June 28, 2022

Paris in July 2022 (Reading Challenge)

It's that time again! I love this summer reading challenge and am excited about the books I've chosen to read in July. Have you read any of these? Which should I begin with?

Click here for more information about the Paris in July reading challenge. Big thanks to Tamara and Deb for hosting!

June 25, 2022

Wish You Were Here

2021 Ballantine Books
Finished on June 19, 2022
Rating: 4.5/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:
Diana O’Toole is perfectly on track. She will be married by thirty, done having kids by thirty-five, and move out to the New York City suburbs, all while climbing the professional ladder in the cutthroat art auction world. She’s an associate specialist at Sotheby’s now, but her boss has hinted at a promotion if she can close a deal with a high-profile client. She’s not engaged just yet, but she knows her boyfriend, Finn, a surgical resident, is about to propose on their romantic getaway to the Galapagos—days before her thirtieth birthday. Right on time.

But then a virus that felt worlds away has appeared in the city, and on the eve of their departure, Finn breaks the news: It’s all hands on deck at the hospital. He has to stay behind. You should still go, he assures her, since it would be a shame for all of their nonrefundable trip to go to waste. And so, reluctantly, she goes.

Almost immediately, Diana’s dream vacation goes awry. Her luggage is lost, the Wi-Fi is nearly nonexistent, and the hotel they’d booked is shut down due to the pandemic. In fact, the whole island is now under quarantine, and she is stranded until the borders reopen. Completely isolated, she must venture beyond her comfort zone. Slowly, she carves out a connection with a local family when a teenager with a secret opens up to Diana, despite her father’s suspicion of outsiders.

In the Galapagos Islands, where Darwin’s theory of natural selection was formed, Diana finds herself examining her relationships, her choices, and herself—and wondering if when she goes home, she too will have evolved into someone completely different.

Wow. This turned out to be a powerful and thought-provoking read. In some ways it's nothing like Picoult's previous novels; there is no courtroom drama and no alternating points-of-view. And yet, I was immediately drawn into this timely story, nodding my head as Picoult reminds us of those first terrible months of the pandemic. As I got further into the book, however, I began to feel impatient. I was quite sure I knew exactly where the author was leading me, irritated that her plot had become predictable and almost tedious. Boy, was I ever wrong! I won't say anything more, so as  not to spoil the story, but I will say that this is an exceptional book. The characters and details of the Covid pandemic are remarkably genuine, the book reading like nonfiction. Some may say it's too soon to chronicle the horrors of the pandemic, but I didn't mind reading it a little over two years after the United States went into full lockdown. I devoured Joyce Maynard's coming-of-age novel, The Usual Rules, which was published two years after 9/11, and I've sought out and read books on grief just months after a personal loss. It's through the written word that I find answers to the unimaginable and Jodi Picoult's latest work paints a vivid portrait of our shared experience of this global pandemic. Isolation, survival, and resilience are just a few themes that make this novel a terrific book group choice. There is plenty to discuss, with the caveat that everyone is prepared to discuss all spoilers. Highly recommend. (Knocked down half a point for the uneven pacing in the first half of the book.)

June 24, 2022

Looking Back - Provinces of Night

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.

Provinces of Night by William Gay
2000 Doubleday
Finished on April 7, 2001
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

It’s 1952. Thirty years before, E.F. Bloodworth gunned down a deputy and commenced a vagrant’s life of itinerant banjo picking, but he’s finally coming home. Two of his sons won’t be home to greet him: Warren lives a life of alcoholic philandering down in Alabama, and Boyd has gone to Detroit in vengeful pursuit of his wife and the peddler she ran off with. His third son, Brady, is still home, but he’s an addled soothsayer given to voodoo and bent on doing whatever it takes to keep E.F. from seeing the wife he abandoned. Only Fleming, E.F.’s grandson, is pleased with the old man’s homecoming, but Fleming’s life is soon to careen down an unpredictable path hewn by the beautiful Raven Lee Halfacre.

In the great Southern tradition of Faulkner, Styron, and Cormac McCarthy, William Gay wields a prose as evocative and lush as the haunted and humid world it depicts. Provinces of Night is a tale redolent of violence and redemption— a whiskey-scented, knife-scarred novel whose indelible finale is not an ending nearly so much as it is an apotheosis.

My Original Thoughts (2001):

Took me a while to get interested, but I'm glad I stuck with it. Beautiful writing! Great suspense in the last 40 pages. Not really plot-driven. Fleming is my favorite character. Wise beyond his years. Humorous passages involving Fleming and Albright. Rich language filled with metaphors. A sense of poetry.

My Current Thoughts:

Reading the synopsis makes me wonder why I read this novel since it doesn't appeal to me now. My husband loved the book, which is probably why I chose to read. I have no memory of the characters or plot, but I love Southern writing. Maybe Rod told me it reminded him of Pat Conroy's writing. Reading some of the quoted passages on Goodreads makes me think I might like to read it again.

I stumbled on the following while following various links on Gay's website:
The 2010 film Bloodworth is based on Provinces of Night and is directed by Shane Dax Taylor. It stars Val Kilmer, Kris Kristofferson, and Hillary Duff.

I've never seen the film, but will give it a try since Kris is in it!

June 21, 2022

We Run the Tides

2021 Harper Audio
Narrated by Marin Ireland
Finished June 18, 2022
Rating: 2/5 (Fair)

Publisher's Blurb:
An achingly beautiful story of female friendship, betrayal, and a mysterious disappearance set in the changing landscape of San Francisco.

Teenage Eulabee and her magnetic best friend, Maria Fabiola, own the streets of Sea Cliff, their foggy oceanside San Francisco neighborhood. They know Sea Cliff’s homes and beaches, its hidden corners and eccentric characters—as well as the upscale all-girls’ school they attend. One day, walking to school with friends, they witness a horrible act—or do they? Eulabee and Maria Fabiola vehemently disagree on what happened, and their rupture is followed by Maria Fabiola’s sudden disappearance—a potential kidnapping that shakes the quiet community and threatens to expose unspoken truths.

Suspenseful and poignant, We Run the Tides is Vendela Vida’s masterful portrait of an inimitable place on the brink of radical transformation. Pre–tech boom San Francisco finds its mirror in the changing lives of the teenage girls at the center of this story of innocence lost, the pain of too much freedom, and the struggle to find one’s authentic self. Told with a gimlet eye and great warmth, We Run the Tides is both a gripping mystery and a tribute to the wonders of youth, in all its beauty and confusion.

Growing up in both Central and Southern California, the setting for this coming-of-age story appealed to me, and after reading a few reviews by fellow bloggers, I decided to try the audio version. Sadly, I was underwhelmed. Why did I continue to listen? Two reasons: Marin Ireland is a favorite audiobook narrator, and I had questions about Maria Fabiola's disappearance, curious to learn the truth about her suspicious abduction. Eulabee is a likeable character, but she and her friends come across much older than thirteen. Other than Eulabee, the characters are underdeveloped and unrelatable. We Run the Tides will appeal to those who enjoy a nostalgic tale, transporting them back to their junior high school days (particularly during the early 1980s), but there was not enough depth to either the story or the characters to maintain my interest. 

June 17, 2022

Looking Back - Blackbird: A Childhood Lost and Found

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 - Memoir
2000 Atria Books
Finished on March 27, 2001
Rating: 4.5/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

With the startling emotional immediacy of a fractured family photo album, Jennifer Lauck's incandescent memoir is the story of an ordinary girl growing up at the turn of the 1970s and the truly extraordinary circumstances of a childhood lost. Wrenching and unforgettable, Blackbird will carry your heart away.
The house on Mary Street was home to Jennifer; her older brother B.J.; their hardworking father, who smelled like aftershave and read her Snow White; and their mother, who called her little daughter Sunshine and embraced Jackie Kennedy's sense of style. Through a child's eyes, the skies of Carson City were forever blue, and life was perfect -- a world of Barbies, Bewitched, and the Beatles. Even her mother's pain from her mysterious illness could be patted away with hairspray, powder, and a kiss on the cheek....But soon, everything Jennifer has come to love and rely on begins to crumble, sending her on a roller coaster of loss and loneliness. In a world unhinged by tragedy, where beautiful mothers die and families are warped by more than they can bear, a young girl must transcend a landscape of pain and mistreatment to discover her richest resource: her own unshakable will to survive.

My Original Thoughts (2001):

How can a book that is so sad and depressing be so good? Much like Frank McCourt (author of Angela's Ashes), Jennifer Lauck endured a terribly harsh childhood. However, unlike McCourt's memoir, Blackbird lacks any humor to lighten the reading experience. And yet, I was completely blown away by this book, reading it in two days. The memoir reads like a novel, filled with heartbreaking anecdotes. The cruelty and suffering that Jenny and her brother experienced tore me apart. This is the first in a trilogy and I plan to read the next installment. Highly recommend.

My Current Thoughts:

I don't remember any specifics about this book, but I remember how much it affected me. 

June 14, 2022

Necessary as Blood

Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James Series #13
2009 William Morrow
Finished on June 13, 2022
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:
Once the haunt of Jack the Ripper, London's East End is a vibrant mix of history and the avant-garde, where elegant Georgian town houses exist side by side with colorful street markets and the hippest clubs. But here races and cultures still clash, and the trendy galleries and glamorous nightlife of Whitechapel disguise a violent and seedy underside, where unthinkable crimes bring terror to the innocent.

On a beautiful Sunday afternoon in mid May, a young mother, Sandra Gilles, leaves her daughter with a friend at the Columbia Road Flower Market and disappears. Shortly thereafter, her husband, a Pakistani lawyer, is killed. Scotland Yard detective Gemma James happens upon the scene in time to witness the investigator making a mistake.

When Duncan and his trusted sergeant, Doug Cullen, see Gemma’s name in the report, they decide to take the case. Working together again, Gemma, Duncan, Doug, and Melody Talbot must solve it before the murderer can get his hands on the real prize, Naz and Sandra’s daughter.

But just as the case grows more dangerous, a personal issue threatens to throw Gemma and Duncan off the trail. In the end, it is up to them to stop a vicious killer and protect the child whose fate hangs in the balance.

Another winner by Deborah Crombie! I very much enjoyed this installment in the Kincaid/James series, especially the inclusion of significant events involving Duncan and Gemma's personal lives, none of which overshadowed elements of the main mystery. I also liked the clarity of relationships between the supporting characters, never once feeling the need to create a cheat sheet (which is often the case for me with Crombie's mysteries). As always with this series, there are multiple layers (and one very touching scene toward the end, which brought a lump to my throat) and more than one mystery to solve, but it's a solid story and I'm eager to jump right into #14 (No Mark Upon Her).

June 11, 2022

Florence Adler Swims Forever

2020 Simon & Schuster
Finished on June 6, 2022
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:
Over the course of one summer that begins with a shocking tragedy, three generations of the Adler family grapple with heartbreak, romance, and the weight of family secrets.

Atlantic City, 1934. Every summer, Esther and Joseph Adler rent their house out to vacationers escaping to “America’s Playground” and move into the small apartment above their bakery. This is the apartment where they raised their two daughters, Fannie and Florence. Now Florence has returned from college, determined to spend the summer training to swim the English Channel, and Fannie, pregnant again after recently losing a baby, is on bedrest for the duration of her pregnancy. After Joseph insists they take in a mysterious young woman whom he recently helped emigrate from Nazi Germany, the apartment is bursting at the seams.

When tragedy strikes, Esther makes the shocking decision to hide the truth—at least until Fannie’s baby is born—and pulls the family into an elaborate web of secret-keeping and lies, bringing long-buried tensions to the surface that reveal how quickly the act of protecting those we love can turn into betrayal after tragedy.

I chose to kick off my Summer Reading Challenge with Rachel Beanland's debut novel Florence Adler Swims Forever. I love the nostalgic cover art, and the promise of both a family saga and a historical novel made for an easy decision to do so. Based on the true events of a family story (centered around the author's great-great-aunt, Florence Lowenthal), the plot is slowly revealed in rotating chapters, told by seven of the eight main characters, during the summer of 1934. 

It felt like it took too many chapters to get into the meat of the novel, and I was shocked by the central event that takes place early in the narrative, but as the story progressed, I came to care about the characters (well, most of them) and looked forward to returning to the book each night. Some readers may not care for the ending, but I thought it was appropriate, especially after reading the author's note and extra material for book groups. I don't have any favorite passages from the novel (although I might after I read it a second time), but I especially liked the following from the author's interview:
What I do know is that women are frequently underestimated, and my experiences as a daughter, sister, wife, and mother contradict the narrative that we can't hold great sorrow and great joy in our hands at the same time. In fact, it's often the only thing we can do.
Florence Adler Swims Forever will appeal to fans of Major Pettigrew's Last Stand and The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry. With antisemitic themes and secrets between family members, book groups will have plenty to discuss about this charming, heart-felt book. After reading the final chapters and supplementary content provided for book group discussions, my rating went from three to four stars. Recommend!

Click here to read the author's essay On Family Secrets and How We Deliver Bad News and here for her essay Good Grief.

June 10, 2022

Looking Back - The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down

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 - Medicine
1997 Noonday Press
Finished on April 4, 2001
Rating: 3/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction

When three-month-old Lia Lee Arrived at the county hospital emergency room in Merced, California, a chain of events was set in motion from which neither she nor her parents nor her doctors would ever recover. Lia's parents, Foua and Nao Kao, were part of a large Hmong community in Merced, refugees from the CIA-run "Quiet War" in Laos. The Hmong, traditionally a close-knit and fiercely people, have been less amenable to assimilation than most immigrants, adhering steadfastly to the rituals and beliefs of their ancestors. Lia's pediatricians, Neil Ernst and his wife, Peggy Philip, cleaved just as strongly to another tradition: that of Western medicine. When Lia Lee Entered the American medical system, diagnosed as an epileptic, her story became a tragic case history of cultural miscommunication.

Parents and doctors both wanted the best for Lia, but their ideas about the causes of her illness and its treatment could hardly have been more different. The Hmong see illness and healing as spiritual matters linked to virtually everything in the universe, while medical community marks a division between body and soul, and concerns itself almost exclusively with the former. Lia's doctors ascribed her seizures to the misfiring of her cerebral neurons; her parents called her illness, "qaug dab peg"--the spirit catches you and you fall down--and ascribed it to the wandering of her soul. The doctors prescribed anticonvulsants; her parents preferred animal sacrifices.

My Original Thoughts (2001):

I thought this was a fascinating book. I feel like it should be a supplemental book in an anthropology class. I highlighted several passages and learned a great deal about Hmong culture. The chapters devoted to Lia Lee and her family were very readable. The others, dealing with the Hmong culture and history, were interesting, but required dedication and patience. I was easily distracted and sometime bored with these chapters. I'm glad I read the book, in spite of not being a gripping story.

My Current Thoughts:

I chose to read this book based on the recommendation of a fellow online book group member (Books on the Fence) over twenty years ago. It was educational and thought-provoking, although at times, somewhat dry. I no longer own my copy, so it's not one that I ever intended to read a second time.

June 7, 2022

The People We Keep

2021 Simon & Schuster Audio
Narrated by Julia Whelan
Finished on June 3, 2022
Rating: 3/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

The People We Keep is about a young songwriter longing to find a home in the world.

Little River, New York, 1994: April Sawicki is living in a motorless motorhome that her father won in a poker game. Failing out of school, picking up shifts at Margo’s diner, she’s left fending for herself in a town where she’s never quite felt at home. When she “borrows” her neighbor’s car to perform at an open mic night, she realizes her life could be much bigger than where she came from. After a fight with her dad, April packs her stuff and leaves for good, setting off on a journey to find a life that’s all hers.

As April moves through the world, meeting people who feel like home, she chronicles her life in the songs she writes and discovers that where she came from doesn’t dictate who she has to be.

This lyrical, unflinching tale is for anyone who has ever yearned for the fierce power of found family or to grasp the profound beauty of choosing to belong.

Meh. I don't remember where I first heard about The People We Keep, but when it popped up on Libro.fm, I decided to accept their complimentary copy. I enjoy audiobooks narrated by Julia Whelan, which is the main reason I decided to give the book a try. The book starts off slowly and it took me several chapters before I was finally invested in April's story. However, it's one of those novels that's a decent listen (thanks to the superb narration by Whelan), but I doubt it would hold my interest had I read the print copy. I've listened to several novels this year that fall into this "ho-hum" category: The Paper Palace, Leave the World Behind, Major Pettigrew's Last Stand and The Pull of the Stars. One can surmise that I'm more patient and not so quick to call it quits when it comes to audiobooks, especially those with entertaining readers. More often than not, that persistence pays off, but not always.

I received a complimentary copy from Libro.fm. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

June 5, 2022

A Month in Summary - May 2022

LaPine State Park
La Pine, Oregon
May 2022

Yes, that's snow. In May. We were camping in Central Oregon and just as Rod began to grill our hamburgers, it started snowing. That night it got down to 19 degrees. Nobody told us summer doesn't arrive in Oregon until August!

It was a busy month with travels and visitors, so I didn't read as much as usual, but one of the books I just finished was outstanding! I can't stop thinking about it, and plan to nominate it to my book group for a 2023 selection.

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

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus (3.5/5)

Where Memories Lie by Deborah Crombie (3/5)

Damnation Spring by Ash Davidson (5/5)

Movies & TV Series:

Operation Mincemeat - Exceptional film. I'd like to watch it again since I was a little confused at the beginning of the show.

Bosch: Legacy - We've watched three episodes and it's good, but not as good as the original Bosch. It feels disjointed, jumping between three unrelated storylines for each of the main characters.

Downton Abbey (Season 1) - I never finished watching this series, so I decided to start at the beginning and watch the entire series. I'm really enjoying it and can't believe how much I've forgotten!



My brother and sister-in-law, niece and her husband, and my great-nephew came for a visit at the beginning of the month. We had a fun time, although by the end of the visit, six of the eight of us came down with a stomach bug. 


While our visitors were here, we celebrated my mom's 89th birthday and my husband's milestone birthday! When we were in Nashville, our daughter and son-in-law took us shopping for Rod's birthday gift. He came home with a custom-made Gibson. How cool is that?!

Road Trip!

As I type this summary, we are in our third week of a road trip in our RV. It's the first trip since last October! We don't usually go away during the holiday season, and by January and February the weather is so nasty, we just hunker down at home. We had work done on the RV in March and flew to Nashville in April, so May was the first opportunity to hit the road. We spent four nights in LaPine State Park, four nights at Cove Palisades State Park (north of Bend) and two nights in Sisters. We fell in love with Bend and Sisters, where we spent a lot of time in coffee houses, bookstores, bakeries, and brewpubs. It's all about the food! 

After a few days back at home (we didn't want to camp at a crowded park on Memorial Day Weekend), we are now at Nehalem State Park for a week. It's been great to get explore new areas, as well as revisit old favorites. I plan to blog about our trip, but I'll leave you with a few photos from each location.

LaPine State Park
La Pine, Oregon

Mt. Jefferson
Cove Palisades State Park
Culver, Oregon

Three Sisters
Sisters, Oregon

Nehalem Bay State Park
Nehalem, Oregon

I can't end this post without mentioning the heartbreaking tragedy in Uvalde, Texas. Memorial Day Weekend is a sad reminder for a very personal loss in my family, and my heart goes out to all the families who were affected by this recent act of violence. We must do better as a country to make changes in our gun laws. There is no excuse.