December 30, 2019

The Dreamers

The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker
Science Fiction
2019 Random House
Finished on December 28, 2019
Rating: 4.5/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

An ordinary town is transformed by a mysterious illness that triggers perpetual sleep in this mesmerizing novel from the New York Times bestselling author of The Age of Miracles.

“This book is stunning.”—Emily St. John Mandel, author of Station Eleven

One night in an isolated college town in the hills of Southern California, a first-year student stumbles into her dorm room, falls asleep—and doesn’t wake up. She sleeps through the morning, into the evening. Her roommate, Mei, cannot rouse her. Neither can the paramedics, nor the perplexed doctors at the hospital. When a second girl falls asleep, and then a third, Mei finds herself thrust together with an eccentric classmate as panic takes hold of the college and spreads to the town. A young couple tries to protect their newborn baby as the once-quiet streets descend into chaos. Two sisters turn to each other for comfort as their survivalist father prepares for disaster.

Those affected by the illness, doctors discover, are displaying unusual levels of brain activity, higher than has ever been recorded before. They are dreaming heightened dreams—but of what?

Written in luminous prose, The Dreamers is a breathtaking and beautiful novel, startling and provocative, about the possibilities contained within a human life—in our waking days and, perhaps even more, in our dreams.

I loved Walker's debut novel, The Age of Miracles (reviewed here), and was thrilled when I learned she had written another book. It was published at the beginning of the year, but I delayed getting a copy until I knew I could devote my full attention to the book without any interruptions. Life got busy with travel and illnesses and before I knew it, a year had passed since I first read about The Dreamers. A few days before Christmas, I borrowed a copy from the library and started reading on Christmas Eve. I was completely sucked in from the opening lines and had I not been busy preparing our Christmas dinner, I could have easily spent the entire day reading from cover to cover, it was that compelling. The further along I read, the more curious I became about the cause and ultimate outcome of the pandemic. Eager as I was to have my questions answered, yet choosing to savor the book as long as I could, the final pages came far too quickly. Sadly, the denouement was anticlimactic and left me with too many unanswered questions. In spite of this quibble, I loved this riveting story and look forward to more by Karen Thompson Walker.

December 29, 2019

Maybe You Should Talk To Someone

Maybe You Should Talk To Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed by Lori Gottlieb
Nonfiction - Memoir
2019 Audible Studios
Read by Brittany Pressley
Finished on December 26, 2019
Rating: 5/5 (Excellent!)

Publisher's Blurb:

From a New York Times best-selling author, psychotherapist, and national advice columnist, a hilarious, thought-provoking, and surprising new book that takes us behind the scenes of a therapist's world--where her patients are looking for answers (and so is she).

One day, Lori Gottlieb is a therapist who helps patients in her Los Angeles practice. The next, a crisis causes her world to come crashing down. Enter Wendell, the quirky but seasoned therapist in whose office she suddenly lands. With his balding head, cardigan, and khakis, he seems to have come straight from Therapist Central Casting. Yet he will turn out to be anything but.

As Gottlieb explores the inner chambers of her patients' lives -- a self-absorbed Hollywood producer, a young newlywed diagnosed with a terminal illness, a senior citizen threatening to end her life on her birthday if nothing gets better, and a twenty-something who can't stop hooking up with the wrong guys -- she finds that the questions they are struggling with are the very ones she is now bringing to Wendell.

With startling wisdom and humor, Gottlieb invites us into her world as both clinician and patient, examining the truths and fictions we tell ourselves and others as we teeter on the tightrope between love and desire, meaning and mortality, guilt and redemption, terror and courage, hope and change.

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone is revolutionary in its candor, offering a deeply personal yet universal tour of our hearts and minds and providing the rarest of gifts: a boldly revealing portrait of what it means to be human, and a disarmingly funny and illuminating account of our own mysterious lives and our power to transform them.

I'm not a big fan of self-improvement books, but this book kept popping up on fellow readers' blogs and I finally decided to give it a try. Honestly, I expected a lot of pyscho-babble and was sure I'd wind up calling it quits after a few chapters, but I was quickly sucked in and listened at every opportunity. What a compelling and enlightening book! The reader (Brittany Pressley) does an outstanding job conveying Gottlieb's emotions and I found myself laughing out loud, as well as feeling a tug at my heartstrings more than once. I enjoyed her personal anecdotes as much as those dealing with her clients and their therapy sessions. The audio is almost 14 1/2 hours in length, but I didn't want it to end! I borrowed the print edition from the library so I could make note of some favorite passages, but this may be a book to buy for a future reread. Highly recommend!

On Grief:
I have sat with people dealing with all kinds of grief--the loss of a child, the loss of a parent, the loss of a spouse, the loss of a sibling, the loss of a marriage, the loss of a dog, the loss of a job, the loss of an identity, the loss of a dream, the loss of a body part, the loss of youth. I've sat with people whose faces close in on themselves, whose eyes become slits, whose open mouths resemble the image in Munch's The Scream. I've sat with patients who describe their grief as "monstrous" and "unbearable"; one patient, quoting something she had heard, said it made her feel "alternately numb and in excruciating pain."
On Resilience:
I tell John what's known as the psychological immune system. Just as your physiological immune system helps your body recover from physical attack, your brain helps you recover from psychological attack. A series of studies by the researcher Daniel Gilbert at Harvard found that in responding to challenging life events from the devastating (becoming handicapped, losing a loved one) to the difficult (a divorce, an illness), people do better than they anticipate. They believe that they'll never laugh again, but they do. They think they'll never love again, but they do. They go grocery shopping and see movies; they have sex and dance at weddings; they overeat on Thanksgiving and go on diets in the New Year--the day-to-day returns. John's reaction while playing with Grace wasn't unusual; it was the norm.
There's another related concept that I share with John: impermanence. Sometimes in their pain, people believe that the agony will last forever. But feelings are actually more like weather systems--they blow in and they blow out. Just because you feel sad this minute or this hour or this day doesn't mean you'll feel that way in ten minutes or this afternoon or next week. Everything you feel--anxiety, elation, anguish--blows in and out again. For John, on Gabe's birthday, on certain holidays, or simply running in the background, there will always be pain. Hearing a certain song in the car or having a fleeting memory might even plunge him into momentary despair. But another song, or another memory, might minutes or hours later bring intense joy.
About the Author:

Lori Gottlieb is a psychotherapist and New York Times bestselling author of Maybe You Should Talk To Someone, which is being adapted for TV with Eva Longoria. In addition to her clinical practice, she writes The Atlantic's weekly "Dear Therapist" advice column and contributes regularly to the New York Times. She is sought-after in media such as The Today Show, Good Morning America, CBS This Morning, CNN, and NPR's "Fresh Air."

December 28, 2019

Looking Back - Rocket Boys

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.

Rocket Boys by Homer Hickam
Nonfiction - Memoir
1998 Delacorte Press
Read in March 1999
Rating: 4.5/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

"Until I began to build and launch rockets, I didn't know my home town was at war with itself over its children, and that my parents were locked in a kind of bloodless combat over how my brother and I would live our lives. I didn't know that if a girl broke your heart, another girl, virtuous at least in spirit, could mend it on the same night. And I didn't know that the enthalpy decrease in a converging passage could be transformed into jet kinetic energy if a divergent passage was added. The other boys discovered their own truths when we built our rockets, but those were mine."

So begins Homer "Sonny" Hickam Jr.'s extraordinary memoir of life in Coalwood, West Virginia - a hard-scrabble little mining company town where the only things that mattered were coal mining and high school football and where the future was regarded with more fear than hope.

Looking back after a distinguished NASA career, Hickam shares the story of his youth, taking readers into the life of the little mining town of Coalwood and the boys who would come to embody its dreams.

In 1957 a young man watched the Soviet satellite Sputnik shoot across the Appalachian sky and soon found his future in the stars. 'Sonny' and a handful of his friends, Roy Lee Cook, Sherman O'Dell and Quentin Wilson were inspired to start designing and launching the home-made rockets that would change their lives forever.

Step by step, with the help (and occasional hindrance) of a collection of unforgettable characters, the boys learn not only how to turn scrap into sophisticated rockets that fly miles into the sky, but how to sustain their dreams as they dared to imagine a life beyond its borders in a town that the postwar boom was passing by.

A powerful story of growing up and of getting out, of a mother's love and a father's fears, Homer Hickam's memoir Rocket Boys proves, like Angela's Ashes and Russell Baker's Growing Up before it, that the right storyteller and the right story can touch readers' hearts and enchant their souls.

A uniquely endearing book with universal themes of class, family, coming of age, and the thrill of discovery, Homer Hickam's Rocket Boys is evocative, vivid storytelling at its most magical.

In 1999, Rocket Boys was made into a Hollywood movie named October Sky starring Chris Cooper, Jake Gyllenhaal and Laura Dern. October Sky is an anagram of Rocket Boys. It is also used in a period radio broadcast describing Sputnik 1 as it crossed the 'October sky'. Homer Hickam stated that "Universal Studios marketing people got involved and they just had to change the title because, according to their research, women over thirty would never see a movie titled Rocket Boys" so Universal Pictures changed the title to be more inviting to a wider audience. The book was later re-released with the name October Sky in order to capitalize on interest in the movie.

My Original Notes (1999):

I thoroughly enjoyed this memoir! Very well-written. I enjoyed learning about the specifics of rocket building, but didn't find the book too technical. I liked the strong female figure in Hickam's mother; despised his father. What a jerk! I was very impressed with Homer's diligence to learn Calculus and not give up his dream. Really a beautiful coming-of-age story. So much more impressive than the movie (October Sky), which I saw after reading the book.

My Current Thoughts:

I'm tempted to read this again. It was so good!

December 26, 2019

Lucky Us

2014 Random House
Finished on December 23, 2019
Rating: 3/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

"My father's wife died. My mother said we should drive down to his place and see what might be in it for us."

Brilliantly written, deeply moving, fantastically funny, Lucky Us introduces us to Eva and Iris. Disappointed by their families, Iris, the hopeful star, and Eva, the sidekick, journey across 1940s America in search of fame and fortune. Iris's ambitions take them from small-town Ohio to an unexpected and sensuous Hollywood, across the America of Reinvention in a stolen station wagon, to the jazz clubs and golden mansions of Long Island.

With their friends in high and low places, Iris and Eva stumble and shine through a landscape of big dreams, scandals, betrayals, and war. Filled with gorgeous writing, memorable characters, and surprising events, Lucky Us is a thrilling and resonant novel about success and failure, good luck and bad, the creation of a family, and the pleasures and inevitable perils of family life. From Brooklyn's beauty parlors to London's West End, a group of unforgettable people love, lie, cheat, and survive in this story of our fragile, absurd, heroic species.

What an odd story with quirky characters. Lucky Us is the first book I've read by Amy Bloom and I'm not sure I'll read more. Part epistolary, part coming-of-age, I found the writing uneven and the ever-changing cast of characters difficult to keep track of. 

December 24, 2019

Merry Christmas!

Wishing you all a wonderful Christmas Day!

December 23, 2019

California Road Trip 2019 - Rancho Jurupa Park

Monday, September 11, 2019
Buellton to Riverside, CA
Rancho Jurupa Regional Park
Site #214
Route: Hwy. 101 to 134 (Ventura Highway) to 210 to 57 to 71 to 60 (Pomona Freeway).
Distance:  195 miles
Duration: 1 night
Cost: $45 + $8 reservation fee = $53
Weather: Sunny and hot (85 degrees)

We are often asked by friends and family why we opt to use the showers at a RV park or campground rather than the shower in our RV. Take a look at this amazing set up at the Flying Flags RV Resort! Wouldn't you rather take a shower (with unlimited hot water) in this immaculate and spacious shower room instead of in a tiny RV shower with 6 gallon capacity hot water heater? We have a fairly large gray tank, but if we were both to take showers, it would fill up much more quickly. By showering elsewhere, we also reduce the chance for mildew and mold to grow since we aren't creating any extra moisture from a hot, steamy shower. We don't let that valuable space go to waste, either; A laundry hamper, sodas and beer, a bucket with cleaning supplies and our traveling shower kits are all stored in this space. We have met a lot of RVers who always use their showers, but we really don't mind using the public facilities (which all have keypad locks for privacy), especially when we find such a nice spot like this. 

This is one of the differences 
between a RV "park" and a RV "resort."

Beautiful, clean and spacious shower. 

We'll be back!

Heading south on Hwy. 101 was not bad, in spite of the traffic. We hit quite a bit of slow & go once we got to L.A., but I did it! This is the second time I've driven the RV in L.A. and while it can be pretty stressful, I feel a great sense of accomplishment once we've safely reached our destination. I guess the slow moving traffic is a plus since nobody is able to fly past, cutting me off at 80 mph.

Thank goodness for GPS.
Nice to know ahead of time which lane you need to be in.

Glad we weren't in that mess.

First time we had to 
use our AC on this trip.

As we got off the freeway and headed toward our next spot for the night, we weren't too sure what we were in for since the neighborhood looked a little sketchy. Lots of bars on the windows of stores and homes. As we got closer to the regional park, which I found on RV Trip Wizard, our anxiety diminished and we wound up enjoying it much more than we thought we would. The sites are huge and spacious and the grassy areas were still very green, which is pretty amazing for Southern California in September!

Mt. Rubidoux

We were thankful for those huge trees.

We relaxed, had our drinks, went for a walk and checked things out. The full moon over the mountains was breathtaking!

Rancho Jurupa Regional Park has large, level concrete pads with full hook-ups, picnic tables and fire rings, as well as two lakes (stocked for fishing), disc golf, miniature golf, splash pads, playgrounds, two campgrounds and cabin rentals. There is also a laundry facility and coin-operated showers. We had free WiFi, in addition to great cell service with Verizon and Sprint. This would be a nice spot for a large family gathering.

December 20, 2019

Why Don't You Write My Eulogy Now So I Can Correct It?

Why Don't You Write My Eulogy Now So I Can Correct It? by Patricia Marx & Roz Chast
Nonfiction - Graphic Novel
2019 Celadon Books
Finished on December 17, 2019
Rating: 2/5 (Fair)

Publisher's Blurb:

Every mother knows best, but New Yorker writer Patty Marx's knows better. Patty has never been able to shake her mother's one-line witticisms from her brain, so she's collected them into a book, accompanied by full color illustrations by New Yorker staff cartoonist Roz Chast. These snappy maternal cautions include:

If you feel guilty about throwing away leftovers, put them in the back of your refrigerator for five days and then throw them out.

If you run out of food at your dinner party, the world will end.

When traveling, call the hotel from the airport to say there aren't enough towels in your room and, by the way, you'd like a room with a better view.

Why don't you write my eulogy now so I can correct it?

Meh. Marx's collection of witticisms is easily read in an afternoon, but I wound up feeling the same about her book as I did with Chast's Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant (reviewed here). Just not my cuppa.

December 18, 2019


Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver
2019 Harper Perennial
Finished on December 13, 2019
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

The New York Times bestselling author of Flight Behavior, The Lacuna, and The Poisonwood Bible and recipient of numerous literary awards—including the National Humanities Medal, the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, and the Orange Prize—returns with a timely novel that interweaves past and present to explore the human capacity for resiliency and compassion in times of great upheaval.

Willa Knox has always prided herself on being the embodiment of responsibility for her family. Which is why it’s so unnerving that she’s arrived at middle age with nothing to show for her hard work and dedication but a stack of unpaid bills and an inherited brick home in Vineland, New Jersey, that is literally falling apart. The magazine where she worked has folded, and the college where her husband had tenure has closed. The dilapidated house is also home to her ailing and cantankerous Greek father-in-law and her two grown children: her stubborn, free-spirited daughter, Tig, and her dutiful debt-ridden, ivy educated son, Zeke, who has arrived with his unplanned baby in the wake of a life-shattering development.

In an act of desperation, Willa begins to investigate the history of her home, hoping that the local historical preservation society might take an interest and provide funding for its direly needed repairs. Through her research into Vineland’s past and its creation as a Utopian community, she discovers a kindred spirit from the 1880s, Thatcher Greenwood.

A science teacher with a lifelong passion for honest investigation, Thatcher finds himself under siege in his community for telling the truth: his employer forbids him to speak of the exciting new theory recently published by Charles Darwin. Thatcher’s friendships with a brilliant woman scientist and a renegade newspaper editor draw him into a vendetta with the town’s most powerful men. At home, his new wife and status-conscious mother-in-law bristle at the risk of scandal, and dismiss his financial worries and the news that their elegant house is structurally unsound.

Brilliantly executed and compulsively readable, Unsheltered is the story of two families, in two centuries, who live at the corner of Sixth and Plum, as they navigate the challenges of surviving a world in the throes of major cultural shifts. In this mesmerizing story told in alternating chapters, Willa and Thatcher come to realize that though the future is uncertain, even unnerving, shelter can be found in the bonds of kindred—whether family or friends—and in the strength of the human spirit.

With the exception of The Lacuna, I have read all of Barbara Kingsolver's novels and most of her nonfiction works. I have enjoyed the majority of these books, but I approach each new release with trepidation, knowing full well that her stories have a tendency to be preachy and pedantic. I know to expect a commentary that digs into hot topics such as politics and the environment, but I also appreciate her thought-provoking themes and this latest novel didn't disappoint (although it did take me quite a while to get fully interested). I have come to dislike the use of dual narratives (which has become a tired and gimmicky conceit over the past decade or two) and Kingsolver's novel is yet another which relies on this literary device to tell the story of two separate families who reside on the same plot of land almost a hundred a fifty years apart. As I have found with the majority of novels with interlacing stories, I preferred the current time-frame over the historical narrative, but I resisted the temptation to read the modern chapters first before starting in on the historical thread. 

My book group is discussing Unsheltered later this week and I'm anxious to hear what the other members have to say about this timely and relevant novel. Did I like it? I came to care about some of the characters in the modern story, but it's not a favorite and unlike The Poisonwood Bible and Flight Behavior, it's doubtful that I'll long to read it a second time.

California Road Trip 2019 - Flying Flags RV Resort

Sunday, September 10, 2019
Pinnacles to Buellton, CA
Flying Flags RV Resort
Site #59
Route: 146 to 25 to 198 to 101 to 246
Distance: 177 miles
Duration: 1 night
Cost: $77
Weather: Sunny and warm (80s)

Another pretty drive as we made our way down to Buellton from Pinnacles NP. We took Highway 25 to 198 to 101 and saw a lot of ranch land on the first stretch of the drive. A coyote ran right in front of us, but thankfully, I didn't hit it. We stopped in Santa Maria for lunch at In-N-Out, which wasn't nearly as good as CC's or No Brand, but still pretty delicious. As we got closer to Buellton, the wind picked up, but it wasn't terrible. There was a large grass fire on the east side of 101, just to the north of Buellton, but it looked like the ground and air crews were doing a good job getting it contained.

Highway 25 
Looking east toward the 
Laguna Mountain Recreation Area

The first of many on this trip!

We didn't have any trouble finding Flying Flags RV Resort and got settled quickly so we could get the laundry started and relax by the pool while waiting for the clothes to dry. We wandered around the resort, which is quite large and suitable for families and large groups. There are cottages, cabins, luxury tents, vintage trailers and Airstreams for rent, and of course, RV sites. There are two pools (with cabanas), a playground, bocce ball court, fitness center, off-leash dog park, laundry facilities and a cafe. With several wineries nearby, as well as Solvang and the famous Pea Soup Andersens, this would be a great destination to meet up with friends. We only stayed one night, but it would be nice to return someday for a longer visit, especially if we could plan to have some friends or family join us.

Nice place to hang out while waiting for the laundry to dry.

One of the rentals.

Another rental.

Our site had a lot of shade, 
which was nice since it was in the 80s.

Some sites had concrete pads, but ours was packed dirt with a brick patio for the picnic table. We had free WiFi and good cell signals for both Verizon and Sprint. There was a little road noise from Hwy. 101, but the park itself was very quiet. In spite of the cost (which is pretty steep for an RV site), we would definitely consider a return visit.

December 15, 2019

California Road Trip 2019 - Pinnacles National Park

Sunday, September 8, 2019
Santa Rosa to Pinnacles, CA
Pinnacles National Park
Site #115D
Route: 101 to 19th Street (S.F.) to 280 to 85 101 to 25 to 146
Distance: 186 miles
Duration: 2 nights
Cost: $40 per night
Weather: Sunny and hot (80s)

This was our first day of stressful driving, but nothing we didn't expect or couldn't handle. After an easy trip down Highway 101, freeway driving in and around San Francisco was not the most fun, especially in an RV. I also had to fight some wind near Hollister and the winding road from there to Pinnacles is very long, making for a tedious journey. The campground entrance is on the east side of the park and it feels like it's out in the middle of nowhere. Probably because it is! It's pretty, in a central California way, but so isolated that I can't imagine making a return visit. There weren't a lot of campers when we arrived, maybe a half dozen or so, which made for a peaceful stay.

Our site was fairly level with power, but no water. (There were spigots scattered around the park for those who wished to fill jugs or top off their fresh water tanks.) We had a picnic table and fire ring and plenty of trees for shade, which we were thankful for since it was quite hot. There wasn't any cell service (Verizon or Sprint) and the WiFi was $10 per day (which we decided against), so we spent our mornings riding bikes and the hot afternoons reading in the shade. We even had a few visitors roaming past several times a day and got lucky and spotted a California condor high in the sky!

Very dry!

Thankful for the shade.

Off season camping.

This is actually a road, not a bike path!

Peaks View

Wild turkeys hiding in the brush.

Acorn Woodpecker

A California condor!

This is retirement!