May 31, 2022

Damnation Spring


2021 Scribner
Finished on May 28, 2022
Rating: 5/5 (Excellent!)

Publisher's Blurb:

A stunning novel about love, work, and marriage that asks how far one family and one community will go to protect their future.

Colleen and Rich Gundersen are raising their young son, Chub, on the rugged California coast. It’s 1977, and life in this Pacific Northwest logging town isn’t what it used to be. For generations, the community has lived and breathed timber; now that way of life is threatened.

Colleen is an amateur midwife. Rich is a tree-topper. It’s a dangerous job that requires him to scale trees hundreds of feet tall—a job that both his father and grandfather died doing. Colleen and Rich want a better life for their son—and they take steps to assure their future. Rich secretly spends their savings on a swath of ancient Redwoods. Colleen, desperate to have a second baby, challenges the logging company’s use of herbicides that she believes are responsible for the many miscarriages in the community—including her own. Colleen and Rich find themselves on opposite sides of a budding conflict that threatens the very thing they are trying to protect: their family.

Told in prose as clear as a spring-fed creek, Damnation Spring is an intimate, compassionate portrait of a family whose bonds are tested and a community clinging to a vanishing way of life. An extraordinary story of the transcendent, enduring power of love—between husband and wife, mother and child, and longtime neighbors. An essential novel for our times.

I went into Damnation Spring completely blind and wound up loving it, so much so that it may be my #1 read of 2022, and I'm willing to bet that it could someday become a classic. I learned a lot about the logging industry, but it was the characters who stole my heart. The novel is told from three points of view, alternating chapters between Rich, his wife, Colleen, and their young son, Chub. I loved this family and Ash Davidson does a remarkable job creating fully realized characters, the type one cannot help but come to love and care about.

The Northern California location is very familiar to me, which made the read even more enjoyable. Davidson's book is set in Del Norte County between Crescent City and Klamath. My husband and I travel to Northern California in our RV fairly often and I've driven Highway 101 and the Last Chance Grade (a 3-mile section of Hwy 101 between Wilson Creek and Crescent City), which is mentioned in this debut novel.

We have spent time in line with other vehicles, waiting to make our way along the one lane strip of highway, which hangs high above the ocean, ready to give way at any moment. Thankfully, I'm the driver, and thus too busy watching the road (and the big earth movers on the hillside), not daring to gaze down at the long drop to the ocean on my right. 
The fog was so thick she could barely make out the guardrail running along the cliff edge like a fence. She hunched forward over the wheel. Every time the ground around Last Chance Creek crumbled off into the ocean, mudslide taking a section of the coast highway with it, Caltrans talked about rerouting the road inland. 

We have driven past the golden bears on the Klamath River bridge, and have chuckled at the crowded parking lot of the Trees of Mystery (with its enormous wood carvings of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox), more times than I can count. We've stopped for cheeseburgers in Crescent City, waited for a herd of elk to cross the quiet highway in Orick, and camped near Trinidad at the Elk Country RV Park. These locations are all mentioned in Damnation Spring, so it was easy for me to envision where the Gundersens lived and worked.

I almost took a half-point off my rating due to the disappointing (albeit realistic) conclusion of the novel, but upon further reflection, the author's choice makes perfect sense and my reaction felt appropriate. I can't reveal more details without giving away spoilers, but I hope to read the book in 2023 with my book group so I can talk about not only the ending, but also the effects of the logging industry in our area. Oregon is the number one producer of softwood lumber (primarily Douglas fir), and we are witness to the results of clear-cutting, slash burning, and road damage from the weight of heavy logging trucks.

Favorite or powerful passages:
"The real timber's gone," Lark said. "What's left, ten percent, including the parks? Two thousand years to grow a forest, a hundred years to fall it. No plague like a man."
They rode in silence up the crumbling highway along the ocean, asphalt pot-holed from the weight of loaded log trucks, winding along the narrow strip of coastal timber the park had annexed back in '68. Big trees hugged the road edge like mink trim sewn to a burlap coat, hiding the clear-cuts that lay just beyond.
Redwoods towered, disappearing into the fog above. So that was why Rich had brought them. He wanted Chub to stand here looking up at these giant pillars, ferns taller than he was, rhododendrons jeweled with dew, ground quilted with sorrel, to breathe it in before it was gone.
The plane's engine noise buzzed inside his chest, a hundred McCulloch chainsaws revving at once. They'd flown over 24-7 Ridge, the big tree herself lit by an errant ray of sun, glowing orange, bright as a torch, and, for an instant, Rich had caught a glimmer of the inholding's potential--an island of private land in a sea of company forest. They'd flown over the dark waves of big pumpkins in Damnation Grove--redwoods older than the United States of America, saplings when Christ was born. Then came the patchwork of clear-cuts, like mange on a dog, timber felled and bucked and debarked, trucked to the mill, sawed into lumber, sent off to the kilns to be dried. 
"...Chopper sprays places trucks can't. Forest Service hoses their timberlands once in March or April, then calls it good, but Sanderson sprays all season, whenever we're working. Spray kills the weeds and trash trees--broadleaf plants--everything that gets in our way. It's a growth hormone--hops them up so they grow so fast they die."
Ash Davidson's lyrical and moving novel, which is taut with even pacing, pulled me in from the opening pages. Several times the foreshadowing of events had me tense with worry, and I had to force myself to slow down. I could easily have finished in a day or two, but I savored it over the course of two weeks, not wanting it to end. This is not one I'll soon forget and I'm already thinking about a re-read on audio. Fans of Richard Power's Overstory, and any of Barbara Kingsolver's novels, won't be disappointed. Highly recommend.

May 25, 2022

Wordless Wednesday


Uvalde, Texas
May 24, 2022

May 23, 2022

20 Books of Summer - 2022

It's time for Cathy's 20 Books of Summer Reading Challenge! Click here for all the details.

I had so much fun putting together this summer's reading list! Last year I had more nonfiction in the mix, but since I enjoy participating in Nonfiction November, I decided to spend the summer focusing on nothing but fiction. Let's break it down.

In this first slide I've included three mysteries by Deborah Crombie. I've been working my way through her books and each month I try to read one installment in the series. It's pretty much a guarantee that I'll have no trouble reading those this summer. Next, there are four books set in Paris, which will work well with the Paris in July reading challenge. I've had these books for quite some time, so I'm eager to finally get to them. Lastly, I have chosen two books that are on my book group reading list. I must miss a few meetings this summer, but I'd like to get a jump start on a couple of the books that we plan to discuss later in the year. 

For this next selection, I decided to go with all the pretty covers. Most of these are my mom's books, which she has kindly shared with me. Don't they look lovely?

Of course, audiobooks are always part of my monthly reading, but we have a lot of family coming to visit this summer, which means fewer afternoon walks (which is when I typically listen to my books). I plan to give these two a try, as well as one of my Paris in July selections and another book listed above.

I know many of you have read (and raved about) several of these. Which would you start with? 

May 20, 2022

Looking Back - More Than You Know

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.

More Than You Know by Beth Gutcheon
2000 William Morrow
Finished on March 15, 2001
Rating: 2/5 (Fair)

Publisher's Blurb:

In a small town called Dundee on the coast of Maine, an old woman named Hannah Gray begins her story: "Somebody said 'true love is like ghosts, which everyone talks about and few have seen.' I've seen both and I don't know how to tell you which is worse." Hannah has decided, finally, to leave a record of the passionate and anguished long-ago summer in Dundee when she met Conary Crocker, the town bad boy and love of her life. This spare, piercing, and unforgettable novel bridges two centuries and two intense love stories as Hannah and Conary's fate is interwoven with the tale of a marriage that took place in Dundee a hundred years earlier.

My Original Thoughts (2001):

Written by the same author of Five Fortunes. Story about love and ghosts. Alternating chapters, different time periods. Somewhat confusing during the first half of the book. Slightly suspenseful (enough to keep me reading), but not a great book. Too many unanswered questions. I think this author may be a "one hit wonder." So far, I've only enjoyed Five Fortunes. More Than You Know is not one that I can recommend.

My Current Thoughts:

I don't remember much about this novel, but I do remember that I was surprised that it was such a departure from Five Fortunes

May 18, 2022

Where Memories Lie

Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James Series #12
2008 William Morrow
Finished on May 9, 2022
Rating: 3/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:
Erika Rosenthal has always been secretive with her friend and neighbor, Detective Inspector Gemma James, about her past, except for one telling detail: She and her long-dead husband, David, came to London as refugees from Nazi Germany. But now the elderly woman needs Gemma's help. A unique piece of jewelry stolen from her years ago has mysteriously turned up at a prestigious London auction house. Erika believes the theft may be tied to her husband's death, which had always been assumed a suicide.

Gemma has a tough challenge. She must navigate the shadowy and secretive world of London's monied society to discover the jewelry's connection to David's murderer. However, the cold case needs to be put back on the books and possibly into the hands of her partner, Duncan Kincaid. When a second, present-day murder kicks the investigation into high gear, Gemma becomes more determined to exact justice for Erika in a case that will have lasting repercussions.

I had high hopes for this twelfth installment in Deborah Crombie's mystery series, particularly with the World War II theme, but it failed to impress me. I got bogged down with the numerous characters and their relationships to one another, resorting to a cheat sheet for reference. Perhaps that frustration comes with reading in fits and spurts, which doesn't lend itself for one to becoming familiar with the cast of characters. My friend Nan (Letters From a Hill Farm) wrote a glowing review many years ago, which I encourage you to read. I agree with her comment about the chapter headings, which I thoroughly enjoyed. The following heading has piqued my curiosity and I'd love to find a copy of Few Eggs and No Oranges: The Diaries of Vere Hodgson 1940-45
December 1940
Monday, 9th
Last night was very bad indeed. Began soon after 5:30 pm.... I had to run from my place to the Sanctuary as the barrage was working up. It never ceased until 2:30 am. Many bombs came down ... some in our district. On enquiry today I find it was around the Sion Convent, Chepstow Villas and Dawson Place... people buried.
Vere Hodgson, Few Eggs and No Oranges: The Diaries of Vere Hodgson, 1940-1945 by Vere Hodgson.
All in all, a decent read but not one of my favorites in the series. I'm so happy that I still have six installments to read before Crombie's next release in 2023. 

May 13, 2022

Looking Back - Keeping Faith

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.

1999 William Morrow & Company
Finished on March 15, 2001
Rating: 4.5/5 (Excellent)

Publisher's Blurb:

For the second time in her marriage, Mariah White catches her husband with another woman, and Faith, their seven-year-old daughter, witnesses every painful minute. In the aftermath of a sudden divorce, Mariah struggles with depression and Faith begins to confide in an imaginary friend. At first, Mariah dismisses these exchanges as a child's imagination. But when Faith starts reciting passages from the Bible, develops stigmata, and begins to perform miraculous healings, Mariah wonders if her daughter--a girl with no religious background-might actually be seeing God. As word spreads and controversy flares, Mariah and Faith are besieged by believers and disbelievers alike, caught in a media circus that threatens what little stability they have left.

My Original Thoughts (2001):

Excellent read! Engaging. Thought-provoking. I will definitely read more of Picoult's books. I loved this novel. Suspenseful. Would make a great movie. Highly recommend!

My Current Thoughts:

This was the first book I'd read by Jodi Picoult, but it's not one that I'd like to reread. I've read and loved nearly everything she's written, but this isn't one of my favorites, despite the high rating.

May 12, 2022

Lessons in Chemistry

2022 Random House Audio
Read by Miranda Raison, Bonnie Garmus and Pandora Sykes
Finished on May 5, 2022
Rating: 3.5/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

A delight for readers of Where'd You Go, Bernadette and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, this blockbuster debut set in 1960s California features the singular voice of Elizabeth Zott, a scientist whose career takes a detour when she becomes the star of a beloved TV cooking show.

Chemist Elizabeth Zott is not your average woman. In fact, Elizabeth Zott would be the first to point out that there is no such thing as an average woman. But it's the early 1960s and her all-male team at Hastings Research Institute takes a very unscientific view of equality. Except for one: Calvin Evans; the lonely, brilliant, Nobel-prize nominated grudge-holder who falls in love with--of all things--her mind. True chemistry results.

But like science, life is unpredictable. Which is why a few years later Elizabeth Zott finds herself not only a single mother, but the reluctant star of America's most beloved cooking show Supper at Six. Elizabeth's unusual approach to cooking ("combine one tablespoon acetic acid with a pinch of sodium chloride") proves revolutionary. But as her following grows, not everyone is happy. Because as it turns out, Elizabeth Zott isn't just teaching women to cook. She's daring them to change the status quo.

Laugh-out-loud funny, shrewdly observant, and studded with a dazzling cast of supporting characters, Lessons in Chemistry is as original and vibrant as its protagonist.

I suspect I'm an outlier in that I didn't love this debut novel nearly as much as my fellow bloggers. It took me several chapters to get interested and once Elizabeth's life took an unexpected turn, Six-Thirty (a stray dog named for the time he entered Calvin and Elizabeth's life) became a distraction with his internal monologue. I don't usually mind when a dog has a voice in a novel (The Art of Racing in the Rain and A Dog's Purpose are two of my favorite books featuring dogs), but Six-Thirty's grated on my nerves. I was also annoyed with the reader's mispronunciation of Jack LaLanne's name. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I have always thought it was La-Lane, not La-lan. (I even watched a couple of old videos of his TV show and I'm pretty sure I'm correct.) Those quibbles aside, it wasn't until Elizabeth landed her job as the host of "Supper at Six" that I became fully engaged. I can appreciate the themes of women's inequality in the workplace, feminism, misogyny, and I liked the main female characters, but overall I was underwhelmed. 

May 3, 2022

A Month in Summary - April 2022

Highway 18
April 2022

In preparation for this post, I scrolled through my photos in search of a local shot to use at the top and only found a couple of possibilities. We were either traveling or it was raining, so I didn't have very many to choose from. The above scene was taken as we were driving home from Washington. The Pacific Northwest had a spring snowstorm and our local mountains got more than just a dusting. I love that we live so close to the ocean, but still have the mountains just a few miles away from home.

As I mentioned, we were traveling in April, spending a week in Tennessee visiting our daughter and son-in-law in Franklin. We had a fabulous time catching up with them, as well as playing tourists in Franklin and Nashville. You can read about that vacation here

My reading didn't suffer as a result of our travels, but my numbers were down simply due the length of my final book of the month. I loved three of the four books and would be hard pressed to name a favorite. 

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

Monogamy by Sue Miller (4.5/5)

The Absolutist by John Boyne (5/5)

The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue (3/5)

The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher (5/5)

Movies & TV Series:

Halifax Retribution
- An enjoyable series, which is a reboot of Halifax f.p.. Rebecca Gibney and Anthony LaPaglia make a great team.

Slow Horses - I loved this series, but relied heavily on the closed captioning. Looking forward to another season!


In Case You Missed It:

I had fun creating this post, and I got a lot of good recommendations in the comments. I plan to do more of this sort of round-up in the coming months, so stay tuned!

May 2, 2022


Last month we flew to Nashville to visit our daughter and son-in-law, who live in Franklin, Tennessee. We hadn't been on an airplane since 2016, but everything went smoothly; no delayed or cancelled flights and the mask mandate was still in effect, and everyone behaved themselves. We flew nonstop from Seattle to Nashville and while it was nice to skip the additional landing and take-off, the four-plus hour flight felt long. Thankfully, I had good reading material. 

We had the best time catching up with Amy & Will, seeing their beautiful home, and playing tourists. We stayed at the Harpeth in downtown Franklin, a charming historical town south of Nashville. There is so much to see in Franklin and Nashville and we're already talking about a return visit.

A view from our room at the Harpeth.

Franklin Public Square

Beautiful day for a drive on the Natchez Trace Parkway.

Our daily stop for coffee & breakfast
 at McGavock's (in the Harpeth).

Can't visit Tennessee and not tour a distillery!

No souvenir bottle to bring home. 
Sadly, they were sold out of their bourbon and we didn't love the whiskey. 

Found a couple of books that I couldn't live without.
Finished The Absolutist, so I had to get another by Boyne.
Patchett's is signed; need I say more? 

Another must on our list.

Kris' "Help Me Make It Through the Night"

John Prine's "Sam Stone"

It was fun to see all the exhibits, 
especially those featuring
 Kris, Johnny, and John Prine.

We had some wonderful meals, but I didn't take very many photos. We ate most of our morning meals at McGavock's, but I spotted Ruby Sunshine while I was exploring and decided we would go the following morning. It was so good, we went back one more time before we flew home. We also enjoyed meals at Franklin Bakehouse, 1799 (in the Harpeth), and Culaccino

Ruby Sunshine
Fried Green Tomato Eggs Benedict on a Biscuit

Our lovely room at the Harpeth.

We loved exploring Franklin and Tennessee, but the best part of the trip was finally seeing these two! It had been far too long.