March 30, 2022

Favorite TV Series Viewed in 2021

 

Last year I shared several collages of my favorite TV series. (Click here to see that post.) We probably watched the same amount of TV in 2021 as in 2020, but either we've become more picky discerning or we simply didn't discover as many winners this time around. 

March 27, 2022

The Women of the Copper Country


Fiction
2019 Atria Books
Finished on March 21, 2022
Rating: 3/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

In July 1913, twenty-five-year-old Annie Clements had seen enough of the world to know that it was unfair. She’s spent her whole life in the copper-mining town of Calumet, Michigan where men risk their lives for meager salaries—and had barely enough to put food on the table and clothes on their backs. The women labor in the houses of the elite, and send their husbands and sons deep underground each day, dreading the fateful call of the company man telling them their loved ones aren’t coming home. When Annie decides to stand up for herself, and the entire town of Calumet, nearly everyone believes she may have taken on more than she is prepared to handle.

In Annie’s hands lie the miners’ fortunes and their health, her husband’s wrath over her growing independence, and her own reputation as she faces the threat of prison and discovers a forbidden love. On her fierce quest for justice, Annie will discover just how much she is willing to sacrifice for her own independence and the families of Calumet.

From one of the most versatile writers in contemporary fiction, this novel is an authentic and moving historical portrait of the lives of the men and women of the early 20th century labor movement, and of a turbulent, violent political landscape that may feel startlingly relevant to today.

The Women of the Copper Country is one of those books that took well over 100 pages before I became interested. I'm a big fan of Mary Doria Russell's novels and felt my efforts would be worth the wait, especially since so many of my favorite books have taken over 80 pages before getting hooked. I came to care about Annie, Michael and Eva, and wound up enjoying this historical novel, but it's not one of my favorites by this author. 

As with most of the historical fiction I've read, I fell down a Google rabbit hole, discovering all sorts of articles about Annie Clements, the Calumet strike, Mother Jones' visit to Calumet, and the 1913 Italian Hall tragedy (sadly occurring on Christmas Eve and killing 73 people, including 59 children).

Photo Credit: Copper Country Reflections

Photo Credit: Copper Country Reflections

Photo Credit: Mother Jones Cork


The Women of the Copper Country will appeal to fans of historical fiction, particularly those who have grown weary of dual timelines (with alternating points-of-view), preferring a more straightforward, linear narrative. With her extensive research and meticulous attention to detail, Mary Doria Russell not only educates and informs her readers of historical events, but she's quite entertaining as well. I have two books (Doc and Epitaph) left to read, but I can highly recommend Dreamers of the Day and The Sparrow. These are my favorite novels by this exceptional author, although A Thread of Grace follows closely behind. 

Click on the following links to read my reviews of MDR's books:

The Sparrow (reread)




Widely praised for meticulous research, fine prose, and the compelling narrative drive of her stories, Mary Doria Russell is the award-winning author of seven bestselling novels, including the science fiction classics The Sparrow and Children of God; the World War II thriller, A Thread of Grace; and a political romance set in 1921 Cairo called Dreamers of the Day. With her novels Doc and Epitaph, Russell has redefined two towering figures of the American West: the lawman Wyatt Earp and the dental surgeon Doc Holliday. Her latest novel, The Women of the Copper Country, tells the story of the young union organizer Annie Clements, who was once known as America’s Joan of Arc. Mary holds a Ph.D. in biological anthropology from the University of Michigan and taught anatomy at the Case Western Reserve University School of Dentistry.  (Author's website)

My interview with Mary Doria Russell 

March 25, 2022

Looking Back - 24 Hours

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.


24 Hours by Greg Iles
Fiction
2000 Putnam Adult
Read in February 2001
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

24 HOURS --- that's how long it takes a madman to pull off the perfect crime. He's done it before, he'll do it again, and no one can stop him.

But this time, he's just picked the wrong family to terrorize. Because Will and Karen Jennings aren't going to watch helplessly as he victimizes them. And they aren't going to let him get away with it.

My Original Thoughts (2001):

I think I read this in 24 hours! Even stayed up reading until after 1 am. Very good, suspenseful thriller. Would make a great movie. Brilliant kidnapping scenarios involving doctors and their families. Believable characters. Terrific pace. Big screen written all over it with maybe Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer? I'm ready to read more by Greg Iles!

My Current Thoughts:

Funny that I predicted this would make for a good movie and it wound up being a blockbuster TV series. I watched one season of the show and thought it was really good. I don't know if I've read anything else by Iles, but maybe I should.

March 22, 2022

The Paper Palace

Fiction
2021 Penguin Random House Audio
Narrated by Nan McNamara
Finished on March 20, 2022
Rating: 3/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

It is a perfect July morning, and Elle, a fifty-year-old happily married mother of three, awakens at "The Paper Palace" -- the family summer place which she has visited every summer of her life. But this morning is different: last night Elle and her oldest friend Jonas crept out the back door into the darkness and had sex with each other for the first time, all while their spouses chatted away inside.

Now, over the next twenty-four hours, Elle will have to decide between the life she has made with her genuinely beloved husband, Peter, and the life she always imagined she would have had with her childhood love, Jonas, if a tragic event hadn't forever changed the course of their lives.

As Heller colors in the experiences that have led Elle to this day, we arrive at her ultimate decision with all its complexity. Tender yet devastating, The Paper Palace considers the tensions between desire and dignity, the legacies of abuse, and the crimes and misdemeanors of families.

I really wanted to love this one, especially since it's a favorite with so many of my friends (a few gave it a 5-star rating on Goodreads), but I found Elle such an annoying and unlikeable character that I was tempted to stop listening to the audio after the first chapter. I went back to Goodreads to see why this debut novel was such a popular read and noticed a few remarks about the ambiguous finale. Curiosity got the better of me and I decided to continue in order to see what all the fuss was about. The further I got into the story, the more I began to like it. The atmospheric setting of Cape Cod and the family camp in the Back Woods are easy to envision: neighborhood cookouts and cocktail parties, swimming at the pond, picnics at the beach, musty cabins filled with spiders and mouse droppings, and the incessant presence of mosquitoes. However, hidden in the shadows of the past lurk family secrets and lies known only to a few. There are several disturbing scenes involving the loss of innocence (I'm being purposely vague here so as not to reveal any spoilers), which I might have skipped over had I read the print edition. Overall, The Paper Palace turned out to be a decent read, and Nan McNamara does a fine job with the narration, but don't look for it on my Top Ten list.

March 18, 2022

Looking Back - A Yellow Raft in Blue Water (re-read)

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
1987 Warner Books
Read in February 2001
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

Michael Dorris has crafted a fierce saga of three generations of Indian women, beset by hardships and torn by angry secrets, yet inextricably joined by the bonds of kinship. Starting in the present day and moving backward, the novel is told in the voices of the three women: fifteen-year-old part-black Rayona; her American Indian mother, Christine, consumed by tenderness and resentment toward those she loves; and the fierce and mysterious Ida, mother and grandmother whose haunting secrets, betrayals, and dreams echo through the years, braiding together the strands of the shared past.

My Original Thoughts (2001):

My second reading of this wonderful book. Just as good as the first time. It had been four years, so I had forgotten a lot of the details. Three generations with secrets and misunderstandings.

My Thoughts in 1998:

Fantastic novel! I loved it and really didn't want it to end. I even put off reading the last chapter, saving it to be read in bed. [No distractions or interruptions.] Ida, Christine and Rayona became my friends and I didn't want them to leave! Beautifully written. Michael Dorris captured the voices of these three women, narrating their thoughts and emotions with superb realism - more so than Wally Lamb did [with his female character] in She's Come Undone. This one did move me to tears. What a shame this talented writer is no longer living. A saga of three generations. Hardship. Angry secrets. Kinship.

My Current Thoughts:

I wonder why I reread this book so soon after the first reading. I rarely reread books and when I do, it's many years after the initial reading. I enjoyed this book both times I read it, but twice is enough.

March 16, 2022

Setting Free the Kites

Fiction
2017 G.P. Putnam's Sons
Finished on March 12, 2022
Rating: 4.5/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

From the author of the "lyrical and compelling" (USA Today) novel A Good American comes a powerful story of two friends and the unintended consequences of friendship, loss, and hope.

For Robert Carter, life in his coastal Maine hometown is comfortably predictable. But in 1976, on his first day of eighth grade, he meets Nathan Tilly, who changes everything. Nathan is confident, fearless, impetuous--and fascinated by kites and flying. Robert and Nathan's budding friendship is forged in the crucible of two family tragedies, and as the boys struggle to come to terms with loss, they take summer jobs at the local rundown amusement park. It's there that Nathan's boundless capacity for optimism threatens to overwhelm them both, and where they learn some harsh truths about family, desire, and revenge.

Unforgettable and heart-breaking, Setting Free the Kites is a poignant and moving exploration of the pain, joy, and glories of young friendship.

It's been a decade since I first heard about Alex George. I received an ARC of his debut novel A Good American and read several chapters, but I couldn't get interested and eventually called it quits. A few years later Setting Free the Kites landed in my mailbox, and it wasn't until this past month as I was reorganizing my shelves that I noticed the review copy and moved it to my nightstand. I had forgotten that I had another one of George's novels and wasn't sure if it was for me until I glanced at the publisher's blurb. It might have been the 1970s setting or the coming-of-age reference, but whatever caught my eye, I'm glad it did. This is a great novel!

Narrated in the first person, I was quickly immersed in Alex George's compelling story and loved the developing bond between Robert and Nathan. I was reminded of a similar friendship between Owen Meany and John Wheelwright in A Prayer for Owen Meany. As with John Irving's outstanding novel, I felt emotionally connected to not only the young boys in George's terrific book, but also to the excellent cast of supporting characters. Lewis and Liam will stay with me right alongside Robert and Nathan. And like that great classic of Irving's, this book is also filled with tragedy and grief (some may say too much, but that's life, right?), which touched me deeply. 

Alex George delivers an ultra-satisfying story. It's a beautiful novel and one I know I'll read again. I'm eager to try his latest book (The Paris Hours) and who knows, I might even go back and give A Good American a second chance. 

March 13, 2022

Water Like a Stone

Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James Series #11
Mystery
2007 William Morrow
Finished on March 8, 2022
Rating: 4.5/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

Detective Superintendent Duncan Kincaid and his partner, Sergeant Gemma James, take their sons to picturesque Cheshire for their first family Christmas with Duncan's parents - a holiday both dreaded and anticipated. But not even the charming town of Nantwich and the dreaming canals can mask the tensions in Duncan's family, which are tragically heightened by the discovery of an infant's body hidden in the wall of an old dairy.

As Duncan and Gemma help the police investigate the infant's death, another murder strikes closer to home, revealing that far from being idyllic, Duncan's childhood paradise holds dark and deadly secrets . . . secrets that threaten everything and everyone Duncan and Gemma hold most dear.

One of the things I love about an on-going detective series is getting to know the main characters, seeing how their relationships evolve with friends and neighbors. With Deborah Crombie's books, the mystery usually takes center stage, and the personal relationships are an added bonus. In Water Like a Stone, however, Duncan and Gemma's family is front and center. Spending Christmas with Duncan's parents brings much more than just the typical holiday drama that Gemma was worried about. Extended family members find themselves caught up in the dramatic turn of events of the winter holiday. The climactic finale is very intense and at one point I realized that I had a white-knuckle grip on my book. Great plotting, Crombie!

In addition to the well-crafted mystery involving multiple deaths (I've learned there's never just one in this series), I loved the countryside setting along the Shropshire Union Canal and enjoyed learning about the narrowboats that navigate the canal and locks. 
Mist rose in swirls from the still surface of the canal. It seemed to take on a life of its own, an amorphous creature bred from the dusk. The day, which had been unseasonably warm and bright for late November, had quickly chilled with the setting sun, and Annie Lebow shivered, pulling the old cardigan she wore a bit closer to her thin body.

She stood in the stern of her narrow boat, the Lost Horizon, gazing at the bare trees lining the curve of the Cut, breathing in the dank, fresh scent that was peculiar to water with the coming of evening. The smell brought, as it always did, an aching for something she couldn't articulate, an ever-deepening melancholia. Behind her, the lamps in the boat's cabin glowed welcomingly, but for her they signaled only the attendant terrors of the coming night. The fact that her isolation was self-imposed made it no easier to bear.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

I've never traveled on a narrowboat but reading about them brings back wonderful memories of a river cruise I took with my mom a few years ago. 


I also had no trouble envisioning the little village where Duncan's parents owned and ran a bookshop. The buildings sound like the sort I saw in Germany and Amsterdam while on that river cruise, which traveled up the Main, Rhine, and Danube rivers. 
They passed the church, then a snow-covered expanse Gemma assumed must be the green. Their street intersected another at the green's end, and there Gemma stopped, her mouth open in an "O" of surprise and delight. This was what Duncan had described, what she had imagined. The buildings ran together higgledy-piggledy, black-and-white timbering against Cheshire redbrick, gingerbread gables, and leaded windows winking like friendly eyes. 

This was the High, she saw from a signpost, but she would have known instinctively that she stood in the very heart of the town. The shops were ordinary--a WH Smith, A Holland & Barrett, a newsagent's--but they had been tucked into the lower floors of the original Tudor houses, and so were transformed into something quite magical.

The movement of the buildings over the centuries had caused black-and-white timbering to shift a little, giving the patterns a tilted, slightly rakish air. Snow iced the rooftops, Christmas lights twinkled, bundled pedestrians hurried through the streets, and from somewhere came the faint strains of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen." Gemma laughed aloud. "It's perfect. Absolutely. The best sort of Christmas-card perfect."
One of the negative aspects of this mystery's setting is that it takes place away from Duncan and Gemma's home, which means the introduction of new characters does not guarantee their inclusion in the following installments in the series. I especially enjoyed Althea Elsworthy (the medical examiner) and her dog, Danny, and am sorry they aren't part of the regular cast of characters. I shall miss them.
As Babcock squelched across the rutted ice in the hospital car park, he passed Dr. Elsworthy's Morris Minor in the section reserved for doctors' vehicles. From the rear seat, the dog's head rose like a monolithic monster emerging from the deep. The beast gave him a distant and fathomless stare, then looked away, as if it had assessed him and found him wanting, before sinking out of sight once more. No wonder the doctor had no use for anything as modern as a car with an alarm system, Babcock thought as he gave the dog and vehicle a wide berth. She was more likely to be sued by a prospective burglar complaining of heart failure than to have her car violated.

I loved this book and am so happy I have seven more left remaining to read in this series. Now if only Britbox or Acorn would create a TV series for when I'm caught up. That would be perfect!

March 11, 2022

Looking Back - Wish You Well

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 Warner Books, Inc. 
Read in February 2001
Rating: 4.5/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

David Baldacci has always delivered great stories, authentic characters, and thought-provoking ideas since he burst on the literary scene with Absolute Power. Now this versatile writer movingly evokes the charms of rural America as he makes us believe in the great and little miracles that can change lives—or save them. 

Precocious twelve-year-old Louisa Mae Cardinal lives in the hectic New York City of 1940 with her family. Then tragedy strikes—and Lou and her younger brother, Oz, must go with their invalid mother to live on their great-grandmother's farm in the Virginia mountains. Suddenly Lou finds herself coming of age in a new landscape, making her first true friend, and experiencing adventures tragic, comic, and audacious. But the forces of greed and justice are about to clash over her new home…and as their struggle is played out in a crowded Virginia courtroom, it will determine the future of two children, an entire town, and the mountains they love.

My Original Thoughts (2001):

Wonderful story and characters. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and recommend it highly. Coming-of-age story. Touching passages. Humor. Unforgettable characters (Eugene, Cotton, Longfellow, Diamond, Oz, Lou and Louise). A real page-turner, yet more literary than Baldacci's previous works. Unpredictable.

My Current Thoughts:

I've only read a couple of books by David Baldacci, but I remember how much I enjoyed this stand-alone novel. At the time, it was quite a departure from his early thrillers (Total Control, Absolute Power, etc.). Might be fun to read it again.

March 9, 2022

My Favorite Books with Character Names in the Titles


I was inspired by a recent Top Ten Tuesday meme and decided to put together a visual of some of my favorite books with character names in the titles. These were all 4 or 5-star reads. Click on the title for my review.

Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano


A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

Henry, Himself by Stewart O'Nan

The Story of Arthur Truluv by Elizabeth Berg

Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell (review to come)


Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man by Fannie Flagg (pre-blogging days)

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Losing Julia by Jonathan Hull

Emily, Alone by Stewart O'Nan


Julie and Romeo by Jeanne Ray

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (pre-blogging days)

Circe by Madeline Miller

Oona Out of Order by Margarita Montimore

Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross (pre-blogging days)

Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

The Janes by Louisa Luna

Some that I forgot to include in the collage:


The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (pre-blogging days)

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Stout

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

Julie and Julia by Julie Powell


My Antonia by Willa Cather


March 6, 2022

Rejected


I have a vivid memory of the first time I saw a friend's TBR shelf. It was sometime in the early 90s and we were talking about books, and she was telling me about Willa Cather. As she pulled a book from her bookcase, I noticed a few more that sounded appealing. I asked her if she liked them, and she told me that she hadn't yet read them. What?! Why not? Apparently, she had several that she was planning to read, but had others to read first. Up until then, I either bought a book and read it or checked a few out from the library and read them before getting more. I had no idea about TBR shelves. Fast forward a few years and not only had I started a small face-to-face book club, but I joined a couple of Yahoo book groups. Suddenly, book recommendations were coming in faster than I could read. I participated in book box mailings lists (from those online groups), eagerly attended library book sales, perused used bookstores, and swapped books with friends and relatives. As if that weren't enough, I got a job at Borders Books and Music, followed by Barnes & Noble, and was the lucky recipient of numerous comp copies and ARCs. Blogging added to the flow of ARCs, as did giveaways on Goodreads. Before I knew it, I had a bookcase overflowing with unread books. I was all set for a blizzard!

I can't tell you how many of those books have been with me for over 20 years, but I do know that many have moved with me from Nebraska to Texas, back to Nebraska, and ultimately winding up in my office in Oregon. Each year I try to read from my own shelves, but the new and shiny releases are hard to ignore. This past year I read over 50 books from my stacks, which felt like a great accomplishment. Eager to keep that trend going, this past week I've pulled well over a dozen books from the shelves only to discover they no longer appeal. I gave each a chapter or two before moving on to the next. I don't know if I'll ever be happy without a TBR stack, but there's something liberating about weeding out the deadwood while discovering a gem in the rough.

March 2, 2022

A Month in Summary - February 2022

February 2022

How are you all doing? I bought this beautiful bouquet of tulips and after a week they are still just as lovely as the day I brought them home. While not sunflowers (Ukraine's national flower), they do remind me of spring, the season of hopefulness, and yet as mask mandates begin to lift across the country, and the war in Ukraine has begun, it's easy to feel overwhelmed with worry and concern about our health and safety. My heart goes out to the citizens and leaders of Ukraine and I'm looking into ways to support them from afar. I've been reading about World Central Kitchen, which is a humanitarian organization that provides meals to those in times of crisis. With a 4-star rating on Charity Navigator, I feel confident that my donation will help make a difference feeding those with immediate needs. Every little bit helps, right?

Another blogger mentioned that she felt that her IG post about books was trivial in light of the situation in Ukraine, but I think most of you would agree that while we are concerned and doing what we can to help, (whether that be donations, prayer or posting pictures of sunflowers on FB to show our support) we need to take care of ourselves, as well. Reading has always provided comfort and distraction during times of trouble, and I am thankful that I have my books to stave off the doomscrolling.  February proved to be another good month, in that regard. Eight books in a short month was a bit of a surprise and there were only a couple that were ho-hum, so I'm pleased. My favorite was Hamnet, but The Stars Are Fire and Moira's Crossing were unexpected pleasures. 


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

Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell (5/5)

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin (4/5) - reread

In a Dark House by Deborah Crombie (4/5)

Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam (3/5)

People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks (3/5)

The Stars Are Fire by Anita Shreve (4.5/5)

The Fortunate Ones by Ed Tarkington (4/5)

Moira's Crossing by Christina Shea (4/5)

Movies & TV Series:


Spooks/MI-5 (Season 3) - I'm really enjoying this unpredictable series!


The Gilded Age - We've only watched one episode. Not sure if it's for me.


Hope Street - We watched a few episodes and called it quits. 


The Power of the Dog - Outstanding performances, but pretty unsettling and dark.


Reacher - So far, another good series.


Line of Duty - Very good. If you like MI-5, this is just as entertaining. 

Puzzlemania:




Other News:


Anyone else addicted? I look forward to playing this challenging game (and Quordle) every morning!

February marks my 16th blogiversary, which truly astounds me. I never would have guessed that I'd still be blogging after all these years, but I love sharing my thoughts about books and you all have become such dear friends to me. Thank you for reading and recommending your favorite books.