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April 30, 2021

Looking Back - A New Song

Looking Back... In an effort to transfer my book journal entries over to this blog, I'm going to attempt to post (in chronological order) an entry every Friday. I may or may not add extra commentary to what I jotted down in these journals.



A New Song by Jan Karon
Mitford Series #5
Fiction
2000 Penguin Books (first published in 1999)
Finished on May 2, 2000
Rating: 3/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

In A New Song, Mitford's longtime Episcopal priest, Father Tim, retires. However, new challenges and adventures await when he agrees to serve as interim minister of a small church on Whitecap Island. He and his wife, Cynthia, soon find that Whitecap has its own unforgettable characters: a church organist with a mysterious past, a lovelorn bachelor placing personal ads, a mother battling paralyzing depression. They also find that Mitford is never far away when circumstances "back home" keep their phone ringing off the hook. In this fifth novel of the beloved series, fans old and new will discover that a trip to Mitford and Whitecap is twice as good for the soul.

My Original Thoughts (2000):

Great entertainment! I didn't find it as humorous as the previous books in this series, but I still enjoyed it. Looking forward to reading the next book!

My Current Thoughts:

I still have most of these books on my shelf with plans to eventually reread them. I've only reread At Home in Mitford, so I have a ways to go before I get to this one.

April 29, 2021

Testimony



Testimony by Anita Shreve
Fiction
2008 Back Bay Books (first published in 2008
Finished on April 28, 2021
Rating: 4.5/5 (Excellent)

Publisher's Blurb:

At a New England boarding school, a sex scandal is about to break. Even more shocking than the sexual acts themselves is the fact that they were caught on videotape. A Pandora's box of revelations, the tape triggers a chorus of voices--those of the men, women, teenagers, and parents involved in the scandal--that details the ways in which lives can be derailed or destroyed in one foolish moment.

Writing with a pace and intensity surpassing even her own greatest work, Anita Shreve delivers in Testimony a gripping emotional drama with the impact of a thriller. No one more compellingly explores the dark impulses that sway the lives of seeming innocents, the needs and fears that drive ordinary men and women into intolerable dilemmas, and the ways in which our best intentions can lead to our worst transgressions.

My focus for 2021 is to read from my own shelves, selecting older, backlist titles that I've neglected for one reason or another. Anita Shreve is an author I enjoy reading, but her books tend to be hit and miss, so I ignored Testimony, afraid it would be another disappointment like A Wedding in December or Sea Glass.  I shouldn't have worried, as I wound up loving this novel (which I've had for a dozen years) just as much as Body SurfingFortune's Rocks and The Pilot's Wife

I went into the book cold, skipping all the blurbs and reviews, and had I not known it was written by Shreve, I would have bet that it was one of Jodi Picoult's popular novels. Tackling a serious social issue, but absent the courtroom drama and major twist at the end, one could easily mistake this for one of her books. And yet, Shreve pulled me in from the opening pages just as skillfully as Picoult. Unraveling the timeline of events through numerous voices, I was able to witness the actions (and reactions) of each character, finding some more sympathetic and believable than others. Each voice propels the story forward, providing more information, which fills in the gaps in other "testimonies." 

Testimony is such a thought-provoking story and would be a great book to discuss with a book group. I can see how some readers would blame the boys (was it rape?) and others would blame the underage girl (was it seduction?). Is underage drinking to blame?

This is a compulsive read and the short chapters kept me turning the pages. It feels a little strange to say that I loved a book about a sex scandal, but it is so well-written and I came to care about several of the characters. I don't think any of us can claim to be free of making foolish or stupid choices in our lives and this book is a good reminder that a single act can irrevocably alter the future of not just one, but many lives, in an instant. 

April 25, 2021

Mourn Not Your Dead

 



Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James Series #4
Mystery
2005 Avon (first published in 1996)
Finished on April 18, 2021
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

An important and powerful policeman has been murdered, bludgeoned to death in his own kitchen. Few in suburban Surrey mourn the violent passing of Division Commander Alastair Gilbert, whose arrogance and cruelty were legendary in his village and in wider police circles -- which only makes the job of Scotland Yard investigators Superintendent Duncan Kincaid and Sergeant Gemma James more difficult. And as every discovery reveals another instance of misplaced trust, festering secrets, and murderous rage, they must put aside their own personal feelings for the victim -- and for each other -- in the name of justice and the law.

I liked the first three installments in the Kincaid/James series, but I turned the corner with this fourth book and am now a big fan of Crombie's books. Mourn Not Your Dead is exceptionally good, drawing me in and holding my attention from the opening pages. Duncan and Gemma's roles have solidified and the mystery felt stronger (and less like a "cozy") than the previous books, keeping me guessing until the final chapters. There are 18 books in this series and I can't wait to start in on Dreaming of the Bones. My only complaint is that the mass market editions lack the line drawn maps that are included in the endpapers of each hardcover. I would love to track Duncan and Gemma's movements around England as I read each book, so I may wind up borrowing the hardcover copies from the library.

April 24, 2021

Blue Horses

 


Poetry
2014 Penguin Books
Finished on April 18, 2021
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

In this stunning collection of new poems, Mary Oliver returns to the imagery that has defined her life’s work, describing with wonder both the everyday and the unaffected beauty of nature.

Herons, sparrows, owls, and kingfishers flit across the page in meditations on love, artistry, and impermanence. Whether considering a bird’s nest, the seeming patience of oak trees, or the artworks of Franz Marc, Oliver reminds us of the transformative power of attention and how much can be contained within the smallest moments.

At its heart, Blue Horses asks what it means to truly belong to this world, to live in it attuned to all its changes. Humorous, gentle, and always honest, Oliver is a visionary of the natural world.

Blue Horses is the third collection of Mary Oliver's poems that I chose to read for National Poetry Month. This volume contains 38 poems, five of which I enjoyed and plan to share at a later date on this blog. Those titles are:
Such Silence
Watering the Stones
Franz Marc's Blue Horses
The Oak Tree Loves Patience
What Gorgeous Thing

It's a joy to simply flip through this book and read one of the poems to see if it sparks inspiration or brings me a sense of peace. I have read and reread many of Oliver's poems and I'm sure others will speak to me when I read this book next year.

April 23, 2021

Looking Back - Ex LIbris

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.



Nonfiction
1998 Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Finished on April 29, 2000
Rating: 3/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

Anne Fadiman is--by her own admission--the sort of person who learned about sex from her father's copy of Fanny Hill, whose husband buys her 19 pounds of dusty books for her birthday, and who once found herself poring over her roommate's 1974 Toyota Corolla manual because it was the only written material in the apartment that she had not read at least twice.

This witty collection of essays recounts a lifelong love affair with books and language. For Fadiman, as for many passionate readers, the books she loves have become chapters in her own life story. Writing with remarkable grace, she revives the tradition of the well-crafted personal essay, moving easily from anecdotes about Coleridge and Orwell to tales of her own pathologically literary family. As someone who played at blocks with her father's 22-volume set of Trollope ("My Ancestral Castles") and who only really considered herself married when she and her husband had merged collections ("Marrying Libraries"), she is exquisitely well equipped to expand upon the art of inscriptions, the perverse pleasures of compulsive proof-reading, the allure of long words, and the satisfactions of reading out loud. There is even a foray into pure literary gluttony--Charles Lamb liked buttered muffin crumbs between the leaves, and Fadiman knows of more than one reader who literally consumes page corners. Perfectly balanced between humor and erudition, Ex Libris establishes Fadiman as one of our finest contemporary essayists.

My Original Thoughts (2000):

Fadiman speaks joyfully of books, book collecting, and book ownership. 18 charming essays - my favorites are Marrying Libraries, Never Do That to a Book, Inse^t a Carrot, Eternal Ink, The Catalogical Imperative, and My Odd Shelf.

My Current Thoughts:

I was surprised to discover a copy of this book in my bookcase. I thought it wound up in the discard pile when I was culling my books before our move four years ago, but I must have decided it was worth keeping in spite of not loving it. I find that when I read a collection of short stories, poetry or essays, there may be a handful that I enjoy, but not usually the majority of the offerings. I love books about books, so I'll give Ex Libris another read and see how I feel about it now some time has passed since my first reading.

April 22, 2021

Afterlife

 


Fiction
2020 Recorded Books
Read by Alma Cuervo
Finished on April 17, 2021
Rating: 3/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

Antonia Vega, the immigrant writer at the center of Afterlife, has had the rug pulled out from under her. She has just retired from the college where she taught English when her beloved husband, Sam, suddenly dies. And then more jolts: her bighearted but unstable sister disappears, and Antonia returns home one evening to find a pregnant, undocumented teenager on her doorstep. Antonia has always sought direction in the literature she loves—lines from her favorite authors play in her head like a soundtrack—but now she finds that the world demands more of her than words.

Afterlife is a compact, nimble, and sharply droll novel. Set in this political moment of tribalism and distrust, it asks: What do we owe those in crisis in our families, including—maybe especially—members of our human family? How do we live in a broken world without losing faith in one another or ourselves? And how do we stay true to those glorious souls we have lost?

While browsing through a list of audiobooks offered by Libro.fm, I came across Julia Alvarez's name, which I recognized as the author of How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents. I haven't read that particular novel or any others by Alvarez, but this one sounded promising so I decided to give it a try. It's a slim book (only 272 pages) and the audio is not quite 6 1/2 hours in length, so it's a fairly quick read. 

I enjoyed Antonia's story as she learns to live with the loss of her husband and the unpredictability of her grief during the past year. I also liked the storyline about Mario and his pregnant girlfriend Estella, who comes into Antonia's life unexpectedly. I would have preferred that this thread be the main focus of the novel and eliminate the other part, which involves Antonia's three sisters. I didn't care for the long, drawn out drama of their relationships with one another and thought the sisters were indistinguishable from each another. I grew annoyed and impatient to return to Mario and Estella's story, but kept listening, as Alma Cuervo is an excellent reader; her accent smooth and melodious.

I didn't fall in love with this book, but there are parts that I enjoyed greatly. So much so that I'm tempted to get a copy of the book at the library in order to read some of those passages a second time. 

I received a complimentary copy from Libro.fm.

April 21, 2021

Felicity

 


Poetry
2015 Penguin Books
Finished on April 14, 2021
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

“If I have any secret stash of poems, anywhere, it might be about love, not anger,” Mary Oliver once said in an interview. Finally, in her stunning new collection, Felicity, we can immerse ourselves in Oliver’s love poems. Here, great happiness abounds.

Our most delicate chronicler of physical landscape, Oliver has described her work as loving the world. With Felicity she examines what it means to love another person. She opens our eyes again to the territory within our own hearts; to the wild and to the quiet. In these poems, she describes—with joy—the strangeness and wonder of human connection.

I had forgotten that I already read Felicity a couple of years ago! I borrowed a copy from the library for National Poetry Month and wrote about it here. I now have my own copy and added it to my stack of books by Mary Oliver for this year's National Poetry Month reading. There are 38 poems in this collection and I marked five favorites. It doesn't surprise me that all but one were among my favorites in 2019. These are the titles:
Don't Worry
Storage
That Tall Distance
Not Anyone Who Says
Late Spring
Three of the poems that I noted as favorites in 2019 did not stand out this time around, which goes to show that writing, whether it's fiction, nonfiction or poetry speaks to us more powerfully depending on our current state of mind and life situations. It will be interesting to see which of these poems resonate with me in the coming years.

April 19, 2021

A Thousand Mornings

 



Poetry
2012 Penguin Books
Finished on April 14, 2021
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

In A Thousand Mornings, Mary Oliver returns to the imagery that has come to define her life’s work, transporting us to the marshland and coastline of her beloved home, Provincetown, Massachusetts. Whether studying the leaves of a tree or mourning her treasured dog Percy, Oliver is open to the teachings contained in the smallest of moments and explores with startling clarity, humor, and kindness the mysteries of our daily experience.

I rarely ever receive books for my birthday or Christmas, but this past year my husband gave me not one, but four of Mary Oliver's books! I decided to wait until National Poetry Month before starting in on this lovely collection of poetry and I began with A Thousand Mornings, which I read every morning over the course of two weeks. I love the simplicity of Oliver's words and her focus on nature and the environment, as well as on life and death. Of the 36 poems in this slim edition, I marked 8 that spoke to me. Those favorites are as follows:
I Go Down To The Shore
The Gardener
If I Were
Poem Of The One World
And Bob Dylan Too
Today
A Thousand Mornings
Tides

There are too many to quote here, but I plan to share each one individually in the coming months.

April 17, 2021

Commonwealth

 


Fiction
2016 Harper
Finished on April 10, 2021
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

The acclaimed, bestselling author—winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Orange Prize—tells the enthralling story of how an unexpected romantic encounter irrevocably changes two families’ lives.

One Sunday afternoon in Southern California, Bert Cousins shows up at Franny Keating’s christening party uninvited. Before evening falls, he has kissed Franny’s mother, Beverly—thus setting in motion the dissolution of their marriages and the joining of two families.

Spanning five decades, Commonwealth explores how this chance encounter reverberates through the lives of the four parents and six children involved. Spending summers together in Virginia, the Keating and Cousins children forge a lasting bond that is based on a shared disillusionment with their parents and the strange and genuine affection that grows up between them. 

When, in her twenties, Franny begins an affair with the legendary author Leon Posen and tells him about her family, the story of her siblings is no longer hers to control. Their childhood becomes the basis for his wildly successful book, ultimately forcing them to come to terms with their losses, their guilt, and the deeply loyal connection they feel for one another.

Told with equal measures of humor and heartbreak, Commonwealth is a meditation on inspiration, interpretation, and the ownership of stories. It is a brilliant and tender tale of the far-reaching ties of love and responsibility that bind us together.

Last year I read not only one, but two novels written by Ann Patchett. Like her previous books, Commonwealth is peopled with strongly defined characters, believable dialogue and well-set scenes; all the makings for creating an unforgettable read. I enjoyed the book quite well, but the jumps across the decades, combined with the two blended families, kept me on my toes as I struggled to keep track of who's who (and their relationships to one another). I'm glad I read this in print rather than listening to the audio, as I had to flip back and forth to reacquaint myself with more than one of the children. 

Bel Canto and State of Wonder remain my favorite works of Patchett's, and yet Commonwealth is one that I would enjoy revisiting at a later date. There is so much going on in this novel and I feel as if I missed the beauty of the writing as I consciously worked to figure out what was going on within each family. Narrated from multiple points-of-view and an expansive scope, Commonwealth is a challenging, yet rewarding read and which I highly recommend, especially to those who have enjoyed family dramas such as The Children's Crusade (Ann Packer), Wish You Were Here (Stewart O'Nan), The Arrivals (Meg Mitchell More) and Unsheltered (Barbara Kingsolver). 

April 16, 2021

Looking Back - Traveling Mercies

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.



Nonfiction
2000 Anchor Books (first published in 1999)
Finished on April 29, 2000
Rating: 3/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

Despite--or because of--her irreverence, faith is a natural subject for Anne Lamott. Since Operating Instructions and Bird by Bird, her fans have been waiting for her to write the book that explained how she came to the big-hearted, grateful, generous faith that she so often alluded to in her two earlier nonfiction books. The people in Anne Lamott's real life are like beloved characters in a favorite series for her readers: Her friend Pammy; her son, Sam; and the many funny and wise folks who attend her church are all familiar. And Traveling Mercies is a welcome return to those lives, as well as an introduction to new companions Lamott treats with the same candor, insight, and tenderness.

Lamott's faith isn't about easy answers, which is part of what endears her to believers as well as nonbelievers. Against all odds, she came to believe in God, and then, even more miraculously, in herself. As she puts it, "My coming to faith did not start with a leap but rather a series of staggers." At once tough, personal, affectionate, wise, and very funny, Traveling Mercies tells in exuberant detail how Anne Lamott learned to shine the light of faith on the darkest part of ordinary life, exposing surprising pockets of meaning and hope.

My Original Thoughts (2000):

Nice collection of essays on faith. Lamott is quite witty. I laughed out loud. Sometimes crass. Richly satisfying. Loved her stories about an "off" mole, the Aunties (her "fetacheese thighs"), airplane turbulence, etc.

A gifted storyteller. Honest. Definitely one to read again and again.

My Current Thoughts:

Well, I no longer own a copy of this book and I never did read it a second time, but now I'm curious. Maybe I'll see about getting a copy from the library.

I've also read & reviewed a couple of other books by Lamott:


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. 

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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.