December 31, 2021

A Month in Summary - December 2021

Little Whale Cove
Depoe Bay, Oregon
December 2021


I'm really surprised that I managed to not only review every book I read in 2021, but I did so before the end of each month. I think these monthly summaries have helped to keep me accountable and will make it a lot easier for me to put together my year-end roundup. Plus, it's fun to look back on the year and see not only what I've read, but which shows and movies we watched. I'll put together a "Best of 2021" for that, as well.

This final month of reading was filled primarily with books that I had selected for Nonfiction November, as well as a couple of novels that I was eager to read. I typically don't read much in December and was shocked to tally up the numbers for this post. Two of the books were finished in the first days of the month and another was a very quick read, but nonetheless, eight books during the holidays is probably a record for me. I had a few mediocre reads, but the books in the top row were my favorites. We'll see how much I get read in January since I'm scheduled for jury duty. 



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

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab (3.5/5)


Notes on Grief by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (3/5)

Broken Horses by Brandi Carlile (3/5)

I Miss You When I Blink by Mary Laura Philpott (3/5)

Delancey by Molly Wizenberg (4/5)

Yeah, No. Not Happening. by Karen Karbo (1/5)

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig (4/5)

Movies & TV Series:


Don't Look Up - We loved this! Be sure to watch for the extra scene after the credits.


Station Eleven - I listened to this book in 2015 and didn't care for it (probably should have read the print edition since the timeline is very confusing), but I am enjoying the tv series. I'll finish on my own since my mom and husband aren't into it.

Grace (2 episodes) - Very good, but intense and gritty. Each case is wrapped up by the end of each episode.


Finch - Definitely a feel-good movie. Tom Hanks is great, as always.


Paranoid - I don't know where I heard about this show, but we liked it a lot. Fun to see Indira Varma (from Game of Thrones) in a different role.


Shetland (Season 6) - Finished this season. Didn't love it.

Puzzlemania:




This was a tough puzzle! I just about went blind.

Celebrations!

I turned 60 this month and enjoyed celebrating with friends and family. I was treated to three separate celebrations at a few of my favorite restaurants (all before Omicron became a such a concern).  



We also had a lovely, albeit quiet, Christmas. We even got a dusting of snow! 




I am writing this post on my new laptop and am very excited about my new Canon EOS RP camera (and telephoto lens), which will be great for wildlife photography. Santa must have thought I was exceptionally good this year! ;)

And now it's time to start thinking about 2022 and what I will choose for my first book of the year. I hope you and your families stay safe and healthy. At this point, I think everyone now knows of someone who has had Covid. Omicron is spreading like wildfire, but so far those in my extended family have had "mild" cases (similar to strep) and I'm hoping to keep my immediate family germ-free. 

Looking Back - House of Sand and Fog

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.


Fiction
2000 Vintage Books (first published in 1999)
Read in December 2000
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

On a road crew in California, a former colonel in the Iranian Air Force sees a way to restore his family's dignity in an attractive bungalow available on county auction. But the house's owner, a recovering alcoholic and addict down on her luck, will fight for the one thing she has left. And her lover, a married cop, will be driven to extremes to win her love. In this masterpiece of American realism and Shakespearean consequence, Andre Dubus III's unforgettable characters careen toward inevitable conflict, their tragedy painting a shockingly true picture of the country we live in today.

In this riveting novel of almost unbearable suspense, three fragile yet determined people become dangerously entangled in a relentlessly escalating crisis. Colonel Behrani, once a wealthy man in Iran, is now a struggling immigrant willing to bet everything he has to restore his family's dignity. Kathy Nicolo is a troubled young woman whose house is all she has left, and who refuses to let her hard-won stability slip away from her. Sheriff Lester Burdon, a married man who finds himself falling in love with Kathy, becomes obsessed with helping her fight for justice.

Drawn by their competing desires to the same small house in the California hills and doomed by their tragic inability to understand one another, the three converge in an explosive collision course. Combining unadorned realism with profound empathy, House of Sand and Fog marks the arrival of a major new voice in American fiction.

My Original Thoughts (2000):

Very good novel! Intense and difficult to keep reading at times, but well done. Interesting conflict with both sides understandable. Suspenseful, especially the last hundred pages. Unpredictable. I felt more sympathetic toward Kathy than the Colonel and his family. He seemed so selfish and unbending. Dubus is a great storyteller.

My Current Thoughts:

I remember really enjoying this thought-provoking novel. I also watched the movie (starring Ben Kingsley), which was very good, as well. At some point, I must have decided it wasn't a book that I wanted to read again, as I no longer own a copy. 

December 30, 2021

The Midnight Library


Fiction
2020 Viking
Finished on December 21, 2021
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

Between life and death there is a library, and within that library, the shelves go on forever. Every book provides a chance to try another life you could have lived. To see how things would be if you had made other choices . . . Would you have done anything different, if you had the chance to undo your regrets

A dazzling novel about all the choices that go into a life well lived, from the internationally bestselling author of Reasons to Stay Alive and How To Stop Time.

Somewhere out beyond the edge of the universe there is a library that contains an infinite number of books, each one the story of another reality. One tells the story of your life as it is, along with another book for the other life you could have lived if you had made a different choice at any point in your life. While we all wonder how our lives might have been, what if you had the chance to go to the library and see for yourself? Would any of these other lives truly be better?

In The Midnight Library, Matt Haig’s enchanting new novel, Nora Seed finds herself faced with this decision. Faced with the possibility of changing her life for a new one, following a different career, undoing old breakups, realizing her dreams of becoming a glaciologist; she must search within herself as she travels through the Midnight Library to decide what is truly fulfilling in life, and what makes it worth living in the first place.

Until now, I had never read anything by Matt Haig, but after reading several glowing reviews for The Midnight Library, I decided to give my mom a copy last year for Christmas. Lucky me, I get to borrow her books once she's finished, so it eventually wound up on my TBR shelf where it remained for many months. My daughter, who has just recently started reading for pleasure, mentioned that she had read Haig's novel, so I decided to move it to the top of the stack and try to get it read before the end of the year. What a thought-provoking and delightful novel! I thoroughly enjoyed the story and found myself reflecting on some of my choices in life, trying to imagine where I would be today had I chosen a different path or made a different decision. While I have made a few poor choices over the years (who hasn't?), I wouldn't be who I am, or where I am today, had I taken an alternate path. 

All in all, The Midnight Library is a quick and entertaining read and I'm glad I finally got around to reading it. However, it's not one I'll likely read again and I wonder just how memorable it will be a year from now. 

 

December 28, 2021

Yeah, No. Not Happening.

 

Nonfiction
2020 HarperAudio
Narrated by the author
Finished on December 21, 2021
Rating: 1/5 (Poor)

Publisher's Blurb:

The author of the acclaimed, bestselling In Praise of Difficult Women delivers a hilarious feminist manifesto that encourages us to reject “self-improvement” and instead learn to appreciate and flaunt our complex, and flawed, human selves.

Why are we so obsessed with being our so-called best selves? Because our modern culture force feeds women lies designed to heighten their insecurities: “You can do it all—crush it at work, at home, in the bedroom, at PTA and at Pilates—and because you can, you should. We can show you how!”

Karen Karbo has had enough. She’s taking a stand against the cultural and societal pressures, marketing, and media influences that push us to spend endless time, energy and money trying to “fix” ourselves—a race that has no finish line and only further increases our send of self-dissatisfaction and loathing. “Yeah, no, not happening,” is her battle cry.

In this wickedly smart and entertaining book, Karbo explores how “self-improvery” evolved from the provenance of men to women. Recast as “consumers” in the 1920s, women, it turned out, could be seduced into buying anything that might improve not just their lives, but their sense of self-worth. Today, we smirk at Mad Men-era ads targeting 1950s housewives—even while savvy marketers, aided and abetted by social media “influencers,” peddle skin care “systems,” skinny tea, and regimens that promise to deliver endless happiness. We’re not simply seduced into dropping precious disposable income on empty promises; the underlying message is that we can’t possibly know what’s good for us, what we want, or who we should be. Calling BS, Karbo blows the lid off of this age-old trend and asks women to start embracing their awesomely imperfect selves.

There is no one more dangerous than a woman who doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her. Yeah, No, Not Happening is a call to arms to build a posse of dangerous women who swear off self-improvement and its peddlers. A welcome corrective to our inner-critic, Karbo’s manifesto will help women restore their sanity and reclaim their self-worth.

I have no idea what possessed me to download this audiobook. I'm not a reader of self-improvement books, so I am completely baffled. I decided to listen to it during Nonfiction November, but didn't get around to it until December. It clocks in under seven hours of listening time, so I was able to get through it quickly, but it's not one that I can recommend. Karbo claims to shun self-improvement, but this book is essentially just that. If I had been reading the print edition, I would have quit early on, but it was easy to listen as I walked, ever hopeful for a nugget or two of good advice. My advice to you? If you must, get it from your library rather than spend your money. And, be aware of an overabundance of f-bombs. I should have guessed that from the title.

December 26, 2021

Delancey

 

Nonfiction - Memoir
2014 Simon & Schuster
Finished on December 17, 2021
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

In this funny, frank, tender memoir and New York Times bestseller, the author of A Homemade Life and the blog Orangette recounts how opening a restaurant sparked the first crisis of her young marriage.

When Molly Wizenberg married Brandon Pettit, he was a trained composer with a handful of offbeat interests: espresso machines, wooden boats, violin-building, and ice cream–making. So when Brandon decided to open a pizza restaurant, Molly was supportive—not because she wanted him to do it, but because the idea was so far-fetched that she didn’t think he would. Before she knew it, he’d signed a lease on a space. The restaurant, Delancey, was going to be a reality, and all of Molly’s assumptions about her marriage were about to change.

Together they built Delancey: gutting and renovating the space on a cobbled-together budget, developing a menu, hiring staff, and passing inspections. Delancey became a success, and Molly tried to convince herself that she was happy in their new life until—in the heat and pressure of the restaurant kitchen—she realized that she hadn’t been honest with herself or Brandon.

With evocative photos by Molly and twenty new recipes for the kind of simple, delicious food that chefs eat at home, Delancey is a moving and honest account of two young people learning to give in and let go in order to grow together.

After reading Molly Wizenberg's previous memoir, A Homemade Life (which I loved!), I was eager to continue reading about her life and was thrilled to see that my library had a copy of Delancey, which I promptly checked out. I enjoyed reading about the beginnings of Molly and Brandon's jump into life as restaurant owners, but I wasn't as enthralled as I was when I read A Homemade Life. I marked a few recipes, but not nearly as many as in her first book. Wizenberg's writing is still very engaging (and very honest about their struggles, both financial and emotionally) and she's a good storyteller, but the details of setting up the restaurant became a bit of a slog. Molly was not at all enthusiastic about Brandon's dream to open a restaurant and her negative outlook (which she kept mostly to herself) cast a shadow over the narrative as I continued to read. I'm not sorry that I read Delancey, but it wasn't as strong or as upbeat as A Homemade Life and I don't feel the need to rush out and buy a permanent copy for my shelves. I have her third memoir (The Fixed Stars) on audio and will begin that in 2022.

December 24, 2021

Merry Christmas!

Wishing all of you, dear friends, a very Merry Christmas and a safe & healthy New Year! I am so grateful for all you. 



 










December 20, 2021

I Miss You When I Blink

 

Nonfiction - Essays
2020 Atria (first published in 2019)
Finished on December 11, 2021
Rating: 3/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

Acclaimed essayist and bookseller Mary Laura Philpott presents a charmingly relatable and wise memoir-in-essays about what happened after she checked off all the boxes on her successful life's to-do list and realized she might need to reinvent the list--and herself.

Mary Laura Philpott thought she'd cracked the code: Always be right, and you'll always be happy.

But once she'd completed her life's to-do list (job, spouse, house, babies--check!), she found that instead of feeling content and successful, she felt anxious. Lost. Stuck in a daily grind of overflowing calendars, grueling small talk, and sprawling traffic. She'd done everything "right," but she felt all wrong. What's the worse failure, she wondered: smiling and staying the course, or blowing it all up and running away? And are those the only options?

In this memoir-in-essays full of spot-on observations about home, work, and creative life, Philpott takes on the conflicting pressures of modern adulthood with wit and heart. She offers up her own stories to show that identity crises don't happen just once or only at midlife; reassures us that small, recurring personal re-inventions are both normal and necessary; and advises that if you're going to faint, you should get low to the ground first. Most of all, Philpott shows that when you stop feeling satisfied with your life, you don't have to burn it all down and set off on a transcontinental hike (unless you want to, of course). You can call upon your many selves to figure out who you are, who you're not, and where you belong. Who among us isn't trying to do that?

Like a pep talk from a sister, I Miss You When I Blink is the funny, poignant, and deeply affecting book you'll want to share with all your friends, as you learn what Philpott has figured out along the way: that multiple things can be true of us at once--and that sometimes doing things wrong is the way to do life right.

I can't remember where I first read about this book, but you know me--I love memoirs! The reviews must have been pretty good for me to buy rather than check it out from the library. I imagined it might be similar to something by Kelly Corrigan (Tell Me More) or Norah Ephron (I Feel Bad About My Neck) since the blurb claims it's funny, poignant, and deeply affecting. Well... it is a little bit, but unlike with Corrigan and Ephron's books, I only marked one or two passages.

On Motherhood:
I did not know, in those first days, that once you have children, the passage of time feels different than it did before. Everyone says this, and it's true: Days with young children feel four hundred hours long, but years flash by in seconds. I had no idea I'd become one of those parents who posts pictures along with cliched captions like "And just like that... he's ten!" or "Wasn't she a baby just yesterday?" I know, barf. But it was just yesterday that my baby boy got so excited about a jar of creamed spinach that he knocked it out of my hands and sent it clattering across his high-chair tray and onto the kitchen floor. I did just give birth to my daughter last week. How can they be looking back at me with such grown-up faces right now?
On Small Talk:
People who are good at small talk have a handy knack for greasing the gears of social interaction among strangers, and that's useful. I wish I were better at it, truthfully. But when small talk starts replacing real talk, you start to feel like you're among strangers even when you're among friends. I was in a phase in life that required a certain amount of socializing, floating around in blobs of people waving and smiling courteously. I needed my other interactions to balance those out. To offer some real connection, some meaning.  

I Miss You When I Blink might have been better on audio, but I also wonder if I'm not the target audience. I didn't come away with any profound revelations and most, if not all, of the essays are already forgotten after a mere week. I may have found it more relatable twenty years ago when I was working and in the middle of raising a teenager rather than as a sixty-something-year-old retiree. 

December 18, 2021

Broken Horses

 

Nonfiction - Memoir
2021 Penguin Random House Audio
Narrated by Brandi Carlile
Finished on December 10, 2021
Rating: 3/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

The critically acclaimed singer-songwriter, producer, and six-time Grammy winner opens up about a life shaped by music in this candid, heartfelt, and intimate story.

Brandi Carlile was born into a musically gifted, impoverished family on the outskirts of Seattle and grew up in a constant state of change, moving from house to house, trailer to trailer, 14 times in as many years. Though imperfect in every way, her dysfunctional childhood was as beautiful as it was strange, and as nurturing as it was difficult. At the age of five, Brandi contracted bacterial meningitis, which almost took her life, leaving an indelible mark on her formative years and altering her journey into young adulthood.

As an openly gay teenager, Brandi grappled with the tension between her sexuality and her faith when her pastor publicly refused to baptize her on the day of the ceremony. Shockingly, her small town rallied around Brandi in support and set her on a path to salvation where the rest of the misfits and rejects find it: through twisted, joyful, weird, and wonderful music.

In Broken Horses, Brandi Carlile takes listeners through the events of her life that shaped her very raw art - from her start at a local singing competition where she performed Elton John’s “Honky Cat” in a bedazzled white polyester suit, to her first break opening for Dave Matthews Band, to many sleepless tours over 15 years and six studio albums, all while raising two children with her wife, Catherine Shepherd. This hard-won success led her to collaborations with personal heroes like Elton John, Dolly Parton, Mavis Staples, Pearl Jam, Tanya Tucker, and Joni Mitchell, as well as her peers in the supergroup The Highwomen, and ultimately to the Grammy stage, where she converted millions of viewers into instant fans.

Evocative and piercingly honest, Broken Horses is at once an examination of faith through the eyes of a person rejected by the church’s basic tenets and a meditation on the moments and lyrics that have shaped the life of a creative mind, a brilliant artist, and a genuine empath on a mission to give back.

Let me begin by saying that until I read Brandi Carlile's memoir, I pretty much knew nothing about her life or rise to fame. I was working at Barnes and Noble when I first heard her album The Story, which we played day after day the month it was released. There are several songs on that record that I came to love, but after that first album, I never paid much attention to her music. I was aware that she had performed with my cousin, Kris Kristofferson, in 2018 for Joni Mitchell's 75th birthday celebration, so I was curious to read her memoir. I listened to the audiobook (which Carlile narrates) and in addition to learning about her upbringing and musical career, I enjoyed hearing numerous songs at the end of each chapter. In addition to those songs, there is also close to two hours of uninterrupted music in the final track. Overall, I enjoyed listening to the audiobook, but it wasn't the hit I had hoped for.

About the Author:

Brandi Carlile is a six-time Grammy Award–winning singer-songwriter, performer, and producer. Since her debut in 2004, she has released six studio albums and was the most nominated female artist at the 2019 Grammy Awards, with six nominations, including Album, Record, and Song of the Year. Founded in 2008 by Carlile, the Looking Out Foundation amplifies the impact of music by empowering those without a voice, with campaigns focused on children living in war zones, prevention and reduction in incarceration and recidivism, racial justice, violence prevention, food insecurity, and more. To date, the foundation has raised over $2 million for grassroots causes. Beloved by fans, peers, and critics alike, Carlile and her band have performed sold-out concerts across the world. Brandi Carlile lives in rural Washington State on a compound with her bandmates and their families, as well as her wife, Catherine, and their two daughters, Evangeline and Elijah.

December 17, 2021

Looking Back - Bag of Bones

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.

Fiction
1998 Scribner Book Company
Read in December 2000
Rating: 4.5/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

Stephen King's most gripping and unforgettable novel, Bag of Bones, is a story of grief and a lost love's enduring bonds, of a new love haunted by the secrets of the past, of an innocent child caught in a terrible crossfire.

Set in the Maine territory King has made mythic, Bag of Bones recounts the plight of 40-year-old bestselling novelist Mike Noonan, who is unable to stop grieving even four years after the sudden death of his wife, Jo, and who can no longer bear to face the blank screen of his word processor.

Now his nights are plagued by vivid nightmares of the house by the lake. Despite these dreams, or perhaps because of them, Mike finally returns to Sara Laughs, the Noonans' isolated summer home.

He finds his beloved Yankee town familiar on its surface, but much changed underneath -- held in the grip of a powerful millionaire, Max Devore, who twists the very fabric of the community to his purpose: to take his three-year-old granddaughter away from her widowed young mother. As Mike is drawn into their struggle, as he falls in love with both of them, he is also drawn into the mystery of Sara Laughs, now the site of ghostly visitations, ever-escalating nightmares, and the sudden recovery of his writing ability. What are the forces that have been unleashed here -- and what do they want of Mike Noonan?

As vivid and enthralling as King's most enduring works, Bag of Bones resonates with what Amy Tan calls 'the witty and obsessive voice of King's powerful imagination.' It's no secret that King is our most mesmerizing storyteller. In Bag of Bones -- described by Gloria Naylor as 'a love story about the dark places within us all' -- he proves to be one of our most moving.

My Original Thoughts (2000):

Fantastic! King has such a talent for sucking you in from the very first page. I couldn't put it down, but had to several times (at night), so I wouldn't have nightmares. Creepy story, but oh, so good!

My Current Thoughts:

This is one of my favorite books by Stephen King. After 21 years, I still have a vivid memory of a scene involving magnetic alphabet letters on a refrigerator. Eeek! Creepy. Still, I would love to read it again someday.

December 11, 2021

Notes On Grief


Nonfiction
2021 Alfred A. Knopf
Finished on December 2, 2021
Rating: 3/5 (Good)

Grief was the celebration of love, those who could feel real grief were lucky to have loved. ~ Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Publisher's Blurb:

During the brutal summer of 2020, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's beloved father, a celebrated professor at the University of Nigeria and an irreplaceable figure in a close-knit family, succumbed unexpectedly to complications of kidney failure. Notes on Grief is Adichie's tribute to him, and a moving meditation on loss. 

Here Adichie offers a candid snapshot of the shock, loneliness, and disillusionment that followed the news of her father's death. Her family, unable to be together except for on video calls, struggles to go through the rites of mourning amid a global crisis of unimaginable scale. As Adichie wrestles with his passing, she recalls with vivid, poignant detail who her father was: a remarkable survivor of the Biafran war, a man of kindness and charm, and a fierce supporter of his youngest daughter. Here is a uniquely personal, profound work of remembrance and hope by one of today's luminaries--a book to bring us together in a time when we need it most. 

Notes On Grief has been on my library list for several months and I finally picked up a copy after being reminded of the book when I read Robin's (A Fondness For Reading) recent blog post. I know that there are people who steer clear of books about death and grief, but I gravitate toward them, hoping to learn and understand from each author's perspective and experience. I've collected dozens of passages about grief from numerous books and find comfort in the shared sentiments on the death of a loved one. The following are two of Adichie's that spoke to me.
Grief is a cruel kind of education. You learn how ungentle mourning can be, how full of anger. You learn how glib condolences can feel. You learn how much grief is about language, the failure of language and the grasping for language. Why are my sides so sore and achy? It's from crying, I'm told. I did not know that we cry with our muscles. The pain is not surprising, but its physicality is: my tongue unbearable bitter, as though I ate a loathed meal and forgot to clean my teeth; on my chest, a heavy, awful weight; and inside my body, a sensation of eternal dissolving. My heart--my actual physical heart, nothing figurative here--is running away from me, has become its own separate thing, beating too fast, its rhythms at odd with mine. This is an affliction not merely of the spirit but of the body, of aches and lagging strength. Flesh, muscles, organs are all compromised. No physical position is comfortable. 
and
I am filled with disbelieving astonishment that the mailman comes as usual and that people are inviting me to speak somewhere and that regular news alerts appear on my phone screen. How is it that the world keeps going, breathing in and out unchanged, while in my soul there is permanent scattering?
Notes on Grief is a slim, compact book that can easily be read in one sitting. Perhaps that is why I wasn't as moved as I've been when reading other books on grief. The reader is given a mere glimpse into Adiche's family life and while it is very obvious that she was extremely close to her father, I felt that I was held at arm's length from her very personal story. The above passages resonated with me (particularly the one about the world going on), but I was not moved to tears as I have been while reading other memoirs on this subject. Overall, I'm glad I read this touching book, but I wish it had been longer. Recommend getting a copy from the library.

December 10, 2021

Looking Back - Pobby and Dingan

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.


Pobby and Dingan by Ben Rice
Fiction
2000 Alfred A. Knopf
Read in November 2000
Rating: 2/5 (Fair)

Publisher's Blurb:

This enchanting tale is at once a beautifully rendered narrative of childhood loss and a powerfully simple fable about the necessity of imagination.

Pobby and Dingan are Kellyanne Williamson’s best friends, maybe her only friends, and only she can see them. Kellyanne’s brother, Ashmol, can’t see them and doesn’t believe they exist anywhere but in Kellyanne’s immature imagination. Only when Pobby and Dingan disappear and Kellyanne becomes heartsick over their loss does Ashmol realize that not only must he believe in Pobby and Dingan, he must convince others to believe in them, too.

My Original Thoughts (2000):

A friend spoke highly of this novel and sent me her copy after I expressed an interest in it. Unfortunately, I didn't care for the book. Slim (90+ pages) book set in Australia. Young girl loses her two imaginary friends and when she becomes ill with worry & grief, the entire town helps her brother search for these friends.

My Current Thoughts:

I have no recollection of this novella. I'm sorry I didn't appreciate it more since my friend went to the trouble of sending me her copy.

December 9, 2021

The Longest Road

 

Nonfiction - Travel
2013 Picador
Finished on December 1, 2021
Rating: 2/5 (Fair)

Publisher's Blurb:

In The Longest Road, one of America's most respected writers takes an epic journey across America, Airstream in tow, and asks everyday Americans what unites and divides a country as endlessly diverse as it is large.

Standing on a wind-scoured island off the Alaskan coast, Philip Caputo marveled that its Inupiat Eskimo schoolchildren pledge allegiance to the same flag as the children of Cuban immigrants in Key West, six thousand miles away. And a question began to take shape: How does the United States, peopled by every race on earth, remain united? Caputo resolved that one day he'd drive from the nation's southernmost point to the northernmost point reachable by road, talking to everyday Americans about their lives and asking how they would answer his question.

So it was that in 2011, in an America more divided than in living memory, Caputo, his wife, and their two English setters made their way in a truck and classic trailer (hereafter known as "Fred" and "Ethel") from Key West, Florida, to Deadhorse, Alaska, covering 16,000 miles. He spoke to everyone from a West Virginia couple saving souls to a Native American shaman and taco entrepreneur. What he found is a story that will entertain and inspire readers as much as it informs them about the state of today's United States, the glue that holds us all together, and the conflicts that could cause us to pull apart.

Had I read the back cover blurb, I would have know that The Longest Road is less about an RV road trip and more about America and what holds it together (or drives it apart). I'm not sorry I read Caputo's memoir, but I would have enjoyed it more had he shared more details about his actual camping experiences along the way from Florida to Alaska. My favorite parts were in the early chapters when Caputo and his wife were learning all the ins-and-outs about pulling a travel trailer and then later toward the end of the book when they reached the Pacific Northwest and headed into Alaska. The middle section was a slog and I was tempted to quit, but I'm glad I didn't since I'm in the middle of planning a road trip to Alaska and found a couple of tidbits of information to add to my notes.

These passages spoke to my inner nomad:
I had only one hard-and-fast rule: avoid interstates. They are predictable and boring, and their uniformity somehow erases changes in landscape; you can drive six hundred miles, from forests into desert, and feel that you haven’t gone anywhere. In a sense, you haven’t. You have no idea about the lives of the people in the towns and cities you’ve bypassed at seventy miles an hour.
and
The total distance—11,741 miles—gave me sticker shock. Round it up to twelve thousand. Almost halfway around the world! It seemed slightly mad, but then it might do me good. To make such an epic road trip, discovering places I’d never been, rediscovering others, never knowing what I’d find beyond the next curve or hill, would be to recapture the enchantment of youth, a sense of promise and possibility. The cicada chirped incessantly in my head. I clicked back to the first map. Looking at it brought on a mixture of eagerness and reluctance. The buzzing grew more shrill. If you don’t go now, geezer, you never will. I listened to my inner cicada, and the uneasiness subsided. If I’d learned anything, it was that the things you do never cause as much regret as the things you don’t.
I've struggled with this review, trying to figure out why I don't care for this author's narrative voice. Nearly every woman he encounters on his journey is described by her hair color & length, as well as her physique. He also mentions the appearance of men, but with less attention than with the women. There's also a hint of arrogance to his vignettes and this particular passage made me dislike Caputo even more:
Leslie stared in silence, first at Ethel, [the Airstream] then at me. Three marriages and a few relationships in between qualify me to make this observation about Homo sapiens femalis, subspecies Americanus: they are congenitally incapable of apologizing for a mistake because they are incapable of admitting they've made one. It's always the guy's fault. Number two son Marc, married for a decade, has likewise noticed this trait and has revised the old riddle about the falling tree not making a sound: "If a man were all alone in a forest with no woman there, would he still be wrong?"
It's been many years since I've read Neil Peart's memoir, Ghost Rider* (click on the link for my review), but it was much more enjoyable than this book by Philip Caputo.

*Peart's memoir is about his travels (on his BMW "adventure-touring" motorcycle) across Canada & the Yukon, over to Alaska, down the West Coast of the U.S. to Mexico and Belize before heading back to Canada. It's one I keep meaning to re-read.

December 7, 2021

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue

 

Fiction/Fantasy
2020 Macmillan Audio
Narrated by: Julia Whelan
Finished on December 1, 2021
Rating: 3.5/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

France, 1714: In a moment of desperation, a young woman named Adeline meets a dangerous stranger and makes a terrible mistake.

As she realizes the limitations of her Faustian bargain--being able to live forever, without being able to be remembered by anyone she sees--Addie chooses to flee her small village, as everything she once held dear is torn away.

But there are still dreams to be had, and a life to live, and she is determined to find excitement and satisfaction in the wide, beckoning world--even if she will be doomed to be alone forever.

Or not quite alone--as every year, on her birthday, the alluring Luc comes to visit, checking to see if she is ready to give up her soul. Their darkly thrilling game stretches through the ages, seeing Addie witness history and fight to regain herself as she crosses oceans and tries on various lives. 

It will be three hundred years before she stumbles into a hidden bookstore [... spoiler removed] and suddenly everything changes again.

In the vein of The Time Traveler's Wife and Life After Life, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue is New York Times bestselling author V.E. Schwab's genre-defying tour de force.

After reading several glowing reviews for The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, I took a gamble and recommended it to my book group before I had a chance to read it myself. I listened to the audio, which is narrated by Julia Whelan (a favorite audio reader), who does an outstanding job with each character's voice. Unfortunately, the book fell short of my expectations. I liked it, but after the initial plot is revealed, the dialogue and situations involving Addie's encounters with Luc were repetitious and it wasn't until Henry makes his appearance that things pick up again. The constant back and forth dialogue between Addie and Luc is tiresome and as one friend mentioned, that relationship felt like something out of Fifty Shades of Grey (a book I have not, nor do I plan to, read). I also grew weary of the constant reminders of the main characters' features; black curls, seven freckles, emerald eyes, etc. I liked Addie and Henry's storyline, which is what kept me interested (and able to listen to all 17 hours of narration), but certain aspects were too predictable and I was sorry I figured things out so early in the narrative. Maybe I've read too many mysteries this year and expected a big twist or two before the grand finale.

I'm a little bit nervous, but also curious, to see what the others in my book group think of this novel. I went into it blind, as is my usual habit, but something about the cover art and the blog reviews I scanned brought to mind The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, which I loved. (Click on the link for my review.) Schwab's novel does not compare to Morgenstern's magical story, which is peopled with likeable characters and beautiful prose. Other than Addie, Luc and Henry, Morgenstern's characters are flat and unremarkable. I'm afraid that with the passage of time, I too will come to forget Addie LaRue.