August 29, 2022

A Town Called Solace

2021 Alfred A. Knopf Canada
Finished on August 26, 2020
Rating: 4.5/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

Longlisted for the 2021 Booker Prize

New York Times bestselling author Mary Lawson, acclaimed for digging into the wilderness of the human heart, is back after almost a decade with a fresh and timely novel that is different in subject but just as emotional and atmospheric as her beloved earlier work.

A Town Called Solace--the brilliant and emotionally radiant new novel from Mary Lawson, her first in nearly a decade--opens on a family in crisis: rebellious teenager Rose been missing for weeks with no word, and Rose's younger sister, the feisty and fierce Clara, keeps a daily vigil at the living-room window, hoping for her sibling's return.

Enter thirtyish Liam Kane, newly divorced, newly unemployed, newly arrived in this small northern town, where he promptly moves into the house next door--watched suspiciously by astonished and dismayed Clara, whose elderly friend, Mrs. Orchard, owns that home. Around the time of Rose's disappearance, Mrs. Orchard was sent for a short stay in hospital, and Clara promised to keep an eye on the house and its remaining occupant, Mrs. Orchard's cat, Moses. As the novel unfolds, so does the mystery of what has transpired between Mrs Orchard and the newly arrived stranger.

Told through three distinct, compelling points of view--Clara's, Mrs. Orchard's, and Liam Kane's--the novel cuts back and forth among these unforgettable characters to uncover the layers of grief, remorse, and love that connect families, both the ones we're born into and the ones we choose. A Town Called Solace is a masterful, suspenseful and deeply humane novel by one of our great storytellers.

I can't stop thinking about this wonderful book! I loved the three main characters and came to care about each of them as they navigated their way through troubling times. Their dialogue and emotions are all believable and palpable, either making me laugh or touching my heart. As with her previous novels, Mary Lawson's fourth book is a quiet story; my favorite kind. The slow, unraveling of Mrs. Orchard and Liam's histories, as well as Clara's quirky, sensitive personality, held my interest from beginning to end and I was sorry when it came time to leave them.

There's a bit of a mystery to the story, but it's essentially a novel about trust, what makes a family, and the abiding love that grows between strangers. I've read a couple of books by Mary Lawson (Crow Lake and The Other Side of the Bridge) and after finishing A Town Called Solace, I'm thinking about rereading those earlier works. I was even tempted to start reading this one as soon as I finished, and may, at a later date, listen to the audiobook. Lawson (who is currently 76-years-old) is a terrific writer and I hope we don't have long to wait for her next novel.

August 26, 2022

Looking Back - World of Pies

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 Hyperion
Finished on May 14, 2001
Rating: 3.5/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

Set in a small town in Texas in the 1960s, where there “wasn’t a lot to pick from summer job-wise: counter girl at Jerry’s Dairy King, shampoo girl at Babs’s Tint ‘n’ Clip,” or the maid job at the Bluebonnet Motel, World of Pies introduces readers to a young girl, Roxanne, as she begins to come of age.

Roxanne is twelve years old and crazy about baseball in 1962, the year of a pie baking contest that will change her life forever. Readers get a first-hand glimpse at Roxanne as she witnesses her first piece of racial politics, when her mother makes an issue of the fact that a neighbor is entering a pie baked by her black maid under her own name. The summer of 1962 brings Roxanne her first glance of life that isn’t always fair, yet readers still return to the warmth and coziness of small town life where Roxanne is blossoming into a young woman. In other exquisitely written vignettes that add up to a delightful episodic novel, Roxanne can be found debating the virtues of nail polish and makeup with her best friend, or trying to figure out what sort of summer job is available in such a small town as Annette.

The recipes following each chapter–which include Aunt Ruthie’s Cinnamon Rolls, Mabel’s Angel Food Cake with Chocolate Sauce, and of course Miss Cherry Pie–evoke a sweet sensation that makes Annette, Texas seem more like home than anywhere else in the whole world. Filled with a unique blend of just the right ingredients–love, compassion, and humor, readers will enjoy the smells, tastes, and comforts of Annette long after they finish World of Pies.

My Original Thoughts (2001):

A quick, light read. Quite enjoyable in spite of the simplistic writing. 

My Current Thoughts:

I wish I still had my copy of this book! I don't remember too much about it, but it would be fun to read it again. According to my reading journal, I read it in less than two days. Sounds like a perfect summer read!

August 25, 2022

The Tattooist of Auschwitz


2018 Harper Paperbacks
Finished on August 21, 2022
Rating: 3.5/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

This beautiful, illuminating tale of hope and courage is based on interviews that were conducted with Holocaust survivor and Auschwitz-Birkenau tattooist Ludwig (Lale) Sokolov—an unforgettable love story in the midst of atrocity.

In April 1942, Lale Sokolov, a Slovakian Jew, is forcibly transported to the concentration camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau. When his captors discover that he speaks several languages, he is put to work as a T├Ątowierer (the German word for tattooist), tasked with permanently marking his fellow prisoners.

Imprisoned for over two and a half years, Lale witnesses horrific atrocities and barbarism—but also incredible acts of bravery and compassion. Risking his own life, he uses his privileged position to exchange jewels and money from murdered Jews for food to keep his fellow prisoners alive.

One day in July 1942, Lale, prisoner 32407, comforts a trembling young woman waiting in line to have the number 34902 tattooed onto her arm. Her name is Gita, and in that first encounter, Lale vows to somehow survive the camp and marry her.

A vivid, harrowing, and ultimately hopeful re-creation of Lale Sokolov's experiences as the man who tattooed the arms of thousands of prisoners with what would become one of the most potent symbols of the Holocaust, The Tattooist of Auschwitz is also a testament to the endurance of love and humanity under the darkest possible conditions.

Had I read the cover of the book, I would have known that The Tattooist of Auschwitz is based on a true story, but I didn't realize this until I reached the afterword and the author's note. I wonder if that information would have made a difference in my overall reaction to Morris' debut novel. It took me a while to get hooked, and I found the simplistic writing (particularly the dialogue) halting and awkward, but I was eventually drawn into Lale and Gita's story. I've read many novels set during World War II, including several set in the concentration camps, and while I liked learning about Lale's experience as the "Tatowierer," I didn't learn anything new about Auschwitz or the Holocaust. Lale and Gita's love story overshadows the horrors of the camp, which are given a cursory nod; it's the budding romance that takes center stage. 

There is controversy over the validity of the historical aspects in Heather Morris' novel; Gita's tattoo number, and the story about the use of penicillin on a prisoner, are just two examples. Click here and here to read more.

August 22, 2022

New Girl in Little Cove


2021 Graydon House
Finished on August 16, 2022
Rating: 3.5/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

After the local French teacher scandalizes the fishing village of Little Cove, Newfoundland, by running off with a priest, the school looks to the mainland to fill the job quickly. They want someone who can uphold their Catholic values and keep a motley group of largely unwilling students in line.

The position is filled by mainlander Rachel O’Brien—technically a Catholic (baptized!), technically a teacher (honors degree!)—who’s desperate to leave her current mess of a life behind. She isn’t surprised that her students don’t see the value of learning French. But she is surprised that she can barely understand their English… Is it a compliment or insult to be called a sleeveen? (Insult.) And the anonymous notes left on her car, telling her to go home, certainly don’t help to make her feel welcome.

Still, she is quickly drawn into the island’s traditional music and culture, and into the personal lives of her crusty but softhearted landlady, Lucille, her reluctant students and her fellow teacher Doug Bishop. But when her beliefs clash with church and community, she makes a decision that throws her career into jeopardy. In trying to help a student, has she gone too far?

Apparently, I'm a sucker for book covers with watercolor scenes. I bought New Girl in Little Cove for my mom after reading several bloggers' glowing reviews, but had I spotted it on a bookstore display, I would have purchased it simply for its lovely cover. 

Damhnait (pronounced Downith) Monagham's debut novel is a charming story about a young woman from Toronto who finds herself living in a quaint community of 389 residents, teaching French at the local high school. Initially considered an outsider from "up in Canada" (fyi, Newfoundland is a province of Canada!), it doesn't take too long for Rachel to settle into the quirky fishing village of Little Cove.

I enjoyed New Girl in Little Cove, particularly the 80s references, but found it somewhat twee and predictable. Not quite a rom-com, nor serious literature, it has the feel of a Hallmark movie. Perhaps fans of Jan Karon's Mitford series would enjoy it more than I did.

August 20, 2022

No Mark Upon Her


Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James Series #14
2012 William Morrow
Finished on August 11, 2022
Rating: 3.5/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

New York Times bestselling author Deborah Crombie makes her mark with this absorbing, finely hued tale of suspense - a deeply atmospheric and twisting mystery full of deadly secrets, salacious lies, and unexpected betrayals involving the mysterious drowning of a Met detective - an accomplished rower - on the Thames.

When a K9 search and rescue team finds a body tangled up with debris in the Thames, Scotland Yard Superintendent Duncan Kincaid finds himself heading an investigation that could end his career. The victim, Rebecca Meredith, was an Olympic rowing hopeful determined to make a comeback. She was also a detective with the Met - a situation that raises a host of political and ethical issues that complicate the case.

Aided by his wife, Inspector Gemma James, Duncan and his team discover that both Meredith's rowing colleagues and her ex-husband had reason to want her dead. But when someone tries to kill the search-and-rescue team member who found Rebecca's body, the case becomes even more complex and dangerous, involving powerful interests with tentacles that reach deep into the heart of the Met itself.

Surrounded by enemies in friendly faces, pressured to find answers quickly and protect the Yard from rabid media desperate for dirt, his career and reputation on the line, Kincaid must race to catch the killer before more innocent lives are lost - including his own.

We've been on a road trip for the past two weeks, so I'm not surprised it took me a while to finish this book, but even three weeks seems excessive. I was quickly drawn into the mystery, but it never called to me when I found some free time to curl up and read. No Mark Upon Her is better than average, but I didn't love it, and am struggling to find anything valuable to share. Bottom line, borrow it from the library. It's not a keeper.

August 19, 2022

Looking Back - The Red Tent

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.

1997 Picador USA
Finished on May 12, 2001
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

Her name is Dinah. In the Bible, her life is only hinted at in a brief and violent detour within the more familiar chapters of the Book of Genesis that are about her father, Jacob, and his dozen sons. Told in Dinah's voice, this novel reveals the traditions and turmoils of ancient womanhood--the world of the red tent. It begins with the story of her mothers--Leah, Rachel, Zilpah, and Bilhah--the four wives of Jacob. They love Dinah and give her gifts that sustain her through a hard-working youth, a calling to midwifery, and a new home in a foreign land. Dinah's story reaches out from a remarkable period of early history and creates an intimate connection with the past. Deeply affecting, The Red Tent combines rich storytelling with a valuable achievement in modern fiction: a new view of biblical women's society.

My Original Thoughts (2001):

Very easy to get interested in, although I had to refer to the genealogy chart several times during the first few chapters. I really enjoyed this novel, but I thought it began to drag in the last 50+ pages. I could put it down, so only an 4-star rating. Overall, it was very enjoyable and I'd recommend it to others.

My Current Thoughts:

This was such a popular novel when it was first released. I either read it with a book group or talked about it with fellow readers. I've read one other book by Diamant (Good Harbor), but somehow forgot all about her. She has written a few more novels that I'd like to try (The Last Days of Dogtown, Day After Night, and The Boston Girl)

August 17, 2022

Sisters, Oregon (Part Two)

Central Oregon Road Trip
May 25, 2022

A photo essay of our visit to Sisters, Oregon.

Beautiful lupine!

Wonderful bookstore in Sisters.

Great display! I used to love giving 
staff recs when I worked at Barnes & Noble.

Lots of stationery, games and gift merchandise.

Another great coffee shop.

Love the door pulls!

This may be my favorite brewery ever!

Fivepine Chocolate Porter. Yummm!

Such good clam chowder!

Halibut Bites

If you're into rodeos, 
this place has great views of the mountains.

Love all the pine trees in this rv park.

The Barn
Food trucks in Sisters.

Strawberry Lemonade. Mmmmm.

Rod's carne asada tacos were pretty good, but my fish tacos were nothing special. At least the lemonade was good.

We really enjoyed our stay in Sisters and hope to return at the end of our trip to Montana.

August 15, 2022

Sisters, Oregon (Part One)

Central Oregon Road Trip
May 24, 2022
Culver to Sisters, Oregon
Site #: 73
Elevation: 3,182'
Distance: 45 miles
Duration: 2 nights
Cost: $65.70/night
Weather: 75 degrees and overcast

After four days at Crooked River Campground, we were ready to head down to our next campground in Sisters. We made a quick stop off Hwy 97 at the Peter Skene Ogden State Scenic Viewpoint. The Crooked River High Bridge (open only to pedestrian traffic) provides a breathtaking view of the canyon, as well as the Three Sisters to the south west. 

The Three Sisters

Looking east

As with Bend, this was our first visit to the small town of Sisters (population of 2,952), which is also in central Oregon. I fell in love with this charming, walkable town! The views of the Three Sisters Mountains and Mt. Jefferson are breathtaking and I pulled over several times to take photos.

Mt. Jefferson

After gassing up in Redmond ($4.99/gallon at Fred Myers), we had plenty of time to stop for coffee before checking in at the RV park. 

The coffee and treats at Sisters Bakery (located on Cascade Avenue/Hwy 20) were very good. The raspberry scone was one of the best I have ever had! The bakery isn't very large, but we found two seats at the counter where we could sit and watch the people strolling by.

I wandered around town for about an hour, stopping in a few shops, while Rod relaxed in the RV.

Bend/Sisters Garden RV Resort is four miles south of downtown Sisters, and quite lovely, offering all the amenities anyone could need. Full hookups, level asphalt pad, paver patio with picnic table and fire pit, daily trash pick up, pool & spa, miniature golf, store, propane, and laundry. The landscaping is gorgeous with lush grass, flowering trees and beautiful perennial gardens. In the center of the park is a small lake (catch & release fishing) that was surrounded by Canada geese. In addition to 96 rv sites, the resort offers six fully furnished cottages and cabins. RV "resorts" are definitely not camping, but it was nice to be close to town and have our creature comforts after "roughing it" in state parks.

The cost per night is fairly expensive compared to state parks and smaller campgrounds, but we've also paid more for much less. We'll definitely return!