December 31, 2022

Save Me the Plums

2019 Random House Audio
Narrated by Ruth Reichl
Finished on December 26, 2022
Rating: 3/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

Trailblazing food writer and beloved restaurant critic Ruth Reichl took the job (and the risk) of a lifetime when she entered the glamorous, high-stakes world of magazine publishing. Now, for the first time, she chronicles her groundbreaking tenure as editor in chief of Gourmet, during which she spearheaded a revolution in the way we think about food.

When Condé Nast offered Ruth Reichl the top position at America's oldest epicurean magazine, she declined. She was a writer, not a manager, and had no inclination to be anyone's boss. And yet . . . Reichl had been reading Gourmet since she was eight; it had inspired her career. How could she say no?

This is the story of a former Berkeley hippie entering the corporate world and worrying about losing her soul. It is the story of the moment restaurants became an important part of popular culture, a time when the rise of the farm-to-table movement changed, forever, the way we eat. Readers will meet legendary chefs like David Chang and Eric Ripert, idiosyncratic writers like David Foster Wallace, and a colorful group of editors and art directors who, under Reichl's leadership, transformed stately Gourmet into a cutting-edge publication. This was the golden age of print media—the last spendthrift gasp before the Internet turned the magazine world upside down.

Complete with recipes, Save Me the Plums is a personal journey of a woman coming to terms with being in charge and making a mark, following a passion and holding on to her dreams—even when she ends up in a place she never expected to be.

I'm a huge fan of memoirs, particularly culinary memoirs, so when I heard about Save Me the Plums I quickly added it to my TBR list. I planned to read it a couple of years ago for Nonfiction November, but never got around to it. I put it on this year's list for the same reading challenge, but again, it never made the cut. I finally started listening to the audio early this month, but didn't get in a lot of listening time, and it took me almost a full month to finish the 8-hour audiobook.

I enjoyed parts of Reichl's memoir, but other parts were boring and full of too many unfamiliar names. I was never a subscriber to Gourmet magazine, nor have I ever lived in New York City, but maybe those who are more in tune to the now-defunct publication and the locale would have a greater appreciation for the author's name-dropping, both of restaurants & chefs, as well as staff at Conde Naste. 

The chapters which focus on the eating habits of Ruth's young son, her firsthand experiences during 9/11 (the Gourmet staff prepared meals to feed rescue workers), and her budget-friendly trip to Paris, were worthwhile. There are also several recipes (read, somewhat tediously, line by line in the audiobook) that I'd love to try, so I may take a peek at the print edition someday. I read Tender at the Bone decades ago and while I enjoyed the first half, I didn't love that book either. In 2014 I read her novel Delicious!, but wasn't overly impressed. I think it's safe to say that I've given her books a fair chance, and the end result is that I'm not a true Ruth Reichl fan.

Thank you for the complimentary copy.

December 30, 2022

Looking Back - Bed & Breakfast

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.


Bed & Breakfast by Lois Battle
1996 Viking
Finished on July 19, 2001
Rating: 4/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

Ten years of family secrets, misunderstandings, and recriminations have kept the Tatternalls apart - until Josie, a military widow suddenly alerted to mortality when one of her best friends keels over during a bridge game, impulsively invites her three grown daughters home for the holidays at her gracious South Carolina bed-and-breakfast. Cam, Josie's eldest, is her father's daughter - headstrong, smart, fearless, and utterly hopeless when it comes to making peace with either her family or herself. Years ago, she acquired the cynical veneer born of living too long in New York City and watching her writerly dreams fade. Still reeling from a breakup with the man she loves, she heads south heartily skeptical of the comforts of home and hearth. For Cam, this will be a season of shocks and surprises. Lila, the poised and perfect stay-at-home mother of two, lives near Josie in Hilton Head and is experiencing the slow disintegration of her own essentially loveless marriage. She dreads the prospect of this family reunion - especially the return of her black sheep, brilliant older sister, Cam. Yet, astonishing even herself, this is the Christmas when Lila finally will rebel. Evie, the all-too-candid baby of the family, routinely shares her family's secrets in her advice column for a Savannah newspaper. But even Evie has never created a scene like the tableau she stages at this Christmas dinner - when she arrives on the arm of her latest love, a rich man old enough to be her father....

My Original Thoughts (2001):

Entertaining story about a family living in the South. Reminded me a little bit of the dysfunctional family in The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. Somewhat predictable, yet still enjoyable. I will definitely read more by this author. Gentle fiction/fluff. Not very deep. 

My Current Thoughts:

Well, I never did read anything more by this author. I don't remember anything about the book, which isn't surprising given it was pretty fluffy.

December 29, 2022

Morningside Heights


2022 Vintage (first published in 2021)
Finished on December 23, 2022
Rating: 3.5/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice Book - When Ohio-born Pru Steiner arrives in New York in 1976, she follows in a long tradition of young people determined to take the city by storm. But when she falls in love with and marries Spence Robin, her hotshot young Shakespeare professor, her life takes a turn she couldn't have anticipated.

Thirty years later, something is wrong with Spence. The Great Man can't concentrate; he falls asleep reading The New York Review of Books. With their daughter, Sarah, away at medical school, Pru must struggle on her own to care for him. One day, feeling especially isolated, Pru meets a man, and the possibility of new romance blooms. Meanwhile, Spence's estranged son from his first marriage has come back into their lives. Arlo, a wealthy entrepreneur who invests in biotech, may be his father's last, best hope.

Morningside Heights is a sweeping and compassionate novel about a marriage surviving hardship. It's about the love between women and men, and children and parents; about the things we give up in the face of adversity; and about how to survive when life turns out differently from what we thought we signed up for.

I have read some amazing novels this year, many of which were recommended by fellow bloggers and friends. I learned about Morningside Heights from JoAnn, who said, "The novel is written with striking tenderness and compassion. It is heart-breaking, funny at times, and filled with love." I loved Lisa Genova's brilliant novel Still Alice (the main character of which suffers from early onset Alzheimer's), and when I learned that Morningside Heights deals with the disease as well, my curiosity was piqued. 

This is my first exposure to Joshua Henkin's writing and while I enjoyed this story and the characters, I never felt any connection to them, and the book didn't have the same emotional impact and resonance as Still Alice. The narrative is predictable, and obviously sad, but the characters are flat and surprisingly, there isn't much tension or action to move the plot other than just the passage of time. 

Good, but not great.

December 27, 2022

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox


2008 Mariner Books (first published in 2006)
Finished on December 19, 2022
Rating: 5/5 (Outstanding)

Note: This one is best to go into blind. Avoid lengthy blurbs and reviews. My post (and the publisher's blurb) is spoiler-free.

Publisher's Blurb:

In the middle of tending to the everyday business at her vintage-clothing shop and sidestepping her married boyfriend’s attempts at commitment, Iris Lockhart receives a stunning phone call: Her great-aunt Esme, whom she never knew existed, is being released from Cauldstone Hospital—where she has been locked away for more than sixty-one years.

Iris’s grandmother Kitty always claimed to be an only child. But Esme’s papers prove she is Kitty’s sister, and Iris can see the shadow of her dead father in Esme’s face.

Esme has been labeled harmless—sane enough to coexist with the rest of the world. But she's still basically a stranger, a family member never mentioned by the family, and one who is sure to bring life-altering secrets with her when she leaves the ward. If Iris takes her in, what dangerous truths might she inherit?

A gothic, intricate tale of family secrets, lost lives, and the freedom brought by truth, The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox will haunt you long past its final page.

Wow! I was not expecting to love this book as much as I did, especially after the first half-dozen pages, which I needed to reread from the first paragraph; I was terribly confused. But I fell in love with O'Farrell's nonlinear structure, which includes multiple points of view, as well as jumps in the timeline. It was not until I was well into the narrative that it all started to fall into place, but there remained a few twists and turns, as well as some continued confusion, and an ambiguous finale. The author does an amazing job teasing out the details, allowing small glimpses into the history of the Lennox family. It's a sad tale, but a very quick read (under 250 pages) and one which I would love to read again, especially now that I understand what happened to Esme and Kitty. I couldn't put it down and think it would make a marvelous book to discuss with others. I have to say that it's even better than Hamnet, which I loved. With evocative prose and a piercingly sad storyline, O'Farrell delivers a powerful and timely message about women's rights (or lack thereof) in a patriarchal society.

Highly recommend!

December 25, 2022

Merry Christmas!


Merry Christmas from Little Whale Cove!

December 22, 2022

Garden of Lamentations


Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James Series #17
2017  William Morrow
Finished on December 16 , 2022
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

Scotland Yard detectives Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James are drawn into separate investigations that hold disturbing—and deadly—complications for their own lives in this powerful mystery in the bestselling series.

On a beautiful morning in mid-May, the body of a young woman is found in one of Notting Hill’s private gardens. To passersby, the pretty girl in the white dress looks as if she’s sleeping. But Reagan Keating has been murdered, and the lead detective, DI Kerry Boatman, turns to Gemma James for help. She and Gemma worked together on a previous investigation, and Gemma has a personal connection to the case: Reagan was the nanny of a child who attends the same dance studio as Toby, Gemma and Kincaid’s son.

Gemma soon discovers that Reagan’s death is the second tragedy in this exclusive London park; a few months before, a young boy died in a tragic accident. But when still another of the garden residents meets a violent end, it becomes clear that there are more sinister forces at play. Boatman and Gemma must stop the killer before another innocent life is taken.

While his wife is consumed with her new case, Kincaid finds himself plagued by disturbing questions about several previous—and seemingly unrelated—cases involving members of the force. If his suspicions are correct and the crimes are linked, are his family and friends in mortal danger as well? Kincaid’s hunch turns to certainty when a Metropolitan Police officer close to him is brutally attacked. There’s a traitor in the ranks, and now Kincaid wonders if he can trust anyone.

As Gemma begins to see a solution to her case, she realizes she holds a child’s fate in her hands. Can she do the right thing? And can Kincaid rely on his friends, both inside and outside the Scotland Yard force, to stand beside him as he faces the deadliest challenge of his career?

Garden of Lamentations is another well-plotted mystery by Deborah Crombie. There are two separate mysteries, peopled with numerous characters, but I was able to follow both threads without any trouble. This is most definitely not a stand-alone, although Crombie skillfully fills in the backstory to refresh her readers' memories of previous installments.

I started reading this series almost two years ago and am down to one more installment. If I read A Bitter Feast in January, I only have to wait a month for her new release (A Killing of Innocents) to be published. But then how long will I have to wait for the next installment? Wah!

December 20, 2022

This is the Story of a Happy Marriage


Nonfiction - Essays
2013 Harper Perennial
Finished on December 8, 2022
Rating: 4.5/5 (Very Good)

"As the best personal essays often do, Patchett's is a two-way mirror, reflecting both the author and her readers." --New York Times Book Review

Publisher's Blurb:

Blending literature and memoir, Ann Patchett, author of State of Wonder, Run, and Bel Canto, examines her deepest commitments — to writing, family, friends, dogs, books, and her husband — creating a resonant portrait of a life in This is the Story of a Happy Marriage.

This is the Story of a Happy Marriage takes us into the very real world of Ann Patchett’s life. Stretching from her childhood to the present day, from a disastrous early marriage to a later happy one, it covers a multitude of topics, including relationships with family and friends, and charts the hard work and joy of writing, and the unexpected thrill of opening a bookstore.

As she shares stories of the people, places, ideals, and art to which she has remained indelibly committed, Ann Patchett brings into focus the large experiences and small moments that have shaped her as a daughter, wife, and writer.

Another winner by Ann Patchett! I tried to listen to This is the Story of a Happy Marriage several years ago, but the audio didn't work for me. I bought a signed copy of the book at Parnassus (Patchett's bookstore in Nashville) and as you can see from the above photo, it hit the mark and resonated greatly with me. 

I've always enjoyed, if not loved, Patchett's novels, but I recently read These Precious Days, which is an outstanding collection of essays. Now having read this earlier collection, I can confidently say that Ann Patchett's is not only a stellar writer, but someone with whom I would love to meet. Her essays are thought-provoking and articulate, yet conversational and personal. She prompts the reader to stop and think about something she's just written. Patchett is high on my list for "Which Five Famous People Would You Invite to a Dinner Party?"
Whatever I've become as an essayist, this collection bears the stamp of a writer who got her start in women's magazines: it is full of example and advice. I will never be a war correspondent or an investigative reporter, but the tradition I come from is an honorable one, and at times, daunting. Many of the essays I'm proudest of were made from the things that were at hand--writing and love, work and loss. I may have roamed in my fiction, but this work tends to reflect a life lived close to home. 
Prior to writing her best-selling novels, Patchett worked for eight years as a freelance writer for Seventeen magazine, GQ, Bridal Guide, New York Times Magazine, and Gourmet. In This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, Patchett shares details about her family history, her views on marriage, divorce, and her desire to not have children. Her essay about caring for her grandmother is deeply moving and intimate. She writes about her upbringing and education in the Catholic faith, her friendship with one of the nuns who taught her how to read (in third grade!), how she came to be a co-owner of a bookstore, finally accepting her husband's marriage proposal, and her absolute love for her dog, Rose.

On Writing & Revision:
One method of revision that I find both loathsome and indispensable is reading my work aloud when I'm finished. There are things I can hear--the repetition of words, a particularly flat sentence--that I don't otherwise catch. My friend Jane Hamilton, who is a paragon of patience, has me read my novels to her once I finish. She'll lie across the sofa, eyes closed, listening, and from time to time she'll raise her hand. "Bad metaphor," she'll say, or, "You've already used the word inculcate." She's never wrong.
On Hand Selling Books:
When we had our grand opening the following Saturday, an all-day extravaganza that stretched from early-morning puppet shows to late-night wine and cheese, an estimated three thousand Nashvillians came through the store, devouring books like locusts sweeping through a field of summer wheat. All of us who worked there (not a number I normally include myself in, but in this case I was among them) had waited so long for customers that once they finally came we could not stop telling them what we wanted them to read. One more joy I had failed to consider: that I can talk strangers into reading books that I love. 
As one would expect, I loved "My Road to Hell Was Paved", an essay about traveling with her husband, Karl, in a Winnebago motorhome. She states, 
I believe this is the Fourth Great RV Truth: People who don't like them have never been in one.

I feel like I went out to report on the evils of crack and have come back with a butane torch and a pipe. I went undercover to expose a cult and have returned in saffron robes with my head shaved. I have fallen in love with my recreational vehicle.
This is the Story of a Happy Marriage is an absolute joy to read! I'm looking forward to her upcoming release of Tom Lake (due out in August 2023), but until then, I have Truth & Beauty: A Friendship (which she mentions in her essay "Fact vs. Fiction") yet to read. 

Have you visited Parnassus in Nashville? I highly recommend it, especially if you love dogs! 

Photo Credit: Author's Website

December 10, 2022


It’s Contest Time! 

Sailing by Starlight has now been out for over a month; have you had a chance to read it? If so, you could win a $50 gift certificate to the book vendor of your choice: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or an indie bookstore near you! Just write a review of Sailing by Starlight on Facebook or Instagram or post one at,, or and then send me the link. (The review need only be a couple of sentences in length, and you can cut-and-paste the same review at more than one site. Send each link for multiple chances to win!) 

Books by authors such as Rod live and die by reviews; the word-of-mouth is what helps sell books and keep going them going. Rod really appreciates all of your kind words, and if those kind words are made public, they're even more impactful! 

Remember: Multiple entries means multiple chances to win! Two $50 winners will be selected. Contest ends January 31st.

December 8, 2022

A Month in Summary - November 2022

Little Whale Cove
Depoe Bay, OR 
November 2022

Yikes! It's already the beginning of the second week in December and I'm just now getting this posted. That's how my life has gone this fall, and I'm sure I'm not the only one feeling a little overwhelmed with all that needs to be accomplished before Christmas. But that's for another story. Let's chat about how busy November was, shall we? We had a total of four days with absolutely nothing on the calendar. Every other day was scheduled with at least one or more activities, appointments, or social gatherings. It was a fun month, but a little hectic. How did we manage our lives when we were both working?

For those who have asked, Rod is going to cardio rehab twice a week and feeling great. We celebrated our 34th wedding anniversary early in the month, and once again, I felt particularly grateful to his doctors and the first responders. 

Despite the busy month, I managed to finish six books. I loved three, enjoyed two, and was somewhat disappointed with one. Ann Patchett has always been one of my favorite authors, but her nonfiction works really are quite remarkable. I'm still toying with the idea of sending her a fan letter...

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

We Begin at the End by Chris Whitaker (5/5)

These Precious Days by Ann Patchett (5/5)

House Lessons by Erica Bauermeister (4.5/5)

Movies & TV Series:

Hinterland (Season Three) - We are finished with this show unless they decide to do a fourth season. I was happy with how it ended, but don't ask me for any details. It's all a blur at this point!

Shetland (Season 7) -
I enjoyed this season (which, sadly, is the final season) much better than Season 6. The last episodes were just wonderful.

Karen Pirie - A very good show based on Val McDermid's series. Each of the three episodes is two hours long, so we really got engrossed! Fingers crossed it will be renewed for a second season.

Case Histories (Season One) - Based on Kate Atkinson's novels, this show is pretty confusing. The final two episodes were great, and I'm looking forward to watching Season Two.


We had a very nice Thanksgiving with family and neighbors, and thankfully, it only rained a little bit. I forgot to take any pictures except for this one.


Despite the crazy, busy month, I finally got back on my bike. Instead of taking instructed classes, I've opted to ride the scenic routes (while listening to my favorite music on Spotify), which are a lot of fun. I've ridden in Big Sur, Monterey, London, Barcelona, Brisbane, Canyonlands, Oahu, Trentino, South Africa, Grand Tetons, Haleakala, Rhone-Alpes, Tierra del Fuego, French Pyrenees, and Westfjords (Iceland). It's a fun way to see other parts of the world while getting in some good cardio! 

Only 17 days until Christmas. Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas! 

December 6, 2022

Book Launch Party!

Last Sunday we hosted a book launch event for Rod's latest book, Sailing by Starlight. Close to 40 friends and neighbors showed up at our community rec center to hear Rod discuss the book, as well as take questions during a Q&A period, which was followed by a book signing. The party continued as we enjoyed delicious refreshments, chatting about the book and wishful thoughts of a movie deal. And, as one of the attendees remarked, "You don't need to be a sailor to enjoy this great adventure story!" If you need a Christmas gift, it's not too late to get a signed copy. Comment below and we can work out the details via email.

December 3, 2022

The Guncle

2021 Penguin Audio
Narrated by Steven Rowley
Finished on December 1, 2022
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

From the bestselling author of Lily and the Octopus and The Editor comes a warm and deeply funny novel about a once-famous gay sitcom star whose unexpected family tragedy leaves him with his niece and nephew for the summer.

Patrick, or Gay Uncle Patrick (GUP, for short), has always loved his niece, Maisie, and nephew, Grant. That is, he loves spending time with them when they come out to Palm Springs for weeklong visits, or when he heads home to Connecticut for the holidays. But in terms of caretaking and relating to two children, no matter how adorable, Patrick is, honestly, overwhelmed.

So when tragedy strikes and Maisie and Grant lose their mother and Patrick's brother has a health crisis of his own, Patrick finds himself suddenly taking on the role of primary guardian. Despite having a set of "Guncle Rules" ready to go, Patrick has no idea what to expect, having spent years barely holding on after the loss of his great love, a somewhat-stalled acting career, and a lifestyle not-so-suited to a six- and a nine-year-old. Quickly realizing that parenting--even if temporary--isn't solved with treats and jokes, Patrick's eyes are opened to a new sense of responsibility, and the realization that, sometimes, even being larger than life means you're unfailingly human.

With the humor and heart we've come to expect from bestselling author Steven Rowley, The Guncle is a moving tribute to the power of love, patience, and family in even the most trying of times.

I read a review of The Guncle on a friend's blog this past September, and immediately added it to my audio TBR list. Less than a month later, I was happily listening to Steven Rowley's marvelous narration of his book. What a gem! With themes of grief, addiction, and family dynamics, The Guncle is tender, yet not depressing or saccharine. There are some serious moments, but Rowley seamlessly balances those with his humorous scenes. 

Gup (Gay Uncle Patrick) doesn't talk down to his niece and nephew, and Maise's frustration with her uncle's vocabulary ("Speak English! What do you mean?!?!"), combined with Patrick's exasperation when the kids don't understand the meaning of his adult vocabulary (or catch his sarcasm), is so well done. These interactions create some hilarious, laugh-out-loud scenes, similar to those in Kevin Wilson's Nothing to See Here.

What should have been a quick read turned out to take me six weeks to read. The past few months have been hectic, and I've started riding my Peloton more often, so my daily walks (when I typically listen to audiobooks) have taken a back seat. And yet, I never lost interest, nor did the book lose momentum, even after several days had passed before I got another chance to listen. 

Thanks for the great recommendation, JoAnn! I can't wait to see who is cast for the movie, which with Rowley writing the screenplay, is sure to be as entertaining as the book. (Click here to read JoAnn's review.)

December 1, 2022

More Home Cooking: A Writer Returns to the Kitchen

2021 Harper Perennial (originally published in 1993)
Finished on November 24, 2022
Rating: 3/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

Following the success of Home Cooking, Laurie Colwin returned to the kitchen to cook up this delightful mix of culinary recipes, advice, and personal anecdotes. With down-to-earth charm and wit, she discussed the many pleasures and problems of cooking at home, including such topics as “Desserts that Quiver,” “The Duck Dilemma,” “Real Food for Tots,” “Turkey Angst,” and “Catering on One Dollar a Head.” As informative as it is entertaining, More Home Cooking is a rare treat for Colwin’s many fans and for anyone who loves to spend time in the kitchen. 

This 2021 edition features a new cover by Olivia McGiff and a foreword by Deb Perelman.

It's been almost exactly twelve years since I read Home Cooking, Laurie Colwin's first nonfiction book about just that, home cooking. I loved that book, as shown by my lengthy review. More Home Cooking was published posthumously; Colwin died in 1992 of an aortic aneurysm. She was 48. 

More Home Cooking is about food, as well as the author's glance back on her family life. I enjoyed her anecdotes, and marked a few recipes for future possibilities, but I didn't love this book as much as I loved Home Cooking. Perhaps having just read two fantastic books (These Precious Days and House Lessons), I set the bar too high, expecting another 5-star read. Or maybe my recent lack of enthusiasm for cooking colored my response to the writing. I was entertained, but this one didn't resonate as much as her previous work. 

On Roast Chicken:

There is nothing like roast chicken. It is helpful and agreeable, the perfect dish no matter what the circumstances. Elegant or homey, a dish for a dinner party or a family supper, it will not let you down. 

On Shortbread:

After you have been a very good person for a very long time and are thin as a bean, you may decide to fall briefly into sin. You will want something simple and elegant that cannot be made without butter. There is only one thing that will do: shortbread.

On Coffee:

Not a day goes by that we are not given a list of things that are bad for us. These lists, which always mention coffee right away, are usually published in the health column of the daily paper, which we read as we drink our morning coffee.

I have gone without coffee. I did not get the jitters or begin to drool. Nor did I lose my memory or regain lost energy. I simply missed that wonderful taste, that sweet, pungent smell, that warm feeling in my chest.

Turns out that all the recipes I marked are desserts! 

Old-Fashioned Gingerbread (page 66)
Katharine Hepburn's Brownies (page 73)
Classic Shortbread (page 97)
Karen Edward's Version of Buttermilk Cocoa Cake (page 157)

I'll let you know how they turn out and if there are any keepers.