September 30, 2022

Looking Back - The Catcher in the Rye

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.

1951 Little, Brown and Company
Finished on June 15, 2001
Rating: 2/5 (Fair)

Publisher's Blurb:

Since his debut in 1951 as The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield has been synonymous with "cynical adolescent." Holden narrates the story of a couple of days in his sixteen-year-old life, just after he's been expelled from prep school, in a slang that sounds edgy even today and keeps this novel on banned book lists. It begins, "If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. In the first place, that stuff bores me, and in the second place, my parents would have about two hemorrhages apiece if I told anything pretty personal about them." His constant wry observations about what he encounters, from teachers to phonies (the two of course are not mutually exclusive) capture the essence of the eternal teenage experience of alienation.

My Original Thoughts (2001):

I didn't read this in high school or college [shocking, I know!], so I decided it was high time that I did. Thank goodness it's a fairly brief story--although, I thought it was terribly dull. Maybe I missed the underlying themes, but even a follow-up read of the Cliffs Notes left me wondering what all the hype is about. I did find a particular passage that I enjoyed, but otherwise, I can't recommend the book. Too much teenage angst!
What really knocks me out is a book that, when you're all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. (Holden Caulfield)

My Current Thoughts:

I don't understand why this is such a popular book. I wasn't impressed.

September 25, 2022

The Sound of Broken Glass


Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James Series #15
2013 William Morrow
Finished on September 11, 2022
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

In the past . . . On a blisteringly hot August afternoon in Crystal Palace, once home to the tragically destroyed Great Exhibition, a solitary thirteen-year-old boy meets his next door neighbor, a recently widowed young teacher hoping to make a new start in the tight-knit South London community. Drawn together by loneliness, the unlikely pair form a deep connection that ends in a shattering act of betrayal.

In the present . . . On a cold January morning in London, Detective Inspector Gemma James is back on the job now that her husband, Detective Superintendent Duncan Kincaid, is at home to care for their three-year-old foster daughter. Assigned to lead a Murder Investigation Team in South London, she's assisted by her trusted colleague, newly promoted Detective Sergeant Melody Talbot. Their first case, a crime scene at a seedy hotel in Crystal Palace. The victim, a well-respected barrister, found naked, trussed, and apparently strangled. Is it an unsavory accident or murder? In either case, he was not alone, and Gemma's team must find his companion - a search that leads them into unexpected corners and forces them to contemplate unsettling truths about the weaknesses and passions that lead to murder. Ultimately, they will begin to question everything they think they know about their world and those they trust most.

Another entertaining installment in Deborah Crombie's Kincaid/James series. I enjoyed learning the history of the Crystal Palace, as well as the continuation of Duncan and Gemma's family situation. The developing relationships among the supporting cast of characters is thankfully unpredictable and added to my overall enjoyment of this police procedural. There are several coincidences centered around the murders and the personal lives of the detectives, but I was willing to suspend disbelief. A doozy of a cliff-hanger has me anxious to get to the next book in the series, but we're still on the road (we were in Glacier National Park for a week), so I'll need to be patient!

September 23, 2022

Looking Back - Home to Harmony

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 Multnomah Publishers
Finished on June 9, 2001
Rating: 3/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

In the fictional small town of Harmony, Indiana, Sam Gardner becomes the pastor of his hometown church, Harmony Friends Meeting. In this delightful, first-person novel, Sam describes in a warm, down-home style the moving and humorous adventures he encounters his first year home to Harmony. Bestselling author Philip Gulley tackles the sticky issues of grace, faith, and forgiveness through skillful storytelling -- subtly introducing lessons on the power of relationship with each other and with God. Come to Harmony -- where the characters are wise yet fallible, the mishaps familiar yet funny, and the moral of the story is always heartwarming and faith-inspiring.

My Original Thoughts (2001):

This reminded me a lot of Jan Karon's books, which are much better and less preachy. I didn't realize Home to Harmony is Christian fiction until I was almost finished reading the book. Not terrible, but too sentimental for my liking. 

My Current Thoughts:

I'm surprised I finished this book. It doesn't sound like something I'd normally read.

September 16, 2022

Looking Back - Salem Falls

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.

Salem Falls by Jodi Picoult
2001 Pocket Books
Finished on June 1, 2001
Rating: 4.5/5 (Excellent)

Publisher's Blurb:

Jack buries his past, content to become the mysterious stranger who has appeared out of the blue. Addie, desperate for answers, must look into her heart -- and into Jack's lies and shadowy secrets -- for evidence that will condemn or redeem the man she has come to love.

When Jack St. Bride arrives by chance in the sleepy New England town of Salem Falls, he decides to reinvent himself. Tall, blond, and handsome, Jack was once a beloved teacher and soccer coach at a girls' prep school -- until a student's crush sparked a powder keg of accusation and robbed him of his reputation. Now, working for minimum wage washing dishes for Addie Peabody at the Do-Or-Diner, Jack buries his past, content to become the mysterious stranger who has appeared out of the blue.

With ghosts of her own haunting her, Addie Peabody is as cautious around men as Jack St. Bride is around women. But as this unassuming stranger steps smoothly into the diner's daily routine, she finds him fitting just as comfortably inside her heart -- and slowly, a gentle, healing love takes hold between them.

Yet planting roots in Salem Falls may prove fateful for Jack. Amid the white-painted centuries-old churches, a quartet of bored, privileged teenage girls have formed a coven that is crossing the line between amusement and malicious intent. Quick to notice the attractive new employee at Addie's diner, the girls turn Jack's world upside down with a shattering allegation that causes history to repeat itself -- and forces Jack to proclaim his innocence once again. Suddenly nothing in Salem Falls is as it seems: a safe haven turns dangerous, an innocent girl meets evil face-to-face, a dishwasher with a Ph.D. is revealed to be an ex-con. As Jack's hidden past catches up with him, the seams of this tiny town begin to tear, and the emerging truth becomes a slippery concept written in shades of gray. Now Addie, desperate for answers, must look into her heart -- and into Jack's lies and shadowy secrets -- for evidence that will condemn or redeem the man she has come to love.

My Original Thoughts (2001):

Another entertaining book by Picoult, who has fast become one of my favorite authors. This is the third book that I've bead by her and I've yet to be disappointed. 

A high school teacher, wrongfully accused of rape, seeks refuge in Salem Falls after his release from prison. Yet he cannot escape his past. Four teenage "witches," a mother who refuses to let go of her dead child, and a history of rape in the community all come together in this page-turner. Another courtroom drama well-drawn by Picoult will keep me eagerly awaiting her next novel. Thank goodness she has five others I haven't yet read.

My Current Thoughts:

Picoult remains one of my all-time favorite authors. I've read well over a dozen of her books and only one less than stellar. 

September 9, 2022

Looking Back - Pay It Forward

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 Pocket Books
Finished on May 29, 2001
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

The story of how a boy who believed in the goodness of human nature set out to change the world.

Pay It Forward is a wondrous and moving novel about Trevor McKinney, a twelve-year-old boy in a small California town who accepts the challenge that his teacher gives his class, a chance to earn extra credit by coming up with a plan to change the world for the better -- and to put that plan into action.

The idea that Trevor comes up with is so simple and so naïve that when others learn of it they are dismissive. Even Trevor himself begins to doubt when his "pay it forward" plan seems to founder on a combination of bad luck and the worst of human nature.

In the end, Pay It Forward is the story of seemingly ordinary people made extraordinary by the simple faith of a child. In the tradition of the successful and inspirational television show Touched by an Angel, and the phenomenally successful novel and film Forrest Gump, Pay It Forward is a work of charm, wit, and remarkable inspiration, a story of hope for today and for many tomorrows to come.

My Original Thoughts (2001):

I really enjoyed this book! I like the premise behind it--do something nice for three people and then they do the same for three more people. I have not yet seen the movie, but am familiar with the actors (Helen Hunt, Kevin Spacey and Haley Joel Osment) and could easily envision them as I read the book. I did think there were a couple of predictable events, but was still shocked by the ending.

My Current Thoughts:

This would be fun to read (and watch) again. I remember enjoying the movie, once I got the chance to watch it. Pay It Forward is the only novel that I've read by Catherine Ryan Hyde. Apparently, she's written over 40 books!

September 4, 2022

A Month in Summary - August 2022

Elk Country RV Park
Trinidad, California
August 2022

We spent the first half of the month traveling to Santa Rosa, California to spend some time with my aunt. We got very lucky and had great weather--not too hot, but sunny and warm. We visited our usual campgrounds, and since we've done the trip several times over the past few years, we only explored one new town (Eureka). I plan to blog about the trip later next month, but if you enjoy reading my travel posts, click here to check out our spring trip to central Oregon (La Pine, Bend, Sisters, etc.).

As usual, I didn't get much time to read while we were traveling, only finishing two books (in almost four weeks!). However, once we got home, I zipped through four more. As you can see from my ratings, three of the books were excellent, and I highly recommended each of those. 

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

No Mark Upon Her by Deborah Crombie (3.5/5)

New Girl in Little Cove by Damhnait Monaghan (3.5/5)

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris (3.5/5)

A Town Called Solace by Mary Lawson (4.5/5)

The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah (4.5/5)

Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout (5/5)

Movies & TV Series:

 - Rewatching this outstanding series while we travel in the RV. Love it!

Vienna Blood
 - We gave up on this after the first episode.

The Gray Man - I'm surprised that I enjoyed this as much as I did! Typical action thriller with lots of explosions, car chases, and gunfire. Ryan Gosling, Chris Evans, and Billy Bob Thornton are great.

Annika - We love Nicola Walker and will watch her in pretty much anything. This isn't a serious crime drama, but the literary tales, broken fourth wall, and dry wit (as well as the family dynamics), make it well worthwhile.

Modus - We've only watched a few episodes and so far, so good. Suspenseful and a bit creepy!

Road Trip!

As I mentioned, we spent the first three weeks of August traveling to Santa Rosa to visit family. We've driven this route several times over the years and camped at our favorite campgrounds along the way. We spent an afternoon exploring Eureka (we usually just drive through or grab a burger at In-N-Out), had several elk show up in our campsite in Trinidad, and enjoyed spending time with my aunt and cousins.

We are currently getting all our ducks in a row for our big adventure to Glacier National Park. We've never been to Montana, so get ready for a lot of photos. We're driving through Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Montana, so I hope to see a lot of wildlife!

September 3, 2022

Olive, Again

2019 Random House
Finished on August 30, 2022
Rating: 5/5 (Excellent)

Publisher's Blurb:

Elizabeth Strout brilliantly lays bare the inner lives of ordinary people, none more eloquently than the protagonist of her universally acclaimed Olive Kitteridge. "Gunny, wicked and remorseful, Mrs. Kitteridge is a compelling life force, a red-blooded original," declared the San Francisco Chronicle. "When she's not onstage, we look forward to her return."

And now Olive has indeed returned, as indomitable as ever, navigating her next decade and the changes--sometimes welcome, sometimes not--in her own life. Her is Olive, strangely confident in her second marriage, in an evolving relationship with her son and his family, and crossing paths with a cast of memorable characters in the seaside town of Crosby, Maine. Whether with a teenager coming to terms with the loss of her father, a young woman about to give birth at a hilariously inopportune moment, a nurse who confesses a secret high school crush, or a lawyer who struggles with an inheritance she does not want to accept, the irascible Olive improbably touches the lives of everyone around her. 

Marvelous! Was it insomnia that led me to finish this book at 1:30 in the morning or the mere fact that I couldn't put it down? After reading the final page, I kept thinking about Olive and the motley cast of characters in this follow-up to Elizabeth Strout's Pulitzer Prize winner, Olive Kitteridge. Truthfully, I had to force myself to turn off the light and not start rereading from the beginning of the book.

In 2014 I read Olive Kitteridge (giving it a second chance after previously quitting on the audiobook) in preparation to watching the four-part HBO mini-series of the same name. I not only fell in love with Strout's writing, but came to care about Olive, warts and all. 

Olive, Again is an outstanding follow-up and does not disappoint. In similar fashion to the original novel, this book is comprised of thirteen vignettes. Olive takes center stage in most chapters, but is only a passing figure in others. I especially enjoyed the presence of characters from other novels by Strout (Isabelle from Amy & Isabelle was an unexpected treat!) and I'm now inspired to go back and reread each of her books. 

Having watched Frances McDormand in the lead role of the mini-series, I had a vivid picture of Olive, laughing out loud at her caustic remarks while feeling a tug of sadness and empathy as her life grew emptier and lonelier. I felt an ache of melancholy as I turned the last page, not ready to leave Olive, with whom I felt a strong connection as she reflected upon her life as a wife and mother in her final years. Thankfully, I have copies of both books for future reading and plan to rewatch the TV drama. 

Olive, Again is a poignant glimpse into aging, while providing levity with hilarious one-liners by the irascible and blunt heroine of Olive Kitteridge. Highly recommend! 
Olive is a brilliant creation not only because of her eternal cantankerousness but because she’s as brutally candid with herself about her shortcomings as she is with others. Her honesty makes people strangely willing to confide in her, and the raw power of Ms. Strout’s writing comes from these unvarnished exchanges, in which characters reveal themselves in all of their sadness and badness and confusion. . . . The great, terrible mess of living is spilled out across the pages of this moving book. Ms. Strout may not have any answers for it, but she isn’t afraid of it either.The Wall Street Journal

September 2, 2022

Looking Back - The Bonesetter's Daughter

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.

The Bonesetter's Daughter by Amy Tan
2001 G.P. Putnam's Sons
Finished on June 5, 2001
Rating: 3/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

Ruth Young and her widowed mother, LuLing, have always had a tumultuous relationship. Now, before she succumbs to forgetfulness, LuLing gives Ruth some of her writings, which reveal a side of LuLing that Ruth has never known. . . .

In a remote mountain village where ghosts and tradition rule, LuLing grows up in the care of her mute Precious Auntie as the family endures a curse laid upon a relative known as the bonesetter. When headstrong LuLing rejects the marriage proposal of the coffinmaker, a shocking series of events are set in motion–all of which lead back to Ruth and LuLing in modern San Francisco. The truth that Ruth learns from her mother’s past will forever change her perception of family, love, and forgiveness.

My Original Thoughts (2001):

Book group selection. Having read all of Tan's previous works, I was excited to get her latest and bought it the day it was released. Unfortunately, I was disappointed. There was nothing about the story that grabbed my attention. I put it down after reading 1/3 and wasn't anxious to resume reading. I eventually finished the book, but thought it lacked Tan's wonderful prose. 

My Current Thoughts:

I'm surprised I gave this a "good" rating. Based on my initial thoughts, I would now drop it down to 2/5 stars.  

September 1, 2022

The Four Winds

2021 Macmillan Audio
Narrated by: Julia Whelan
Finished on August 27, 2022
Rating: 4.5/5 (Very Good)

To damage the earth is to damage your children. ~Wendell Berry, farmer and poet

Publisher's Blurb:

Texas, 1934. Millions are out of work and a drought has broken the Great Plains. Farmers are fighting to keep their land and their livelihoods as the crops are failing, the water is drying up, and dust threatens to bury them all. One of the darkest periods of the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl era, has arrived with a vengeance.

In this uncertain and dangerous time, Elsa Martinelli—like so many of her neighbors—must make an agonizing choice: fight for the land she loves or go west, to California, in search of a better life. The Four Winds is an indelible portrait of America and the American Dream, as seen through the eyes of one indomitable woman whose courage and sacrifice will come to define a generation.

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Nightingale and The Great Alone comes an epic novel of love and heroism and hope, set against the backdrop of one of America’s most defining eras—the Great Depression.

From Publishers Weekly:
Hannah brings Dust Bowl migration to life in this riveting story of love, courage, and sacrifice. She combines gritty realism with emotionally rich characters and lyrical prose that rings brightly and true from the first lines. In Elsa, a woman who fiercely defends her principles and those she loves, Hannah brilliantly revives the ghost of Tom Joad. 
The Four Winds is an evocative and captivating book. I loved it! I read The Grapes of Wrath in high school and that was the extent of my Dust Bowl knowledge until I watched the Ken Burns' miniseries about the devastation caused by dust storms in the Great Plains. When I first heard about Kristin Hannah's historical novel about this period, I knew it would be a worthwhile read since I enjoyed The Nightingale (her novel about two sisters in France during World War II) so well. Once again, Hannah's storytelling doesn't disappoint. Her characterizations and sense of place are realistic and visceral; I could hear the wind howl and taste the gritty dirt in my mouth. This timely novel not only reminds us of our history, but also our future, speaking to climate change, as well as fair wages and the mistrust of outsiders.

Photo Credit:

Photo Credit:

I especially enjoyed listening to the narration by the ever-so-talented Julia Whelan. I am in awe of her ability to give each character (whether male or female) their own distinctive voice and accent, although one time I had to laugh; her voice for Jack Valen sounds very much like that of the devil's in The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue (another audiobook performed by Whelan). Despite that particular coincidence, Whelan's performance is outstanding. 

The tedium and loss of narrative momentum in the final chapters is my only complaint (for which I deducted a half point). Notwithstanding that minor criticism, The Four Winds is a rewarding and hopeful story about the perseverance and determination of the human spirit. I won't forget Elsa, Loreda, or Ant anytime soon. Highly recommend.

Now to reread Steinbeck's masterpiece, The Grapes of Wrath, which I hope to enjoy as much as I did in 1978.