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April 13, 2021

Gift From the Sea

 



Nonfiction - Essays
Published in 1955
Finished on April 9, 2021
Rating: 2/5 (Fair)

Publisher's Blurb:

A modern-day classic: here are Anne Morrow Lindbergh's elegant and wise meditations on youth and age, love and marriage, solitude, peace, and contentment, as she set them down during a brief vacation by the ocean.

She helps us see ways to reconcile our most deeply personal needs with obligations to family, friends, lovers, and work, ways to separate loneliness from replenishing solitude, and ways to find solace in the simplest of daily tasks.

Now more than ever, Gift From the Sea serves as a spiritual compass guiding us toward inner tranquility in the face of life's deeper questions.

I listened to the audio edition of Gift From the Sea in 2007, but somehow never wrote about it on this blog. I remember that I enjoyed it immensely and had planned to re-read the print edition in order to quote some of my favorite passages in my review, but that never happened. Now, 14 years later, I have re-read the book and am sad that it didn't resonate with me the way in which it did when I read it all those years ago. In 2007, I was in my mid-40s (rather than approaching 60), so maybe Lindbergh's essays spoke more to me at that particular time in my life. Or, it could be a case of audio versus print. I loved the narration of the audiobook, which is read by Claudette Colbert. She does a superb job and it didn't take long for me to believe that I was actually listening to Anne Morrow Lindbergh rather than Colbert.

Here are a couple of notable passages from my most recent reading:
The beach is not the place to work; to read, write or think. I should have remembered that from other years. Too warm, too damp, too soft for any real mental discipline or sharp flights of spirit. One never learns. Hopefully, one carries down the faced straw bag, lumpy with books, clean paper, long over-due unanswered letters, freshly sharpened pencils, lists, and good intentions. The books remain unread, the pencils break their points, and the pads rest smooth and unblemished as the cloudless sky. No reading, no writing, no thoughts even--at least, not at first.

At first, the tired body takes over completely. As on shipboard, one descends into a deck-chair apathy. One is forced against one's mind, against all tidy resolutions, back into the primeval rhythms of the sea-shore. Rollers on the beach, wind in the pines, the slow flapping of herons across sand dunes, drown out the hectic rhythms of city and suburb, time tables and schedules. One falls under their spell, relaxes, stretches out prone. One becomes, in fact, like the element on which one lies, flattened by the sea; bare, open, empty as the beach, erased by today's tides of all yesterday's scribblings.
and this one, which reminds me of traveling in our RV:
Here on this island I have had space. Paradoxically, in this limited area, space has been forced upon me. The geographical boundaries, the physical limitations, the restrictions of communications, have enforced a natural selectivity. There are not too many activities or things or people, and each one, I find, is significant, set apart in the frame of sufficient time and space. Here there is time; time to be quiet; time to work without pressure; time to think; time to watch the heron, watching with frozen patience for his prey. Time to look at the stars or to study a shell; time to see friends, to gossip, to laugh, to talk. Time, even, not to talk. At home, when I meet my friends in those cubby-holed hours, time is so precious we feel we must cram every available instant with conversation. Here on the island I find I can sit with a friend without talking, sharing the day's last sliver of pale green light on the horizon, or the whorls in a small white shell, or the dark scar left in a dazzling night sky by a shooting star. Then communication becomes communion and one is nourished as one never is by words.
I'm not sorry I reread this book, but I do wish that I had enjoyed it as well as I did with my first encounter. I'm pretty sure that I would have given it a 4/5 rating, at that time.

April 12, 2021

Three Hours in Paris

 



Mystery
2020 Recorded Books, Inc.
Read by Elisabeth Rodgers
Finished on April 8, 2021
Rating: 1/5 (Poor)

Publisher's Blurb:

In June of 1940, when Paris fell to the Nazis, Hitler spent a total of three hours in the City of Light—abruptly leaving, never to return. To this day, no one knows why.

The New York Times bestselling author of the Aimée Leduc investigations reimagines history in her masterful, pulse-pounding spy thriller, Three Hours in Paris.

Kate Rees, a young American markswoman, has been recruited by British intelligence to drop into Paris with a dangerous assignment: assassinate the Führer. Wrecked by grief after a Luftwaffe bombing killed her husband and infant daughter, she is armed with a rifle, a vendetta, and a fierce resolve. But other than rushed and rudimentary instruction, she has no formal spy training. Thrust into the red-hot center of the war, a country girl from rural Oregon finds herself holding the fate of the world in her hands. When Kate misses her mark and the plan unravels, Kate is on the run for her life—all the time wrestling with the suspicion that the whole operation was a set-up.

Cara Black, doyenne of the Parisian crime novel, is at her best as she brings Occupation-era France to vivid life in this gripping story about one young woman with the temerity—and drive—to take on Hitler himself.

I'm not sure what it is about an audiobook that keeps me listening long after I've decided I don't care for it. I can only guess that I listen while doing other things (walking, folding laundry, running errands or pulling weeds), so I'm a little more tolerant and optimistic, hoping the story might improve. I also hate to ditch a book after investing several hours of my time, but I do quit when it's a print book that's failing to entertain, so why not an audio? You'd think I wouldn't want to waste any more of my time. 

I haven't read any other books by Cara Black, but Three Hours in Paris is far-fetched and, at times, tedious and repetitive. We learn early on that Kate Rees is a country girl from Oregon. The author doesn't let us forget that fact, bringing it to our attention repeatedly and unnecessarily. Those details do nothing to add to Kate's character or move the plot along. We are also reminded on numerous occasions of her special training and instructions. RADA: Read, access, decide, act. Got it. Got it the first, second and third time and didn't need to be reminded over and over.

I also struggled with Kate's extraordinary ability to escape capture on multiple occasions, which brought to mind the character of Marius Josipovic in Sneaky Pete. While Marius is clever and cunning, Kate is simply unbelievably lucky. I didn't buy it. 

Finally, I was not impressed with the reader of this audiobook. She was either flat and monotone or too melodramatic (or unauthentic), particularly when she spoke the untranslated French passages.

I enjoy books about World War II, but this was a big miss. Do I dare try any of her Aimee Leduc books?

I received a complimentary copy from Libro.fm.

April 10, 2021

Chicken Enchilada Casserole

 

Photo Credit: Mel's Kitchen Cafe


I have two chicken enchilada recipes (one with red sauce and one with a sour cream sauce), but when I spotted this recipe on Mel's Kitchen Cafe, I thought it might be a good alternative. I was mainly interested in the green sauce option, but after making the casserole, I realized how brilliant it is to make a casserole rather than individual enchiladas! The casserole assembly is much easier (read: faster!) than filling and rolling each tortilla. I can't wait to try this method with my other enchilada recipes.

20 ounces green enchilada sauce
12 ounces salsa verde
3-4 cups cooked shredded or chopped chicken
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
12-14 white or yellow corn tortillas, cut in half 
2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
Fresh chopped cilantro
Sour cream
Guacamole or avocado slices

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. 

Lightly grease a 9X13-inch pan with cooking spray. Set aside. 

Whisk together the enchilada sauce and salsa verde. 

Toss the chicken with the garlic powder, onion powder, oregano, chili powder, cumin, salt and pepper. (See my notes)

Spread 1/3 of the sauce in the bottom of the prepared pan. Layer eight tortilla halves across the sauce. Sprinkle 1/3 of the cheese over the tortillas followed by 1/2 of the chicken. Drizzle with 1/3 of the sauce. 

Layer another eight tortilla halves, 1/3 of the cheese, last 1/2 of the chicken, another 8-9 tortilla halves, remaining 1/3 cheese and remaining sauce. 

Cover with greased foil and bake for 35-40 minutes. Uncover and bake another 10-15 minutes until bubbly and cooked through. 

Garnish with chopped cilantro. 

Let rest for 10-15 minutes (it will set up and be less runny as it rests) before serving. 

Serve with sour cream and guacamole, if desired.

Serves 8

Mel's Notes: 

You can use all enchilada sauce if you want (omit the salsa verde and increase the amount of green enchilada sauce by 10-12 ounces).

The casserole can be assembled and refrigerated for up to 8 hours (the tortillas will soften more than if baked right away).

My Notes:

I prefer to use my own roast chicken; rotisserie chickens tend to be dry and salty.

If you don't like your food too spicy, just use enchilada sauce (30-32 oz. total), as Mel mentions in her notes. You can always serve a salsa verde on the side for those who want more heat. 

Diced onions would be a good addition. I'd sauté 1/2 a cup in olive oil before adding them to the enchilada sauce.

If you want to stretch the meal or add more protein, beans (white, pinto or black) would be great mixed in with the chicken Be sure to drain them before adding.

For even distribution, I mixed all of the seasonings together in a bowl before mixing them with the chicken. 

Click on the link in the sidebar for more of my favorite recipes. 

Please visit The Intrepid Reader for Weekend Cooking.

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April 9, 2021

Looking Back - Losing Julia

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.



Losing Julia by Jonathan Hull
Fiction
2000 Delacorte Press
Read twice: April 2000 and March 2001 
Rating: 5/5 (Excellent)

Publisher's Blurb:

Jonathan Hull's debut novel is an epic story of love found and lost, of life in all its joy and tragedy, that takes readers as far as a French battlefield during World War I and as near as a California nursing home. Spanning the twentieth century in time, and forever in heartfelt emotion, Losing Julia is storytelling prowess at its most sublime.

Through the eyes of Patrick Delaney, both bright as a nineteen-year-old American soldier off to fight the Great War and dim as an eighty-one-year-old man, Jonathan Hull shows readers one man's world of discovery, of love, and ultimately, of regret.

Julia was the beautiful lover of Patrick's best friend, Daniel. Patrick knew he was meant to be with her the moment he first saw her at a memorial service in eastern France, on the tenth anniversary of the battle in which Daniel died. Though married, Patrick falls desperately in love with Julia during the brief but unforgettable time they spend together exploring the still-battle-scarred countryside and grappling to make sense of what took place there. Struggling to reconcile their love with the havoc of war and life's obligations, Julia and Patrick cling to each other until one faltered step, when Patrick loses Julia, perhaps never to find her again.

From the vicious savagery of trench warfare to the sometimes comic and often tragic indignities of life in a nursing home, readers will make an unforgettable journey through Patrick Delaney's memories as he questions whether the joy he shared with Julia can outweigh the losses of a lifetime.

My Original Notes (2000):

Wonderful, wonderful novel! I became engrossed from the very beginning, yet tried to read slowly, savoring each sentence. Initially, I had some difficulty with the three timelines, but it didn't take too long to get used to the transitions. Beautifully written. Funny, yet sad. Thought-provoking. Makes me want to read more about World War I.

My Original Notes (2001):

Beautifully crafted story of love, reflection, hope and regret. This is the second time I've read Losing Julia. It wasn't nearly the pager-turner as with the first reading, but I enjoyed it on a different level just as much. I got more out of the beautiful writing this time. I knew the storyline, so I wasn't as anxious to find out what was going to happen. Oh, I love this book. I got a huge lump in my throat and teary-eyed as I read the last few pages. I have dog-eared dozens of pages. I want to write a fan letter to Mr. Hull. Rating: 10/10 Excellent!!

My Current Thoughts:

I loved this book, but I'm surprised I read it a second time so soon after the first reading. If my memory is correct, I think the second reading was for a book club discussion. It's now been 20 years since that reading and I think it's time for a third.

Favorite Passages:

Last night I dreamed that I met a young boy who told me with the saddest eyes that he was never born and I asked how could that be and he explained very slowly and quietly that his father had died at the front. And then I looked behind the boy and I saw hundreds of the thousands of children, just standing there. Infinitely mute.

and

Maybe I saw her sitting on the beach too, or maybe it was just the expression on Daniel's face when he talked about her, but for me, Julia soon became my own escape from the war; my personal guardian angel who beckoned me away from the madness every time I closed my eyes. Daniel offered hundreds of dots and I connected them, until the most beautiful woman I'd ever seen emerged, my angel in the trenches; my incantation against despair. My Julia.

and

I miss my books. I gave most of them away when I sold the house. I had 2,142 of them, not counting the books at my store, which I considered mine as well, my darling pets up for adoption. The kids took what they wanted and the rest I gave to a local library. I've felt naked ever since, like a soldier stripped of his weapons.

Like most bookworms I read so as not to be alone, which often annoys those who are trying to make conversation with me. Lately I've taken to rereading the classics of my youth—a rare chance to relive the past—though I must confess that some of the books aren't what I remember at all.

Books aren't just my defenses, the sandbags I use to fortify my position; they are also the building blocks of my soul, and I am the sum of all I read. The truth is, reading about life has always proved much more satisfactory than living it, and certainly reading about people is far more interesting than actually sitting across from them at, say, a dinner party. On the page people come alive: they have sex, they travel, the reveal their deepest thoughts, they struggle against overwhelming odds, they search for meaning. In person, well, few dinner partners do any of these things.

and

It is said that life is too short and that’s quite true, unless you are lonely. Loneliness can bring time to its knees; an absolute and utter standstill.

I’ve always judged places and times by how lonely they felt. The entire Midwest, for example, strikes me as horrifically lonely, Indiana more so than Wisconsin and Wisconsin more so than Ohio or Illinois. Coasts are dependably less lonely than inland areas while the warmer latitudes are noticeably less lonely than the colder ones. Hardware stores feel lonely while bookstores do not. Mornings are lonelier than afternoons, while the hours before dawn can be devastating. Vienna is lonelier than Paris or London, while Los Angeles is lonelier than San Francisco or Boston. The Atlantic Ocean is lonelier than the Pacific while the Caribbean is not lonely at all.

And then there are nursing homes.

April 3, 2021

A Month in Summary - March 2021

Little Whale Cove
Depoe Bay, Oregon
March 2021


And just like that another month has come and gone and it's spring! The first week of Daylight Saving Time is always tough, but I love the longer days. The rainy season is almost over and it won't be long before our sunsets occur after 9pm. This is my favorite time of year!

I read seven books in March, which is exactly the same number that I read in January and February. I read two mysteries and five novels. Three were audios, one was an older book from my shelves, one was borrowed, but there were no rereads this month. I read about 100 pages of a novel I loved back in 2000, but it wasn't holding my attention, so I called it quits. I also started an ebook that I eventually gave up on as well. All in all, it was a very good month with two 5-star and one 4.5-star ratings; I'd be hard pressed to pick one favorite.




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

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (2/5)

Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult (4.5/5)

Beartown by Fredrik Backman (5/5)

A Quiet Life in the Country by T.E. Kinsey (4/5)

Leave the Grave Green by Deborah Crombie (3/5)

Circe by Madeline Miller (5/5)

The Vanishing Half  by Brit Bennett (3/5)

Abandoned:

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

Remember Me by Laura Hendrie (read in 2000, but couldn't get interested in a rereading after 100 pages)

Movies & TV Series:

Perry Mason - We finished the season and while it took me several episodes to get interested, I wound up loving the show. I hope eventually there will be a second season.

Fortitude - This series was much more suspenseful than we anticipated. A cross between a mystery and a sci-fi/horror show. Stanley Tucci is marvelous!



Terminator: Dark Fate - I was surprised that I enjoyed this as much as I did.


Sneaky Pete - We loved this show! We finished Season One and will take a break before watching more. 


The Goldfinch - A long film, but I enjoyed it better than the book (reviewed here), which was a bit of a slog. Great cast!


This Is Us (Season Five) - Yes, I'm still watching this show.


Chance - I'll watch anything with Hugh Laurie! So far, so good.

Puzzlemania:






In the Kitchen:


I've made this Mushroom Lasagna a couple of times and it's soooo good! I like that I can make a big pan of it and freeze some to have later in the month. Serve it with a Caesar salad and garlic bread and you've got a great meal for your family or dinner guests. 

We get our second vaccinations next Friday! We'll continue to mask up and take precautions, but it feels good to know that we're rounding the corner. Stay safe, friends. Let's hope the fourth wave is short-lived.

April 2, 2021

Looking Back - Playing Botticelli

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 Putnam Adult
Read in April 2000
Rating: 3/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

In her vibrant and wise novel, Liza Nelson captures that pivotal time when a parent's power to shape and shield her child is drawing to an end. The year is 1986, when airport terrorism, serial killers, and Iran-Contra have put most of the population into a collective funk. But artist Godiva Blue feels safe. A refugee from the late sixties, self-proclaimed visionary, and "lady janitor" at the local elementary school, Godiva believes she has found a haven for herself and her daughter, Dylan, in the backwaters of northwest Florida. Then, on a casual trip to the post office, Godiva glances at the FBI most-wanted poster and recognizes the face of the man with whom she conceived Dylan during an antiwar rally. Meanwhile, at fifteen Dylan is chafing under her mother's overwhelming personality. When she discovers the poster that Godiva had hidden in a rare moment of self-doubt, Dylan begins to build a fantasy future centered on reuniting with her father, setting her -- and Godiva's -- course. 

My Original Thoughts (2000):

Entertaining, but not a great read. The point of view shifts frequently from Godiva to Dylan (in first person) to third person. The book held my interest and I could picture it on the big screen, as it reminded me a little bit of Where the Heart Is.

My Current Thoughts:

I have no recollection of this book.

March 31, 2021

The Vanishing Half

 


Fiction
2020 Penguin Audio
Read by Shayna Small
Finished on March 28, 2021
Rating: 3/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

The Vignes twin sisters will always be identical. But after growing up together in a small, southern black community and running away at age sixteen, it's not just the shape of their daily lives that is different as adults, it's everything: their families, their communities, their racial identities. Many years later, one sister lives with her black daughter in the same southern town she once tried to escape. The other passes for white, and her white husband knows nothing of her past. Still, even separated by so many miles and just as many lies, the fates of the twins remain intertwined. What will happen to the next generation, when their own daughters' storylines intersect? 

Weaving together multiple strands and generations of this family, from the Deep South to California, from the 1950s to the 1990s, Brit Bennett produces a story that is at once a riveting, emotional family story and a brilliant exploration of the American history of passing. Looking well beyond issues of race, The Vanishing Half considers the lasting influence of the past as it shapes a person's decisions, desires, and expectations, and explores some of the multiple reasons and realms in which people sometimes feel pulled to live as something other than their origins.

I spent the past couple of weeks listening to The Vanishing Half, which my book club chose for our April discussion. It's been a few years since I read Brit Bennett's debut novel (The Mothers), which I greatly enjoyed, so I was excited to read her new book, which has garnered high praise from numerous readers and landed on several bestseller lists. (It was named a best book of the year by The New York Times, The Washington Post, Time, NPR, Amazon and Goodreads, to name just a few.) And yet, once again, I'm in the minority. It's a moderately compelling (and timely) read, but I don't think it's outstanding or brilliant. Bennett's writing is fairly straightforward and I was quickly drawn into the narrative, but the abrupt timeline jumps and the flat characters left me unimpressed. I'm eager to hear how my book club liked this selection. With themes of race, identity, family secrets and sexuality, it should be a good discussion! 

March 29, 2021

Circe

 


Fiction - Mythology
2018 Little, Brown and Company
Finished on March 24, 2021
Rating: 5/5 (Outstanding)

Publisher's Blurb:

In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child--not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power--the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves.

Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus.

But there is danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.

With unforgettably vivid characters, mesmerizing language and page-turning suspense, Circe is a triumph of storytelling, an intoxicating epic of family rivalry, palace intrigue, love and loss, as well as a celebration of indomitable female strength in a man's world. 


In my typical fashion, I went into Circe completely blind. Not only did I not know the plot of Madeline Miller's outstanding tale, but I didn't have any knowledge of who Circe was in Greek mythology. I'm ashamed to admit that I have never read either The Iliad or The Odyssey and what little mythology I know, I learned in high school in my freshman English class. Suffice it to say, when I first started reading Circe, I spent a lot of time looking up background information on the various gods, goddesses, mortals and monsters that are mentioned in the book. I wish I had known ahead of time that the author had included a cast of characters at the back of the novel, but then I would have missed some entertaining videos about the Minotaur and Daedalus' Labyrinth. (Click here for one on TED-Ed.)

Trying to sort out the relationship between so many Titan and Olympian divinities, I found the beginning of Miller's book a little slow going, but once Circe was exiled to Aiaia, the pace picked up and I kept reading long into the night. Never could I have imagined a book about mythology could be such a page-turner! I enjoyed it so well that I'm tempted to give it a second read, this time on audio in order to hear the proper pronunciation of each name (something I struggled with the entire time I was reading the book).

I love it when a book not only entertains, but has me seeking out more about the subject matter. I'm inspired to not only read The Song of Achilles (Miller's debut novel), but also The Iliad and The Odyssey. If I were a high school English teacher, I would definitely use Miller's books as companion reads to Homer's epic tales.

Circe is an enchanting read and I'm thrilled to see that it is currently being adapted for a TV series by HBO Max.

Final Thoughts:

Don't let the Greek Mythology turn you off. This is one compelling read! Highly recommend. 

March 26, 2021

Looking Back - Out of the Blue

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 Ballantine Books
Read in April 2000
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

At once heart-wrenching and funny, poignant and provocative, here is a rare novel about finding the courage to take a remarkable leap of faith. Smart, funny Anna Bolles, a born athlete and a dynamic teacher, figures God decided to have the last laugh when her life was tragically and irrevocably changed five years ago. Since then she has kept herself firmly grounded in the present with the door marked "future" shut. 

Anna's days are filled with the vibrancy of summer in New York City where she takes joy in the details, the sensual assault of an air-conditioned museum and a perfectly baked muffin. She relishes her role as an observer to the dramas played out around her--from the adolescent courtships of her private school students to the turbulent love affairs of friends and colleagues. Yet Anna never dares to open her heart, except to the father who has drifted from her and the mother who sustains her, until the one thing she didn't think could happen becomes a twist of fate that may just set her free. Until Joe Malone.

Joe Malone, pilot, businessman, amateur photographer, is a man who has everything except happiness. Though he's notorious for his short attention span, he sees in Anna a world of possibilities. Maybe Joe, a man who has only been skimming the surface of life, has finally found a perfect place to land. He thinks he wants a life with Anna no matter what and seems willing to risk everything to be with her. But can he trust himself enough to give their deepest dreams the chance to flourish?

Through laughter and tears, from the depths of heartbreak to the pinnacle of joy, Sally Mandel never fails to remind readers of the things that matter most in life. Now she has written her most dazzling novel yet--a very special story about two unique people whose love comes from seemingly out of the blue.

My Original Thoughts (2000):

Great fluff! I couldn't put it down. Romance. Humorous. Didn't cry, but got choked up. Not great literature, but entertaining. A perfect beach read. Engrossing, yet light. This author is one that I'll keep my eye on. She's written four other books, but they're all out of print.

My Current Thoughts: 

This isn't the sort of book I'd read now, but I obviously enjoyed it quite a lot 20 years ago. Did I go on to read more by Mandel? Nope.

March 19, 2021

Looking Back - Diary of a Provincial Lady

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
1999 Prion Books (first published in 1930)
Read in April 2000
Rating: 2/5 (Fair)

Publisher's Blurb:

When Diary of a Provincial Lady was first published in 1930, critics on both sides of the Atlantic greeted it with enthusiasm. This charming, delightful and extremely funny book about daily life in a frugal English household was named by booksellers as the out-of-print novel most deserving of republication. 

This is a gently self-effacing, dry-witted tale of a long-suffering and disaster-prone Devon lady of the 1930s. A story of provincial social pretensions and the daily inanities of domestic life to rival George Grossmith's Diary of a Nobody.

My Original Thoughts (2000):

This was a selection for my online book group and while I thought there were many funny comments or incidents, I thought the book was rather dull. I skimmed the last dozen pages or so, just to be done with it. Tedious.

My Current Thoughts:

My only memory of this book is feeling badly that I didn't enjoy it as much as my online book group friends. 


March 16, 2021

Leave the Grave Green

 



Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James Series #3
Mystery
1995 Scribner
Finished on March 12, 2021
Rating: 3/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

When Connor Swann, the dissolute son-in-law of renowned and influential Sir Gerald and Dame Caroline Asherton, is found floating in a Thames River lock, the circumstances eerily recall a strangely similar tragedy. Twenty years ago, the Ashertons' young son, Matthew, a musical prodigy, drowned in a swollen stream while in the company of his sister Julia -- Connor Swann's wife. 

Police Superintendent Duncan Kincaid and Sergeant Gemma James quickly discover that Connor's death was no accident, and that nothing in the Asherton family is as it seems. Connor, though estranged from Julia for more than a year, still lives in her London apartment, where his exploits with women and gambling suggest plenty of motives. The Ashertons are far more attached to Connor than to their own daughter, and these are only the first of the secrets that haunt the suspects. New lies cover older lies, as Kincaid finds himself dangerously drawn to Julia Swann, and Gemma must confront her own troubling feelings for Kincaid.

Another entertaining installment in Deborah Crombie's Kincaid/James series. I was kept guessing and didn't solve the mystery before Duncan and Gemma. I continue to enjoy the British setting and the slowly evolving relationship between the two detectives.

March 14, 2021

A Quiet Life in the Country

 


Lady Hardcastle Mysteries #1
Mystery
2016 Brillance Audio
Read by Elizabeth Knowelden
Finished on March 9, 2021
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

Lady Emily Hardcastle is an eccentric widow with a secret past. Florence Armstrong, her maid and confidante, is an expert in martial arts. The year is 1908 and they’ve just moved from London to the country, hoping for a quiet life.

But it is not long before Lady Hardcastle is forced out of her self-imposed retirement. There’s a dead body in the woods, and the police are on the wrong scent. Lady Hardcastle makes some enquiries of her own, and it seems she knows a surprising amount about crime investigation…

As Lady Hardcastle and Flo delve deeper into rural rivalries and resentment, they uncover a web of intrigue that extends far beyond the village. With almost no one free from suspicion, they can be certain of only one fact: there is no such thing as a quiet life in the country.

A Quiet Life in the Country is a delightful book and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to Elizabeth Knowelden's performance of this cozy mystery. It was an especially nice change of pace after the heavier books I've recently read.

The mystery (or mysteries, as there are actually two murders to solve) wasn't terribly interesting, but I loved the bantering and exchange of dry wit between Lady Hardcastle and Flo, which is very much like my husband's sense of humor. I chuckled out loud on more than one occasion and had I read the print edition rather than the audio, I'm certain I'd have several passages to share. I didn't waste any time downloading the second installment and look forward to more of the duo's antics, as well as (hopefully) the return of a couple of the supporting characters. 

Highly recommend.

March 13, 2021

Mushroom Lasagna


Oh, yum! Another delicious recipe by Smitten Kitchen (adapted from Ina Garten). I've made this dish a couple of times and it's a huge hit with my family; even my meat-loving husband says it's a winner. If you wind up with any leftovers, they freeze very well.

Salt
Olive Oil
12 pieces of dried lasagna noodles
1 garlic clove, minced
4 cups of hot milk 
12 Tbsp. unsalted butter, divided
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. ground pepper
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1 1/2 lbs. mushrooms (any combination of cremini, portobello, brown or baby white), sliced
1 small onion, diced
1/4 cup white wine (my addition)
1 cup freshly grated parmesan


Preheat oven to 375 degrees (F).

Prepare noodles: Cook according to package instructions (typically around 10 minutes). Drain and set aside. 

Make béchamel: While the noodles are cooking, melt 8 tablespoons of butter in a large saucepan. Add the flour and cook for one minute over low heat, stirring constantly with a whisk or wooden spoon. Pour in the hot milk, a little at a time at first and whisk until combined. Once you’ve added half of it, you can add the second half all at once, along with 2 teaspoons kosher salt, the pepper, and nutmeg. Cook over medium-low heat, whisking frequently, for 3 to 5 minutes, or until thick. Remove from heat and set aside.

Prepare onions & mushrooms: Clean mushrooms and discard stems. Slice mushrooms 1/4-inch thick. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil and 2 tablespoons butter over medium in a large sauté pan. Cook the onions until tender, about 3 minutes. Add half of the mushrooms, along with a couple pinches of salt, and cook for about 5 minutes, or until they are tender and release some of their juices, tossing to make sure they cook evenly. Set aside and repeat with additional oil and butter, and remaining mushrooms. Return all the mushrooms to the pan and add the white wine. Simmer for 5 minutes.

Assemble lasagna: Spread some of the sauce in the bottom of a 9 x 13 baking dish.  Arrange a layer of noodles on top, then more sauce (about 1/4 of what remains), 1/3 of the mushrooms and 1/4 cup grated parmesan. Repeat two more times then top with a final layer of noodles, your remaining sauce and last 1/4 cup of parmesan.

Bake: For 45 minutes, or until top is browned and the sauce is bubbly. Let sit at room temperature for 15 minutes before serving. 

To freeze for future use, allow it to cool completely and wrap two to three times in plastic wrap before freezing.

Click on the link in my sidebar for more of my favorite recipes. 

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March 12, 2021

Looking Back - Rules of the Wild

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
1999 Vintage (first published in 1998)
Read in April 2000
Rating: 3/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

A mesmerizing novel of love and nostalgia set in the vast spaces of contemporary East Africa.

Romantic, often resonantly ironic, moving and wise, Rules of the Wild transports us to a landscape of unsurpassed beauty even as it gives us a sharp-eyed portrait of a closely knit tribe of cultural outsiders: the expatriates living in Kenya today. Challenged by race, by class, and by a longing for home, here are "safari boys" and samaritans, reporters bent on their own fame, travelers who care deeply about elephants but not at all about the people of Africa. They all know each other. They meet at dinner parties, they sleep with each other, they argue about politics and the best way to negotiate their existence in a place where they don't really belong.

At the center is Esmé, a beautiful young woman of dazzling ironies and introspections, who tells us her story in a voice both passionate and self-deprecating. Against a paradoxical backdrop of limitless physical freedom and escalating civil unrest, Esmé struggles to make sense of her own place in Africa and of her feelings for the two men there whom she loves--Adam, a second-generation Kenyan who is the first to show her the wonders of her adopted land, and Hunter, a British journalist sickened by its horrors.

Rules of the Wild evokes the worlds of Isak Dinesen, Beryl Markham, and Ernest Hemingway. It explores unforgettably our infinite desire for a perfect elsewhere, for love and a place to call home. It is an astonishing literary debut.

My Original Thoughts (2000):

Pretty good. Held my interest enough to keep me reading late into the night. I loved the passages that describe the landscape and wildlife. I didn't care too much for the immature relationships between several of the characters, but I could overlook those for the better parts of the book. 

There is no sky as big as this one anywhere else in the world. It hangs over you, like some kind of gigantic umbrella, and takes your breath away. You are flattened between the immensity of the air above you and the solid ground. It's all around you, 360 degrees: sky and earth, one the aerial reflection of the other. The horizon here is no longer a flat line, but an endless circle which makes your head spin.

My Current Thoughts: 

Rereading my journal notes, it sounds like I might have enjoyed this better if it had been nonfiction rather than a novel. 

March 11, 2021

Beartown

 



Fiction
2018 Washington Square Press (first published in 2016)
Finished on March 7, 2021
Rating: 5/5 (Outstanding)

Publisher's Blurb:

The bestselling author of A Man Called Ove returns with a dazzling, profound novel about a small town with a big dream—and the price required to make it come true.

People say Beartown is finished. A tiny community nestled deep in the forest, it is slowly losing ground to the ever-encroaching trees. But down by the lake stands an old ice rink, built generations ago by the working men who founded this town. And in that ice rink is the reason people in Beartown believe tomorrow will be better than today. Their junior ice hockey team is about to compete in the national semi-finals, and they actually have a shot at winning. All the hopes and dreams of this place now rest on the shoulders of a handful of teenage boys.

Being responsible for the hopes of an entire town is a heavy burden, and the semi-final match is the catalyst for a violent act that will leave a young girl traumatized and a town in turmoil. Accusations are made and, like ripples on a pond, they travel through all of Beartown, leaving no resident unaffected.

Beartown explores the hopes that bring a small community together, the secrets that tear it apart, and the courage it takes for an individual to go against the grain. In this story of a small forest town, Fredrik Backman has found the entire world.

A Gentleman in Moscow. All the Light We Cannot See. State of Wonder. City of Thieves. Cutting for Stone. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. The Help. The Sparrow. The Book Thief. A Prayer for Owen Meany. Beach Music. Plainsong. What do all of these books have in common with Beartown? They are simply a few of my all-time favorite literary novels, most of which took several chapters before I became fully invested in their stories. They are the sort of books that are filled with memorable characters and plots that do more than just entertain. I was not expecting to add Beartown to this collection of favorites, but I have!

I was born in Ontario, Canada and yet I have never been to a hockey game, nor have I watched it on TV. Even when the U.S. team beat the Soviet Union, winning the gold medal in the 1980 Winter Olympics, I only saw the highlights. So when I first heard that Beartown was about a hockey team, I wasn't in the least bit interested, even though I had read and loved A Man Called Ove. I also read and enjoyed My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry, but I wasn't convinced I would feel the same about Beartown

When I found out about the HBO series based on this book, I decided it was time to give it a try so I could read it before watching the show. Reading other reviews and comments, I knew it would take a while to get interested in the story, so I was pleased that it only took me a few chapters before I got a handle on all the characters (and there are A LOT!) and their relationships with one another. Thankfully, I wasn't required to suffer through pages of detailed explanations of the rules and regulations of hockey. Quite honestly, Beartown could be about a small town football, basketball or baseball team (although I would have eagerly jumped on a book about baseball), since the focus is less on the game and more on the dynamics of the team and coaching staff, as well as the members of the community. 

In any case, I loved the book and I'm so glad I stuck with it through those early chapters. There are so many great characters, many of whom I came to love (and worry about), especially Maya, Ana, Amat, Benji and Bobo. Backman's narrative is linear with numerous points of view and some readers might find this constant shifting of perspectives jarring or clunky, but I appreciated getting to follow each of the main characters' feelings and reactions, which gives the book a more intimate experience than it might have with just one or two points of view. 

So there you go. I have my second 5-star rating for 2021. I love to read and enjoy light and humorous books, as well as spellbinding thrillers and mysteries, but it is such a joy to read a provocative work of contemporary fiction. 

Highly recommend!

Kirkus Reviews says it best:
Backman is a masterful writer, his characters familiar yet distinct, flawed yet heroic.... There are scenes that bring tears, scenes of gut-wrenching despair, and moments of sly humor.... This is about more than youth sports; it's part coming-of-age novel, part study of moral failure, and finally a chronicle of groupthink in which an unlikely hero steps forward to save more than one person from self-destruction. A thoroughly empathetic examination of the fragile human spirit, Backman's latest will resonate a long time.