August 30, 2021

House Rules


Fiction
2010 Washington Square Press
Finished on August 27, 2021
Rating: 4.5/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

Jacob Hunt is a teen with Asperger's syndrome. He's hopeless at reading social cues or expressing himself well to others, though he is brilliant in many ways. But he has a special focus on one subject - forensic analysis. A police scanner in his room clues him in to crime scenes, and he's always showing up and telling the cops what to do. And he's usually right.

But when Jacob's small hometown is rocked by a terrible murder, law enforcement comes to him. Jacob's behaviors are hallmark Asperger's, but they look a lot like guilt to the local police. Suddenly the Hunt family, who only want to fit in, are directly in the spotlight. For Jacob's mother, Emma, it's a brutal reminder of the intolerance and misunderstanding that always threaten her family. For his brother, Theo, it's another indication why nothing is normal because of Jacob.

And over this small family, the soul-searing question looms: Did Jacob commit murder?

It took me nearly three weeks to read House Rules, not because it's slow and boring, but simply because it's over 500 pages and I'm not a fast reader. I'm a big fan of Jodi Picoult and have read most of her novels. I don't mind her formulaic structure (social issue told from multiple POVs with a courtroom drama and typically, a surprise ending) and I would have given the book a 5-star rating, but it felt a touch too long with a few too many loose ends. Otherwise, I really enjoyed the story, the characters, the subtle humor and the murder mystery. Picoult puts a face on Asperger's syndrome much like Lisa Genova did with Alzheimer's in Still Alice. Picoult is a marvelous storyteller and House Rules doesn't disappoint.

August 27, 2021

Looking Back - Open House

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 Random House
Read in August 2000
Rating: 5/5 (Excellent)

Publisher's Blurb:

In this superb novel by the beloved author of Talk Before Sleep, The Pull of the Moon, and Until the Real Thing Comes Along, a woman re-creates her life after divorce by opening up her house and her heart.

Samantha's husband has left her, and after a spree of overcharging at Tiffany's, she settles down to reconstruct a life for herself and her eleven-year-old son. Her eccentric mother tries to help by fixing her up with dates, but a more pressing problem is money. To meet her mortgage payments, Sam decides to take in boarders. The first is an older woman who offers sage advice and sorely needed comfort; the second, a maladjusted student, is not quite so helpful. A new friend, King, an untraditional man, suggests that Samantha get out, get going, get work. But her real work is this: In order to emerge from grief and the past, she has to learn how to make her own happiness. In order to really see people, she has to look within her heart. And in order to know who she is, she has to remember--and reclaim--the person she used to be, long before she became someone else in an effort to save her marriage. Open House is a love story about what can blossom between a man and a woman, and within a woman herself.

My Original Thoughts (2000):

Excellent! Read it in one day. Perfect book to read on an airplane. Berg continues to write books that touch your heart, mind and soul. Definitely one of my favorite authors.

Woman dealing with divorce and single parenting. Rings true. Very realistic emotions.

My Current Thoughts:

I still have a copy of this book and might give it another read since I enjoyed it so well the first time around. If I read it one day, gave it a 5-star rating and kept a copy, it must have been really good. It's odd that I only have a vague memory of the story.

August 20, 2021

Looking Back - Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

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



2000 Scholastic
Read in July 2000
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

For twelve long years, the dread fortress of Azkaban held an infamous prisoner named Sirius Black. Convicted of killing thirteen people with a single curse, he was said to be the heir apparent to the Dark Lord, Voldemort.

Now he has escaped, leaving only two clues as to where he might be headed: Harry Potter's defeat of You-Know-Who was Black's downfall as well. And the Azkaban guards heard Black muttering in his sleep, "He's at Hogwarts . . . he's at Hogwarts."

Harry Potter isn't safe, not even within the walls of his magical school, surrounded by his friends. Because on top of it all, there may well be a traitor in their midst.

My Original Thoughts (2000):

Very good and suspenseful! The ending was a little confusing and I had to read over a few pages twice, but all in all it was quite entertaining. I'm ready to dive into the fourth in the series!

My Current Thoughts:

This was another entertaining installment to the series. It might be fun to listen to all of the books now that so many years have passed since I read them.

August 15, 2021

Anxious People

 


Fiction
2020 Simon & Schuster Audio
Read by Marin Ireland
Finished on August 11, 2021
Rating: 2/5 (Fair)

Publisher's Blurb:

A poignant, charming novel about a crime that never took place, a would-be bank robber who disappears into thin air, and eight extremely anxious strangers who find they have more in common than they ever imagined.

Looking at real estate isn't usually a life-or-death situation, but an apartment open house becomes just that when a failed bank robber bursts in and takes a group of strangers hostage. The captives include a recently retired couple who relentlessly hunt down fixer-uppers to avoid the painful truth that they can't fix up their own marriage. There's a wealthy banker who has been too busy making money to care about anyone else and a young couple who are about to have their first child but can't seem to agree on anything, from where they want to live to how they met in the first place. Add to the mix an eighty-seven-year-old woman who has lived long enough not to be afraid of someone waving a gun in her face, a flustered but still-ready-to-make-a-deal real estate agent, and a mystery man who has locked himself in the apartment's only bathroom, and you've got the worst group of hostages in the world.

Each of them carries a lifetime of grievances, hurts, secrets, and passions that are ready to boil over. None of them is entirely who they appear to be. And all of them—the bank robber included—desperately crave some sort of rescue. As the authorities and the media surround the premises, these reluctant allies will reveal surprising truths about themselves and set in a motion a chain of events so unexpected that even they can hardly explain what happens next.

 Humorous, compassionate, and wise, Anxious People is an ingeniously constructed story about the enduring power of friendship, forgiveness, and hope—the things that save us, even in the most anxious of times.

I loved A Man Called Ove, Beartown and My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She's Sorry, so I was really looking forward to another gem by Fredrik Backman. I decided to listen to the audiobook since it's narrated by the wonderful Marin Ireland. (I loved listening to her narrating Kevin Wilson's novel Nothing To See Here.) I know I'm in the minority, but I was pretty disappointed with this novel. Several characters (and their conversations with one another, particularly the police interviews) were very annoying and it wasn't until the last quarter of the book that I warmed up to any of them. There's a bit of a mystery, which Backman slowly reveals, peeling away at the layers like an onion. Those final chapters are touching and reminiscent of his previous books, but I remain unimpressed with this novel. I still have Britt-Marie Was Here and Us Against You in my stacks and I hope they don't disappoint.

August 13, 2021

Looking Back - Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

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



2000 Scholastic
Read in July 2000
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

Ever since Harry Potter had come home for the summer, the Dursleys had been so mean and hideous that all Harry wanted was to get back to the Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry. But just as he’s packing his bags, Harry receives a warning from a strange impish creature who says that if Harry returns to Hogwarts, disaster will strike.

And strike it does. For in Harry’s second year at Hogwarts, fresh torments and horrors arise, including an outrageously stuck-up new professor and a spirit who haunts the girls’ bathroom. But then the real trouble begins – someone is turning Hogwarts students to stone. Could it be Draco Malfoy, a more poisonous rival than ever? Could it possibly be Hagrid, whose mysterious past is finally told? Or could it be the one everyone at Hogwarts most suspects… Harry Potter himself!

My Original Thoughts (2000):

Very entertaining. I enjoyed it just as much as The Sorcerer's Stone. I don't know if I'd go so far to say it was great, but I bought all four in hard cover and hope Rod will read them, too.

My Current Thoughts:

A very enjoyable installment to the series. I read it a second time in 2007 (reviewed here).

August 11, 2021

Writers & Lovers



Fiction
2020 Grove Press
Finished on August 8, 2021
Rating: 4.5/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

Following the breakout success of her critically acclaimed and award-winning novel Euphoria, Lily King returns with an unforgettable portrait of an artist as a young woman.

Blindsided by her mother's sudden death, and wrecked by a recent love affair, Casey Peabody has arrived in Massachusetts in the summer of 1997 without a plan. Her mail consists of wedding invitations and final notices from debt collectors. A former child golf prodigy, she now waits tables in Harvard Square and rents a tiny, moldy room at the side of a garage where she works on the novel she's been writing for six years. At thirty-one, Casey is still clutching onto something nearly all her old friends have let go of: the determination to live a creative life. When she falls for two very different men at the same time, her world fractures even more. Casey's fight to fulfill her creative ambitions and balance the conflicting demands of art and life is challenged in ways that push her to the brink.

Writers & Lovers follows Casey--a smart and achingly vulnerable protagonist--in the last days of a long youth, a time when every element of her life comes to a crisis. Written with King's trademark humor, heart, and intelligence, Writers & Lovers is a transfixing novel that explores the terrifying and exhilarating leap between the end of one phase of life and the beginning of another.

I was very excited to read Writers & Lovers (who doesn't love that cover art?!), but the opening chapters (ok, if I'm being honest, it was the first 100 pages) didn't win me over. The writing is very good, but the story failed to pull me in. I finally got hooked when Casey met Oscar and his two young sons at the restaurant at which she works as a waitress. The dialogue in that scene between the children and Casey won me over. I enjoyed the passages centered around Casey and her coworkers, but once her relationship with Oscar began to move forward, the story did as well. This was a slow burn of a read, but worth the effort. As the final chapters drew near, I began to read more slowly, savoring the prose, trying not to finish too quickly. At times humorous and touching, this was a winner! It would be a 5-star read if it hadn't had such a slow beginning. It was so good that I was tempted to reread it as soon as I finished. I didn't care for King's debut novel, The Pleasing Hour, but I'm looking forward to Euphoria.

Highly recommend. 

August 7, 2021

On Island Time

 


Nonfiction
1998 University of Washington Press
Finished on August 1, 2021
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

By chance, writer and artist Hilary Stewart finds herself buying property on Quadra Island, off the east coast of Vancouver Island. Then she begins a search for the ideal house design and moves into a new life.

Through anecdotes and 200 drawings, she shares her delight in discovering the small wonders of the natural world. Wandering the island's beaches, forests and lakes, she gathers seaweeds, mushrooms and berries. Ever curious, she expands her knowledge of wildflowers, lichens, lowly beetles and more. Her encounters with deer, bats, raccoons, frogs, snakes, birds and other wildlife are, by turns, humorous, exasperating and poignant. And she constantly works at enhancing her three acres of garden, meadow and forest jungle.

Hilary Stewart also offers glimpses of the people and events that make up island life: learning local ways and history, attending Native peoples' ceremonies, observing the water dowser, helping to discover petroglyphs, circumnavigating Quadra by boat, coping with wild winter storms, taking part in the annual eagle count--and drumming up the full moon.

Here are the many pleasures and occasional frustrations of life on a small island. It's a life attuned to the natural world, sparked by the joy of discovery, flowing with the seasons, the weather and the tides--on island time. 


There is something about islands, particularly those in the Pacific Northwest, that call to me. In 2007, my husband and I joined my father and stepmother on a two week cruise through the San Juan and Gulf Islands aboard their Richardson cabin cruiser.  We explored Anacortes, Friday Harbor, Reid Harbor, Roche Harbor, Sidney, Brentwood, Cowichan and Victoria. It was an amazing vacation.

Later that year, I picked up a copy of On Island Time while we were on vacation (visiting my mom and stepdad) on the Oregon coast. I took it back to Nebraska where it sat, unread for the next 14 years! It took moving to Oregon and living in a similar environment to that of the author's before I finally felt compelled to pick it up. The timing was perfect. I don't think I would have appreciated all the details about moss and ferns, eagles and great blue heron, banana slugs and raccoons while living in the Midwest. I didn't know anything about nurse logs, scotch broom or bracken until we moved to Oregon. Berries from salal and and huckleberry, as well as salmon berries, were a puzzlement. Were they poisonous or edible?? I can now identify them, as well as elderberry. I can recognize an oyster catcher by its red stockings and bald eagle by its cry. We may not have made it as far north as Quadra Island back in 2007, but I know it would feel familiar if I ever found my way there now. 

On Island Time is a lovely book filled with beautiful line drawings (by the author) and interesting anecdotes. I read it over the course of several months, many times thinking of local friends who would appreciate Stewart's insight into a quiet life surrounded by a forest, as well as the ocean. 

The Lady Mick

Sunrise over Friday Harbor

Washington State Ferry

Departing Port Sidney



We didn't make it to Quadra Island on our 2007 trip, but I still dream about someday traveling on those northern waters again.

August 6, 2021

Looking Back - MotherKind

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 Knopf
Read in June 2000
Rating: 2/5 (Fair)

Publisher's Blurb:

MotherKind explores the spiritual education at the heart of the most fundamental transition: the child who grows to nurture his or her parent. Kate, whose care for her terminally ill mother coincides with the birth of her first child and the early months of a young marriage, must come to terms with crucial loss and radiant beginnings in the same deftly chronicled year. MotherKind invites the reader into a layering of experience that is nearly limitless, yet wholly ordinary and familiar. First and second marriages, babies and step-children, neighbors, friends, blended families, baby sitters and wise strangers all intermingle in the tumult of an everyday marked by a turning of seasons and the gradual vanishing of Kate's mother, the strong woman who has been her friend, mentor and counterpart across a divide of experience and time.

MotherKind describes a very contemporary situation yet deals with timeless themes. What is the nature of "home", when so many of us live our lives far from where we started? How do we translate all we have passed from into what we carry forward? How are we inextricably linked, even in separation, across generations, cultures, eras; across death itself. In MotherKind, the everyday is illumined with the past as Kate finds her former and present lives joined into one luminous passage.

My Original Thoughts (2000):

Although I managed to finish this book, I didn't think it was all that good. I was bored with large chunks of it and even skimmed some pages (something I rarely do!). I could relate to the step-parenting issues and wanted to reach into the novel and tell Kate it does get better! There were also parts that made me want to have a baby!

My Current Thoughts:

I have no memory of this book and haven't read anything else by the author. Funny that it made me want to have a baby. I was 38 at the time, which certainly isn't too old for babies.

August 4, 2021

A Month in Summary - July 2021

Blue Heron RV Park
Hornbrook, CA
July 2021

The above photo is of the wild horses at an RV park along the Klamath River. There were seven in all and as you can see, they weren't the least bit skittish around the campground. We had a great time on our trip, but it was far too hot and we will probably never go camping in California again during June or July. 

We were very busy once we got back home with two sets of visitors in a two-week span. We spent several days catching up, eating, going for walks (looking for whales), eating, antiquing, eating, and simply having a great time. Now we're getting ready for another road trip to California for my uncle's memorial. We won't be gone too long, but it will be nice to get back out in the RV to familiar locations and see more family.

I have a feeling my reading will slow down next week, but my numbers improved quite a bit in July, once we got home after five weeks on the road. They were all mostly very good, but my favorites were 28 Summers and Still Me. The three that I abandoned had been on my shelves for years, which makes me wonder how many of the books remaining in my bookcase have lost their appeal. 


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

28 Summers by Elin Hilderbrand (4.5/5)

Kissed a Sad Goodbye by Deborah Crombie (4/5)

Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy (3.5/5)

Still Me by JoJo Moyes (4.5/5)

Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano (4/5)

The Sewing Room by Rev. Barbara Cawthorne Crafton (3/5)

Abandoned:

The Same Sweet Girls by Cassandra King

That Old Cape Magic by Richard Russo

Kaaterskill Falls by Allegra Goodman

Movies & TV Series:


Unforgotten (Season Four) - Very, very good. I'm sad that there won't be a fifth season. Nicole Walker is outstanding!


Bosch (Season Seven) - So good, but the last episode was anticlimactic. Glad to hear that there's going to be a spin-off, though!


Lupin (Season Two) - Meh. We've watched a couple of episodes and it's ok, but not great. 

The Tomorrow War - Blech. Not my cuppa.

Visitors!

My cousin's daughters Cora (3) and Quinn (7).

Such sweet sisters!

Love these sweeties!

My cousin Heather with Cora & Quinn.

Quinn helped me make a
 peach galette, which was a huge hit!

My niece Emily (16) who is
 modeling the prom dress that SHE made!

My beautiful niece Maddie (19).

My beautiful nieces. 
I was their nanny when they were babies!

Maddie, Chris (my brother), Emily and Jen.


2006... Time flies.

August 1, 2021

The Sewing Room


Nonfiction - Essays
1993 Viking
Finished on July 30, 2021
Rating: 3/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

A lovely book... honest, funny, sad... impossible to put down. ~ Madeline L'Engle

In these insightful essays, Barbara Cawthorne Crafton reflects on a broad range of experiences ministering among merchant seafarers, the homeless, the bereaved, AIDS patients, and others in need of personal and spiritual help. She shares honestly her own emotions as she grapples with the harsh realities of the world, while delighting in the humor and joy found in everyday living.

Crafton compassionately recounts the unique stories of the men, women, and children she worked with during her service as a port chaplain in New York and New Jersey and as a minister at Trinity Church on Wall Street. In doing so, she weaves together threads of the mundane and the traumatic, the lovely and the ugly, and the down to earth and the holy, creating an original tapestry of the richness of life.

I wrote about this book in a "Looking Back" post in 2016 and finally got around to pulling it off my shelf for a second reading in May of this year. I wish I could say that I enjoyed it as much as my first reading (rated 4/5), but it wasn't as impressive, although I did like it... just not enough to want to keep my copy for another reading. Of the original passages I highlighted, these are what still remain my favorites:
People are what matter... Everything comes back to people: people I love, people I've disappointed, people I worry about, people I mourn.

and

At this annual conference, there are always facial tissues in the welcome kit. The participants cry a lot.

It is the annual conference of The Compassionate Friends, an organization of people whose children have died. There are two thousand people here: mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, grandparents. A sprinkling of clergy and others in the helping professions. I fit several of these categories. I am a priest. I am the mother of a dead child and the stepmother of another. I never knew the young man my husband misses so mightily. It wasn't until after he died that I met his dad. But I have dreamed of him. My own dead child never saw my face; he was too small to see, too small to cry, too small to live. But I saw him. Sixteen years later, I see him still. And in a dozen years of ordained ministry, I have watched the bedsides and prayed at the gravesides of many young people. Too many. But then, even one would have been too many.

From my previous blog entry in 2016:

My Original Notes (1996):

My mother gave me this book; both she and my grandmother read it and highly recommended it. Nice short essays. "Uncommon reflections on life, love, and work." Some reminded me so much of my grandmother... Strange to know she was reading this just a few weeks before her death.

My Current Thoughts: 

I've had a draft of this post for several years now. Every time I start to share it, I find myself flipping through the pages of the book, re-reading passages, wondering why some spoke to me back in 1996, while others are still just as powerful as they were 20 years ago. I rarely re-read books, but maybe this is the year.

On the passage of years:
But years pass again, and life changes. Love comes again. Marriage. My youngest child is almost grown, and I am astonished at how brief this era, almost past, has been. How brief my life has been. I am aware that the decades left to me will seem even briefer, so they had better be sweet. If I do not capture and celebrate what art I have, it will die. If I do not nourish myself, I will yearn for nourishment. If I do not connect myself with my own past in the things I do now, I will remain adrift from it. Those whom I have loved in the past cannot catch hold of me, for they are dead. It is I who must catch them.
On the loss of a child: 
How long has it been since your son died, he asks? Five years. The man looks at my husband and tries to imagine himself surviving five years of this. He can't. He asks if it gets any easier. It gets different, my husband answers. Not exactly easier. It's hard to explain.
On parental worry:
Separateness with love, though, recognizing that my child is a separate person with a destiny separate from my own, a destiny I cannot completely control:  that's frightening.
... Now you know other fears at night. The stakes are a lot higher. Fears that don't spring from a neurotic need to control everything, but from an accurate assessment of what the world is like. The world is sometimes a dangerous place in which to live. There are things out there that can really hurt your child. And so, you worry.
On imperfection:
I told them that it is good to have one's faults unambiguously revealed from time to time, in order that one may know wherein it is that we are acceptable. It is not in our perfection that we are loved. It is in the honest confession of our imperfection. Our clear conscience does not come from our assurance that we have not sinned. It comes from our assurance that we are forgiveable.