February 28, 2020

Looking Back - Five Fortunes

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.

Five Fortunes by Beth Gutcheon
1998 Cliff Street Books
Read in June 1999
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

Witty, wise, and hope-filled, Five Fortunes is a large-hearted tale of five vivid and unforgettable women who know where they've been but have no idea where they're going. A lively octogenarian, a private investigator, a mother and daughter with an unresolved past, and a recently widowed politician's wife share little else except a thirst for new dreams, but after a week at the luxurious health spa known as "Fat Chance" their lives will be intertwined in ways they couldn't have imagined. At a place where doctors, lawyers, spoiled housewives, movie stars, and captains of industry are stripped of the social markers that keep them from really seeing one another, unexpected friendships emerge, reminding us of the close links between the rich and the poor, fortune and misfortune, and the magic of chance.

My Original Notes (1999):

Wonderful book. Reminded me a little bit of The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. I was disappointed with the ending, which fell flat with lots of loose ends. Overall a very good "fluff" read. Not great literature, but fun.

My Current Thoughts:

I read this back when books that centered around women's friendships were very popular. I remember how much I loved this one, but I wonder if it would still appeal to me now. I own a copy, so it may wind up on my re-read stack this summer.

February 27, 2020

Things You Save in a Fire

Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center
2019 St. Martin's Press
Finished on February 23, 2020
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

Cassie Hanwell was born for emergencies. As one of the only female firefighters in her Texas firehouse, she's seen her fair share of them, and she's excellent at dealing with other people's tragedies. But when her estranged and ailing mother asks her to uproot her life and move to Boston, it's an emergency of a kind Cassie never anticipated.

The tough, old-school Boston firehouse is as different from Cassie's old job as it could possibly be. Hazing, a lack of funding, and poor facilities mean that the firemen aren't exactly thrilled to have a "lady" on the crew, even one as competent and smart as Cassie. Except for the handsome rookie, who doesn't seem to mind having Cassie around. But she can't think about that. Because she doesn't fall in love. And because of the advice her old captain gave her: don't date firefighters. Cassie can feel her resolve slipping...but will she jeopardize her place in a career where she's worked so hard to be taken seriously?

Katherine Center's Things You Save in a Fire is a heartfelt, affecting novel about life, love, and the true meaning of courage.

I've never read anything by Katherine Center, but I was drawn to this book's eye-catching cover while perusing the New Release shelf at the library. I was pretty sure I had read a few positive reviews for the novel on Goodreads, so I quickly added it to my stack. I had a few books on my nightstand that I wanted to read first, so this lingered there until a few days ago. I settled in and read the first chapter, but it wasn't doing anything for me and I almost quit. Cassie, Center's protagonist, reminded me of Janet Evanovich's comical character, Stephanie Plum. The writing felt a little too fluffy and having just come off a strong, literary novel (The Snow Child), I wasn't prepared to switch gears and start in on what felt like a beach read. But I also didn't want to return the book without giving it a chance, so later that night I began the second chapter and got sucked in. I wound up reading over a hundred pages before finally turning out the light. I was hooked!

Reminiscent of Jojo Moyes' Me Before You trilogy, Things You Save in a Fire is a solid, feel-good read. I enjoyed the romance, in spite of the predictability of Cassie and Owen's relationship, but I also appreciate getting a glimpse into the life of a firefighter. Cassie may have reminded me somewhat of Stephanie Plum, but the themes in this novel are more serious than those in Evanovich's mysteries. Not only will I seek out more books from Katherine Center's backlist, but I can wholeheartedly recommend this book when asked for suggestions for a good comfort read.

February 26, 2020

California Road Trip 2019 - Lee Vining and Mono Lake

Thursday, October 3, 2019
Lee Vining, CA

We woke up to super cold temps (27 degrees!) and the furnace would not ignite, so we got our Mr. Heater Buddy going and that took the chill off, but it doesn't really get the RV as warm as the furnace. I had a relaxing morning while Rod looked at a few YouTube videos to see if he could fix the furnace, but sadly, no luck. Could be an altitude issue, so we'll wait and see if we have the same problem when we're at a lower altitude.

I walked into town (such as it is) and passed a cute coffee place (Latte Da), but had already had enough caffeine for the day, so I wandered over to the Mono Lake Committee Information Center and Bookstore, which carries some lovely jewelry, pottery and artwork, as well as a nice selection of books.

Mono Lake

We had a relaxing evening with drinks outside before it got cold. The wind was very gusty, but thankfully it didn't keep us awake.

February 25, 2020

California Road Trip 2019 - June Lake and Lee Vining

Wednesday, October 2, 2019
Bishop to Lee Vining, California
Mono Vista RV Park
Site #23
Distance: 75 miles
Duration: 2 nights
Cost: $37 per night
Weather: Cold mornings

We had a pretty (albeit short) drive north after a quick stop at Vons for some groceries. The trip was very easy and uneventful; the most exciting part was reaching Deadman's Summit, which is 8,047 miles above sea level. Since we had less than a hundred miles to travel, we decided to take a short detour and go into June Lake for lunch. After a drive around the lake, we made our way to June Lake Brewing where we found Ohana's (a bright orange food truck) in the neighboring parking lot. I first heard about these two venues while researching places to visit along Highway 395. Laurel, of Raven and Chickadee, said Ohana's (Hawaiian soul food) has the best chicken, fish, and pork tacos on the planet, so of course we had to go! I mean, tacos! Oh, my goodness. She wasn't kidding! Not only were the tacos insanely good, but the Honolulu fried noodles were incredible. I can see why Laurel and Eric ate there twice when they were in June Lake. After placing our order at the food truck, we wandered over to the brewery and got a couple of beers. Our meal was delivered to our table within a few minutes and we enjoyed sitting in the sun, savoring each bite and sip, stuffing ourselves silly. 


Hawaiian Fried Noodles and Chicken Tacos

Drums & Guitar Porter (mine) and Beyond the Pale Ale (Rod's)

Great sign!

After our amazing lunch, it was time to make our way to our next RV park. Mono Vista RV Park is a quaint little campground with lots of trees & grass and within walking distance of Lee Vining and a short drive to Mono Lake. Our site was fairly level (gravel pad) with full hook-ups, a picnic table (no fire ring), but the sites are fairly close together and we could hear young children in a tent camper a few sites away. We had fair Verizon coverage and free WiFi, but no Sprint service. 

Mono Lake

Sadly, we were a week or so too early for any magnificent fall colors, so we'll just have to plan to go back another time. Fall colors, fried noodles and fish tacos, yes please!

February 21, 2020

Looking Back - A Prayer for Owen Meany

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 Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
1989 Ballantine Books
Read in June 1999
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

Eleven-year-old Owen Meany, playing in a Little League baseball game in Gravesend, New Hampshire, hits a foul ball and kills his best friend's mother. Owen doesn't believe in accidents; he believes he is God's instrument. What happens to Owen after that 1953 foul is both extraordinary and terrifying. At moments a comic, self-deluded victim, but in the end the principal, tragic actor in a divine plan, Owen Meany is the most heartbreaking hero John Irving has yet created.

My Original Notes (1999):

Fantastic! My first encounter with Irving and I love his style. Definitely want to read more by him.

I wrote the above before I got very far in the novel. I enjoyed the book a lot, but I didn't love it. The middle dragged - actually, it didn't drag, but it was so much more serious than the first part. I loved the humorous parts when Johnny and Owen were still children.

My Current Thoughts:

I re-read this novel in 2005 and enjoyed it even better than the first time around. I wrote the following about that second reading:

It's been almost five years since I first read this and I was a little worried about re-reading it for an online group discussion (some re-reads are just as good the second time around, but others are disappointing, leaving me to wonder if I should ever re-read a favorite and possibly spoil that first impression). Well, I need not have worried. I loved this book! I thought it was fantastic back in 1999 and loved it just as much, if not more, this second time around. Ironically, when I originally read it, I enjoyed the first half much more than the second. I preferred the humor that was so predominate when John and Owen were children and felt the second half was much more serious. This time, I preferred the second half and was slightly bored with the first. There was quite a lot of foreshadowing, yet in spite of it all I still could not for the life of me remember how the book ended. I suppose getting older and forgetful has its benefits.

A Favorite Passage:
When someone you love dies, and you're not expecting it, you don't lose her all at once; you lose her in pieces over a long time - the way the mail stops coming, and her scent fades from the pillows and even from the clothes in her closet and drawers. Gradually, you accumulate the parts of her that are gone. Just when the day comes - when there's a particular missing part that overwhelms you with the feeling that she's gone, forever - there comes another day, and another specifically missing part.

February 20, 2020

The Snow Child

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
2012 Regan Arthur Books
Finished on February 18, 2020
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Magical, yes, but The Snow Child is also satisfyingly realistic in its depiction of 1920s homestead-era Alaska and the people who settle there, including an older couple bound together by resilient love. Eowyn Ivey's poignant debut novel grabbed me from the very first page. ~ Andromeda Romano-Lax, Author of The Spanish Bow

Publisher's Blurb:

Alaska, 1920: a brutal place to homestead, and especially tough for recent arrivals Jack and Mabel. Childless, they are drifting apart - he breaking under the weight of the work of the farm; she crumbling from loneliness and despair. In a moment of levity during the season's first snowfall, they build a child out of snow. The next morning the snow child is gone - but they glimpse a young, blonde-haired girl running through the trees.

This little girl, who calls herself Faina, seems to be a child of the woods. She hunts with a red fox at her side, skims lightly across the snow, and somehow survives alone in the Alaskan wilderness. As Jack and Mabel struggle to understand this child who could have stepped from the pages of a fairy tale, they come to love her as their own daughter. But in this beautiful, violent place, things are rarely as they appear, and what they eventually learn about Faina will transform all of them.

The Snow Child has been on my TBR list since it was first published and I'm so glad that I finally made the time to read it. I rarely make New Year's resolutions, but last month while looking at Goodreads, I was shocked to see that I have close to 800 titles on my list of books I want to read. It's so easy to read the latest releases, but there are so many great books that have been languishing on my list for years. Some have been there since I first joined Goodreads, dating back to 2012. So, I decided to flip the order of the list so I could see what I first added and will try to read from those early choices throughout the year. The Snow Child was at the top of the list and it didn't disappoint!

I've never been a big fan of magical realism, but the elements of this narrative style are subtle in Ivey's debut and I was quickly swept up in this charming tale. The main characters are fully realized and I especially enjoyed watching the growing friendship develop between Mabel and her neighbor, Esther. My attention began to wane somewhat toward the middle of the book, but the tension resumed and I was once again engrossed, eager to see what lay ahead. The problem with magical realism is that one has to suspend disbelief and while reading The Snow Child, there were a few instances in which I wanted a logical explanation, but as with fables and fairy tales, one cannot expect a rational reason for every action. I am willing to accept the inexplicable and have a feeling that this story will stay with me a long time. I'm amazed that The Snow Child is the author's first book and I can't wait to get my hands on a copy of her second novel, To the Bright Edge of the World, which is also set in Alaska at the turn of the nineteenth century.

Favorite Passages:
We never know what is going to happen, do we? Life is always throwing us this way and that. That’s where the adventure is. Not knowing where you’ll end up or how you’ll fare. It’s all a mystery, and when we say any different, we’re just lying to ourselves. Tell me, when have you felt most alive?
When she slowly straightened, the land was vast before her. The sun was setting down the river, casting a cold pink hue along the white-capped mountains that framed both sides of the valley. Upriver, the willow shrubs and gravel bars, the spruce forests and low-lying poplar stands, swelled to the mountains in steely blue. No fields or fences, homes or roads; not a single living soul as far as she could see in any direction. Only wilderness.

February 19, 2020


Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love by Dani Shapiro
Nonfiction - Memoir
2019 Random House Audio
Read by the author
Finished on February 16, 2020
Rating: 3/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

What makes us who we are? What combination of memory, history, biology, experience, and that ineffable thing called the soul defines us? 

In the spring of 2016, through a genealogy website to which she had whimsically submitted her DNA for analysis, Dani Shapiro received the stunning news that her father was not her biological father. She woke up one morning and her entire history—the life she had lived—crumbled beneath her.

Inheritance is a book about secrets—secrets within families, kept out of shame or self-protectiveness; secrets we keep from one another in the name of love. It is the story of a woman’s urgent quest to unlock the story of her own identity, a story that has been scrupulously hidden from her for more than fifty years, years she had spent writing brilliantly, and compulsively, on themes of identity and family history. It is a book about the extraordinary moment we live in—a moment in which science and technology have outpaced not only medical ethics but also the capacities of the human heart to contend with the consequences of what we discover.

After reading Dani Shapiro's previous memoir, Devotion (which I loved), I was anxious to try this more recent book about the shocking discovery of her paternity. I enjoyed listening to the memoir, and Shapiro does a fine job reading the audio, but it didn't resonate with me nearly as much as Devotion. I grew weary of her search (and incessant whining) for answers from anyone who may have known why her parents not only used a sperm donor, but why they never told her of her true identity. I can only imagine what a shock it must have been to learn that her father was not her biological father, but does it really matter? Obviously, medical histories are important for one's own well-being, as well as that of one's children, but that aside, is it really life-shattering to learn your parent isn't really your parent? If you spent your entire life with them, doesn't that make them your parents?

I didn't love this book, but I keep turning it over in my head and think it would make a great book group selection. There is so much to discuss and so many opinions on both sides of  the debate. How would I feel if I learned my dad wasn't my dad? Would I seek out the sperm donor who was part of my creation and would I long for a relationship with that individual after almost 60 years of life with another "father"? Would I want to search for any half-siblings and become a part of their lives or they mine? Would it be too much emotional drama to inflict on that biological parent (and his family), who would now be in his 80s?
...later, it will occur to me that Ben Walden felt to me like my native country. I had never lived in this country. I had never spoken its language or become steeped in its customs. I had no passport or record of citizenship. Still, I had been shaped by my country of origin all my life, suffused with an inchoate longing to know my own land.
I can appreciate Shapiro's prose, but this memoir annoyed me. It was repetitive and self-indulgent; I lost track of how many times the author mentioned the number of books she's published. I can understand her motivations, but she comes across as narcissistic and the book felt overly wrought with regurgitated feelings of anger, self-doubt and obsession. Meh.

February 17, 2020

California Road Trip 2019 - Lone Pine and Bishop

Tuesday, October 1, 2019
Lone Pine to Bishop, CA
J Diamond Mobile Ranch
Site #6
Distance: A mere 63 miles
Duration: 1 night
Cost: $40
Weather: Cold mornings!

We spent most of Monday doing laundry, cleaning and prepping for our next travel day. Rod was suffering from a cold, so we were both a bit tired after a restless night. When we woke up, it was really cold, but it didn't take long for the furnace to take off the chill. We continued to monitor the weather at June Lake, but decided the lows would be too cold for an overnight, so we made plans to head up to Bishop, which would also be cold but hopefully no snow.

It was a beautiful day and I was able to get a few more shots of the mountains before we headed north on Hwy. 395.

Mount Whitney

We stayed at a small RV park in Bishop, located behind Erick Schat's Bakkery. Thankfully, we were only there for one night as the sites were extremely tight. I don't remember ever being so close to our neighbors in any other campground. I could even hear someone's TV or radio while sitting inside our rig with the windows closed. The neighbor on the other side was quiet, but we could barely walk between our picnic table and his slideout, so we moved the table out of the way for the day. It wasn't the nicest park, but it was clean and very convenient to town.

After a decent lunch at El Pollo Loco (it'd been at least 25 years since we last had one of their meals!), we decided to wander around town, stopping in at a bookstore and grabbing a coffee at the Black Sheep Espresso Bar. We enjoyed our drinks on their back patio, while basking in the warmth of the sun. 

The following morning was just as cold as the previous day, so I bundled up before walking around the corner to the bakery to get a few pastries for our breakfast. It's probably a good thing we don't live near Erick Schat's. I'm not a huge fan of ice cream, but when it comes to baked goods, I'm like a kid in a candy store. So many choices and everything I chose was delicious!

One of each, please!

Decisions, decisions.

Oh, my goodness!

On the plus side, J Diamond Mobile Ranch has a few trees and grassy areas, but the pads are packed dirt, and as mentioned, extremely tight. We had full hookups, a picnic table on a concrete pad, free WiFi, and great cell service with Sprint and Verizon. However, other than the proximity to downtown and the bakery, this is the least desirable park we have encountered. It's probably fine for an overnight, but I would look elsewhere if we're ever in the area again.

 Glad we decided against June Lake.

February 15, 2020

The Long Way Home

The Long Way Home by Louise Penny
Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #10
2014 Minotaur Books
Finished on February 12, 2020
Rating: 3/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

Happily retired in the village of Three Pines, Armand Gamache, former Chief Inspector of Homicide with the Sûreté du Québec, has found a peace he’d only imagined possible. On warm summer mornings he sits on a bench holding a small book, The Balm in Gilead, in his large hands. "There is a balm in Gilead," his neighbor Clara Morrow reads from the dust jacket, "to make the wounded whole."

While Gamache doesn’t talk about his wounds and his balm, Clara tells him about hers. Peter, her artist husband, has failed to come home. Failed to show up as promised on the first anniversary of their separation. She wants Gamache’s help to find him. Having finally found sanctuary, Gamache feels a near revulsion at the thought of leaving Three Pines. "There’s power enough in Heaven," he finishes the quote as he contemplates the quiet village, "to cure a sin-sick soul." And then he gets up. And joins her.

Together with his former second-in-command, Jean-Guy Beauvoir, and Myrna Landers, they journey deeper and deeper into Québec. And deeper and deeper into the soul of Peter Morrow. A man so desperate to recapture his fame as an artist, he would sell that soul. And may have. The journey takes them further and further from Three Pines, to the very mouth of the great St. Lawrence River. To an area so desolate, so damned, the first mariners called it "the land God gave to Cain." And there they discover the terrible damage done by a sin-sick soul.

I took quite a long break from this series (seven months!), so when I finally decided to jump back in, I was more than a little anxious to see what was in store for Gamache and the folks in Three Pines. I was concerned that I wouldn't remember important details from the conclusion of How the Light Gets In, but Louise Penny does a fine job with backstory details and my memory was quickly refreshed. I enjoyed this tenth installment in the series, but halfway in I became impatient and, dare I say, bored with the plot. I have read comments by other readers and know that I am not alone in this sentiment. Thankfully, Ruth Zardo continues to be a favorite character and her presence helped keep me from tossing the book aside. Fingers crossed that The Nature of the Beast is not another disappointment.

February 14, 2020

Looking Back - Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

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.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter #1
Young Reader Fiction
1998 Scholastic
Read in May 1999
Rating: 3/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

Harry Potter's life is miserable. His parents are dead and he's stuck with his heartless relatives, who force him to live in a tiny closet under the stairs. But his fortune changes when he receives a letter that tells him the truth about himself: he's a wizard. A mysterious visitor rescues him from his relatives and takes him to his new home, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

After a lifetime of bottling up his magical powers, Harry finally feels like a normal kid. But even within the Wizarding community, he is special. He is the boy who lived: the only person to have ever survived a killing curse inflicted by the evil Lord Voldemort, who launched a brutal takeover of the Wizarding world, only to vanish after failing to kill Harry.

Though Harry's first year at Hogwarts is the best of his life, not everything is perfect. There is a dangerous secret object hidden within the castle walls, and Harry believes it's his responsibility to prevent it from falling into evil hands. But doing so will bring him into contact with forces more terrifying than he ever could have imagined.

Full of sympathetic characters, wildly imaginative situations, and countless exciting details, the first installment in the series assembles an unforgettable magical world and sets the stage for many high-stakes adventures to come.

My Original Notes (1999):

Young adult fiction. Fantasy. On The New York Times best-seller list for weeks. Highly recommended by several Books.com members. These are the same readers who loved Phillip Pullman's The Golden Compass. Unfortunately, I don't share their enthusiasm for these youthful fantasies. Harry Potter was good, but I was easily bored and distracted while reading. Have I lost my inner child??

My Current Thoughts:

Unless you've been living under a rock for the past 20 years, you've either read this book, watched the movie, or at least recognize the boy with the scar on his forehead. I'm not sure how long it was after reading this story that I went on to listen to the audiobook (read by the amazing Jim Dale) but in spite of listening to his great narration, I'm not sure if it helped turn me into a Harry Potter fan. I did go on to read the entire series, but I wasn't as impressed as other readers.

February 11, 2020

California Road Trip 2019 - Manzanar National Historic Site

Sunday, September 29, 2019
Lone Pine, CA
Day Trip: Manzanar National Historic Site

One of the nice things about traveling without reservations is that if we decide we are enjoying our current location (or need to stay put due to adverse weather conditions further down the road), we can extend our stay. We were fortunate to be able to do just that since the temps at June Lake were still too cold (and with a possibility of snow). We looked forward to more downtime in Lone Pine, and we also wanted to visit Manzanar, so we reserved our site for two more nights.

Manzanar National Historic Site is a short (14 mile) drive up Hwy. 395 from our RV park in Lone Pine. We spent about three hours touring the Visitor Center and museum, driving the 3-mile self-guided tour around the camp, viewing the 20 minute film about about the camp, and exploring the various buildings (barracks, mess hall, etc.). The cemetery and monument were the most moving and I was glad it wasn't too busy with tourists so we could walk quietly, contemplating our country's past and present evils.

One Camp, Ten Thousand Lives; One Camp, Ten Thousand Stories
In 1942, the United States government ordered more than 110,000 men, women, and children to leave their homes and detained them in remote, military-style camps. Manzanar War Relocation Center was one of ten camps where Japanese American citizens and resident Japanese aliens were incarcerated during World War II. (National Park Service)
 Sentry Post

Manzanar was arranged into 36 blocks. In most blocks, up to 300 people crowded into 14 barracks. Initially, each barracks had four rooms with eight people per room. Everyone ate in a mess hall, washed clothes in a public laundry room, and shared latrines and showers with little privacy. The ironing room and recreation hall offered spaces for classes, shops, and churches. Over time, people personalized their barracks and most blocks evolved into distinct communities. (National Park Foundation)
Catholic stonemason Ryozo Kado built this obelisk in 1943 with help from residents of Block 9 and the Young Buddhist Association. On the east face, Buddhist Reverend Shinjo Nagatomi inscribed kanji characters that mean "soul consoling tower." People attended religious services here during the war. Today the monument is a focal point of the annual pilgrimage, serving as a symbol of solace and hope. (National Park Foundation)

I highly recommend a visit to this national historic site. It was a very moving experience and I'm glad we took the time to see it.