February 25, 2023

A Killing of Innocents

Duncan Kincaid & Gemma James #19
2023 William Morrow & Company
Finished on February 23, 2023
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:
New York Times bestseller Deborah Crombie returns with a new novel focusing on Scotland Yard detectives Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James as they must solve the stabbing death of a young woman before panic spreads across London.

On a rainy November evening, a young woman hurries through the crowd in London’s historic Russell Square. Out of the darkness, someone jostles her, then brushes past. A moment later, she stumbles, collapsing against a tree. When a young mother finds her body and alerts the police, Detective Superintendent Duncan Kincaid and his sergeant, Doug Cullen, are called to the scene. The victim, Sasha Johnson, is a trainee doctor at a nearby hospital, and she’s been stabbed.

Kincaid immediately calls his detective wife, Gemma James, who has recently been assigned to a task force on knife crime. Along with her partner, detective sergeant Melody Talbot, Gemma joins the investigation. But Sasha Johnson doesn’t fit the profile of the typical knife crime victim. Single, successful, daughter of a black professional family, she has no history of abusive relationships or any connection to gangs. She had her secrets, though, and Kincaid uncovers an awkward connection to his Notting Hill friends Wesley and Betty Howard.

As the detectives unravel Sasha’s tangled relationships, another stabbing puts London in a panic, and Kincaid’s team needs all their resources to find the killer stalking the dark streets of Bloomsbury.

I have spent the past two years reading close to one installment a month from Deborah Crombie's Kincaid/James mystery series. Earlier this month I read A Bitter Feast, finishing that book on the publication date of A Killing of Innocents, Crombie's most recent release. I didn't wait long to pick up this final installment, and now, just like that, I'm all caught up! I enjoyed this London-based mystery very much, unable to unravel that final thread until the very end when the detectives made their arrest. While not a thriller as such, A Killing of Innocents is a solid mystery. Crombie continues to develop her characters (and their relationships with one another), and the mysteries are intricate and well-plotted. I couldn't turn the pages quickly enough. 

I'm happy that I've finally made it through the entire series, but sad that I'll have to wait for the next installment. Meanwhile, could somebody please write a screenplay for the books for either PBS, Britbox or Acorn? I'm sure Crombie's fanbase would be happy to support a TV series. I certainly would!

February 21, 2023

The Measure

2022 William Morrow
Finished on February 16, 2023
Rating: 3.5/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

Eight ordinary people. One extraordinary choice.

It seems like any other day. You wake up, pour a cup of coffee, and head out.

But today, when you open your front door, waiting for you is a small wooden box. This box holds your fate inside: the answer to the exact number of years you will live.

From suburban doorsteps to desert tents, every person on every continent receives the same box. In an instant, the world is thrust into a collective frenzy. Where did these boxes come from? What do they mean? Is there truth to what they promise?

As society comes together and pulls apart, everyone faces the same shocking choice: Do they wish to know how long they’ll live? And, if so, what will they do with that knowledge?

The Measure charts the dawn of this new world through an unforgettable cast of characters whose decisions and fates interweave with one another: best friends whose dreams are forever entwined, pen pals finding refuge in the unknown, a couple who thought they didn’t have to rush, a doctor who cannot save himself, and a politician whose box becomes the powder keg that ultimately changes everything.

I loved the premise of this book, and when I first started reading, I thought I was in for another 5-star read. It's the type of story that's unique and inventive, and I could quickly see why it wound up on so many readers' "Best of 2022" lists. And yet, as I got further into the novel, it began to fizzle out. The characters are fairly one-dimensional and the plot lacks tension. I kept wondering if there would be a big reveal about the origin of the strings, or if there would be a sudden turning point in the manner in which lives were predicted as the years progressed. However, as the end of the book drew near, the narrative remained predictable and dull. I didn't mind the thinly veiled (albeit negative) nod to Trump, and the parallels to the Covid pandemic were subtle and not overwrought, but there was too much telling and not enough showing

With that said, it is a thought-provoking concept that would make for good dinner conversation fodder. Would you or wouldn't you open your box to see how much longer you had to live? Would you tell your partner? Your boss? Your parents? Fans of The Midnight Library (Matt Haig) might enjoy this one. As for me, I look forward to Erlick's next endeavor, as she has potential.

February 19, 2023

Remarkably Bright Creatures

2022 HarperAudio
Narrated by Marin Ireland & Michael Urie
Finished on February 15, 2023
Rating: 3/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

For fans of A Man Called Ove, a charming, witty and compulsively readable exploration of friendship, reckoning, and hope, tracing a widow's unlikely connection with a giant Pacific octopus.

After Tova Sullivan's husband died, she began working the night shift at the Sowell Bay Aquarium, mopping floors and tidying up. Keeping busy has always helped her cope, which she's been doing since her eighteen-year-old son, Erik, mysteriously vanished on a boat in Puget Sound over thirty years ago.

Tova becomes acquainted with curmudgeonly Marcellus, a giant Pacific octopus living at the aquarium. Marcellus knows more than anyone can imagine but wouldn't dream of lifting one of his eight arms for his human captors--until he forms a remarkable friendship with Tova.

Ever the detective, Marcellus deduces what happened the night Tova's son disappeared. And now Marcellus must use every trick his old invertebrate body can muster to unearth the truth for her before it's too late.

Shelby Van Pelt's debut novel is a gentle reminder that sometimes taking a hard look at the past can help uncover a future that once felt impossible.

After reading several glowing reviews by friends and bloggers, I had high hopes for Remarkably Bright Creatures, but unfortunately, this debut novel turned out to be somewhat disappointing. I don't have a problem with suspension of disbelief, but the novel's predictability coupled with several coincidences reduced what could have been a more substantial and thought-provoking story to a sweet beach read. Grief and abandonment are central themes, and in this case, the author handles both well without being manipulative, but her characters lack the depth for which I was hoping. In particular, I couldn't accept Cameron's age to be anywhere near thirty; his immature behavior and inner thoughts cast him more as an irresponsible and sulky teenager.

On a positive note, the audio narration is excellent. Marin Ireland is a favorite, and Michael Urie gives an outstanding performance as Marcellus. I would have liked more chapters centered around Tova and Marcellus, the two characters I cared most about. 

I enjoy reading about octopuses, and recommend The Soul of An Octopus for those seeking more about the intellect of these marvelous sea creatures.

For those seeking a light, yet uplifting story, Remarkably Bright Creatures would make a fine choice.

February 17, 2023

Looking Back - Peace Like a River

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.

Peace Like a River by Leif Enger
2001 Atlantic Monthly Press
Finished on September 18, 2001
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

Leif Enger’s debut is an extraordinary novel—an epic of generosity and heart that reminds us of the restorative power of great literature. The story of a father raising his three children in 1960s Minnesota, Peace Like a River is at once a heroic quest, a tragedy, a love story, and a haunting meditation on the possibility of magic in the everyday world.

Raised on tales of cowboys and pirates, eleven-year-old Reuben Land has little doubt that miracles happen all around us, and that it’s up to us to “make of it what we will.” Reuben was born with no air in his lungs, and it was only when his father, Jeremiah, picked him up and commanded him to breathe that his lungs filled. Reuben struggles with debilitating asthma from then on, making him a boy who knows firsthand that life is a gift, and also one who suspects that his father is touched by God and can overturn the laws of nature.

The quiet midwestern life of the Lands is upended when Davy, the oldest son, kills two marauders who have come to harm the family; unlike his father, he is not content to leave all matters of justice in God’s hands. The morning of his sentencing, Davy—a hero to some, a cold-blooded murderer to others—escapes from his cell, and the Lands set out in search of him. Their journey is touched by serendipity and the kindness of strangers—among them a free spirit named Roxanna, who offers them a place to stay during a blizzard and winds up providing them with something far more permanent. Meanwhile, a federal agent is trailing the Lands, convinced they know of Davy’s whereabouts.

With Jeremiah at the helm, the family covers territory far more extraordinary than even the Badlands where they search for Davy from their Airstream trailer. Sprinkled with playful nods to biblical tales, beloved classics such as Huckleberry Finn, the adventure stories of Robert Louis Stevenson, and the westerns of Zane Grey, Peace Like a River unfolds like a revelation.

My Original Thoughts (2001):

Started out great! Very lyrical, humorous, and touching. Yet something happened halfway through. It just lost its sparkle. Swede, the younger sister, wasn't as big of a character as she was early on. I loved her heroic verse. I have to be fair though. Last Tuesday, terrorists hijacked four U.S. commercial jets, crashing them into the World Trade Center in NYC, the Pentagon, and an open field in Pennsylvania! Our country has been traumatically altered forever. I couldn't concentrate on this book, so perhaps it was a better book than I thought.

My Current Thoughts:

I remember enjoying this book, but had completely forgotten that 9/11 took place while I was reading it. I haven't read anything else by Enger, and tried a more recent work of his (Virgil Wander), but couldn't get interested. 

February 15, 2023

These Precious Days


Nonfiction - Essays
2021 Harper
Finished on February 14, 2023
Rating: 5/5 (Excellent)

Note to Reader: No, you are not imagining things. I already posted a review for this book (click here to read) in November. I decided to read it again for my upcoming book group discussion. 

Publisher's Blurb:

“Any story that starts will also end.” As a writer, Ann Patchett knows what the outcome of her fiction will be. Life, however, often takes turns we do not see coming. Patchett ponders this truth in these wise essays that afford a fresh and intimate look into her mind and heart.

At the center of These Precious Days is the title essay, a suprising and moving meditation on an unexpected friendship that explores “what it means to be seen, to find someone with whom you can be your best and most complete self.” When Patchett chose an early galley of actor and producer Tom Hanks’ short story collection to read one night before bed, she had no idea that this single choice would be life changing. It would introduce her to a remarkable woman—Tom’s brilliant assistant Sooki—with whom she would form a profound bond that held monumental consequences for them both.

A literary alchemist, Patchett plumbs the depths of her experiences to create gold: engaging and moving pieces that are both self-portrait and landscape, each vibrant with emotion and rich in insight. Turning her writer’s eye on her own experiences, she transforms the private into the universal, providing us all a way to look at our own worlds anew, and reminds how fleeting and enigmatic life can be.

From the enchantments of Kate DiCamillo’s children’s books to youthful memories of Paris; the cherished life gifts given by her three fathers to the unexpected influence of Charles Schultz’s Snoopy; the expansive vision of Eudora Welty to the importance of knitting, Patchett connects life and art as she illuminates what matters most. Infused with the author’s grace, wit, and warmth, the pieces in These Precious Days resonate deep in the soul, leaving an indelible mark—and demonstrate why Ann Patchett is one of the most celebrated writers of our time.

You know that feeling when you meet someone for the first time and think to yourself, "Wow. I really like her. We have so much in common. I hope I get another chance to spend more time with her!" Well, that's exactly how I felt after reading These Precious Days, and when I finished reading it for the second time this morning, my feelings hadn't changed. This is a gem of a book! I still haven't taken the time to sit down and write a fan letter to the author (can I just call her Ann?), but I plan to. Until then, I can gush about the book on Thursday with my book group. I hope they enjoyed it as much as I did.

In response to an Instagram comment, I had another thought that I'd like to share here: That initial experience when reading a book (or meeting a kindred spirit) is often overshadowed by the flush of excitement to have all of one's questions answered. The second visit is more calm and allows for a discovery of hidden treasures.

February 10, 2023

Looking Back - Blue Diary

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.

2001 G. P. Putnam's Sons
Finished on September 10, 2001
Rating: 3.5/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

The courage to face the unthinkable is at the core of this magnificent new novel. How do we manage to confront the truths in our lives and find forgiveness in the most unforgiving of circumstances? How do we love truly and deeply in a world that is as brutal as it is beautiful?

When Ethan Ford fails to show up for work on a brilliant summer morning, none of his neighbors would guess that for more than thirteen years, he has been running from his past. His true nature has been locked away, as hidden as his real identity. But sometimes locks spring open, and the devastating truths of Ethan Ford's history shatter the small-town peace of Monroe, affecting family and friends alike.

This deeply felt and compelling novel makes it clear why Alice Hoffman has been called "one of the best writers we have today" (Cleveland Plain Dealer). Honest, shattering, seductive, and ultimately healing, Blue Diary is an unforgettable novel by a writer who tells "truths powerful enough to break a reader's heart" (Time).

My Original Thoughts (2001):

A good read, but not great. Turtle Moon is far better, but this was entertaining. Not a page-turner or touching. Fluff. Easily forgettable characters.

My Current Thoughts:

I sure don't remember anything about this novel. It doesn't appeal to me now, either. 

February 9, 2023

A Bitter Feast

Duncan Kincaid & Gemma James #18
2019 William Morrow
Finished on February 7, 2023
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

Scotland Yard Detective Superintendent Duncan Kincaid and his wife, Detective Inspector Gemma James, have been invited for a relaxing weekend in the tranquil Cotswolds, one of Britain’s most beautiful and historic regions, famous for its rolling hills, sheep-strewn green meadows, golden cottages, and timeless villages that retain the spirit of old England.

Duncan, Gemma, and their children are guests at Beck House, the country estate belonging to the family of Melody Talbot, Gemma’s trusted detective sergeant. No ordinary farmers, the Talbots are wealthy and prominent with ties to Britain’s most powerful and influential. A centerpiece of this glorious fall getaway is a posh charity luncheon catered by up-and-coming chef Viv Holland. After more than a decade in London, Viv has returned to her native Glouscestershire, making a name for herself with her innovative, mouthwatering use of the local bounty. Attended by several dozen of the area’s well-to-do, as well as national food bloggers and restaurant critics, the event could make Viv a star.

But a tragic car accident followed by a series of mysterious deaths could ruin her ascent. Each piece of information that surfaces makes it clear that the killer had a connection with Viv’s pub—and perhaps with Beck House itself.

Does the truth lie in the past? Or is it more immediate, woven into the tangled relationships and bitter resentments swirling among the staff at Beck House and at Viv’s pub? Or is it even more personal, entwined with secrets hidden by Viv, her business partner Bea Abbot, and Viv’s eleven-year-old daughter Grace?

Further revelations rock the Talbots’ estate and pull Duncan and Gemma and their colleagues into the investigation. With so much at stake both personally and professionally, especially for Melody Talbot, finding the killer becomes one of the team’s most crucial cases.

Two years ago (almost to the day), I began Deborah Crombie's mystery series, reading one book every month. I had previously read the first two installments in 2013 (the first of which was reviewed here), but too much time had elapsed and in an effort to reacquaint myself with the cast of characters, I started from the beginning in February 2021. Last night I finished the eighteenth installment and am now anxiously awaiting delivery of Crombie's new release, A Killing of Innocents, which should arrive in the mail any day.

It's been such a pleasure catching up on Duncan and Gemma's lives with each new book, and A Bitter Feast does not disappoint. While not the heart-pounding type of thriller I've grown accustomed to with Louise Penny's books, this mystery is well-crafted and kept me guessing up to the denouement in the final pages. Such a satisfying read! I know I've said it at least once, but I do wish PBS or Acorn would option the rights for a TV series. This would be a great show, perhaps in the hands of Anthony Horowitz.

February 2, 2023

A Month in Summary - January 2023

Little Whale Cove
Depoe Bay, OR
January 2023

Looking back on January, our days were filled with a variety of annual dental, vision & general medical appointments, as well as a few social gatherings. Other than that, it was a relatively quiet month. With all the rain we received (9 1/2 inches), I didn't get in much walking, so my audiobook listening time was down considerably. I finished two huge books, read three shorter works, zipped through a heart-racing thriller, and listened to one audiobook. They were all winners; there isn't one I wouldn't recommend.

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

Coming Home by Rosamunde Pilcher (5/5)

The Fixed Stars by Molly Wizenberg (4/5)

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry (4/5)

Foster by Claire Keegan (5/5)

Evenings at Five by Gail Godwin (4/5)

Love & Saffron by Kim Fay (5/5)

A World of Curiosities by Louise Penny (5/5)

Movies & TV Series:

Blue Murder (Season 5) - We are all caught up on this series. Definitely worthwhile.

Top Gun: Maverick - We enjoyed this follow-up to the classic Top Gun movie. I got a little choked up during the flashback bar scene with Goose singing Great Balls of Fire. The special effects of the dog fights are very good, and at times, I had to stop watching because I felt like I was on a rollercoaster!

The Long Call - Thankfully, this is a short series (4 episodes). I didn't care for it too much, but wanted to find out whodunnit. Based on the Ann Cleeves mystery.

The Brokenwood Mysteries (Season One) - I like this series, which is set in New Zealand. It's nice that each mystery/murder is solved in one episode.

The Crown (Season 5) - Predictably sad. So many lives ruined because of who they married or into which family they were born. 

No Time to Die - Daniel Craig. What more can I say? So good!!

Magpie Murders - This is my favorite series of the month! I read the book a couple of years ago and thought it was pretty good, but this show is even better. Such a clever mystery(ies)! I can't wait to watch Moonflower Murders when it's released. Bravo!

Whitechapel (Season One) - We've watched a few episodes, and while it's good, it's very gritty. Fun to see Rupert Penry-Jones, who was wonderful in Spooks (MI-5)!



I loved this daily challenge! The woman who organized it isn't planning another month's schedule, so I'll have to come up with my own prompts. Anyone else love to declutter after the holidays?

It was fun to see this Google map of all the places we traveled in 2022. It's also a good reminder that I need to start making plans for this year's RV travels.

Less than 40 days until daylight saving time! I love that the days are beginning to feel longer. 

February 1, 2023

A World of Curiosities


Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #18
2022 Minotaur Books
Finished on January 30, 2023
Rating: 5/5 (Outstanding)

Publisher's Blurb:

It’s spring and Three Pines is reemerging after the harsh winter. But not everything buried should come alive again. Not everything lying dormant should reemerge.

But something has.

As the villagers prepare for a special celebration, Armand Gamache and Jean-Guy Beauvoir find themselves increasingly worried. A young man and woman have reappeared in the Sûreté du Québec investigators’ lives after many years. The two were young children when their troubled mother was murdered, leaving them damaged, shattered. Now they’ve arrived in the village of Three Pines.

But to what end?

Gamache and Beauvoir’s memories of that tragic case, the one that first brought them together, come rushing back. Did their mother’s murder hurt these children beyond repair? Have those terrible wounds, buried for decades, festered, and are they now about to erupt?

As Chief Inspector Gamache works to uncover answers, his alarm grows when a letter written by a long-dead stonemason is discovered. In it, the man describes his terror when bricking up an attic room somewhere in the village. Every word of the 160-year-old letter is filled with dread. When the room is found, the villagers decide to open it up.

As the bricks are removed, Gamache, Beauvoir, and the villagers discover a world of curiosities. But the head of homicide soon realizes there’s more in that room than meets the eye. There are puzzles within puzzles, and hidden messages warning of mayhem and revenge.

In unsealing that room, an old enemy is released into their world. Into their lives. And into the very heart of Armand Gamache’s home.

Another winner from Louise Penny! Looking back on my previous reviews of her books, I notice that most of her more recent installments in the series have been much more suspenseful than her earlier works. A World of Curiosities is no exception. As Gamache and Beauvoir learn the terrifying news about a notorious serial killer, the tension increases, and I struggled to put the book down at night. I was reminded of the powerful sense of foreboding while watching The Silence of the Lambs, and like Hannibal Lecter, Gamache's sinister nemesis is what nightmares are made of. It's no exaggeration that I was holding my breath while reading the final pages. 

The mystery is well-paced, and the characters (new and recurring) are fully realized. Penny does an excellent job leading her readers down one path, only to turn in a completely different direction, revealing what in reality transpired when one was ready to assume the opposite. While not for the faint of heart, this is an exceptional thriller and one which I'm tempted to quickly read again. (Who isn't tempted to revisit a mystery to see if they missed the obvious clues?)

Highly recommend!