.

Use NPR (natural release of pressure) for 5 minutes and then do a quick release. Leaving the lid on the pot, let the rice steam for about 10 minutes.

Serves four

My Notes:

I used olive oil instead of peanut oil to brown the pork.

I didn't use the leeks.

I garnished each plate with some chopped mango.

I think this meal would also be delicious with shrimp, either as a substitute for the pork or an addition.

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January 24, 2019

Remembering, Today and Always

Eric Michael Colin Jackson
January 24, 1933 - November 28, 2018

In the rising of the sun and in its going down,
we remember them.
When we are weary and in need of strength,
we remember them.
When we are lost and sick at heart,
we remember them.
When we have joys we yearn to share,
we remember them.
So long as we live, they too shall live,
for they are now a part of us, as
we remember them.
In the blowing of the wind and in the chill of winter,
we remember them.
In the opening of buds and in the rebirth of spring,
we remember them.
In the blueness of the sky and in the warmth of summer,
we remember them.
In the rustling of leaves and in the beauty of autumn,
we remember them.
In the beginning of the year and when it ends,
we remember them.

From the Rabbi's Manual