December 30, 2020

Nonfiction November Reading Challenge Results


I knew this was an ambitious selection for the Nonfiction November reading challenge, but I thought that by extending it into December, I'd be able to read most of these books. And yet, with the distraction of the election, my husband's shoulder surgery, Thanksgiving and preparing for Christmas I only managed to finish five from this shelf. I gave up on three others and still have four remaining. I don't mind the lower numbers, but I do mind the low ratings. While none of the five I finished were winners, I am glad I finally got around to reading them. 

Books Read (click on link for review):

Educated by Tara Westover (2/5)

Under a Wing by Reeve Lindbergh (2/5)

Once Upon a Town by Bob Greene (3/5)

Isaac's Storm by Erik Larson (3/5)

Howard's End is on the Landing by Susan Hill (3/5)

Books Abandoned:

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt

Confessions of a Counterfeit Farm Girl by Susan McCorkindale

Name All the Animals by Alison Smith

Saved for Future Reading:

Notorious RBG by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

The Longest Road by Philip Caputo

Jacob's Room is Full of Books by Susan Hill

December 28, 2020

Howards End is on the Landing


2010 Profile Books (first published in 2009)
Finished on December 25, 2020
Rating: 2/5 (Fair)

Publisher's Blurb:

This is a year of reading from home, by one of Britain's most distinguished authors.

Early one autumn afternoon in pursuit of an elusive book on her shelves, Susan Hill encountered dozens of others that she had never read, or forgotten she owned, or wanted to read for a second time.

The discovery inspired her to embark on a year-long voyage through her books, forsaking new purchases in order to get to know her own collection again.

A book which is left on a shelf for a decade is a dead thing, but it is also a chrysalis, packed with the potential to burst into new life. Wandering through her house that day, Hill's eyes were opened to how much of that life was stored in her home, neglected for years. 

Howards End is on the Landing charts the journey of one of the nation's most accomplished authors as she revisits the conversations, libraries and bookshelves of the past that have informed a lifetime of reading and writing.

I've read a couple of Susan Hill's Simon Serrallier mysteries (The Shadows in the Streets and The Various Haunts of Men are excellent!), but this was my first encounter with one of her nonfiction titles. I learned about Howards End is on the Landing from my friend Nan (Letters From a Hill Farm) many years ago. She loved the book and I was so inspired, I bought a copy to give to my mom without reading it ahead of time. I added both this book and Jacob's Room is Full of Books (also by Susan Hill) to my stack for the Nonfiction November reading challenge, eager to read a couple of books about books.

Oh, how I wanted to love this book. How could I not love a book about spending an entire year reading from one's own shelves? Nan spoke so fondly of it (you can read her thoughts here and here), but I am sorry to say that I found it rather dull. There is far too much name dropping and as I don't read a lot of British authors, many of the names were unfamiliar to me. I did enjoy the essay about Virginia Woolf (which has inspired me to give Mrs. Dalloway another reading), as well as one about children's books, but overall I was disappointed and admit that I even skimmed several pages. I hope Jacob's Room is Full of Books is the better of the two books. 

Be sure to visit Nan's blog and read her glowing review of this book. 

December 25, 2020

Merry Christmas!


Several of these ornaments
(and the photo) are at least 50 years old!

Wishing you all a very happy Christmas and a peaceful (and healthy) New Year.

December 22, 2020

Isaac's Storm


2000 Vintage Books (first published in 1999)
Finished on December 19, 2020
Rating: 3/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

September 8, 1900, began innocently in the seaside town of Galveston, Texas. Even Isaac Cline, resident meteorologist for the U.S. Weather Bureau failed to grasp the true meaning of the strange deep-sea swells and peculiar winds that greeted the city that morning. Mere hours later, Galveston found itself submerged in a monster hurricane that completely destroyed the town and killed over six thousand people in what remains the greatest natural disaster in American history--and Isaac Cline found himself the victim of a devastating personal tragedy.

Using Cline's own telegrams, letters, and reports, the testimony of scores of survivors, and our latest understanding of the science of hurricanes, Erik Larson builds a chronicle of one man's heroic struggle and fatal miscalculation in the face of a storm of unimaginable magnitude. Riveting, powerful, and unbearably suspenseful, Isaac's Storm is the story of what can happen when human arrogance meets the great uncontrollable force of nature.

My husband read Isaac's Storm many years ago and said it was a very good read, so I added it to my nonfiction TBR collection where it lingered for a couple of decades. I finally pulled it from that shelf and added it to my stack for the Nonfiction November reading challenge (which I extended into December). This was not my first encounter with Erik Larson's writing (I listened to Dead Wake in 2015) and while I appreciate his extensive research, it took me well over 100 pages to get interested in this book. That is just about the time when he starts describing the actual hurricane and the horrific affect it had on the community of Galveston. At that point, I was spellbound and couldn't stop reading.

I've lived where earthquakes, tornadoes and blizzards are commonplace, but I have never lived where the threat of a hurricane is a way of life. After reading Larson's account of the Galveston hurricane, I hope to never have to worry about that particular weather event! I'm also thankful for the advances in weather forecasting, although even with that modern technology, people still continue to lose their homes, businesses, and quite often, their lives as a result of the destructive nature of hurricanes. I can guarantee that I wouldn't be one of those individuals who chooses to remain with their house! 

Passages of Note:
Waves form by absorbing energy from the wind. The longer the "fetch," or the expanse of the sea over which the wind can blow without obstruction, the taller a wave gets. The taller it gets, the more efficiently it absorbs additional energy. Generally, its maximum height will equal half the speed of the wind. Thus a wind of 150 miles an hour can produce waves up to 75 feet tall. Other conditions, such as the chance superimposition of two are more waves, can cause waves to grow even bigger. The tallest wave on record was 112 feet, but occurred amid steady winds of only 75 miles an hour. 
As soon as they reached the Texas coast, however, they changed shape again. Whenever a deep-sea swell enters shallow water its leading edge slows. Water piles up behind it. The wave grows again. It is this effect that makes earthquake-spawned tsunamis so deceptive and so deadly. A tsunami travels across the ocean as a small hump of water but at speeds as high as five hundred miles an hour. When it reaches land, it explodes.
At 7:30 P.M., the wind shifted again, this time from the east to south. And again it accelerated. It moved through the city like a mailman delivering dynamite. Sustained winds must have reached 150 miles an hour, gusts perhaps 200 or more.

The sea followed.

Galveston became Atlantis.

While I didn't love Isaac's Storm, I'm glad I finally got around to reading it and learning not only about the history of this particular Galveston hurricane, but also a little bit about meteorology. 

December 21, 2020

American Dirt


2020 Macmillan Audio
Narrated by Yareli Arizmendi
Finished on December 14, 202
Rating: 5/5 (Outstanding)

Publisher's Blurb:

También de este lado hay sueños. On this side, too, there are dreams.

Lydia Quixano Pérez lives in the Mexican city of Acapulco. She runs a bookstore. She has a son, Luca, the love of her life, and a wonderful husband who is a journalist. And while there are cracks beginning to show in Acapulco because of the drug cartels, her life is, by and large, fairly comfortable.

Even though she knows they’ll never sell, Lydia stocks some of her all-time favorite books in her store. And then one day a man enters the shop to browse and comes up to the register with a few books he would like to buy—two of them her favorites. Javier is erudite. He is charming. And, unbeknownst to Lydia, he is the jefe of the newest drug cartel that has gruesomely taken over the city. When Lydia’s husband’s tell-all profile of Javier is published, none of their lives will ever be the same.

Forced to flee, Lydia and eight-year-old Luca soon find themselves miles and worlds away from their comfortable middle-class existence. Instantly transformed into migrants, Lydia and Luca ride la bestia—trains that make their way north toward the United States, which is the only place Javier’s reach doesn’t extend. As they join the countless people trying to reach el norte, Lydia soon sees that everyone is running from something. But what exactly are they running to?

In late 2019, I started seeing several early reviews for American Dirt and thought it sounded like a good selection for my book group, so I nominated it and it was chosen for our December read. Shortly after we voted, I began to see a lot of negative press about the novel and wondered if I had made a mistake choosing something I hadn't yet read. However, I decided not to withdraw my recommendation, since the controversy might add to our discussion (which it did!). I also decided to avoid further reviews (positive and negative) in an effort to remain as unbiased as possible as I read Cummins' story.

I started listening to the unabridged audio in mid-November and was immediately drawn into Lydia and Luca's story from the opening paragraph. Yareli Arizmendi (a Mexican actress, writer and director) gives an outstanding performance and the chilling details of the dangerous situations the migrants encountered made my pulse race. The characters are authentic, the dialogue rings true and I became emotionally attached to not only Lydia and Luca, but Soledad, Rebecca and Beto. My emotions were all over the place and while I don't remember much humor (which would have added some levity to this intense and heart-pounding drama), my heartstrings were tugged more than once and I found myself choking back a few sobs as I listened to the final chapters. 

While some may say this is simply a thriller with a migrant story backdrop, I believe it's a powerful and essential read, one which puts a face on the migrant story, depicting the desperation and terror they experience as they flee their own countries for, hopefully, a better life in the United States. I also believe that it's a well-written and well-researched novel and I disagree with the strong backlash from some advocates of the #ownvoices movement who claim the author should not have written the book since she isn't Mexican, nor did she share Lydia's experiences as a migrant. Scrolling through the reviews on Goodreads, it appears that this is a book that people either loved or hated. I'm in the loved camp. Highly recommend, especially on audio. 

"Narrator Yareli Arizmendi illuminates the humanity and individuality of Latin American migrants as they flee toward refuge in the North.... The account of Lydia and Luca's travails, including terrifying rides atop Mexico's freight trains, is utterly compelling. But it is Arizmendi's voicing of Lydia, so full of fierce tenderness, that will stay with listeners after the story's close." (AudioFile Magazine)

December 16, 2020

Not-So-Wordless Wednesday

A cycling class followed by a cool-down (virtual) ride thru the Olympic National Park, fish tacos (take-out) from The Taphouse, a walk along the bluff (king tide with huge waves), and enjoying a drink with my loving family, with a warm fire blazing, made for a very nice birthday. Thanks for all the messages, calls, emails and cards. I feel very blessed.

 I love my Peloton!

Hard to take a picture while pedaling,
 but these scenic rides are wonderful.

That's a ceiling light, not a UFO!

 Delicious, in spite of the wimpy avocado.

Pictures just can't depict the enormity of these waves!

Cozy and warm.

And, yes! I got books!

December 11, 2020

Looking Back - The Law of Similars

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. 

2000 Vintage (first published in 1998)
Read in January 2000
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

From the number one bestselling author of Midwives comes this riveting medical thriller about a lawyer, a homeopath, and a tragic death. When one of homeopath Carissa Lake's patients falls into an allergy-induced coma, possibly due to her prescribed remedy, Leland Fowler's office starts investigating the case. But Leland is also one of Carissa's patients, and he is beginning to realize that he has fallen in love with her. As love and legal obligations collide, Leland comes face-to-face with an ethical dilemma of enormous proportions. Graceful, intelligent, and suspenseful, The Law of Similars is a powerful examination of the links between hope and hubris, love and deception.

My Original Thoughts (2000):

Good book! Much like Midwives in that it was thought-provoking and a page-turner, although the characters were somewhat flat.

My Current Thoughts:

I've read several other books by Bohjalian (Midwives, Trans-Sister Radio, Skeletons at the Feast, and The Guest Room), but there are still quite a few in his backlist that I haven't gotten around to. I'd like to see the film of his latest novel (The Flight Attendant), but I think I'll wait until I've had a chance to read the book first. 

December 10, 2020

The Rural Life


2003 Little, Brown and Company
Finished on December 6, 2020
Rating: 3/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

A yearlong meditation on the deep joys of country life.

In the pages of The New Yorker, Harper's, the New York Times, and his acclaimed books Making Hay and The Last Fine Time, Verlyn Klinkenborg has mastered a voice of singular lyricism and precision. His subject is the American landscape; not the landscape admired from a scenic overlook, but one taken from a rusty chair propped against the worn siding of a screened-in porch, or from the window of a pickup driving down an empty highway into the teeth of an approaching storm. He has a keen appreciation of the peculiarly American tableau--a Memorial Day parade, or a boy riding a bike down the middle of a dusty street. Whether reporting from a small farm in upstate New York, a high pasture deep within the Rocky Mountains, or the bricked edge of a city shuddering in the wake of a "sudden Tuesday," Klinkenborg follows the momentum of the seasons in a language as simple, unsentimental, and exacting as life itself.

In the tradition of E. B. White and Henry David Thoreau, Verlyn Klinkenborg gives us in The Rural Life a fresh view of our greatest subject, the ordinary beauty of daily life.

My dear friend Nan (Letters From a Hill Farm) gifted me this book many years ago and back in January, I decided to read a chapter each month. I've tried to read other books like this over the course of an entire year and this is the first time I've succeeded! As with any collection of essays, I enjoyed some more than others, particularly those that remind me of our early years in Nebraska. We lived on three acres, just outside the city limits, and after living in San Diego for 20 years, it felt like we were living the rural life. We had a creek running through our backyard, turkeys visiting on a regular basis, and even a small herd of cattle showing up one day as I was mowing on our John Deere tractor. As I read Klinkenborg's ruminations, I found myself nodding in agreement, recognizing situations from my life as a "country mouse." Thank you, Nan, for sharing this lovely book with me. 

Notable Passages:

Every year about now, I feel the need to keep a journal. I recognize in this urge all my worst instincts as a writer. I walk past the blank books--gifts of nothingness--that pile up in bookstores at this season, and I can almost hear their clean white pages begging to be defaced. They evoke in me the amateur, the high school student, the miserable writerly aspirant I once was--a young man who could almost see the ink flowing onto the woven fibers of the blank page like the watering of some eternal garden. It took a long time, a lot of pens, and many blank books before I realized that I write in the simultaneous expectation that every word I write will live forever and be blotted out instantly.  (January)

All the days with eves before them are behind us now for another year. The grand themes--rebirth and genial carnality--have come and gone like a chinook wind, bringing a familiar end-of-the-year thaw to body and spirit. Now the everyday returns and with it the ordinary kind of week in which Friday doesn't turn into Sunday--and Saturday into Sunday--as it has for two weeks running. It's time for a week in which each morning throws off a magnetic field all its own, when it's no trick telling Tuesday from Wednesday just by the sound of the alarm clock or the mood of your spouse. (January)

If deep cold made a sound, it would be the scissoring and gnashing of a skater's blades against hard gray ice, or the screeching the snow sets up when you walk across it in the blue light of afternoon. The sound might be the stamping of feet at bus stops and train stations, or the way the almost perfect clarity of the audible world on an icy day is muted by scarves and mufflers pulled up over the face and around the ears. (January)

From solstice till equinox, summer lasts only ninety-one days and six hours, a little longer if you count from Memorial Day till Labor Day. It seems like so much time. but the closer you get, the smaller summer looks, unlike winter, which looks longer and longer the nearer it comes. From a distance--from April, say--summer looks as capacious as hope. This will be the season we lose weight, eat well, work out, raise a garden, learn to kayak, read Proust, paint the house, drive to Glacier, and so on and so on and so on. This will be the season in which time stretches before us like the recesses of space itself, the season in which leisure swells like a slow tomato, until it's round and red and ripe. (May)

Beside a country road near the town of Hygiene, Colorado, stands a cottonwood that turned completely yellow the second week of August. To southbound cyclists that tree lies hidden, lurking beneath a sharp dip in the road. They coast along in summer's full incumbency--the scent of hay practically creasing their foreheads--when all at once the asphalt slopes away, and that lone cottonwood presents itself, its leaves shimmering in a bright wind that suddenly seems autumnal, full of the brittleness, the clarity, of fall. (September)

For some reason, every stage in this advancing season has brought with it a feeling of incredulity. A few weeks ago it seemed unbelievable that the leaves should be turning so soon and then that they should have dropped so promptly. Now, just this week, it seems incredible that snow should have fallen out of a goose-gray sky, skidding eastward toward the missing sun. I wake up thinking, "November already," and realize that "already" is a word that's been with me all autumn long, always measuring how far behind the season I feel. (November)

It takes no imagination to stay synchronized with the shifting of the season, with the retracting daylight or the sudden gathering of a wet morning wind that gets behind your ears and under your hair when you feed the animals. You don't really even have to pay attention to keep up with the calendar. But you do have to be ready to part with the days that have already passed. September took far more than a month this year. It probably took two months, the one our bodies lived and the wholly different month we lived in our minds. Time fell out of gear for almost everyone. 

Some of the reluctance that comes with this autumn is mere uncertainty, a sense that no one really knows the score. Going into winter takes confidence, even in a normal year, even if it's nothing more than confidence in one's own preparations. Somehow that's not good enough this year. Like everyone, I find myself wanting the world to be right with itself again, even if only in the wrong old ways. In the heart of the reluctance I feel and hear in the voices of my neighbors, there's a longing for the inconsequential summer we were having not so many weeks ago. Longing is probably too strong a word. Better to say that the memory of what was, for many Americans, an uneventful August exerts a certain attraction right now. But the present is irrefutable. The leaves won't rise again, except on a cold wind. Before long, I hope, that won't seem so regrettable. (November) [Klinkenborg was writing of 9/11, but he very well could have been writing about any month in 2020!]

December 7, 2020

Once Upon a Town


2002 Harper Collins Publishers
Finished on December 4, 2020
Rating: 3/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

In search of "the best America there ever was," bestselling author and award-winning journalist Bob Greene finds it in a small Nebraska town few people pass through today—a town where Greene discovers the echoes of the most touching love story imaginable: a love story between a country and its sons.

During World War II, American soldiers from every city and walk of life rolled through North Platte, Nebraska, on troop trains en route to their ultimate destinations in Europe and the Pacific. The tiny town, wanting to offer the servicemen warmth and support, transformed its modest railroad depot into the North Platte Canteen. Every day of the year, every day of the war, the Canteen—staffed and funded entirely by local volunteers—was open from five a.m. until the last troop train of the day pulled away after midnight. Astonishingly, this remote plains community of only 12,000 people provided welcoming words, friendship, and baskets of food and treats to more than six million GIs by the time the war ended.

In this poignant and heartwarming eyewitness history, based on interviews with North Platte residents and the soldiers who once passed through, Bob Greene tells a classic, lost-in-the-mists-of-time American story of a grateful country honoring its brave and dedicated sons.

In 1992, we moved from San Diego to Lincoln, Nebraska and lived there for nearly 25 years (minus a few years when we had a job-related move to Texas). We occasionally traveled along I-80 for getaways in Colorado and South Dakota, as well as soccer tournaments in nearby towns, but other than a quick stop to fill up on gas, I don't recall ever going to North Platte. The gas stations are located right off the interstate, so we didn't drive the the extra mile or two into the town for a meal or any exploring. It wasn't until I heard about Bob Greene's book that I learned about the role this small town played in the lives of so many servicemen during World War II. 

I've had a copy of Once Upon a Town on my shelves for far too many years and I finally pulled it down and added it to my stack for this year's Nonfiction November challenge. I'm glad I made the time to read about the wonderful community of volunteers and the lasting affect they had on thousands of soldiers by their kindness and generosity. It's a good read, albeit a little repetitive in nature. By the middle of the book, I felt I'd learned all that the author had to share and I was ready to be finished. There are only so many anecdotes and interviews, and Greene came to rely (over and over again) on his own numerous observations as filler. This is the sort of book that is probably better suited as a lengthy magazine article rather than a full-blown book. I'm not sorry I read it, but maybe in the hands of a writer like Bill Bryson or Erik Larson, I would have enjoyed it better. 

December 5, 2020

A Month in Summary - November 2020

Nehalem River
Nehalem, Oregon
November 2020

My month of reading hasn't been the best and I blame it on the election (and the distraction of the post-election drama), as well my husband's shoulder replacement surgery. All went well and he will be in a sling for six week, followed by three months of physical therapy. I guess it's a good thing we're not planning to go anywhere this winter. 

I'm going to extend my participation in the Nonfiction November challenge and see if I can make some headway on the remaining stack of selected books. So far, I've read almost three and given up on three others. December is usually a very busy time of year and my reading tends to drop off, but who knows how this year will turn out. 

Books Read (click on the title for my review):

A Field of Darkness by Cornelia Read (4/5)

Educated by Tara Westover (2/5)

Under a Wing by Reeve Lindbergh (2/5)


Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt (after 100 pages, decided I wasn't interested)

Confessions of a Counterfeit Farm Girl by Susan McCorkindale

Name All the Animals by Alison Smith

First Lines:

There are people who can be happy anywhere. I am not one of them. When the house on the next street went up in flames for the second night in a row, I wondered again what the hell I was doing in Syracuse. (A Field of Darkness)

I'm standing on the red railway car that sits abandoned next to the barn. The wind soars, whipping my hair across my face and pushing a chill down the open neck of my shirt. The gales are strong this close to the mountain, as if the peak itself is exhaling. (Educated)

In kindergarten, one of my brothers told a friend on the playground that our father had discovered America. At about the same age, I dreamed that he was God. (Under a Wing)

Movies and TV Series:

Game of Thrones (Season 8) - We've made it a tradition to only watch GoT while we're camping in our RV and we finally finished the series this past month. I'm ready to watch it again!

DCI Banks (Season 5) - We finished this series, too. Highly recommend!

The Queen's Gambit - We loved this series! Anya Taylor-Joy is a remarkable actress. (Ha. I just noticed the small bottles of liquor on the chess board.)

Bancroft - Not your typical detective series, but very good.


We're currently working on this 1500 piece puzzle and it's taking forever, but I'm not willing to give up. 


We had lots of trips back and forth to Albany for Rod's pre-op and surgery for his shoulder replacement. Thankfully, we were able to take the RV and stay nearby, especially since he had to be at the hospital by 5:45 am (and it's a 90 minute drive from home). Due to COVID, we weren't able to stay in a hotel (as Rod had to quarantine prior to surgery), so we are very happy to own an RV!

I hope everyone had a pleasant Thanksgiving. It was certainly a unique holiday, wasn't it? Since it was just the three of us (and I wasn't even sure if Rod would be out of the hospital or feeling up to eating a regular meal), I skipped the traditional turkey dinner and grilled a pork tenderloin and served it with risotto and sauteed zucchini. It was definitely a lot easier, with very few dishes to wash. I wonder if I can get away with the same menu next year? Nah.

Last month I wrote, "The pandemic continues to rage on. To date, we have seen daily numbers reaching almost 100,000 new cases, which is astonishing." One month later and we've hit over 200,00 new daily cases. Sadly, it's going to be a bleak winter for many. Please, wear your masks and stay safe.

December 4, 2020

Looking Back - Cloud Nine

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. 

Cloud Nine by Luanne Rice
2000 Bantam (first published in 1999)
Read in January 2000
Rating: 3/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

What would you do with a second chance at life?

Sarah Talbot thought she’d never see another birthday. But against all odds, she beat the illness that could have killed her, reopened her bedding shop, Cloud Nine, and vowed to make the most of a fresh start that few are given. With Thanksgiving approaching, Sarah charters a small plane to take her to Elk Island, a remote spot off the rugged Maine coast where she spent some of her happiest days and where she hopes to reunite with the two most important people in her life. She arrives on the island with pilot Will Burke, a kindred spirit with whom Sarah forges a bond that will give them the courage to confront the past and have faith in the future…no matter how uncertain.

Once Sarah thought happy endings occurred only in books; now she believes they can happen for anyone. And as she and Will grow closer, and something unexpectedly real blossoms between them, she has him believing it, too. But is believing it enough? Is even love enough? Can real life be lived on cloud nine? In this stunning novel, New York Times bestselling author Luanne Rice tells a story you will cherish, peopled with indelible characters whose challenges are your own.

My Original Thoughts (2000):

Fluff. Romance, not literature. Not bad, though. It held my interest. Sad story, yet somewhat flat and predictable. 

My Current Thoughts:

This is not my sort of book and I wonder what prompted me to pick it up. I'm pretty sure I haven't read anything else by this author.