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January 31, 2020

Looking Back - Memoirs of a Geisha

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.




Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
Fiction
1999 Vintage (first published in 1997)
Read in May 1999

Rating: 3/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:


A literary sensation and runaway bestseller, this brilliant debut novel presents with seamless authenticity and exquisite lyricism the true confessions of one of Japan's most celebrated geisha.

In Memoirs of a Geisha, we enter a world where appearances are paramount; where a girl's virginity is auctioned to the highest bidder; where women are trained to beguile the most powerful men; and where love is scorned as illusion. It is a unique and triumphant work of fiction—at once romantic, erotic, suspenseful—and completely unforgettable.

My Original Notes (1999):

Good, but not great. I enjoyed learning about the culture, as well as the life of a geisha, but I didn't feel a connection to any of the characters. They were fairly one-dimensional. The story was a typical Cinderella love story with a predictable ending. Still, not bad.

My Current Thoughts:

I read this for a book club discussion in the late 90s. As far as I can tell, this is the only novel written by Golden.

January 29, 2020

Two Girls Down



Two Girls Down by Louisa Luna
Alice Vega #1
Mystery
2018 Doubleday
Finished on January 24, 2020
Rating: 4.5/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

It's a mother's worst nightmare. Jamie Brandt's two young daughters, Kylie and Bailey, disappear without a trace from a strip mall parking lot in their hometown of Denville, Pennsylvania. The devastated family hires Alice Vega, a former bounty hunter whose intellect is matched only by her relentless determination to get results.

Immediately shut out by a contentious police department stretched thin by budget cuts and the growing OxyContin and meth epidemics, Vega partners with a former cop, Max Caplan, to help her navigate the local scene. She will go to any length to follow the slippery trail of the missing girls no matter where it leads and to bring them home before they are lost forever. 

Louisa Luna is a masterful, fearless storyteller. Intense, suspenseful, and deeply resonant from the first line to its riveting conclusion, Two Girls Down is a thrilling work about how far people will go to protect and save their family.

Wow. What a great book! I hadn't heard of Louisa Luna until recently and then it was as if she was everywhere. I first heard her name mentioned on a literary podcast as the host was referencing Luna's second book, The Janes. Shortly after that, my interest was further piqued when I read about The Janes on Jenclair's blog (A Garden Carried in the Pocket). I quickly placed a library request for Two Girls Down, which is the first in this series. 

To say I devoured this book is an understatement. I read 150 pages the first night and had to force myself to turn out the light well after midnight. I couldn't stop reading! I managed to draw it out a little longer over the course of the next few days, but it's such a compelling page-turner, one could easily finish it in a single day. Alice Vega and Max Caplan are a great team, reminiscent of Dennis Lehane's Kenzie/Gennaro duo. I love their chemistry and the humorous one-liners had me laughing out loud. Vega reminds me of Marvel's Jessica Jones with her kick-ass, no-nonsense personality. The only reason I didn't give this book a perfect 5-star rating is that the ending got very confusing and I had to flip back and forth, reacquainting myself with characters whose names were briefly mentioned early on. There were a lot of secondary characters and red herrings and I wasn't able to identify the kidnapper until revealed by the author.  I can't wait to get my hands on The Janes and I hope Luna is busy writing a third installment in this series. If you enjoy an evenly-paced, tension-packed crime novel with not only believable, but lovable characters, I strongly recommend Two Girls Down. As soon as I finished, I passed it on to my husband who agrees that it's a winner. I love discovering a new series!

January 28, 2020

California Road Trip 2019 - Tuttle Creek Campground - Lone Pine (Part I)

Thursday, September 26, 2019
Cantil to Lone Pine, CA
Tuttle Creek Campground BLM (Bureau of Land Managment)
Route: Hwy 14 to Hwy 395
Distance: 98 miles
Duration: 2 nights
Cost: $4 per night (50% senior discount)
Weather: Sunny and warm (80s)

We had a very short and easy drive up Hwy. 395 from Red Rock Canyon State Park to Lone Pine. The weather was perfect and the view of the mountains took my breath away. We stopped at the Visitor Center where I got a few postcards, a t-shirt, and took in the scenery. Wow!




The view from the Visitor Center.



I could gaze up at this mountain range all day!

We decided to stop in at the Museum of Western Film History, which is located on Main Street (Hwy. 395) in Lone Pine. There is plenty of parking, so we didn't have to find a spot on a side street for the RV. We wandered around the exhibits for an hour or so and enjoyed watching a video about the movies that were filmed in the Alabama Hills, including Star Wars and Iron Man. At $5 a person, it was worth the visit.





















After a mediocre lunch at the Bonanza Mexican Restaurant in downtown Lone Pine, we made our way up the hill to Tuttle Creek Campground. We used our Senior Pass to get 50% off the nightly fee of $8.00, which made for a very inexpensive stay. Tuttle Creek is a dry campground (no hookups) but there are vault toilets, picnic tables, fire rings, decent cell service (for both Verizon and Sprint) and amazing views of Mt. Whitney and Lone Pine Peak. Another first-come, first-served campground, we were surprised to have so many sites available to us in the middle of the afternoon. We took #52 toward the end of the loop at the top of the hill, but we now know that some of the best sites (#6, #18, and #20) are next to the creek. Not only can you hear the water from those sites, but some have a fair amount of shade, which would have been nice as it was pretty hot.






Tuttle Creek





















After dinner we took a long walk, enjoying the peace and quiet. The campground wasn't very full and it almost felt like we were boondocking. Lovely spot.

Click on photo for larger view.

January 26, 2020

A Decade of Favorites (2010 - 2019)



2010

Mudbound by Hilary Jordan (5/5)

The Help by Kathryn Stockett (5/5)

Lift by Kelly Corrigan (5/5)

Every Last One by Anna Quindlen (5/5)

Faithful Place by Tana French (5/5)

World Without End by Ken Follett (5/5)

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski (5/5)

Room by Emma Donoghue (5/5)

Left Neglected by Lisa Genova (5/5)

Stiltsville by Susanna Daniel (4.75/5)


2011

Sing You Home by Jodi Picoult (4.5/5)

Shoot to Thrill by P.J. Tracy (4.5/5)

Joy For Beginners by Erica Bauermeister (4.5/5)

The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown (4.5/5)

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson (4.5/5)

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery (4.5/5)

The Pioneer Woman: From High Heels to Tractor Wheels by Ree Drummond (4.5/5)

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese (4.5/5)

Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson (4.5/5)

Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante (4.75/5)

Beachcombing For A Shipwrecked God by Joe Coomer (4.5/5)

The Arrivals by Meg Mitchell Moore (4.75/5)

Faith by Jennifer Haigh (4.5/5)


2012

The Homecoming of Samuel Lake by Jenny Wingfield (5/5)

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (4/5)

Gone by Mo Hayder (5/5)

Little Princes by Conor Grennan (5/5)

Paris in Love by Eloisa James (4.5/5)

The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus by Sonya Sones (4.5/5)

Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver (4.75/5)

Emily, Alone by Stewart O'Nan (4.75/5)

The Passage by Justin Cronin (4.75/5)

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (4.5/5)


2013

The Lost Art of Mixing by Erica Bauermeister (4.5/5)

Broken Harbor by Tana French (4.75/5)

The Shadow In the Streets by Susan Hill (4.5/5)

The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman (5/5)

The Fifth Wave by Rick Yancy (4.75/5)

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell (4.75/5)

The Aviator's Wife by Melanie Benjamin (4.75/5)

The Fault In Our Stars by John Green (4.75/5)

Calling Me Home by Julie Kibler (4.5/5)

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes (4.75/5)


2014

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman (4.5/5)

Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger (4.75/5)

Attachments by Rainbow Rowell (4.5/5)

East of Eden by John Steinbeck (4.5/5)

Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt (4.5/5)

A Dog's Purpose by Bruce Cameron (4.5/5)

The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe (4.5/5)

This Dark Road to Mercy by Wiley Cash (4.75/5)

The Circle by Dave Eggers (4.5/5)

That Part Was True by Deborah McKinlay (4.5/5)

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller (4.75/5)

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (5/5)

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout (4.5/5)

Orphan Train by Kristina Baker Kline (4.5/5)


2015

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (4.5/5)

The Various Haunts of Men by Susan Hill (4.5/5)

Being Mortal by Atul Gawande (4.5/5)

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion (4.5/5)

The Bear by Claire Cameron (4.5/5)

Wonder by R.J. Palacio (5/5)

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz (4.75/5)

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Brackman (4.5/5)

Inside the O'Briens by Lisa Genova (4.75/5)

Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult (4.5/5)

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin (5/5)

Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf (4.5/5)


2016

You Will Not Have My Hate by Antoine Leiris (4.5/5)

Behind Closed Doors by B. A. Paris (5/5)

Leveling the Playing Field by Rod Scher (4.5/5)

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch (4.5/5)

The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult (4.75/5)

Say What You Will by Cammie McGovern (4.5/5)

Be Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson (4.5/5)

A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash (4.5/5)

City of Thieves by David Benioff (5/5)

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker (4.5/5)

The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar (4.5/5)

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah (4.5/5)

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd (4.5/5)

What Comes Next and How to Like It by Abigail Thomas (4.5/5)


2017

The House at Tyneford by Natasha Solomons (5/5)

The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying by Nina Riggs (5/5)

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (5/5)

84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff (5/5)

Night by Elie Wiesel (5/5)

News of the World by Paulette Jiles (4.5/5)

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman (4.5/5)

The Children's Crusade by Ann Packer (4.5/5)

A Celibate Season by Carol Shields (4.5/5)

The Book That Matters Most by Ann Hood (4.5/5)


2018

This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel (5/5)

Tell Me More by Kelly Corrigan (5/5)

Inside the O'Briens by Lisa Genova (4.75/5)

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows (4.75/5)

Dear Fahrenheit 451 by Annie Spence (4.5/5)

The Heart's Invisible Furies by John Boyne (4.5/5)

The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn (4.5/5)

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles (4.5/5)

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate (4.5/5)

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult (4.5/5)


2019

Maybe You Should Talk To Someone by Lori Gottlieb (5/5)

Henry, Himself by Stewart O'Nan (5/5)

Night of Miracles by Elizabeth Berg (5/5)

How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny (5/5)

Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny (5/5)

Becoming by Michelle Obama (5/5)

The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker (4.5/5)

Devotion by Dani Shapiro (4.5/5)

Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane (4.5/5)

A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne (4.5/5)

My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She's Sorry by Fredrik Backman (4.5/5)

Kitchen Yarns by Ann Hood (4.5/5)

The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny (4.5/5)

After You by Jojo Moyes (4.5/5)

Whiskey When We're Dry by John Larison (4.5/5)

A Rule Against Murder by Louise Penny (4.5/5)

The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny (4.5/5)


Click on the link to read my review.

January 25, 2020

California Road Trip 2019 - Red Rock Canyon State Park (Part II)

Thursday, September 26, 2019
Red Rock Canyon State Park

It was a beautiful morning, although it was getting hot even as early as 6:30. With no cell service, our morning routine was shortened so we were ready to get on the road shortly after breakfast. I took a walk before we checked out, snapping a few more pictures of the beautiful rocks and campground.


 Bedroom window view!


 Sunrise














Onward to Lone Pine!

January 24, 2020

Looking Back - Message in a Bottle

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.




Message in a Bottle by Nicholas Sparks
Fiction
1999 Grand Central Publishing (first published in 1998)
Read in April 1999
Rating: 1/5 (Poor)

Publisher's Blurb:


Thrown to the waves, and to fate, the bottle could have ended up anywhere. Instead, it is found just three weeks after it begins its journey. Theresa Osborne, divorced and the mother of a twelve-year-old son, discovers it during a seaside vacation from her job as a Boston newspaper columnist. Inside is a letter that opens with, "My Dearest Catherine, I miss you my darling, as I always do, but today is particularly hard because the ocean has been singing to me, and the song is that of our life together...." For Garrett, the message is the only way he knows to express his undying love for a woman he has lost. For Theresa, wary of romance since her husband shattered her trust, the message raises questions that intrigue her. Challenged by the mystery, and driven to find Garrett by emotions she does not fully understand, Theresa begins a search that takes her to a sunlit coastal town and an unexpected confrontation. Brought together either by chance or something more powerful, Theresa and Garrett's lives come together in a tale that resonates with our deepest hopes for finding everlasting love. Shimmering with suspense and emotional intensity, Message in a Bottle takes readers on a hunt for the truth about a man and his memories, and about both the heartbreaking fragility and enormous strength of love. For those who cherished The Notebook and readers waiting to discover the magic of Nicholas Sparks's storytelling, here is an achingly lovely novel of happenstance, desire, and the choices that matter most.

My Original Notes (1999):

Fluff. Pretty much a no-brainer and almost an entire waste of time. Simplistic and amateurish sentence structure, bordering on boring. Predictable. Why did I bother?? And everyone said the book was better than the movie. I certainly won't see it now.

My Current Thoughts:

Blech.

January 23, 2020

Convenience Store Woman



Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata
Translated from the Japanese by Ginny Tapley Takemori
Fiction
2018 Grove Press
Finished on January 21, 2020
Rating: 1/5 (Poor)

Publisher's Blurb:

Keiko Furukura had always been considered a strange child, and her parents always worried how she would get on in the real world, so when she takes on a job in a convenience store while at university, they are delighted for her. For her part, in the convenience store she finds a predictable world mandated by the store manual, which dictates how the workers should act and what they should say, and she copies her coworkers' style of dress and speech patterns so she can play the part of a normal person. However, eighteen years later, at age 36, she is still in the same job, has never had a boyfriend, and has only few friends. She feels comfortable in her life but is aware that she is not living up to society's expectations and causing her family to worry about her. When a similarly alienated but cynical and bitter young man comes to work in the store, he will upset Keiko's contented stasis—but will it be for the better?

Sayaka Murata brilliantly captures the atmosphere of the familiar convenience store that is so much part of life in Japan. With some laugh-out-loud moments prompted by the disconnect between Keiko's thoughts and those of the people around her, she provides a sharp look at Japanese society and the pressure to conform, as well as penetrating insights into the female mind. Convenience Store Woman is a fresh, charming portrait of an unforgettable heroine that recalls Banana Yoshimoto, Han Kang, and Amelie.


My dear friend Meredith (of Dolce Bellezza) has been hosting a Japanese Literature challenge for the past 13 years. Every year I consider participating in this event, but I have to admit it's not a genre I particularly care for. Prior to reading Convenience Store Woman, I think the only other translated Japanese book that I've read is Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto. I was disappointed with both of these books, not quite understanding their large appeal. While perusing the reviews on Goodreads for Convenience Store Woman, I was surprised to see so many 4 and 5 star ratings. Not only did readers love this novel, but they thought it was brilliant! I scrolled and scrolled, searching for a 1 or 2 star rating, but they were few and far between. I am definitely in the minority on this one. The dialogue was unrealistic and stilted and the premise of the story was unsettling and ridiculous. After a dozen or so pages, I grew bored and impatient to finish. Had it not been such a short book, I would have given up halfway through.

Click here to read Bellezza's thoughts on this novel.

January 22, 2020

California Road Trip 2019 - Red Rock Canyon State Park (Part I)

Wednesday, September 25, 2019
Playa Del Rey to Cantil, CA
Red Rock Canyon State Park
Route: I-405 to I-5 to Hwy. 14
Distance: 132 miles
Duration: 1 night
Cost: $23 (senior price)
Weather: HOT! 94 degrees
Cell Service: None

We had an easy drive through L.A. thanks to the slow traffic. We stopped for groceries at Trader Joe's on Sepulveda, got gas (and lunch) at Costco in Santa Clarita, and filled our propane tank in Mohave. It felt like the beginning of our big adventure!

We arrived at Red Rock Canyon State Park without reservations and didn't have any problem finding a site nestled up against the rocks.
Red Rock Canyon State Park features scenic desert cliffs, buttes and spectacular rock formations. The park is located where the southernmost tip of the Sierra Nevada converge with the El Paso Range. Each tributary canyon is unique, with dramatic shapes and vivid colors.
Historically, the area was once home to the Kawaiisu Indians, who left petroglyphs in the El Paso mountains and other evidence of their inhabitation. The spectacular gash situated at the western edge of the El Paso mountain range was on the Native American trade route for thousands of years. During the early 1870s, the colorful rock formations in the park served as landmarks for 20-mule team freight wagons that stopped for water. About 1850, it was used by the footsore survivors of the famous Death Valley trek including members of the Arcane and Bennett families along with some of the Illinois Jayhawkers. The park now protects significant paleontology sites and the remains of 1890s-era mining operations, and has been the site for a number of movies.
After wet winters, the park's floral displays are stunning. The beauty of the desert, combined with the geologic features make this park a camper's favorite destination. Wildlife you may encounter includes roadrunners, hawks, lizards, mice and squirrels.
There was nobody else in the park. Not even a ranger! The Visitor Center was closed, so I dropped our check in the payment box (this is a first-come, first-served park) and continued to ride my bike, checking out the other sites. The campground has 50 sites, all of which are primitive (no RV hookups or showers), but there are public restrooms and potable water. Our site had a picnic table and fire ring, but it was far too hot to enjoy a campfire. 

The rock formations look so pretty against the brilliant blue sky and the entire park was silent. We didn't see any animals and only a wren or two. Three other campers arrived in the late afternoon, but it remained very still and quiet. The stars were amazing and once again, I wished for a better camera to capture the night sky. 



Definitely not L.A.!




















A Dr. Seuss band!








The sky was gorgeous!





With no neighbors close by, we had a very peaceful night.